Heated Tile Flooring Guide 2022: Installation, Cost & Cons

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heated tile flooring guide

Nothing is worse than waking up to get ready for work and entering your bathroom to a freezing cold tile floor.

You can use bathroom rugs, turn the heat up in your HVAC system or install radiant heating.

Radiant heating installs under the tiles or flooring of your bathroom, garage, kitchen or any room you desire.

As a DIY project you can devote a full day and have radiant heating by dinner time.

In this article, we will cover everything you need to know to install a heated tile floor. From the pros and cons to the set up to the steps required to complete the project. If you want to install a heated floor, this is the article for you.

Top Flooring Options Over Radiant Heating

From best to worst, there is an order that works well (or not) with radiant heating. Here is the generally accepted order of flooring materials.

  • Tile. Tiles floors (and the focus of this article) are the best option for radiant flooring because of the durability and even heating.
  • Vinyl and Laminate. Tied for second place are luxury vinyl and laminate planks. LVP and laminate offer even heating and most brands offer ranges that are DIY radiant capable.
  • Stone flooring. Like tile, stone heats quickly and retains heat, it is not always easy to install, though.
  • Engineered hardwood. Like LVP and laminate, engineered hardwood planks are a DIY friendly radiant heating option.
  • Carpet. While it isn’t the most popular option, radiant heat-approved carpet can hold heat for a long time and it doesn’t expand or contract like some options can.

What is a Heated Tile Floor?

heated tile floor

Heated tile floors are radiant heat coils, mats or tubes covered with ceramic or porcelain tiles. Because there are different types of heating elements, the exact definition will depend on where you start and what you are after.

In short, you will have an electrical current running through copper wiring or hot water running through tubes that produces heat. That heat radiates up, though the thinset, underlayment and finally the tiles.

The result is a warm floor that also radiates upward (as heat rises) to warm the air in the room.

Tools Needed to Install Heated Tile Floors

The tools needed for a proper DIY radiant floor install will change slightly depending on the type of heating elements you decide to go with. However as a general guide, you will need the following tools for all installs.
  • Hot glue gun. This will be used for many things including mounting the wiring to the subfloor or mounts.
  • Power drill. You will need to mount brackets, and whether your subfloor is concrete or plywood, drilling screws or making holes will need some power behind it.
  • Razor/utility knives. Cutting mats, wires, coils and even packaging will require expert handling of a sharp edge.
  • Trowels. A variety of trowels will be needed. Straight, grooved and margin trowels will all come to use for the various aspects of the project.
  • Continuity tester/Voltmeter. Before you cover the floor with tile you need to ensure that the heating elements and wiring are all connected and working properly.

Materials Needed for Heated Flooring Installs

Aside from the tools, you will also need the materials. As with the tools, your materials list will vary depending on the type of heating system you decide to go with. There are a few different options, including wire, mat or pad. In general, though, you will need the following materials.
  • Tile. The finishing layer is the one that will be visible and walked on. Ceramic tile is preferred, but porcelain will work, too.
  • Thinset. As a mortar, thinset is easy to work with, conducts heat well and sets up durable and sturdy.
  • Grout. You will need to finish the tile flooring and grout is one of the last steps to your project.
  • Radiant heating system. Whether you use a mat, straight wiring, or a rolled pad, this is the main factor of the entire project.
  • Cement board/underlayment/moisture barrier. Your subfloor and heating system will determine which, if any, of these items you need for a base and protection on the underside of your floor.
  • Mesh/fiberglass tape. You will need to seal the edges between the cement boards and mesh tape is the ideal component.

How to Install Heated Floors Under Tile

how to install heated floors

This basic installation guide will make a few assumptions. Because we cannot see into every one of your homes to find out where you are starting, the first assumption we will make is that your old flooring has been removed down to the subfloor.

We also assume you have properly cleaned your subfloor and have gathered all of your materials. If you need help with the cleaning, we have articles to help you find the best vacuum to use. With the old flooring removed and subfloor cleaned, you need to ensure it is solid.

Minor imperfections in your subfloor are okay since it will be covered with thinset. However major damage, excess moisture and other concerns need to be addressed before you begin.

Step 1: Subfloor Prep

With the subfloor cleaned and ready, the first thing is to coat with a layer of thinset. This will smooth the surface and hold the cement board in place. Using your main trowel, lay the thinset and place the cement board on top.

