Underfloor heating (UFH) systems are considered by some to be unsuitable for use with oak flooring, and this opinion may well be down to the ‘bad press’ that is sometimes due to an experience, or knowledge of, a floor failure in the past.
We all know that bad word-of-mouth travels a lot faster than good, which can result from an inaccurate or incorrect assessment of the reasons why a floor failed following installation.
Imagine the situation where an oak floor is delivered to a site where all persons involved are familiar with each other, or are work colleagues. Should something go wrong after installation, who is likely to be blamed? Will it be the group of friends or colleagues who installed the flooring and used it thereafter, or will it be the supplier of the flooring itself?
Consider who would be perceived as being in the weakest position in a scenario where the buyer, the installer, the architect, and the floor owner all know each other well, and who may well have worked together previously? Yes, you’ve guessed it . . . they’re going to blame the product, or the supplier of that product. This can result in the wrong assessment for failure, or at least the wrong reasons being stated by all involved.
Why Oak Flooring Can Fail Over Underfloor Heating
The plain fact is that oak flooring is suitable for installation above UFH in most situations. In 99.9% of floor failures one of the following is a factor in failure: the wrong product has been selected; incorrect or insufficient acclimatisation has been applied; unsuitable fitting methods; poor workmanship; or the ongoing maintenance of the floor has been either insufficient or non-existent.
The reason for emphasising the potential faults listed above is that it’s often the oak flooring that gets the blame, even when the cause of the problem is something else completely. This can discourage others from using it for their project if they they have, or want, UFH themselves.
Word of these ‘bad experiences’ spreads easily even when they are falsely diagnosed. The whole flooring industry is effected, because people hear the rumours and think to themselves: “well I’m not using oak flooring over my underfloor heating, if that’s going to happen!”, which is understandable, when they are armed with such limited and inaccurate information.
The most common reason for oak floor failure over UFH is the failure to follow simple guidelines. This can be due to many reasons, but the most common is that it seems everyone wants a natural oak floor but few want it to behave or respond like a natural oak floor does when it’s installed within our homes. Let me explain further…
The dimensions of every piece of oak flooring, whether it a solid oak plank or an engineered oak plank, are directly linked to its Moisture Content (MC). In other words, when an oak flooring plank increases from 8% MC to 12% MC it will expand and get bigger, and when the opposite happens it will contract and become smaller.
Although this information isn’t exactly rocket science, it appears to be very difficult to accept for some people who experience challenges with their oak floor after installation, especially when UFH is present.
An oak flooring supplier of any worth or integrity will emphasise all potential challenges before they happen, during the planning process, and not just after it is installed. Managing expectations in this way is always better in such situations, both for the floor owner and the supplier.
Avoid Problems When Fitting Oak Flooring Over Underfloor Heating
To avoid challenges when oak flooring is installed over UFH there are some very important considerations to be made, and some vital processes required before installation even begins.
Some companies will provide detailed acclimatisation guidelines for this situation, along with comprehensive fitting guidelines and ongoing maintenance advice in an effort to ensure good performance.
Ignoring this information is like buying a Ferrari and driving it without ever adding oil, then going back to the garage when the engine has seized claiming there’s something wrong with the car, which would be considered a ridiculous claim.
As well as following the necessary guidelines, it’s also important that the UFH system performs as efficiently as possible when combined with the oak flooring laid above it, so using an oak floor that has a low Thermal Resistance is advisable.
Improving Efficiency of Underfloor Heating
Maximising the efficiency of your UFH system will save you money month on month, and with the cost of electricity only expected to go one way in the future, this can add up to hundreds of pounds of savings every year.
A product worth considering when trying to achieve such savings is engineered Oak Flooring, a new and unique design that is available as both 15mm thick for installation over a supporting subfloor, and 21mm thick that can be laid directly onto joists because it is classed as structural grade.
When installed its appearance is like any other naturally finished engineered oak flooring, the big difference being that its underside has a unique pattern of holes drilled within, thus reducing the Thermal Resistance of the floor and allowing the heat from the UFH system to travel through it more easily and quickly.
In tests, both thickness of boards have proven to be approx 12-20% more efficient than other engineered flooring of a similar thickness, the 15mm one actually proving to be more efficient than a 14mm product with 1mm less oak wear layer thickness.
So when you want oak flooring over your UFH, don’t listen to rumours of past floor failures, do your own research and due-diligence, so that you can reach your own decision about whether it’s suitable or not.