A combination of government policy, and consumer demand, has led to growth in both electric and hydronic UFH system sales, which is predicted to continue in the medium term.
The Government is committed to expanding the low carbon economy while hitting the country’s carbon budgets. On 27th June 2019, it set a legally-binding target to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions across the UK economy by 2050.
The Government is now looking at the best ways to cut heating’s carbon emissions while reducing the reliance on subsidies as an enabling mechanism. Key objectives are to lower the barriers to the take-up of low carbon heating and cooling, while sustaining a viable supply chain for heat pumps beyond the Renewable Heat Incentive.
There are a variety of technologies with potential to help the UK meet 2050 targets. These include heat pumps, hydrogen, and biogas. And, while it is not yet clear which heat generating technology will prove to be the most beneficial in the long term, it would appear that both hydronic and electric UFH systems will be among the most flexible and cost-effective delivery mechanisms whatever the outcome.
At the moment, the Government is trying to improve overall carbon emissions by making traditional heat sources, notably gas boilers, more efficient. The pandemic is likely to see this less ambitious, low tech, adopted more widely and for a extended period.
The hope is that the Boiler Plus standards for domestic boilers, introduced in April 2018, should ensure all households have a reasonable level of choice and control over their heating to enable them to achieve greater efficiency without increased bills.
Looking ahead, the Future Homes Standard, set to be introduced by 2025, will require new build homes to be future proofed with low carbon heating and world leading levels of energy efficiency. The Government intends that homes built to this standard would have 75% to 80% fewer CO2 emissions than those built to current building regulations.
Electrification of heat is the key strategy, and The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy has launched a £16.5 million Electrification of Heat Demonstration Project that aims to demonstrate the feasibility of a large-scale transition to electrification of heat in Britain by installing heat pumps in a representative range of homes, alongside new products and services designed to overcome barriers to deployment. The project is expected to run until March 2022.
With this background, the core strategy of both electric and hydronic UFH manufacturers, suppliers, and contractors most be to redouble their efforts to convince every UK homeowner of the many benefits of this tried and tested technology.
A surprising number of homeowners are put off installing underfloor heating because they believe it is expensive system to install and maintain. Some also believe that it doesn’t produce enough heat or can cause overheating. A final objection is the amount of disruption when installed in existing homes.
In fact, underfloor heating is proved to offer low running costs. Although these will vary from home to home (insulation performance being the main variable), it has been estimated that it is possible to heat a whole house for as little as a £1 a day; based on 182 days of heat per annum, with three hours of heat in the kitchen, bathroom, and living room.
Although a firm favourite with lovers of ceramic, porcelain and natural stone floor – the perfect partners for both electric and hydronic UFH systems – underfloor heating systems can be used with many different floor finishes, such as carpet, vinyl, wood, and laminate floors.
Another plus point, more about aesthetics than economics, is the space gained using UFH. Radiators are rarely attractive, and are often best sited in areas that make them cumbersome and slightly awkward, such as under a window or in the middle of the wall.
One of the less well appreciated benefits of UFH systems is that they are completely controllable when it comes to heat output. Many systems are fitted with smart thermostats that help to monitor the heat in the most energy efficient way possible. The most basic of thermostats will allow home owners to set a desired temperature that can be maintained throughout the day.
UFH is also very energy efficient. Compared to radiators, an UFH system uses a lower temperature to maintain a comfortable level of heat. This reduces running costs and increases energy savings.
Quick and easy to install, UFH systems also do away with the dangers of hot radiators. With UFH systems, the heat is dissipated throughout the entire floor, with no areas of concentrated heat. This makes them perfect for children’s bedrooms, nurseries, and playrooms.
Heat is evenly distributed and rooms do not take long to heat up. By installing with insulation boards, as much heat as possible is pushed up into the floor and out into the room.
Strong inclination toward clean energy technologies, and the increasing investment in the development and refurbishment of new and existing infrastructure, has created a high market demand for UFH systems.
International adoption of more stringent energy efficiency codes and standards, that emphasise the adoption of sustainable technologies, alongside the introduction of new advanced UFH systems, has accelerated the replacement rates of the legacy heating systems on account of high operational costs and substantial energy and heat loss.
There is general agreement across the leading market research companies that the market for hydronic UFH will grow by at least 5% by 2026; as ease of operation and low system costs continue to drive the market share of UFH systems in residential establishments
The 5% figure may prove to be a considerable underestimate, because the expanding commercial sector will further drive the UFH market over the forecast timeline. UFH systems can be easily installed across new facilities, covering desired areas to minimise heat loss and enable cost-savings. Optimised heating, along with significant reduction in the installation time and upfront cost, should fuel further sector growth over the next five years.
