Basement heating is a must if you’re serious about keeping the rest of the home warm and cozy. Otherwise, you risk experiencing cold drafts and heat losses that can compromise your heating efficiency.
Radiant floor heaters, in particular, are an excellent choice for less used spaces such as the basement. The heaters are very efficient and don’t take up much space since they are laid on the floor.
Indeed, most radiant floor heaters sit under the floor such that guests may not even realize there’s a heater in the room. Radiant floor heaters are also fast heaters with very little maintenance.
If you’re currently shopping for a heater for your basement, read on to learn how radiant floor heating is the way to go, how the heaters work, the different types of radiant floor heaters, and considerations to help you identify the right baseboard heater for your basement.
What’s a Radiant Floor Heater?
Radiant floor heating (also popular as radiant underfloor heating) is a form of space heating characterized by two things.
First, it involves heating through radiant heat transfer. Radiant heat transfer involves heating objects directly. It’s usually compared to convective heating, where heat is first absorbed by the surrounding air then passed on to items, including you. Radiant heaters heat you directly.
Secondly, the heaters are laid on the floor. Indeed, some are laid under the flooring material. As we’ll see later, some floors are better suited to radiant heating than others.
However, most floors work well with this technology. Once the floor gets hot enough (at around 71-72°F), it begins to radiate the excess heat into the room.
Objects in the room then absorb the heat, and when they get to the 71-72°F range, they, too, begin to re-radiate the heat.
Pros and Cons of Radiant Heat Flooring
Radiant floor heating systems are considered one of the best space heating solutions for the following reasons;
- Discreet: Radiant floor heaters are, without doubt, the most unnoticeable form of heating. The wires and tubes are all buried under the floor. With the right temperature setting, it isn’t easy to detect that there’s heating going on.
- Extremely safe: Since the wires and tubes are buried under the floor, you won’t need to worry about someone tripping and creating a risk of either fire or personal injury. There’s also no risk of burns or hot-to-touch surfaces.
- Very cost-effective: In general, radiant floor heating is much more cost-effective than other forms of space heating. You’re guaranteed greater value from your investment over the life of the heating system.
- Energy-efficient: Radiant floor heating is also a lot more energy-efficient than other forms of space heating. For one, radiant heating is traditionally very energy-efficient. More importantly, though, very little heat is lost in underfloor heating.
- No disruptive blowing: Convective heaters, though excellent at heat transfer, cause a lot of disruption in the air, leaving indoor air filled with dust and allergens. Radiant floor heating doesn’t result in dusty rooms, making it especially suited to basements.
- Little to no maintenance: Finally, many people love radiant floor heating because the systems are essentially-maintenance free. The only time you may need to check the heating system is if something goes wrong, such as a substantial reduction in heat output or if the heating fails altogether.
Despite the many advantages, however, radiant floor heating also comes with a few not-so-good consequences, including;
- High upfront costs: Compared to other space heating solutions, radiant floor heating is more expensive upfront. Electrical models, which are the less expensive option, cost $5 to $8 per square foot, meaning that you need $2,000 to $3,200 for a 400 square-foot room – before installation costs.
- Requires professional installation: Some basement heaters, such as wood stoves, don’t need installation at all, while others, such as baseboards, require only minimal installation that you can do on your own. Radiant floor heaters, meanwhile, require professional installation. The cost of installation is $3 to $5 per square foot. Hydronic models cost up to $14,000 to install
- Repairs can be expensive: You can quickly diagnose a wood stove or kerosene heater if it malfunctions. You can also easily change the baseboard heater if it breaks down. Radiant floor heaters don’t offer the same convenience. If something goes wrong, you may need to call a professional and have a portion of the floor removed. This is both expensive and time-consuming.
Types of Radiant Floor Heaters
There are two broad categories of radiant floor heaters: water (hydronic) and electric wires (electric). A third type, i.e., forced-air radiant flooring systems, is another option.
But, forced-air radiant heat flooring systems are grossly inefficient and, therefore, neither popular nor recommended.
Hydronic Radiant Heat Flooring Systems
In hydronic floor heating, hot water circulates through lengths of PEX (cross-linked polyethylene) tubing that loop back and forth on the subfloor.
Typically, the tubing is encased in a slab of concrete or lighter-weight gypsum cement. In other cases, it’s fastened to the underside of the subflooring. This second approach cannot be used under nailed-down floorings, such as hardwood.
The hydronic tubing system is then attached to a hot water source, typically a pump that circulates water. Many models feature thermostats to regulate room temperature.
The system is closed such that it doesn’t connect to anything else in the home.
