While consumers are gravitating toward tile for aesthetics and durability, they are also realizing more than ever the benefits of comfort floor systems
Innovation and technology are usually the driving force behind new tile trends. It is certain that the market has exploded with limitless product lines in all different shapes, sizes, looks and surfaces finishes. And while consumers like the qualities such as sustainability and durability that tile can offer, they might still feel that as a flooring material it is too cold to use throughout their entire living space. To solve this problem, more companies are offering electric radiant floor heating systems to provide the benefits of tile with the comfort of warmth.
The trend for electric radiant floor heating has been growing in recent years, according to Peter Thomson, Vice President of Sales for Nuheat Industries in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada. “There has been steady awareness, but it has surged in the past three or four years,” he said. “It has become a common topic on home-improvement shows, and there are numerous demos at trade shows. It has entered the mainstream public.”
Thomson also explained that homeowners are expanding the area of where they are using radiant electric floor heating. “It used to be seen as a product in a master bath, but now we are seeing it being used in other — much larger — areas such as kitchens, living rooms and basements,” he said. “It provides such a comfortable feeling.”
Ken Barnum, Product Manager at Laticrete International in Bethany, CT, agrees that electric radiant floor heating systems are rising in popularity. “Electric radiant heat started to become popular among homeowners between 2001 and 2005,” he said. “This was a period of significant new residential construction and remodeling, and strong floor warming sales carried into the early years of the U.S. economic downturn. With time, awareness has grown substantially in the last decade and an interesting segment of the market has made a significant impact, the do-it-yourself customer. The product offering from most major manufacturers has evolved to focus on ease of installation in an effort to make this product more common.
“While the look and elegance of tile and stone are unsurpassed by any other floor covering, the common complaint is that tile is often too cold,” Barnum went on to say. “For a small investment during construction — and for just pennies a day thereafter — floor warming is a simple solution to a long-standing complaint. While not designed to provide complete heating to a room, electric radiant floor heating provides an element of comfort that is hard to ignore. Never have I heard a customer say, ‘You know, I really just don’t like these warm like this.’”
Barnum said that Laticrete has experienced tremendous growth in its floor warming product sales in the last seven years — with the main drivers being product awareness by both end-users and installers as well as an understanding for good installation. “Having been in the tile and stone industry for nearly 60 years, and the electric floor heating business for seven years now, Laticrete has enough market knowledge to consistently gauge the pulse of the tile and stone industry,” he said. “Installers, contractors and retailers have learned that electric floor warming can dramatically improve the average ticket price of a bathroom or kitchen installation. We are hitting a point in the product life cycle here in the U.S. where consumers want the benefits of this product, and our industry professionals want to realize greater revenue by selling and installing it.”
Andrew Acker of Schluter-Systems also believes that the real benefit of electric radiant floor heating is that it makes tile comfortable to walk on. “It warms the floor,” he said. “Customers’ number one complaint is that tile is cold. They love that it is durable, a green material, and easy maintenance and care.
“Many tiles have even gotten away from cold colors and appearance,” Acker went on to explain. “They look very warm now with their colors and textures. Comfort floor systems can warm a tile surface. There is no better conductor of warmth than tile. Its thermal mass stores heat.”
What installers should know
According to Barnum, the technology of the actual heating element has not changed much. “There have been a few attempts by companies with ‘newer’ technologies to break into the market, but the majority of electric floor warming being installed is either a mat system or loose wire system,” he said.
And when asked if there are any specific details that installers should know before installing comfort warm heating systems, Barnum states that they should follow the basic rules of installation.
“Like most good construction practices, preparation is the key,” he said. “The best floor warming installations are carefully planned out so the correct amount of material is installed and the heating is even and meets the local and national building codes. Additionally, it is always recommended that the services of licensed electrician can be utilized to make all electrical connections.”
Acker also explained that consistency is a key component. “The right amount of cable per square footage has to be ordered, otherwise all tiles won’t be heated,” he said. Acker went on to say that Schluter-Systems has a new product where the geometric configuration places the cable into the mat, and the mat holds it in place. “Installers’ eyes light up,” he said. “A self-lever is not needed.”
Manufacturers of radiant electric floor systems are developing products with the installer in mind. “We have many little changes,” said Thomson. “We produce a custom map that is fully built. Others require some assembly on site. We have made adjustments to make installation easier. Our system adheres to the subfloor in a flat way that is easy to tile over. Wire spacing is very important to get consistent heat. Ours is pre-built so installers don’t run into any problems.”
Additionally, Nuheat Industries has developed a new thermostat, which gives homeowners some ability to program their electric radiant floor heating system easily. “It is a WiFi enabled thermostat that can be controlled off an iPhone,” said Thomson. “It is good for people who are worried about conserving energy.”