Why UFH is still a hot topic

The UK’s underfloor heating (UFH) market continues to warm up – Nigel Sanger of JG Speedfit explores what architects and specifiers need to consider when specifying UFH systems

UFH is no longer just the prerogative of the wealthy. Its increasing affordability, plus general concerns over rising fuel bills, mean this technology is now more attractive to homeowners. They are driving UFH specification. However, consumers are still wary about installation costs, and confused about the fuel efficiency benefits on offer. For architects and specifiers though, this is a clear opportunity to educate and ‘upsell’ the values of a UFH system. While reducing fuel bills is the stand-out message that homeowners can latch onto, there are also a range of intangible benefits, which contribute to a healthier home, overall.

When a house becomes a home

Without home comforts, a home is merely a building. UFH supports the idea of a creating a comfortable home by heating rooms to more ambient temperatures than those generated by conventional radiators. A traditional radiator distributes heat through convection, where it heats the air around it, with the radiators’ temperatures reaching above 75°C. This creates an imbalance of temperature, as radiators tend to warm the air immediately around them more than the points furthest away from them. By contrast, UFH has a much lower operating temperature of between 25-27°C. It uses the basic principle that warm air rises to create a more even and comfortable temperature across the whole room. In addition, UFH systems tend to create minimal noise, if any at all. Traditional heating systems however often produce stress-inducing creaks and clicks.

Blow the cover

Once dubbed by The Guardian as ‘rabbit-hutch Britain’, we are thought to be facing a period of ever-shrinking property sizes as Government Ministers seek to find solutions to make better use of land for housing. As space sizes decrease, architects and specifiers are having to do more with less. UFH is a relatively simple space-saving solution, because removing the need for bulky radiators and pipework can actually give rise to more aesthetically pleasing design ideas and storage space. As well as using up unnecessary space, radiators can often become an eyesore as paint peels and rust sets in. UFH removes the need for homeowners to replace radiators, or disguise them using intrusive radiator covers!

Convection to infection

Safety and general health advantages can often be overlooked when considering the installation of heating systems, yet they can contribute greatly to occupant wellbeing. Convection from common radiators works by moving air around a room, but with it moves dust allergens and other particles that can cause respiratory irritation. In addition, warm convection currents absorb moisture more readily and dry out everything within their path, including skin, lips and eyes. By switching from convection-based systems to those that operate via radiant heat, moisture and air movement is reduced. UFH is also physically much safer, particularly for children. No radiators means there are no sharp edges to bump into, nor are there any hot pipes or surfaces to accidentally touch – a constant danger and worry for parents.

In total control

Traditional radiators and single thermostats create inevitable heat loss. Understandably, most homeowners are reluctant to walk around every room turning radiators on and off so unoccupied rooms are often warmed up unnecessarily. With UFH, this lack of efficiency can be combatted by integrating smart controls to create zonal heating with individual or multi-room temperature control. Using smart thermostats, multi-zone heating can be achieved simply and easily through wireless controls. With lower water operating temperatures and more efficient heating control, homeowners and occupiers can make significant savings on fuel bills.

Things to keep in mind

When designing buildings with UFH, it’s essential to nail down the three key phases – planning, installing and commissioning. Without having these at the foundation of your project, it’s easy for systems to become inefficient and ineffective. Whether you are installing a screed floor or suspended wooden joists system, it is also essential to ensure the best method of installation is chosen. Architects, project managers and installers must effectively communicate with each other at the specification stage, and if any party is new to UFH, best practices should be put in place first. The most common mistakes made with UFH include not correctly pressure testing the system, and not setting flow rates and blended temperatures. These can all be easily avoided.

Nigel Sanger is divisional director, technical support at JG Speedfit