What To Know About Radiant Floor Heating Cost

Radiant floor heating is an efficient and luxurious home heating solution. Find the right system for your home with this comprehensive cost breakdown.

Frank Lloyd Wright, the influential American architect, used radiant floor heating in his home designs way back in 1936. He loved the uncluttered design the heating system offered, free from visible radiators and air ducts.

Today, radiant floor heating is still valued for its clean aesthetic, as well as its comfortable and consistent heat. Read on to learn about radiant floor heating costs and see if they’re a good fit for your home and budget.

pipes of under floor heating in construction of new residential housefilmfoto/Getty Images

What Is Radiant Floor Heating?

Radiant floor heating features elements like electric cables or water-filled pipes beneath the floor surface. These elements emit heat that rises upward, warming the room from the ground up to create a comfortable, even warmth that’s clean and energy efficient.

Installation can occur in new or existing homes. It works under tile, engineered wood, laminate or carpet.

Types of Radiant Floor Heating

The main types are electric and hydronic.

Electric radiant heating

This system consists of electric wires installed underneath the floor. It relies on electrical resistance cables or heating mats to generate heat, which radiates upward to warm the floor surface and, subsequently, the room above. These elements are installed in a grid or pattern, typically set in self-leveling compound or thin set mortar, before adding finish flooring above it.

The cables connect to a thermostat or temperature control system which regulates the heat output. Homeowners can set the desired temperature, and the system will maintain it by adjusting the electric current flowing through the heating elements. Because electricity can get expensive, electric systems are best for small scale projects like bathrooms and mudrooms.

Hydronic radiant heating

This system circulates hot water through a network of pipes or tubing beneath the floor. These are also typically embedded in self-leveling compound or thin set mortar, but can also be installed between floor joists beneath the subfloor. A boiler or water heater heats the water to the desired temperature, and a thermostat or control system regulates it.

Hydronic systems come with lower operating costs, so are typically used for whole-house systems or large spaces. The water in the pipes retains the heat even after the thermostat shuts off, keeping the room at the desired temperature longer.

How Much Does Radiant Floor Heating Cost?

Pipefitter install system of underfloor heating system at homeromaset/Getty Images

Electric radiant flooring

Expect to pay, on average, $6 per square foot for materials, depending on the type of system. Each system consists of three basic parts: the heat cable, thermostat and heat sensor. The latter, embedded in the floor, communicates with the thermostat.

Heat cable comes in three types. Electric cable is the least expensive but more difficult to install. Mesh mat is mid-priced but easier to install. Solid mat systems are the most expensive and the fastest to install.

Professional installation will cost $8 to $15 per square foot. But installation is a manageable task for moderately experienced DIYers looking to save on labor costs. Installation will require some basic wiring skills, and wires may need to be fished through the wall to connect to the thermostat. But overall this is a DIY-friendly project, especially with mesh and solid mat materials.

In addition, if you’re setting your cable into thin set or self-leveling compound, factor this into your costs. Self-leveling compound and plastic lath will cost about $2 per square foot in materials to cover your floor with the 1/2-in. layer necessary to embed the cable.

Hydronic radiant flooring

Hydronic radiant flooring can cost $2 to $3 per square foot for materials, but this can vary depending on the scope of the project. “Every time you add a zone to the system you add $400 to $700 to the cost,” says Rick Martin of Radiant Company in Vermont.

Hydronic systems materials include pipes or tubing, water pumps, water heaters, thermostats and manifolds, which help control the flow of water. Though materials are less expensive than electrical systems, the cost of hydronic systems is rising. Martin says every week, prices go up at least a few cents per part.

In addition to materials, expect to pay $6 to $20 per square foot for professional installation, but DIYers could also save here by doing it themselves. Designing and installing a hydronic system requires advanced DIY skills, but some companies will design and ship systems, which simplifies installation. Martin’s company offers this service.

“Ninety percent of our customers install it themselves,” he says. “It comes down to whether you have the time to do it, and some ability, but most have never dealt with radiant heat before.”

Laurie M Nichols
I am a freelance real estate writer, specializing in accessible and engaging content for websites in the industry. I draw on thirteen years of real estate investing experience, as well as seven years as a home repair professional to inform my writing. I am a former high school English teacher with a M. Ed in Secondary Education and am a registered Home Improvement Contractor in the State of Massachusetts.