Is Electric or Water Underfloor Heating Better? Top 5 Comparison

Imagine stepping onto a warm floor in the middle of a chilly winter morning. Your toes are enveloped in comforting warmth, a stark contrast to the icy weather outside. This luxury is no longer reserved for high-end resorts. It’s underfloor heating – a modern home comfort solution gaining popularity across the globe. Yet, there’s a common dilemma homeowners face – electric or water-based underfloor heating, which one is better?

According to recent statistics, over 5 million homes in the UK have installed some form of underfloor heating, making it a $358 million industry in 2023. While these figures are surprising, they reflect a growing trend for increased home comfort and energy efficiency. But, with two distinct types to choose from – electric and water-based systems – making the right choice can be tricky.

This blog post seeks to eliminate the confusion. We’ll delve into the world of underfloor heating, comparing electric and water-based systems on several vital fronts, making your decision-making process a walk in the park. Let’s unravel the mystery together.

Keynote: Is Electric or Water Underfloor Heating Better?

Both electric and water underfloor heating have benefits. Electric systems are easier and cheaper to install, ideal for small rooms and renovations. Water systems are more efficient for heating larger spaces, though installation is more complex and costly. The choice depends on your specific needs and budget.

How Does Underfloor Heating Work?

Underfloor heating operates under a simple principle. Instead of heating the air directly like traditional radiators, it warms up the floor which then radiates the heat upwards, creating a comfortable and even temperature throughout the room. There are two main types: electric (dry) underfloor heating and water-based (wet) underfloor heating.

Electric underfloor heating involves a network of thin heating wires, usually incorporated into a mesh mat. This is laid directly under your floor finish or embedded within the floor structure, and when electricity passes through these wires, they heat up, warming your floor surface.

Water-based underfloor heating, on the other hand, uses a series of pipes connected to your boiler that circulate warm water throughout the floor to heat the space. It’s a bit more complex to install than electric systems, but it can be more efficient to run, especially in larger areas.

The History and Popularity of Underfloor Heating

Interestingly, underfloor heating isn’t a modern concept. Ancient Romans used a version of it called “hypocaust” where hot air from furnaces was channeled beneath the floor to provide warmth. Over the centuries, the technology has significantly evolved, and by the 21st century, we have sophisticated electric and water-based underfloor heating systems.

In terms of popularity, the underfloor heating market has seen a notable upswing in the last decade. In fact, according to Grand View Research, the global underfloor heating market is expected to reach $7.9 billion by 2025, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.3% from 2019 to 2025. The surge can be attributed to the increasing awareness of the benefits of underfloor heating systems, like improved energy efficiency and superior comfort.

How Electric Underfloor Heating Works

Electric underfloor heating operates using a network of slimline wires that are directly installed beneath your floor finish or within the structural layers of the floor. When the system is powered on, electricity runs through these wires, causing them to heat up. The heat is then transferred directly to the floor material, warming it up and, in turn, heating the room from the ground upwards.

Typical Uses and Applications of Electric Underfloor Heating

Due to its simpler installation process and flexible design, electric underfloor heating is ideal for a variety of applications. It is especially suited for renovations or retrofitting in existing homes, as the thin heating wires cause minimal disruption to the floor levels. It’s also great for smaller rooms like bathrooms and kitchens, where the rapid heat up time can provide warmth quickly. For homes powered with renewable energy or those not connected to a gas supply, electric underfloor heating can be an efficient solution.

Pros and Cons of Electric Underfloor Heating


  • Easy installation: The thin wires are easy to lay and cause minimal disruption to the floor structure.
  • Fast heat-up time: Electric systems can heat up quickly, making them suitable for rooms used intermittently.
  • Flexible design: The heating mats can be cut to size, allowing for easy installation in irregularly shaped rooms.


  • Running cost: Although installation costs are lower, the cost of electricity can make them more expensive to run, particularly in larger areas.
  • Less efficient for larger spaces: While they’re great for small rooms, they may not be as efficient or cost-effective in larger spaces compared to water-based systems.
  • Impact on the environment: Depending on your energy provider, electric systems can have a higher carbon footprint compared to water-based systems.

How Water Underfloor Heating Works

Water-based underfloor heating, also known as a ‘wet’ system, involves a network of pipes laid under the floor, which are connected to your central heating system. Warm water from the heating system circulates through these pipes, effectively turning your floor into a large radiator. The heat from the water is transferred to the floor material, which then radiates warmth into the room.

Typical Uses and Applications of Water Underfloor Heating

Water-based underfloor heating is commonly used in larger areas and new-build homes due to its high efficiency in large spaces and the ease of installation during the building phase. They are also an excellent choice for homes with a central heating system, particularly those using a heat pump. Being integrated into the central heating system, they work efficiently in providing a consistent level of warmth across the entire space.

Pros and Cons of Water Underfloor Heating


  • Energy efficient: Once installed, wet systems can be more energy-efficient than electric underfloor heating, especially in larger areas.
  • Lower running costs: They are generally cheaper to run than electric systems, thanks to their connection to the central heating system.
  • Ideal for larger areas: The nature of a water-based system makes it a great choice for heating large open plan spaces.


  • Complex installation: Installing a water-based system can be disruptive, especially in existing properties. It also requires more space in the floor structure.
  • Longer heat-up time: Water systems generally take longer to heat up than electric systems, so planning ahead is key.
  • Higher upfront costs: Although they are cheaper to run, the initial installation costs for water-based systems can be higher due to the complexity of the setup.