- Extremely efficient
- Very durable
- Interfaces with hot water systems
- Water retains heat for longer.
- No good for renovations
- Higher upfront costs
Electric Radiant Floor Heaters
The electric radiant floor heater works almost like the hydronic heater, except that the water tubing is replaced by strips of electrical matting across the subfloor.
These mattings are linked together and connected to an electrical circuit and line voltage thermostat. The entire system is secured in place by a covering of thin-set mortar. Flooring is then installed over the electrical mat.
The mats can be designed to size to fit irregular areas. However, you can also confine the heating to areas of the floor that are used the most.
Simpler systems, however, don’t feature a mat. Instead, individual wires are looped across the floor about three inches apart and secure by thin-set adhesive.
In ceramic and stone flooring, the mats or electric wires are installed over the cement underlayment and ceramic tile laid on top of the structure.
- More powerful than hydronic models
- Less expensive upfront
- Very easy to install
- More expensive to run
- Difficult to repair
Factors to Consider When Buying Radiant Floor Heaters
Heater type, however, isn’t the only thing you need to consider when shopping for a radiant floor heater. Keep the following in mind too;
Size of the Room
Although some radiant floor heating systems can be cut into multiple pieces to fit the basement, most manufacturers prohibit cutting the systems. In particular, electric mats must never be cut into pieces unless the manufacturer says it’s okay and provides guidance for cutting your mat.
To this end, think about your basement size when shopping. How big is the room, and is it a regular shape? If it has several bends, it may be better to order a custom system designed to fit the unique space. Alternatively, consider buying multiple smaller systems that, put together, would cover most of the room.
Always check whether your heating system comes with heat controllers. Many electrical models arrive with a thermostat with a wire such that the mat can be turned off automatically if the floor or the surrounding area becomes too hot. Some of the thermostats are touch-controlled, while others feature button controls.
Additionally, you want to check for a timer. Radiant floor heaters take up to two hours to fully warm up. A timer allows you to program the heating to begin in advance, so the room is warm and cozy by the time you arrive.
You can even go for humidifiers that allow you to program heating for the entire week, so you don’t need to worry about finding the basement cold when you need to use it.
This is another major factor. Not all floors are suitable for ceramic heating. Some are unsafe for that kind of heating, while some flooring types don’t radiate heat efficiently, resulting in significant losses.
By far, the best flooring type for this type of heating is ceramic tiling. That’s because the tile is an excellent thermal conductor. It also holds heat well.
Other floors that perform well with radiant floor heating are wood carpet and vinyl. Remember, however, that the thicker the floor, the less effective the heating.
So, try to keep the thickness to a minimum. In the case of carpet, consider light ones with more padding underneath so that the heat can still get through.
Obstacles in Installation
Before you bring in the radiant floor heater, think about the obstacles that may trap the heat and prevent it from reaching the room. For instance, the sofa will typically absorb most of the heat radiating from the floor.
In this case, it wouldn’t be too bad since the heat would eventually reach when seated on the sofa. However, other permanently-positioned items, such as the cupboard, may absorb the radiant heat without necessarily benefiting you.
It’s more cost-effective and therefore recommended that you leave the floor areas under these items unheated.
How To Install a Radiant Floor Heater
The process of installing a radiant floor heating system will depend on the type of heater you’re installing and the floor type. Since electric radiant mats are the most popular, we’ll only discuss the process of installing electric radiant mats.
First off, it’s important to warn you that installing radiant floor heating under tile flooring is best done by a professional. Since it involves making electrical connections and installing tile, DIY creates a few risks. Nevertheless, an experienced DIY enthusiast never gives up. So, if you decide to go it alone, proceed as follows.
Begin by understanding that the minimum tile is 2 x 2 inches. Also, make sure that the foundation is in pristine condition and adheres to the load-bearing specifications to ensure that the surface is level. You’ll be using thin-set mortar. Therefore you will need a ¼ x ¼ square-notched trowel. It would help if you also had a cement board.
Also, locate the source of power in advance. You can draw power from an adjacent GFCI protected outlet for a small area without overloading the circuit.
However, for a larger mat, say 2,000 watts or higher, you need to create a dedicated circuit with a dedicated circuit breaker. Once everything is in order, proceed as follows;
- Install the cement board over the existing subfloor: Trowel on a thin-set mortar layer, then secure the board with cement board screws and cover the seams with mesh fiberglass tape thin-set mortar.
- Mark out a path for the wires: Chisel a groove in the cement board for the power lead’s enlarged portion. You also want to notch the wall’s bottom plate to create a pathway for the power lead, conduit, and thermostat wires.
