Hardwood Floors & Heat Systems

Hardwood Floors And Radiant Heat Systems

Hardwood floors can successfully be installed over radiant heat systems by an experienced professional flooring installer. This means that a homeowner will need to consider the experience of the installer, his knowledge of the hardwood flooring material being used, his understanding of the radiant heat system, and most important, moisture. All these variables need to be understood and controlled, or else the floor will end up being a disaster.

Moisture and hardwoods

Of all the above listed variables, moisture is the number one hardwood floor’s most intimidating and feared adversary. Add radiant heat, and moisture dramatically becomes the leading cause of hardwood floor issues. Radiant heat radically aggravates the moisture fluctuations in wooden floors.

Understanding radiant heat

To better understand how radiant heat can worsen a moisture level issue on hardwood floors, some basic information on the same is in order. Radiant heat consists of radiant energy that is emitted from a heat sources such as the sun, fireplaces, electricity, or what is commonly referred to as radiant energy sources. This energy penetrates all objects in its path, including the people. The energy travels through space without heat the space itself. This is unlike the heat that comes from forced-air heating systems that actually warms the air. When this heat comes across cooler surfaces, it attempts to equalize the temperature differences by giving off heat. As the cool surface is being heated, moisture is released to the air.

The majority of radiant heat systems used in this country today are hydronic, meaning that under the subfloor or even the main floor are a number of plastic tubes through which hot water flows through. This water is then heated by anything from electricity, solar energy to natural gas. A radiant heat system heats items all around it. In the process, these materials are all dried up, driving moisture from the flooring, subfloor, joists and slab to the surface.

Hardwood flooring material choices for use with radiant heat systems

Wood flooring options that can boost the likelihood of a successful radiant heat flooring installation include the following.

• Narrow boards: These swell and shrink less than wider varieties of the same. Usage of boards that are less than 3” wide is recommended.

• Rift-sawn and Quartersawn floors: These are more dimensionally stable than plain sawn hardwood flooring materials. Expanding in height, these are more recommendable than plain sawn boards which expand in width.

• Engineered wood floors: These are dimensionally stable than solid wood flooring materials.  More plies of the engineered flooring materials means more stable products or surfaces.

• Dark floors:  These make seasonal gaps less noticeable.

• Reclaimed woods: Coming with tighter patterns of growth rings, these are more stable.

• Distressed and beveled edges flooring: They minimize the appearance of seasonal gaps.

• Parquet: There are less contraction and expansion tendencies with these.

• Dimensionally stable hardwood species: Varieties that go well with a radiant heat system include American cherry, American walnut, North American oak, some varieties of bamboo, birch, maple and Brazilian cherry. Note that most of the exotic wood species are particularly susceptible to issues that relate to bad drying practices.

In conclusion, whether a home owner is buying refinished old, new or reclaimedhardwood flooring product, it is important to be aware of how the decision will affect the radiant heat system in a home. As the move to hardwood flooring products continue to grow in this country, most hardwood flooring manufacturers are also expanding their options to their clients.

We have arrived at a time period where what is old is new again. It is increasingly becoming popular to use reclaimed hardwoods on the floors. Manufacturers of these flooring products are turning old timber into usable items of choice once again today. Whichever the flooring choice, it is important to opt for a product that can work well with your radiant heat system.