Magazine article Sunset

Warmth for the Sole

Magazine article Sunset

Warmth for the Sole

Article excerpt

Banish chilly bathroom floors forever with electric radiant heat

One of life's little luxuries is quiet, unseen, and underfoot: a bathroom floor warmed by radiant heat. Typical radiant heat systems involve running warmed water through pipes embedded in a concrete slab--a complex and costly process often inappropriate for additions or remodels. But electric radiant heat systems have come to the rescue. Relying on slender cables or flat panels of conductive material to produce the heat, they layer on the floor without appreciably thickening it, and they're relatively easy to install.

Usually, the cables are placed in a bed of "thin-set" mortar and covered with tile, raising the floor level as much as 3/4 inch (sometimes a little more, if a tile setter adds concrete backer boards for a flatter, more rigid floor). Although tile or natural stone works best with these systems, you can use many of them under wood, vinyl, and even carpeting.

Don't despair if you already have an attractive tile floor. Some of these systems can be added under the floor in a crawl space. With this type of installation, it takes a little longer for the floor to warm up. And you'll have to add insulation below the radiant panels; local building codes may require a 2-inch air space between the panel and insulation. But you, too, can have toasty toes.

Sizing and installation

You can install cables or mats yourself, but sizing them to the shape and floor area of the room is best done by the manufacturer, who will use your diagram of the room--including cabinet, toilet, shower, and tub locations--to plan the best layout for the components. Heating cables or panels run only in areas with heavy foot traffic, stopping short of walls and cabinets.

Licensed electricians should make all the connections to the heating elements, timers, thermostats, and junction boxes. In most cases these radiant systems require their own dedicated circuit that includes a ground fault circuit interrupter. Additionally, two manufacturers offer low-voltage systems that require remote transformers. The cost of electric radiant system components (listed below) generally does not include labor timers, thermostats, or flooring material. …

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