Should You Warm Up to Radiant Bathroom Floor Heating?

Nick P. Cellucci
Written by Nick P. Cellucci
Updated November 24, 2021
Mother wrapping daughter with a towel after a bath
Yakobchuk Olena – stock.adobe.com

Highlights

  • Radiant heating is installed under your floors to heat the room

  • There are two types of radiant heating: electric and hydronic

  • Pros include evenly distributed heating, energy efficiency, and resale value

  • Cons include a higher upfront cost and more complex installation

  • If remodeling your bathroom, these systems are worth considering

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Imagine stepping out of a hot shower on a cold morning and not feeling the icy shock of chilly tile on your feet. For many homeowners, the appeal of heated bathroom floors is the luxury and comfort of those little moments. Add to that its efficiency at heating rooms, it’s no wonder that many people are considering heated floors over furnaces. 

If you’re interested in raising the temperature on your bathroom remodel, use this guide to learn the pros and cons of installing a radiant floor heating system.

What Is a Radiant Bathroom Floor and How Does It Work?

Plumber installing new floor heating system
Dagmara_K – stock.adobe.com

Radiant bathroom floors are otherwise normal flooring surfaces with a heating element installed underneath. Heat radiates out from the floors to heat both the flooring surface and the rest of the room. This heat is typically generated in one of two ways:

  • Electric heating: The heat is generated by electric cables embedded in thin mats. These mats can be installed underneath tile, wood, stone, laminate, and other common bathroom flooring surfaces.

  • Hydronic heating systems: Also known as hot water radiant systems, these involve running heated water from a water heater through tubes. These tubes are attached to thick plywood panels or mortar beneath tile, stone, or concrete floors.

Both systems are technically suitable for any room in your home, and both are comparable in cost. You’ll pay $8 to $15 per square foot for an electric system or $6 to $20 per square foot for a hydronic system.

Pros of Radiant Bathroom Flooring

From cozy comfort to return on investment, here are some solid reasons to spring for radiant heating.

Smooth and Even Heating

Many homes have installed traditional forced-air furnace or HVAC units, which tend to quickly push all the warm air up through vents and toward the ceiling before automatically shutting off, leaving cold air near your feet or in areas farthest from the vent. An in-floor system heats up slowly and evenly over the entire floor, which in turn heats the whole bathroom to a comfortable ambient temperature.

Energy Efficiency

Heated bathroom floors are more energy efficient than traditional HVAC units, according to The U.S. Department of Energy. An electric floor heating system typically takes less than an hour to warm an entire bathroom. Despite a higher upfront installation cost, the substantial increase in efficiency provided by radiant floor heating can save you money on energy bills in the long run.

Low Maintenance

Once your heated floors are installed, they require no routine maintenance from the homeowner as long as no issues arise. Your system should then last up to 40 years on average before requiring replacement, which is substantially longer than the typical 10 to 15 years offered by a traditional furnace.

Higher Home Resale Value

Heated bathroom floors are a great feature to advertise if you’re selling your home. The luxury, lack of maintenance, and potential energy savings can all be highly appealing to potential buyers.

Discreet and Noiseless

Heated bathroom floors are tucked out of sight and require no hefty wall units to interfere with your design aesthetic. They’re also quiet, with none of the rattling, shaking, or squeaking that can come from a furnace, ducts, or vents.

Customizable

The two types of radiant floor heating allow you to create a solution that fits within your budget. The units are also user-friendly with adjustable thermostats and timers. This means you can customize your environment based on your schedule. For example, set your system to power down while you sleep, then warm up an hour before you wake for warm floors in the morning.

Safety

Radiant floor heating can be installed safely under common bathroom flooring surfaces such as laminate or tile. Unlike traditional heating vents, the entire unit is under the floor. This means you won’t have to worry about sharp edges or burning your feet. Additionally, you won’t have to fret over dust or other air quality concerns that dirty ventilation systems can pose.

Cons of Radiant Bathroom Flooring

There are a few drawbacks to consider before your feet do a happy dance over the idea of toasty tile floors.

Complex Installation and Repair

Installing either type of radiant floor heating requires tearing up the existing floor to lay the system underneath, which adds to the cost of installation. A hydronic system often requires an additional concrete layer underneath, adding to the time and complexity of the project—especially on the main level or upper floor of your home.

Although heated floors are designed to be low maintenance, there is always the risk of issues that will need repair. You’ll need to call a licensed professional to locate the source of the issue, and it may require getting under your floors to fix. Attempting repairs on your own, especially to a hydronic system, could lead to an increased risk of damage around tubs, toilets, and showers.

Upfront Cost

In small areas of your home such as bathrooms, installing a radiant heating system costs between $1,717 and $6,047 on average. A hydronic system costs $6 to $20 per square foot, while an electric system costs $8 to $15 per square foot.

While these costs are higher upfront than a forced-air furnace, the cost savings over time may make radiant heating a solid investment. If you ran either type of radiant heating system for 24 hours a day, the operating cost would be $1 to $5 per day compared to about $20 per day for a traditional air heating system.

Potential for Floor Damage

Depending on the type of system you install, a ruptured water tube or faulty resistance wire can cause water or fire damage to your floors. Keep in mind that because polyethylene tubes are resistant to corrosion and electrical systems are slow and low-heat, both types of damage are rare and highly unlikely.

Increased Floor Height

Once installed, a heated floor can increase your bathroom’s floor height by nearly two inches, which can be a tripping hazard. When renovating your bathroom, ensure that flooring transitions are accounted for to avoid this issue.

Is Radiant Bathroom Floor Heating Worth the Money?

If you’re already planning a bathroom remodel or even just a floor replacement, it’s worth considering a radiant heating system. If you’re having your floors removed for the remodel, you’ll save on labor when installing radiant heating. While the upfront cost is still higher than non-heated flooring, the potential energy savings may make up for the total cost.

The smaller size of a bathroom compared to other rooms in the home also makes the project more manageable. The added comfort you’ll experience while living in your home, plus the increased resale value later on, add to the benefit of your heated floors—and that’s something to warm up to.

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