Heating Systems for Tile Floors: How do they work? – On the House

Heating Systems for Tile Floors: How do they work?

By on July 7, 2016

I’ve seen heating systems for tile floors.  How do they work, and will they make my floor too thick? 


According to a professional heating service specialist, there are two main categories of in-floor heating systems for tiled floors: hydronic, which is typically used as a primary heating source, and electrical heating cable, which is most commonly used for comfort heat, but can be used as a primary heating source in certain conditions.

Hydronic heating has many benefits but it needs to be incorporated into the entire design of the house as it would typically replace forced air or other primary heating systems.

Electric heating cables are normally used by professional heating services to warm tiled floors and provide a bit of supplementary heat, especially in areas like Ottawa.  Many people find tile cool, especially in the winter, and these systems make the floor warm enough that they are comfortable and inviting year round, even in bare feet.  They are controlled by a separate thermostat so temperatures can be set to suit the homeowner’s preferences and can be varied by the time of year and time of day.

Besides the thermostat, there are two main components we recommend for electric heating systems – the heating cables, and an uncoupling membrane.  Uncoupling membranes should be installed on all tile floors as they eliminate the primary cause of cracks in tile and grout.  The membrane allows for the natural movement that takes place in the tile and the subfloor to occur without causing stress to the tiles and grout on top, and thus prevents them from cracking.


In a floor that is being warmed frequently, it is even more important to protect against expansion and contraction of the materials in the floor, so uncoupling a warmed floor is essential.  It is these two layers, the heating cables and uncoupling membrane that can cause warming systems to create a thicker floor and can create uneven transitions between the warmed tile areas and other floor coverings in the home.  To avoid this build-up, we prefer to use Schluter®’s DITRA-HEAT system.  With this system, the heating cables are snapped into place within the uncoupling membrane, so that the total assembly is thinner and it is therefore easier to create a smooth transition from one floor area to the next.


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