Radiant Heat and Hardwood Floors - Tamalpais Hardwood Floors

radiant heat
Teragren Portfolio Bamboo Flooring in Darby Brown
Teragren Portfolio Bamboo Flooring in Darby Brown

With new building and remodeling practices, the demand for using in-floor radiant heat has increased dramatically within the last years. Radiant heat provides an even warmth with no cold spots within a room and provides comfort. You cannot replace it with any other type of heating system.  Radiant heat is a system using electric coils or tubes of hot water underneath the flooring. Traditionally it has been used for tile floors but now it is also used with wood flooring. Heating floors are becoming increasingly popular due to the ease of warming up your entire home. Radiant heaters really do work and can warm your floor up to 85 degrees Fahrenheit!

The type of wood flooring that you install over the radiant heat mechanism will ultimately determine your temperature guidelines. We at Tamalpais Hardwood Floor will be glad to help you with choosing the right flooring over radiant heat. Click here to check out our flooring products. Don’t hesitate to contact us to get a free consultation in the Bay Area and Marin. 


Radiant heat and hardwood floors

Early in-floor radiant heat systems were temperamental, expensive. Nowadays, radiant heat systems have become a lot more prevalent, affordable and reliable. Using the wrong wood flooring with a radiant heat system can be devastating. Improper installation methods or lack of maintaining proper relative humidity levels are unwanted. Conventional heating systems emit heat from the base of walls or up through vents in the floor. But radiant heat transfers the heat directly under and up through the wood flooring with temperatures of 80 degrees. The wood floorboards have the ability to expand and contract with different moisture levels within its environment. Due to the natural characteristics of wood, It absorbs and holds ambient moisture. The dry heat directly under the wood flooring can cause the flooring to dry out quickly and contract in size. It causes cupping and large open gaps between the boards.


Radiant heating advantages

Radiant heating has a number of advantages. For one, it is more efficient than baseboard heating. It is usually more efficient than forced-air heating because of no energy losses through ducts. The lack of moving air can also be advantageous to people with severe allergies. Hydronic systems use little electricity, a benefit for homes off the power grid or in areas with high electricity prices. The hydronic systems can also heat with a wide variety of energy sources. It includes standard gas- or oil-fired boilers, wood-fired boilers, solar water heaters, or some combination of these heat sources.

The most popular and effective for radiant heating systems for residential applications are electrical and hydronic radiant heating systems.


Electric Radiant Floors

Electric radiant floors typically consist of electric cables built into the floor. Systems that feature mats of electrically conductive plastic are also available and are mounted onto the subfloor below a floor covering such as a tile. Because of the relatively high cost of electricity, electric radiant floors are usually only cost-effective if they include a significant thermal mass, such as a thick concrete floor. It is cost-effective if your electric utility company offers time-of-use rates. Time-of-use rates allow you to “charge” the concrete floor with heat during off-peak hours. If the floor’s thermal mass is large enough, the heat stored in it will keep the house comfortable for ten hours. It will do it without any further electrical input (particularly when daytime temperatures are significantly warmer than nighttime temperatures). This saves a considerable number of energy dollars compared to heating at peak electric rates during the day.

Other options

Electric radiant floors may also make sense for additions onto homes for which it would be impractical to extend the heating system into the addition. However, homeowners should examine other options, such as mini-split heat pumps. It operates more efficiently and has the advantage of also providing cooling.


Hydronic systems

Hydronic (liquid) systems are the most popular and cost-effective radiant heating systems for heating-dominated climates. These systems pump heated water from a boiler through tubing laid in a pattern underneath the floor. The cost of installing a hydronic radiant floor varies by location. It also depends on the size of the home, the type of installation, the floor covering, remoteness of the site, and the cost of labor.

Wood flooring used with radiant floor heating systems should be engineered wood flooring instead of solid wood. This reduces the possibility of the wood shrinking and cracking from the drying effects of the heat.


Engineered Wood Flooring

Between solid hardwood and engineered wood flooring, the latter is a better candidate for radiant heating systems. Engineered wood flooring employs high-quality plywood as a base for its top layer of hardwood veneer. This type of plywood is dimensionally stable and does not quickly respond to temperature spikes or drops. However, wood is a poor thermal conductor. This means that heat from the system will not transmit as quickly as with thinner floors that are more thermally conductive.


Solid Hardwood Flooring

Engineered wood flooring works better if you wish to install radiant heat under solid hardwood. Use quarter-sawn wood flooring instead of plain-sawn wood flooring. You should embed the heating element within a sleeper system subfloor, under a traditional subfloor, or embed within the concrete. Narrower floor boards tend to work better than wide-plank. The multiplicity of seams allows for more flexibility if the floor should expand and contract.



Any wood flooring that you use over radiant heat systems you must bring into the area in which it will be installed. Allow it to acclimate at least two weeks prior to the flooring installation. We recommend running the radiant heat at a temperature of 65-70 degrees two weeks prior to the wood flooring delivery and until the wood flooring installation. Most newer radiant heat systems have exterior thermostats. It will gradually bring up the temperature within the floor during the start of the colder season. The heat will not shock the wood flooring causing the flooring to distort.


Tamalpais Hardwood Floors carries a number of floors suitable for use over radiant floor heating systems. Visit our website or showroom, or call 866-987-8686 for more information.