Bathroom & Kitchen Guide

Your complete guide to remodeling, design and new products.


Heated Floor Systems For Your Bathroom: Hydronic v. Electric


Are you tired of waking up in the morning to walk into a cold bathroom? Do you shudder at the thought of brushing your teeth before bed on icy-cold tiles? Are you sick of your energy bill going through the roof during the winter months? There may be a fantastic solution to your woes – radiant floor heating.

What is radiant floor heating?

Radiant floor heating consists of wires or heated pipes that are installed underneath your floor surface to warm the room from the ground up. Bathrooms are one of the coldest parts of the home as they accommodate tiled surfaces and wet spaces; therefore radiant heating is a popular feature to warm bathroom-users from the feet up. Radiant heating systems are most popular in mild to cold climates; however they may also have a use in most bathrooms around the world as they provide a comforting and welcoming bathroom climate.

Red tiles

 Radiant heat can be installed under most bathroom floor surfaces

There are two kinds of floor heating: Hydronic and Electric. Both are used in private and commercial premises and offer positive features. Each radiant heating system is effective and luxurious. The type that you choose for your bathroom will depend on your needs and budget. Most private bathrooms use electric radiant heat, however read on for a full account of the positive and negative features of each system.

Hydronic heat

Hydronic radiant heat has existed since ancient times and is still in use today. First created by the Roman Empire, a series of ducts underneath floors and between walls were utilized to warm the home. A furnace was usually located outside the walls of the building, with the fire being lit and stoked by servants. Hot air and steam would circulate through the ducts that lined the floors and walls, heating the entire house.

As the name suggests, a “hydro” or water system is used in hydronic radiant heating. Today, hot water is pumped through plastic or aluminum pipes that are laid under the floor (inside a concrete sub-floor) to warm the floor’s surface and the temperature of the whole room. Most hydronic systems need a specialized water heater or boiler and a pump installed.


 An example of a hydronic system as installed by Otter Tail power company

Installation can be quite time-consuming and expensive as new equipment must be purchased and then installed – although it may be possible to utilize an existing boiler. Maintenance must be regularly conducted on all hydronic equipment and operating systems may make some noise while in use.

Hydronic radiant heat systems are mostly utilized in whole house or commercial building heating. This is because large areas i.e. over 4000 square feet that are covered with this system may prove to be more economical than covering a broad area with electrical heating.

Electric heat

Electric radiant heating systems are generally more popular than hydronic systems due to a number of factors including ease of installation and operating costs in a regular bathroom.

The way electrical floor heating works is via wires that are laid underneath the floor’s surface, attached to a thermostat. It is possible to purchase easy to install mats that are fixed with wires already evenly distributed. The mats can be bought in different sizes and then rolled out onto the bathroom floor and tiled over. They are easily bondable to the ground surface with special tape, connected to the thermostat and then tiled over.

Danish company Danfoss manufacture pre-wired mats for radiant floor heating installation

Single wire cables can be purchased in a roll and then laid in lines over the desired area – this is particularly handy for oddly-shaped bathrooms. There is a single-point connection and a metal jacket protects the wires. Remember to use a qualified electrician when completing the wiring. Unlike hydronic systems, electric systems do not have to be installed inside a concrete or other subfloor, just positioned onto the ground’s surface and then laid over with grout and tile (or other material).

Installation requires no more than half an inch of depth on top of your bathroom floor surface. It can be installed under such materials as tiles, cement, hardwood and carpet (use throughout the whole home). Electric systems consist of flexible wires that can accommodate needs of any bathroom (unlike hard hydronic pipes) and maintenance is minimal.

Electric radiant floor heating is an economical way of heating your bathroom as it saves on energy costs and has a faster response time to heating than hydronic systems. Running on only about 12 watts per square foot or less and allowing for programmable temperatures through the thermostat, electric systems can cut your energy bills down considerably. Operation of the equipment also creates little or no noise.

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