Secure the cement boards with screws. Make sure that the screws are flush or even below the surface. Any rise can cause damage to the wiring and short your heating system. If a screw can’t or won’t go flush, remove it and try again.

Next, you want to use the mesh tape to seal the edges and seams between the boards. This will ensure everything stays level and the next layers don’t sink into the seams.

Step 2: Lay the Heating System

The first thing you need to do when you open the heating system from it’s packaging is test it for continuity. The voltage range will be listed on the warning label. Using your voltmeter you need to test the connection ends for continuity within the voltage range.

If the system is going to be damaged, it will happen in shipping or during the installation. checking before install will let you know if there is an issue before you put the time in. Assuming continuity is there, we continue on with the install.

If you are using a mat or pad style heating element, you need to place it down as a “dry run.” This means laying the entire thing out to ensure it fits the space, around your fixtures or appliances and matches the manufacturer’s layout plan.

If, on the other hand, you are using a wired set you need to ensure that the wires are long enough and molded to fit around the space. Some will use a mat. This is a rubber “peg board” that allows you to wrap the wiring around as needed. This mat will be attached to the cement board before you add the wiring.

Once the dry run is successful, add a layer of thinset to the top of the cement board and place the heating system in place as a final lay down. You will use the power drill to notch areas for the leads and power wires to run.

Using mesh tape, secure the mat, wires or pads to the floor and ensure the continuity is still there after the wires are laid down. Use the hot glue gun, more mesh tape and even a thin layer of thinset to ensure your rolls, fold and cuts lay flat where needed.

Step 3: Wiring of the Heating System

Once the mat or wires are mounted and continuity is tested it is time to wire the system. Each will wire a little differently, some using a thermostat, others using a switch. You will need to follow the instructions that came with your system for this step to ensure you get it right.

Because there are so many different types, the general step is to run the leads through the flooring to the conduit and into a dedicated circuit breaker. Whether you run to a thermostat, dimmer switch, toggle switch or flip switch is up to your brand and style.

Once the wiring is connected you can test that the heating works, just be careful as the wiring will get hot fast and take a while to cool down. Keep the area clear during this power test. Be sure to turn the power at the breaker back off after the test to finish the install.

Step 4: Install the Tile

The next step is to place the mortar. Using your main trowel, press the thinset into the mesh, pad and wiring with about a 1/4-inch thick flat, smooth layer of mortar. Then, flip your towel to the grooved edge and float the trowel over getting close to the mesh and wiring without snagging.

Once you have the grooved thinset, it is time to place your tiles. Using the trowel handle to wiggle and tap the tiles into place.

It is advised to use larger tiles, such as 6-inch to 8-inch square tiles. Smaller tiles may wave or ebb when laying over the wiring. You also want to work in smaller areas. You want to lay the thinset, groove it and place the tiles in a small 5 foot area at a time. This will keep the thinset from hardening before you can place the tiles on top.

As the tiles are laid, the mortar will set. Allow it to fully set and then grout the tiles to finish the flooring.

Step 5: Finishing Touches

Connect your thermostat or switch, turn the breaker on and set your temperature settings as needed. Once the floor is fully set you want to wash off the excess grout and clean the floor.

Your tile floor should be level, complete and fully set. As needed, the heating element will come on according to your settings, heating the floor and the room when the temperature drops.

Congratulations, you have a radiant heated tile floor.

Tile Floor Heating Costs

One of the downsides of radiant heating systems is that they have a rather high initial cost. Materials and installation make up the bulk of the costs and can get lofty. However, once the initial costs are over, the system is cost-effective.

In fact, it is estimated that a radiant heated floor can save between 25 and 33% on your annual energy costs. Plus, there is zero maintenance on the electrical system since it is completely buried, saving you even more.

The cost will also vary depending on several factors including type of heating, project size, your electrical costs and of course how it is installed (see below).

Because of these variances, an exact cost is impossible to give an exact cost. However we can offer an average range. Based on square foot measurements instead of a by-project aspect, the range will be between $10 and $15 per square foot.

This, again, can vary greatly. Some reports list pricing as low as $6 per square foot and as high as $30 per square foot. Research and product selection will get you a closer average.

