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Be prepared for UFH growth

The growing demand for underfloor heating (UFH) provides a clear opportunity for installers looking to install and maintain these systems, says Richard Harvey, commercial director at Wolseley

With homeowners constantly looking for new ways to improve their home, it comes as no surprise that the demand for UFH is on the up. This combined with the energy saving benefits offered by UFH means 90% of new builds are now being built with the technology.

The UK’s underfloor heating market has grown significantly over the last five years and it still is one of the fastest growing sectors in the heating industry. Driven by use in both commercial and domestic buildings, UFH currently accounts for 7.7% of the UK’s current heating systems according to AMA Research.

With the expectation of a 4 to 6% growth in the next four years, installers must be ready to take on more UFH jobs and upskill themselves to do so. While there are two systems of UFH; wet and electric, each provide different benefits to a homeowner, making both suitable for different types of projects. While an electric UFH system is easier to install, they are better suited to small areas such as ensuite bathrooms. A wet underfloor heating system is ideal for a full house, either retrofitted or in new build properties.

What’s driving the market?

While UFH currently benefits from stability in the residential homebuilding and renovation sector, more and more homeowners are moving towards the hidden heating system in favour of gaining more space. It removes the space required for radiators and allows homeowners to make better use of their homes, providing them with an option to have large open plan areas or simply the opportunity to place furniture in parts of a room they couldn’t have before.

Not only does it provide a modern and cosy feel to a home, UFH is also up to 25% more efficient than the traditional radiator. This increases to 40% when a wet system is used in conjunction with a condensing boiler running from a heat pump. Although wet underfloor heating can run on a conventional gas, oil or solid fuel boiler or even a biomass boiler, the lower running temperatures of UFH systems make them ideal for use with heat pumps.

With the Government recently announcing a new Green Homes Grant, homeowners in England will be eligible to use vouchers to help pay for environmentally friendly home improvements. Combined with the installation ban of conventional gas boilers in homes from 2025, homeowners will soon have no option but to move towards renewable technology.

Heat pumps are a great addition to UFH systems as they help to maximise the efficiency and power of UFH. Although still compatible with conventional gas and oil boilers, when the water is heated, temperatures can reach between 65 and 85 degrees making it extremely dangerous and uncomfortable to walk on. However, when fed by a heat pump, water will only reach temperatures of around 40 degrees — the optimum temperature for underfloor heating.

Flexibility of smart control

The majority of heating systems now have a digital programmable thermostat, so that homeowners are able to control their heating via their mobile phone or tablet. Smart thermostats not only enable more efficient use of heating, but also provide money-saving benefits.

All it takes is a 3G, 4G or WiFi connection and the homeowner can control the heating for their home wherever they are. In addition, most of the smart controls have apps that indicate a series of graphs so that the homeowner is able to see when and where heating is being used the most.

Prices may vary 

When it comes to calculating the price for UFH, it often varies depending on the area of the UK and the size of the project. And although wet systems are 30% more expensive than the standard radiator, the long-term benefits are far greater.

For self-build properties, homeowners can expect to pay £2,800 for a bespoke installation – that’s roughly for an area of 100m2. Whereas for a retrofit residential installation can cost anything up to £4,500 to complete 60m2

Training

While there is no particular training required to become qualified in fitting UFH, installers are expected to brush up on their existing skills to ensure the project is completed correctly.

Upskilling on floor screeding is key for underfloor heating as if it’s done incorrectly, it can become extremely costly and disruptive to correct. Poorly screeded floors can create an uneven dissipation of heat, or the cracking or collapsing of the floor itself.

Although most suppliers will offer support to ensure contractors are up to speed with the installation process and to get them on their feet, there are also a range of online training courses available.

Focusing on theory and practical elements of UFH, design and installation, installers can gain insight into the commercial benefits to allow them to offer the best UFH systems to their customers. 

To the floor

For an installer, it’s important to consider the floor of the building prior to installation. The flooring will hugely affect the heat output and some properties are not as well insulated as newbuilds. Although underfloor heating is generally suited for ground-floor rooms, there are systems that suit all types of floor construction. And in terms of a wet rooms, it’s generally more suitable for new extensions, conservatories and open-plan kitchens.

Solid wood floors aren’t really suitable for underfloor heating as it’ll be harder for the heat to transfer through. Wooden flooring on the other hand, is a far better option than natural wood as its less likely to change when exposed to different temperature levels.

For any homeowner that has timber flooring, it’s recommended that the UFH should have a temperature restriction of 27°C and an expansion gap. Carpet however, must have a thermal resistance of less than 2.5 tog. 

Planning is essential

According to the ‘Underfloor Heating Market by Component - Global Forecast 2023’ the demand for UFH is set to increase by 67% between 2016 and 2023 so in terms of the installer, it’s crucial that they know how to tackle any potential challenges in order to ensure a successful project. When it comes to starting the initial installation, it’s imperative that a planning process is followed to ensure the job runs smoothly – from having the correct materials on hand, through to ordering enough pipe to guarantee there are no delays in the process. 

Preparing pipework

In terms of pipework for UFH, it’s crucial that all elements are measured carefully and correctly. If you avoid this stage, it can cause major delays, under or over ordering and even compromising the performance of the system altogether.

When it comes to fitting the pipes, don’t forget to factor in heat source before you start installing the UFH system, it’s crucial that the spacing between the pipes is 20cm for heat pumps and 30cm for traditional heating. 

Removing air

When the pipework is laid, it’s important to check whether the UFH system works as it should and does in fact circulate warm water properly. Whilst doing so, it’s also a good excuse to make sure there aren’t any traces of air in the system or pipes as when air does get trapped, it can reduce the impact of heat and leave some areas of the room colder than others.

To conquer the issue, it’s crucial to wait 10 minutes after the UFH is full of water to start bleeding the ports as it’ll stop any air from getting into the heating system. After that time, installers can then start venting the UFH system, venting each valve individually in a one-by-one process. Drain off the waste and then close each valve once complete, gradually flushing out the pipes to refill the system. 

Thermostats and heating zones

As mentioned earlier, homeowners with UFH are able to create multi-zone heating temperatures controlled by individual thermostats. But to ensure this works correctly, it’s critical that the zones and positioning of each thermostat is mapped out to match the occupants’ lifestyle during the design stage. By doing so will mean the pipework layout and wiring centre will support each zone and manual input.

Although cutting corners may seem like a cheaper option with homeowners only wanting to have just one thermostat to control multiple zones, it’s actually recommended that thermostats are added to every zone. Why? Because rooms that are not in use will be heated when only specific areas are needed, and the temperature of the room where the thermostat is located can easily influence the temperature for other rooms. 

Working with the right people

Wolseley has partnered with leading UFH brands such as Myson, JG Speedfit and ThermaQ to launch Wolseley UFH.

This new initiative has been created to help installers obtain quick and accurate quotes, win more work, and provide a better customer service.

Installers can now contact their local Wolseley branch with details of their UFH project, such as project drawings, heat sources and floor construction. 

2 December 2020

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