The Underfloor Heating Industry; The State of the Art

How are we doing as an Industry? Right now, our industry as a whole is not in good economic shape, with global and local economic issues stressing the industry, and our sector within it. However, this article is looking out and forward with an optimistic eye on the medium term future.

How is the art of underfloor heating? Or is it no longer an art but just another form of heating? We are in a happy state of transition from the early adaptor phase, into the more economically viable scaling up stage, as we go mainstream. The elasticity of demand means prices (compared to other forms of heating) are ever keener, and demand, as a consequence is growing, and will continue to, particularly on the increased percentage of new build being apartments. With poorer trading conditions than a few years ago, this translates more as market share than volumes right now.

This increase in demand is as much based on decisions made by hard headed pragmatic specifiers, from housebuilders to commercial developers, engineering consultants and individual installers. They look at Underfloor Heating as a green, eco-friendly option, but they buy it because they can now afford to – this being the difference between now and only a handful of years ago. The cost/benefit argument is being won. And it is no longer the stronghold of well-informed self-builders.

A current key driver; and perhaps a key turning point has been heat pumps. Let us not forget they are relatively new to the market. I, like many others in our sector consider them both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because most models on the market produce lower temperature water than conventional boilers, therefore making them ideally suited to underfloor heating, and a curse because making this new system work is not easy. The uptake of underfloor heating for use with heat pumps could be seen as putting the cart before the horse. I could spend considerable time on this subject alone – suffice to say that there is a knowledge gap out there with installers on Heat Pump based systems reminiscent of Underfloor Heating itself 10 years ago. It is all in the planning: The heating demands of the building should be calculated first, then what method of heat emission should be used, and finally what energy source can best provide this. It is often now a sophisticated layered multifuel system, including solar thermal, heat pump and gas or electrical boilers, with buffer tanks or thermal storage units. Here I unashamedly borrow a phrase from an industry colleague – through this diligent approach we are future proofing properties.

For Underfloor Heating, some of the early mystery is fading now, as a new generation of installers and specifiers come into play with the knowledge and calculating tools – this being that underfloor heating is no harder than wall hung radiator heating, indeed is quite possibly easier – of how to design and then install. There is now a proliferation of manufacturer sponsored training and education programmes, further accelerating knowledge, allowing specifiers at all levels to make informed decisions. Increasingly simple and cost efficient retrofit solutions means another barrier to expanding the trade has been removed, and this is best exemplified by some of the major UK player’s presence through the national merchant groups.

The trade association for underfloor heating, always a barometer of the progression of an industry, has just reformatted itself, and is now equally concerned with growing the market as well as doing it technically right. UHMA, now part of BEAMA, is well positioned to influence the heating industry and its regulations. We are no longer in the shadow of the heat energy source, being the bit stuck on the end of a system, instead have a voice of our own – and a European standard to help support it, EN1264. It is no longer just a talking technical shop, but a forward moving influencer of regulations and legislation.

Download this article as a PDF:  Is underfloor heating an art?

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