One reason UFH systems are so popular with home owners is because they evenly distribute heat, and work at moderate temperatures, enabling cost-saving and low-power consumption.
Unlike radiators that operate at high temperatures and cause overheating, UFH systems regulate the temperature via sensors and thermostats. They can provide zoned heating with the help of Wi-Fi and smart thermostats, enabling up to 15% savings in the heating bills.
Safe operation and easy scalability across different floor types are other key plus points.
World-wide, the prominent market players in the UFH market – such as Danfoss, Honeywell, Warmup, and Uponor – are focused toward collaboration to achieve a competitive edge and consolidate their market share. The strategy on partnerships are devised to engage in focused R&D activities to augment operational efficiency and product design of underfloor heating systems.
A reduction in average installation time and cost, along with introduction of flexible electrical mats for small applications, has boosted the market for electrical UFH: which is anticipated to grow by around 5% over the next five years, while hydronic moves ahead by 8%.
There are some golden rules to follow to ensure home owners gain the maximum benefits from hydronic UFH, sometime referred to as Warm Water UFH or wwUFH for short.
The first consideration when it comes to different floor finishes is the thermal conductivity of the flooring material, and its effect on the wwUFH system design.
Traditional radiators predominantly transfer (or radiate) heat by convection, heating the air in a room as it circulates past the radiator. By comparison, hydronic UFH provides a radiant heat from the floor surface to the area above. For the floor to provide this gentle heat to the room, the UFH system pumps warm water through pipes laid in the floor. Traditionally, the floor is solid – concrete or screed – but developments in technology mean that suspended baton-type floor decks of varying types can also now be used. Heat is transferred from the pipe into the floor structure, then from the floor structure into the floor finish. The surface of the floor then gently radiates the heat into the room.
Heat always flows from warmer to colder areas. The transfer of heat through a solid material is known as conduction.
The heat transfer between the warm pipe and the floor surface (i.e. through solid materials) is therefore conduction. The thermal conductivity (the ease with which heat flows through the material) of both the floor and what is put over it affect the transfer rate of the heat to the surface. So in hydronic UFH applications this heat transfer, or thermal conductivity, becomes an important factor in the selection of materials and the design of the system.
That is why harder floor coverings – such as ceramic tiles, porcelain tiles, and natural stone – offer higher thermal conductivity, due to lower thermal resistance, than softer coverings, such as carpet.
This high-density material is the best floor material to use with hydronic UFH, allowing the heat from the pipework to easily flow to the rest of the room, with excellent heat transfer properties.
Increasing the thickness of the tile will have little effect on the heat output, but it will slightly increase the heat up time.
With ceramic tiles and natural stone, it is always advisable to use a de-coupling membrane and flexible adhesive to reduce the potential for any hairline expansion cracks.
With our own close association with The Tile Association, TSJ always promotes the benefits of selecting a member of a recognised trade association as your supplier partner, if possible. In the hydronic UFH arena, this means Beama. Members of the Beama Under Floor Heating Trade Association all subscribe to the concept of designing underfloor heating systems based on certain parameters, such as desired room temperature, heat loss of the room, chosen floor covering, below floor insulation; and the proposed floor construction.
Beama members will be able to provide advice along these lines when specifying a suitable UFH system to accommodate the desired floor covering. A Beama member will also be able to provide system design data such as the number of zones, the heated area, pipe length and spacing and flow rate and temperature.
New guides from Beama
Beama Underfloor’s ethos is to provide homeowners, specifiers, users, designers and installers with accurate, up-to-date, unbiased clear advice, with reference projects and case studies.
The Beama Underfloor heating group has recently produced a number of new guides from low profile and responsive underfloor heating to choosing your floor covering to maximise your underfloor heating efficiency.
- Beama Guide to Low Profile and Responsive
- Beama Underfloor Heating Controls Guide for
- Beama: Choosing your floor covering to maximise your underfloor heating efficiency
- Beama Underfloor Heating: Guide to Types of UFH Pipework
Design and installation
With the support of BEAMA Underfloor, the Domestic Buildings Services Panel has produced a guide on the design and installation of underfloor heating systems. This is an extensive technical guide for professionals wishing to understand all aspects of UFH .
Ambiente Systems UK
01707 649 118
01889 580 246
+48 74 854 05 16
Polypipe Building Products
01709 770 000
01424 830140 or 01424 851111
01279 638 700
Tailored Heat Supplies
01621 858 555
020 7793 3000
The Tile Association
0300 365 8453
TTA member UFH manufacturers
0208 453 6801
0345 345 2288