- Tape the electric mat in place: You’re allowed to cut the mat but never the cable. Any individual cables removed from the mat are attached to the cement board using hot-melt glue. The rest of the mat, meanwhile, is secured using double-face tape.
- Set up the wiring and thermostat: This part is best handled by an electrician. You need to fish the power lead and thermostat cable and connect the conduit tops to a 4 x 4-inch electrical box. Call in an electrician for the rest of the wiring.
- Install the flooring: For tile floorings, apply/spread mortar into the mesh and floor with the trowel and place the tiles, tapping each tile lightly with a rubber mallet.
From this point, the electrician can finish the wiring, and then you’re ready to use your electric radiant heated floor.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Can You Put Heated Floor in the Basement? Yes, you can use baseboard heaters in the basement. Baseboard heaters are one of the best heating solutions for the basement.
- How Long Does Radiant Floor Heating Last? Radiant hydronic heaters have a lifespan of about 20 years, while electric radiant flooring systems can last up to 40 years. It depends on several factors, including the quality of the heater and the quality of the installation.
- Do Heated Floors Use a Lot of Electricity? It depends on the type of radiant floor heater you buy. Hydronic models that use water require very little electricity (mostly for the thermostat). Electric models, however, can use substantial electricity.
- How Long do Heated Floors Take to Heat Up? Unfortunately, radiant floor heating systems take a bit longer to heat up. On average, they take two hours to reach the desired 71-72°F setting. However, you may want to know that they also retain heat for several hours after the heater is turned off.
- Should I Turn Down Radiant Heat at Night? Radiant floor heaters are best when you’re actively using the home, walking from one place to another. Using it at night may be a tad wasteful. Instead, consider other space heaters, such as oil radiators for the night.
- Can You Heat the Whole House with Radiant Floor Heating? Yes, it’s possible. However, it’s not recommended because it would be quite expensive. Considering that laying the standard electrical mat costs $5 to $8 per square foot (including installation), imagine the cost of installing the system throughout a 3,500 square-foot home!
- Can You Put Rugs on the Heated Floor? Yes, of course. You’re free to use rugs on the heated floor. Just remember that you’re likely to feel the warmth better if you avoid rugs. On the other hand, however, rugs can protect your feet in case the floor overheats.
Best Radiant Floor Heating For Basement
1. HEATWAVE 25 Sq. Ft. Electric Floor Heating with GFCI Programmable Thermostat
Heat Wave makes some of the best radiant floor heating systems for pretty much any size of space. The radiant heater mats are easy to install and come with the required programmable thermostat standard – most mats don’t. This Model HW2012 25-square-foot model would be an excellent choice for most types of spaces.
It measures 20 inches wide x 15 feet long and plugs into the standard 120V household power outlet. You may also want to know that it’s rated 12.5 amps and consumes 300 watts.
The mat has two sensors – a built-in air sensor that reads atmospheric climatic conditions and a floor sensor thermistor with 10 feet of NTC (12K) sensor cable.
You get to choose from three pre-programmed settings – automatic, manual, and comfort mode. You’re encouraged to choose the right size mat since cutting or shortening the mats is prohibited. This heater can be used in the shower.
- Simple user interface
- Class A GFCI thermostat included
- Four programmable settings
- Safe for wet conditions
- CSA, UL, ETL certified
- Professional installation required
- DIY voids warranty
2. SUNTOUCH WarmWire (120V) Floor Heat Kit 70 Sq. Ft. Cable
The Model #81018099 Warm Wire radiant floor heater from SUNTOUCH is a resistance heating cable assembly for installation on most floor types, including plywood, backer board, and concrete slabs.
It’s then embedded in 3/8 inches or greater of self-leveling polymer-modified thin-set mortar. The durable constant-diameter wire is easily secured at 2.5, 3.0, or 3.5-inch intervals with CableStrap.
There are two crucial things you need to know if you’re considering this product, though. First, the WarmWire product is available in 120V and 240V options.
Don’t confuse the two. This particular model is a 120V model, thus doesn’t need a lot of wiring. Secondly, the required SunStat floor sensing thermostat is sold separately (costs about $20).
Otherwise, it’s an excellent heating option. Indeed, the SunStat thermostat, once installed, even allows for Wi-Fi control. It’s waterproof and comes with a LoudMouth alarm system that immediately warns you if the cable is cut or damaged.
- Long cable enough for 70 Sq. Ft.
