Radiant floor heating is a popular way of heating a home, but is it true, as some say, that it can cause a fire?
No, heated floors aren’t a safety hazard. They’ve been installed and used safely for over 50 years. A properly installed radiant heat floor system is no more dangerous than any other heating system.
In the rest of the article, you’ll find out:
- The types of radiant floor heating systems
- Safety precautions to prevent fires or other issues
- Things to keep in mind when you have a system installed
What Type of Radiant Floors are Available?
There are three types of radiant floors:
- Electric mesh
- Mat with the wire mesh embedded in it
- Flexible tubing that carries hot water
An electric mesh is just that, a mesh of insulated wires that heat the floor when the thermostat is turned up. Usually used in new construction, they are installed on the subfloor, covered in thin-set mortar, and the finish flooring is put over it.
The mesh is installed according to the blueprints for the house and is connected to the electric service box. It will have its own breaker(s) and will have thermostats for each zone (room) for individual control.
So long as the wires aren’t damaged, there’s no risk of fire. In the event of a short circuit, the system will shut the power off and won’t work until it’s repaired.
Mat with the wire mesh embedded in it
A wire mesh mat is a mat with the wires embedded in a flexible material. These are used in new construction and in heating retrofits. The mat makes it easy to install and customize to an existing floorplan.
The same safety systems are installed as with the mesh system. The thin-set mortar covering the mat not only provides even heating, but it also protects the mat from damage.
Again, so long as the wires aren’t damaged or compromised, the system is safe and won’t work if there’s a short circuit.
Flexible tubing that carries hot water
A hot water system uses flexible PEX tubing to carry hot water under the floor. There really isn’t any fire hazard from this system.
The main risk is any damage to the tubing will cause a leak and subsequent water damage to the home. Fixing a leak can be a time-consuming and expensive process, since tracking down the leak can take a while and then the floor needs to be taken up.
If the system is installed in a crawlspace or basement between the joist bays, the repairs won’t take as much time but will still be pricey, especially if the wood structure has been damaged.
Overall, the heating systems last very long and they are safe over their whole life-span. If you would like to understand a bit more how long this type of heating lasts, be sure to check our post “How Long Does Hydronic Heating Last?“.
Precautions, Safety Tips, and Recommendations
As stated previously, hot water systems don’t really present a fire hazard. However, you do need to take precautions with electric radiant floor systems. These are common-sense precautions and precautions recommended by the floor manufacturers and installers. Follow them and you’ll be safe from a possible fire.
- DON’T drill or nail anything into the floor. This could damage the wires and cause a short or shut the system down.
- DON’T put bean bag chairs, animal beds, rugs or mattresses on the floor, as these can restrict air flow and cause hot spots
- DON’T use flat bottomed furniture for the same reason.
Using any of these can cause overheating which can damage the system and potentially cause a fire.
Make sure that the thermostats are working properly. If you are having problems with your system, contact the company who installed it or a licensed electrician. Don’t try to fix it yourself. That would definitely make matters worse and can be dangerous or even deadly.
Even if it’s just a malfunctioning thermostat, don’t do it! While you may think you’re saving money, the cost may be a lot more than you expected.
Even if you follow these safety tips, you still may have problems. If you notice hot spots, uneven heating, the system’s circuit breakers continually trip, or any other issues, shut the system off and contact your electrician or installer immediately.
You might be a little chilly and uncomfortable but leaving a malfunctioning system on can lead to a disaster.
If you can, and the system is visible, such as a system installed in-floor joist bays, visually inspect the heating elements for any damage or leaks, in the case of a hot water system. A leak in a hot water system can spread water onto your wiring and cause a short that can lead to a fire.
Upgrading your Electric Service Could Help You
Another issue with electric radiant systems is the electric service to the home. If it’s a new or newer home, the service should be more than adequate to handle the load.
If you have an older home, have the electric service upgraded when you have the system installed. That way you lessen the risk of overloading your home’s electrical system and cause the circuit breakers to trip or have your system overheat and cause a fire.
Upgrading your home’s electric service isn’t that expensive and it gives you peace of mind knowing that your home’s electric system is up to the task.
Radiant floor heating systems are safe and reliable. They’ve been used for over 50 years and are a proven technology. Any possible hazards can be mitigated just by using common sense and following simple precautions:
- Keep your system in good working order.
- Have your installer inspect your system periodically; it’s (relatively) cheap insurance and they can spot any possible problems before they become a major issue
- Make sure you maintain air flow over the floor, especially with electric radiant floor systems
- Don’t do anything that might damage the heating elements, like nailing something to the floor or drilling a hole in the floor.
- If you suspect a problem, call your installer immediately and have them check the system. Any delay could be disastrous.
- Make sure your electric service is up to the task. If you have an older home, a service upgrade will prevent any electrical overloads and possible fire hazards.
Radiant floor heating is a great way to heat your home. It heats your home evenly, it can be zoned for individual rooms, which can save money, and it’s nice having a warm floor on a cold morning, especially in the bathroom. Cold tile floors can be a nasty wake-up call.
While the installation can be messy, it’s worth the trouble. Once it’s installed, following simple safety precautions and protocols will ensure years of safe, reliable service.
So, if you’re considering radiant floor heating for your new or existing home, don’t worry. The technology has been proven over decades of use and is a safe and effective way of heating your home.
Be sure to compare electric and hot water systems to decide which is right for you. Once you decide on a system, work with your installer and learn how the system works, how to maintain it and what to do if you have any problems. That way, you can ensure the longevity and reliability of your system, your family’s comfort and most importantly, their safety.
If you are interested in floor heating, be sure to check our post “How Long Does It Take Hydronic Heating to Warm Up?“. If you are interested in fire safety, head over to “Can LED Lights Catch Fire?” to learn whether this type of lighting poses a fire hazard to your building.