How old do you think underfloor heating is? You might think it’s a pretty recent invention, considering it’s only now becoming an addition to our homes. And you wouldn’t be entirely wrong – inventors registered the first English patent for a system in 1907.
Underfloor heating for the whole house itself, however, is much older. Archaeologists found what they call foreshadowing of underfloor heating in digs in Korea and Manchuria, an area covering today’s northeast China and the far east of Russia, dating back 7000 years. Yes, we’re talking about 5000BC.
These systems were described as ‘baked floors’, and might not have been as technologically advanced as what we have today, but kept our ancestors from freezing. Turns out we all like having warm feet – some things really never change.
A brief history of underfloor heating for the whole house
Dating back roughly as long as baked floors is the huoqiang, a heated bed floor found in Northern China. It evolves into the kang, a raised platform used for sleeping and general living.
The next step, then, is a Korean fire hearth dated back 3000BC. And we’re staying in this general area of Asia for a little bit. Because in 1000BC, people had created what’s called ondol, which is the Korean name for underfloor heating for the whole house.
It’s a very elaborate system involving an open fire, thick masonry floor, and a central heart for heating. Cooking happened on a perimeter hearth.
Scientists also found traces of this system in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. So it’s safe to say the idea of keeping your feet and your home warm at the same time spread.
In 500BC, the Romans enter the scene. They invented the hypocaust, another system of central underfloor heating for the whole house.
But then, just about 1000 years later, European countries replace underfloor heating for the whole house with open fires instead. Asian systems keep developing, and in Medieval times Roman hypocausts were used in some settings, too. They heated monasteries in Poland, for examples, and Turkish baths in the Ottoman Empire.
And it continues like that. While boiler systems evolve in Europe, underfloor heating for the whole home keeps popping up here and there. The French use it to heat greenhouses, in America Civil War hospitals use ondol-like systems, and even Liverpool Cathedral is heated with a system based on the hypocaust.
In the early 20th century, underfloor heating starts to take off more in the West again. American architect Frank Lloyd Wright developed radiant heating systems for designs. In England, on the other hand, a chemical incident leads to the accidental discovery of the first industrially practical polyethylene synthesis.
Okay, but what about underfloor heating for the whole home today?
As technology advances, these systems are becoming more popular, especially in new builds and extensions. This is due to the installation, which is easiest if you are creating a whole new space.
To retrofit underfloor heating – whether it’s in a single room or your whole home – you will have to rip up the floors. Depending on which system you choose, installation may also come with even more upheaval.
Electric systems are easiest to retrofit, as laying them causes little mess and overall disruption. They are a great choice for bathrooms and wetrooms especially, as these designs will dry residual water after showering – so they’re great for safety, too.
What kinds of systems are there?
Electric heating for the whole home comes in two main forms: dry and wet systems.
Dry systems consist of a network of wires laid under the flooring. They heat up evenly, which warms the room as heat rises.
The biggest benefit is that these systems are not only easy to install, with comparatively little upheaval, but they are also flexible. Because they use wires, you can fit them into tricky spaces by bending the electrics into shape.
You’ll also find heating mats, which come in standard sizes but are just as easy to install. They’re a little less flexible, but a good solution for standard-sized rooms.
Wet systems are the other type of underfloor heating for the whole home. These systems consist of a network of pipes that are directly connected to your boiler. They are more efficient than traditional radiators, so don’t need to heat the water to water quite as much.
Installation is much trickier than with a dry system, though. Pipes are thicker than wires, so the floor might need raising or levelling. A professional will lay it into wet screed, which also acts a heat store. Because of this, it’s best for a new build or extension.
You can retrofit wet underfloor heating for the whole house, but it’s a job for a professional. Also be aware that it’ll likely cause a lot of upheaval and dust.
Why should I get underfloor heating?
First of all, who doesn’t like having warm feet? Exactly.
But there are a few more benefits to this style of warming your home. For one, as mentioned, it’s more effective than traditional radiators – and, if you have a wet system, it also makes your boiler work more efficiently.
Another big bonus, if you ask me, is that underfloor heating for the whole house keeps your walls free. This is especially useful in more compact rooms, as you don’t have a radiator blocking off precious floor area. And if you do choose to add one – for example a striking towel rail – it’ll have even more impact.
Featured image: Snug electric underfloor heating starts from £94.03.
Want to read more? Then check out our feature on the most stylish radiators.