I‘ve been in the radiant floor heating industry for more than 20 years, and in that time there’s been a huge amount of change in the heating products available, the clientele we serve and in the installation methods we use. This constant state of change is one of things I love so much about this industry.
Let’s take a look at some of the emerging trends in electric radiant floor heating that appear to be here to stay.
Installing floor heating cable with an uncoupling membrane
More and more flooring installers are using the combination of floor heating cable with an uncoupling membrane. This trend, which has shown consistent and strong growth over the last five years, has been popular with both installers and homeowners for a number of reasons, including faster installations and long-lasting benefits for fragile floor coverings.
One of the reasons this combination has gained so much popularity is it greatly reduces the amount of time an installer has to spend on the jobsite. With a typical floor heating installation, the installer would need to first embed the heating elements in a layer of thinset or self-leveling cement, which would then need to cure completely before the installer could put down the floor covering. By using an uncoupling membrane, the professional is able to lay down the membrane (which is typically attached to the subfloor with thinset). Then, after the cable is laid in the membrane, the installer can work backwards out of the room to lay down the floor covering while working on the clean surface of the uncoupling membrane. This process cuts the vast majority of electric floor heating installation times down to a single day (which is great for both installers and homeowners alike).
Secondly, this combination can help extend long lasting benefits to fragile floor coverings, such as tile, marble or stone. It does this by essentially helping protect the finished floor from both foundational movement (which can cause tiles to “pop” or crack/break as the subfloor can create lateral shear in relation to the finished floor) and from subfloor issues (like cracks) telegraphing upward. This obviously benefits the homeowner but it also helps increase customer satisfaction for many years to come, which is a huge boon for professionals. Because about 88% of all residential floor heating projects are tile, marble or stone floors, we think this trend is likely to continue to grow.
Utilizing “spot heating” to cut down on product and operational costs
A relatively new trend has been an uptick in sales for electric floor heating mats intended for “spot heating” as opposed to full coverage heating. Spot heating is a method of radiant heating design where heating elements are only installed under the areas in a room that are “high traffic.” For example, in a small bathroom, this might represent the area in front of a single vanity where a homeowner would spend most of their time getting ready in the morning. In a kitchen, this might be the area between an oven/stove and an island countertop. Spot heating has become a popular option (our sales for spot heating mats are up about 8.4% year-over-year) for homeowners on a budget that are still looking to incorporate radiant heating into their remodeling project. By only installing the heating elements where they’re needed, you cut down on both the immediate product costs and the ongoing operational costs without having to sacrifice the comfort level provided by radiant heating.
This type of heating method has proven to be popular in bathrooms (which make up nearly 70% of all electric floor heating projects) and we expect its popularity to continue to grow as public awareness of spot heating improves.
Incorporating technology into electric radiant heating
There are two main areas where new technology is making significant advances for electric floor heating: Home automation and the installation process.
Recent advances in technology (such as smart thermostats) have made incorporating electric floor heating with your home automation system much easier, which can be very attractive for many tech-savvy homeowners. For these users, they’re able to customize their control of their heating systems by setting up conditions that will energize the system in response to home automation criteria (such as not turning the system on when the central air system is operating).
Another emerging trend has been the impact being made by smartphones during the installation process as a way for flooring professionals to quickly communicate in-field issues with radiant heating experts. This is particularly important because a flooring installer might only do a handful of projects a year that involve electric floor heating. So for a lot of these installers, being able to quickly speak with a radiant heating expert (and to share visuals from the jobsite by connecting with a video conferencing app like Zoom) is a crucial resource for avoiding potentially costly mistakes during the installation.
We’ve recently launched a remote installation supervision service, and we’ve found that the response from professionals over the past two months has been very positive. This service has been particularly helpful during the COVID-19 lockdowns as it is an effective way to limit the number of people needed on a jobsite while still being able to provide the necessary knowledge to ensure a successful installation. We are also able to use this service as an educational tool to help train and certify trade professionals for future radiant heating projects.
We fully expect to see all of these trends continue to grow in the near future. While a lot of things in the radiant heating industry have changed, I take comfort in the fact there will always be one constant: People hate cold floors!