Say good-bye to the classic avocado green stove and matching refrigerator and say hello to high efficiency windows, ergonomic appliances, and energy efficient lighting. All of these are easy targets when looking at renovations because they are out in the open and are items we see every time we walk into the room. But, what about the floor? How about bringing the floor into the twenty-first century? Is that even possible?
Although a lot of the techniques used to install a tile or stone floor are the same as they were 50 years ago, modern tile floors do offer a wide range of improvements over their earlier predecessors. Today’s tile floors are installed in ways which not only allow them to look their best, but use product and tools which give them the ability to do more than simply look nice. They become a functional part of the room.
Installing tile and stone floors have taken large leaps forward from the days of our grandfathers. Prefabricated cement backerboards and other substrate composites provide stability, required for tile and stone floor coverings. But, modern home construction is much more than simply providing a beautiful home. Today’s homeowners want beauty and efficiency.
The secret is to be able to do both.
Electric radiant floor systems offer a low cost, high impact solution to the age old cold floor. Designed with the floor construction in mind, most electric radiant floor systems are integrated directly into the thinset below the tile. Open weave formats, ultra-small wire diameters, and smart controls are just a few features present in today’s electric radiant systems.
Open weave formats allow the thinset to bond directly with the tile and the underlayment. This simple feature provides the necessary 85% or greater coverage while keeping the overall thickness as thin as possible. The wire diameter is also a key element in keeping the floor profile thin. New wire manufacturing methods provide resistance heating cables as small as 1/8” diameter. This small diameter wire means very little change in the amount of thinset required for the finished tile floor covering.
Electric radiant floors come in either a prefabricated mat, where the wire is set into a mat at predefined spacing, or as a loose cable. Both options have their advantages. Mat systems generally allow for quicker installations, especially in larger rooms. Loose cable systems tend to take a bit longer to install, but offer the flexibility of being able to be “shaped” to a room’s profile. This is ideal when dealing with custom rooms, such as master bathrooms, which have odd angles, curves, or several recesses.
Most mat products operate around 12 Watts/sf while most cables provide anywhere between 10 to 15 Watts/sf by varying the wire spacing. To keep the installation simple, most products are available in either 120 or 240 volt systems. There are a few which are available in a 24 volt format. These low voltage systems usually require additional electrical components, such as step-down transformers and larger amp capacities at the breaker.
Choosing and installing the electric radiant system and setting the tile is just part of what makes a modern radiant system special. The other half is the control. New “smart” controls do much more than simply turn the system on, they react to the system’s needs.
Smart controls monitor the floor’s temperature and regulate the on/off cycling. Program in a target temperature, a start and end time, and the control takes care of the rest. This “smart” feature equates directly to increased operational savings. Systems run only when needed, resulting in lower utility consumption and a more consistent floor temperature.
Modern electric radiant floor systems provide a key element in enhancing the overall beauty of tile and stone floors without complicating the installation process. Tile and stone naturally add visual accents to the room. Now, by incorporating a bit of twenty-first century magic, they can also add the much desired warmth, as well. Electric radiant and tile, the perfect combination.
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