- Operates at 120V, 840 watts
- Approved for wet conditions
- Installation materials included
- Installation manual included
- You must order the correct length
- The thermostat is sold separately
3. HeatTech 30 Sq. Ft. Cable Set Electric Radiant In-Floor Heating Cable
This Model #HTCBL-KIT-120-120 unit from Heat Tech is also a radiant flooring cable instead of a heating mat. The manufacture states explicitly that it’s designed for tile, stone, granite, and marble floors. If you have a different floor type, make sure to contact the manufacturer.
It’s a 1/8-inch thick cable that doesn’t raise the finished floor at all or create an electromagnetic field. A single-armored 10-foot long cold lead wire is included for easy connection to the thermostat. No extra wiring or drilling is needed. Make sure to choose the right size wire since cutting the cable is not allowed.
The kit includes the cable wire (on a spool), cable guides (one is needed for every 200 ft. of cable), a Honeywell/Aube thermostat with a floor sensor, and a detailed installation manual. The recommended installation spacing is three inches for optimal heat output.
- Approved for kitchens, bathrooms, and saunas
- Ideal for new construction and retrofits
- Supports many floor types
- Frustration-free certified
- 25-year warranty
- Professional installation needed
- You must get the sizing right
4. HeatWave Floor Heating Cable (8-15 Sq. Ft.) with GFCI Programmable Thermostat
We already covered a radiant floor mat from Heat Wave on this list. This second product isn’t a mat but a cable wire. It’s also designed for smaller spaces (8-15 feet) compared to the first product. But, there are a few other things you should note about this radiant floor cable.
First off, this is a 120-watt cable, unlike the first one that’s rated 300 watts. The implication is that it generates less heat compared to the mat we discussed.
Secondly, the cable spacing also varies. On the mat, the cables are spaced at standard 3-inch spacing. However, this cable wire allows you to leave spaces up to four inches wide. This would allow you to cover a larger area.
The required 7-day GFCI programmable thermostat is included as well as cable strapping. You’ll also find a 15-foot lead cable.
- 44-inch long cable wire
- Thermostat included
- Cable straps included
- 10-foot long floor sensor is standard
- Limited lifetime warranty
- The installation is challenging
- Customer service is wanting
5. SEAL 20 Sq. Ft. Electric Radiant Floor Heating System for Ceramic Tile
If you’re hell-bent on finding a radiant floor mat, though, this self-adhesive unit from SEAL would be another option worth the money.
The 20 Sq. Ft. mat is a 300-watt 2.5 amp high-quality cable with a thin profile of 1.8 inches and comes in multiple configurations. It’s 120V-rated and adheres to the floor.
You may also want to know that it arrives with a dual-wire 16 AMG plus ground 10-foot length cold lead to reduce EMF to ultra-low levels.
A detailed instruction manual is included for trouble-free installation. A 25-year limited warranty and lifetime support services should give you even greater confidence in the product.
The cables are spaced three inches apart for effective heating at the most cost-effective rates. This heater is UL listed for use in the USA and Canada.
- Easy DIY retrofit
- Zero Electromagnetic field (EMF)
- UL Listed
- 25-year warranty
- Professional installation recommended
- The wiring process can be confusing
6. Warming Systems 25 Sq. Ft. Electric Tile Flooring Mat w/Programmable Thermostat
Finally, the Model 25MAT120-120 from Warming Systems is a 120v, 300-watt radiant floor mat with cables spaced three inches apart for even, efficient heat distribution.
During installation, it is unrolled and laid on the floor across the area to be heated. The mesh material can be cut to make turns and angles. However, cutting the cable is strictly prohibited. You’ll find a detailed installation manual inside.
Two other things are included in the kit to make your work easier – a programmable thermostat with a sensor and an installation monitor.
The Thermostat features a user-friendly design with a backlit display. It’s digital, programmable, includes a floor sensor, and can be programmed for seven days. The mat has a double-sided tape that offers adhesive backing.
The 25-square-foot mat is 20 inches wide by 15-foot long and is backed by a 25-year limited manufacturer warranty.
- Plugs into standard 120V outlet
- Lays flat for easy installation
- UL certified for the US and Canada
- 25-year warranty
- Professional installation required
- The setup process can take many hours
Radiant floor heating is an excellent solution for basement heating. The gentle and healthy radiant warmth coupled with radiant heat flooring systems’ discreet nature means you can quietly heat the basement without stirring the dust or creating undue noise.
Moreover, radiant heat flooring systems are very efficient and pretty much noise-free.
If you’re currently shopping for a space heater for your basement, you should give it a try. You won’t regret the investment.