Installation Costs for Radiant Heating

Installation costs will account for about 50% of the initial costs. This, once again, will vary depending on the type, project size, your location, who performs the installation and other factors. The cost will also depend on the power type, such as electric (which is the most common), hydronic, geothermal, propane or solar. 

According to Home Advisor, the total project cost of install will range between $1700 and $6050. For whole-home installs this can go as high as $40,000, or cost as little as $500 for a single, small room install.

Finding a professional installer can be a tricky part of the process. You want someone skilled and trained in radiant heating. Unfortunately it isn’t as wide-spread as one would hope. However, we have a free tool that will put you in touch with local contractors that have been properly vetted.

Lowering the amount of work you need to do to find your estimates and quotes for the job, this tool will give you near instant results with up to four contractors in your area. Each one rated, reviewed and checked before they show up in your inbox. Give it a try today.

Pros and Cons of Heated Tile Floors

pros and cons heated tile flooring

Radiant heating has a lot of benefits, but it has some negative aspects, too. Let’s look at the pros and cons of the heating system to help you decide if it is right for you and worth the costs.
ProsCons
High energy efficiencyHigh initial cost
Even heat distributionNot every contractor is familiar with the install
Silent operationNot highly efficient underneath high insulators  (carpet, for example)
Heat remains after power is turned off 
Opens floor space 
Raises indoor air quality 

Known Heated Tile Floor Problems

Once the install is complete and the system is operational, there aren’t a lot of issues to worry about. On top of the energy savings and even heating, you also have near zero maintenance to worry about.

However there are a few things that can go wrong. The chart below lists the most common problems with radiant floor heating, possible causes and their solutions.
ProblemPossible CauseSolution
Floor slow to heat upPoor insulationDuring install, make sure cement board is properly set and used 
Circuit breaker tripsUndersized breaker/damage to wiringEnsure the circuit the system is assigned to is large enough for the power draw. During install conduct continuity testing throughout various stages to ensure wires were not damaged.
Energy bill risesImproper thermostat settingsOn average a small to medium install size should cost about $1 per 24 hours of operation. If you notice a spike in your energy bill, you may have the system set too high or running too long.  Investing in a programmable thermostat may help.
System doesn’t turn onDamages wiring during installDuring installation  check continuity of the wiring and system at various stages. If install is complete a professional may be needed to find the exact spot to make a repair.

Frequently Asked Questions about Heated Tile Floors

faq heated tile flooring guide

Here, we will answer some of the more common questions about heated tile flooring and radiant heating in general. If you have other questions, please use the comment section below.

Q. What is the best power source for radiant heat?

  1. Electric heating is the most common and currently most economical all around. Hydronic, or hot water systems as well as solar powered systems are more efficient in the long run but cost up to double for an initial installation.

Q. Are all flooring types rated for radiant heating?

  1. No. Not only are most flooring types not rated, but not every brand sells flooring that is rated. Before you purchase your tile, carpet, or laminate planks, ensure they are rated for radiant heating systems. You can check with the manufacturer or your installer before you buy.

Q. Do I have to have a professional install for heated tile floors?

  1. In most cases laying radiant heating in mats or pads is as simple as laying tile. However, if you are not up to the task, or just don’t want the hassle, professional installation is accepted. It isn’t required, though, and many confident DIYers install floor heating systems every day.

Q. Does a heated tile floor heat the entire room?

  1. Yes. Radiant heat works much like the rays of the sun. The heat will come from the wiring to the mat and tiles or flooring above it. It will radiate upward heating the objects in the room, but not the air itself. So you, the furniture, fixtures, floors, walls and even ceiling will become warmer.

Conclusion

Heated tile flooring is a DIY install that can be completed in a weekend. Depending on the overall size of your project, it can even be done by a single person with minimal tools and materials.

This guide aimed to show you the basic tools, materials and steps needed to install heated tile floors.

Whether in the bathroom, kitchen or entire home, radiant heating is economical and efficient, helping you evenly heat your home and save money in the process.

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AUTHOR

Nora has more than 5 years experience in the floor covering industry, acquiring vast knowledge about installation and material selection. She now enjoys working as a writer and an interior decorator. Her work has been featured in The Spruce, Homes & Gardens, Southern Living and Real Homes. See full biography here.

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