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Can underfloor heating be installed by a do-it-yourselfer?

The above question comes up quite often from homeowners that attend local trade shows. Everyone is looking to save money by tackling home improvement projects on their own. The question really comes down to this –  if you are a do-it yourself (DIY) type of person, what level of experience do you have, and do you feel confident that you can do the project correctly? The internet is one of the most vital sources of information for DIY work. I often refer to the World Wide Web and research projects that I may not be totally comfortable with. For example: when it comes to plumbing, I know that certain things are supposed to go downhill (if you know what I mean). However, plumbing is something that I don’t feel comfortable with.

Electric underfloor radiant heat installation is one of the fastest growing home improvement projects. However, not all electric underfloor heating systems are for the DIY person. Basically, we can separate underfloor radiant heating systems into two categories: hydronic (water based) and electric systems.

Hydronic systems are typically installed in larger applications such as new construction or where the size of the room is more than 500 square feet. These systems can be quite complicated for a DIY person as they require tools not easily found at your local home improvement store. Furthermore, purchasing the proper tools for this one DIY project would be expensive and you may never use them again. Hydronic systems need to be designed for correct tube or pipe spacing, circulating pump size (to move the heated water) and most importantly, the boiler needs to be correctly sized to meet the heating demands of the application. Sounds complicated; doesn’t it? Because of these complications, hydronic systems should be installed by an experienced professional, ensuring that they will provide many years of heating and reliability.

The other category for underfloor radiant heating systems is electric. These systems are typically installed in small bathrooms. However, more and more systems are being installed in larger applications. In fact, electric radiant heating has even been used in many applications that are well over 500 square feet – even whole houses.

Electric systems are less complicated to install for a DIY person because they are comprised of a simple heating mat or cable, and a thermostat. The tools used are basic electrical tools that require little investment, and can be used again for other jobs around the house!  Some systems are powered by a high voltage (120 or 240 volt) power source. If your level of DIY experience is lacking in this area, please hire a professional electrician to run the high voltage power. Cable and mat systems are typically installed under tile. Make sure to read the installation instructions carefully as the cables must be a certain distance apart from each another. If this is not done correctly, it could lead to premature failure due to overheating. You will also need to be careful not to nick the cable with a tile trowel as this will lead to future problems.

Obviously, my view of electric underfloor heating systems is biased, but in all my years of watching the market, no product compares to the easy installation of low voltage electric underfloor heating systems, like STEP Warmfloor.With these products, the installation tools needed are scissors, a staple gun and some common electrical tools. The 12” wide and extremely thin mat is low voltage – it basically has the same voltage as a common doorbell!

Now you’re thinking a transformer is needed. Correct! Again, if you’re not comfortable with this, then hire a professional to run the power. Even though the DIY intimidation factor is less for low voltage electric systems than hydronic or high voltage cable systems, you still need to know your limits.

Low voltage electric systems are super easy to hold down to the wood subfloor, and you can staple directly through the STEP Warmfloor element without worrying about it failing. These products don’t have a filament to be concerned about puncturing or nicking since they heat with a semi-conductive polymer called carbon black.

Did I mention no failures? How much is that worth to the DIY or a heating professional? Other benefits of the product are the many flooring types that it can be safely installed under, like carpet and wood. Think of the endless possibilities of expanding the comfort of your home! Hmmm… a new DIY project comes to mind. I think I will start with the man cave!

Whatever DIY project you tackle, make sure you do your research and be accepting of your level of experience – that means knowing when you need to call a professional for help! Good luck in whatever you attempt. OK, can someone tell me where I left that pipe wrench?