Electric vs. Water Underfloor Heating: Direct Comparison

1. Efficiency

Electric Underfloor HeatingWater Underfloor Heating
Ideal forSmall spaces and intermittent useLarge spaces and consistent use

2. Cost of Installation and Running Costs

The cost for both systems varies greatly, with electric underfloor heating generally being cheaper to install but costlier to run, while water underfloor heating has a higher upfront cost but cheaper running costs.

Electric Underfloor HeatingWater Underfloor Heating
Installation CostLowerHigher
Running CostHigherLower

As James Palmer, an underfloor heating industry expert, suggests, “While electric underfloor heating might have a lower upfront cost, homeowners should consider the long-term running costs. Water-based systems, though more expensive to install, can offer savings in the long run due to their greater energy efficiency.”

3. Maintenance and Durability

Both systems are designed to be maintenance-free once installed. However, if repairs are required, it can be easier to fix issues with electric systems without having to disrupt the floor. It’s also worth noting that according to the Energy Saving Trust, well-installed underfloor heating systems can last more than 35 years, which is much longer than traditional radiators.

4. Comfort and Performance

The radiant heat provided by both systems is generally more comfortable than the convective heat from radiators. However, wet systems often provide a more consistent level of warmth across a room and are typically better at maintaining heat for longer periods.

5. Environmental Impact

According to a report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, water-based systems can have a lower environmental impact, especially when paired with a renewable energy source like a heat pump. Electric systems, unless powered by renewable energy, often rely on electricity generated by fossil fuels, contributing to CO2 emissions.

Electric Underfloor HeatingWater Underfloor Heating
Environmental ImpactHigher (unless powered by renewables)Lower (especially when paired with renewables)

Key Factors to Consider when Choosing Between Electric and Water Underfloor Heating

When deciding between electric and water underfloor heating, the choice isn’t always straightforward. There are several factors to consider, each carrying its own weight depending on your individual situation.

A. Type of Property

The type and size of your property play a crucial role in determining the right underfloor heating for you. If you’re renovating a small apartment or a room like a bathroom, electric underfloor heating could be an ideal, less disruptive option. For new builds or larger spaces, a water-based system might be more efficient and cost-effective in the long run.

B. Specific Needs of the User

Your lifestyle and heating needs can greatly influence the type of underfloor heating that will best serve you. If you need quick heating for spaces like bathrooms used intermittently, the quick response of an electric system might be favorable. On the other hand, for constant, even heating throughout the day, a water-based system could be the better choice.

C. Budget Constraints

Your budget is a significant factor in the decision-making process. Electric underfloor heating systems typically have lower upfront costs, making them a good choice for tight budgets. However, for those who can afford a larger initial outlay and are thinking of long-term efficiency and lower running costs, water-based systems can be a worthy investment.

D. Long-Term Plans

Your long-term plans for the property can also influence your decision. If you plan to stay in your home for many years, a water-based system could offer more savings over time. However, if you’re preparing the property for resale, the ease and lower cost of installing an electric system might appeal more to potential buyers.

Final Thoughts

As we delve into the world of underfloor heating, we realize that the choice between electric and water-based systems isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. Each type has its unique strengths, suited to different needs and situations. The “best” system depends on numerous factors – from the property type and size to budget constraints and specific user needs. The key lies in understanding these differences and aligning them with your personal requirements and lifestyle.

As underfloor heating continues to revolutionize our home comfort experiences, perhaps the debate isn’t about which system is universally better, but rather which system is better for you. So, consider your property, contemplate your needs, calculate your budget, and make a choice that ensures your toes are warmly greeted every chilly morning.

Remember, whether you choose an electric or water underfloor system, the luxury of underfloor heating is a step towards a cozy, comfortable living space that turns your house into a home. So, take that step with confidence and warmth.

Electric or Water Underfloor Heating Better (FAQs)

Is electric or water better for underfloor heating?

Electric underfloor heating is easier and cheaper to install, making it suitable for renovations, whereas water-based systems are often more efficient and cost-effective in the long run, especially for larger areas.

What is cheaper to run electric or water underfloor heating?

Water underfloor heating is usually cheaper to run than electric. This is because it uses water heated by your boiler at a lower temperature, which makes it more energy-efficient, particularly if your home is well insulated.

Should I install wet or dry underfloor heating?

The choice between wet (water-based) or dry (electric) underfloor heating depends on the specific needs of your project. Wet systems are ideal for new constructions or big renovations due to their installation complexity, while dry systems are better suited for smaller spaces or as part of a renovation.

Is underfloor heating cheaper than radiators?

While the upfront costs of underfloor heating can be higher than traditional radiators, the long-term running costs can be lower. This is due to the efficiency of underfloor heating in distributing heat evenly throughout the room, leading to less energy usage.

What are the main differences between electric and water underfloor heating systems?

Electric underfloor heating systems use resistive cables to produce heat, and they are easier to install but typically more expensive to run. Water underfloor heating systems use heated water circulated through pipes, are more complex to install, but they are generally more efficient and cheaper to run.

How does the heat-up time differ between electric and water underfloor heating systems?

Electric underfloor heating systems heat up faster than water-based systems due to the direct contact of heating elements with the floor. Water-based systems, while slower to heat up, tend to maintain the temperature for longer periods, providing a consistent heat level.

Can electric underfloor heating be used in all types of flooring, or are there limitations?

Electric underfloor heating is versatile and can be used with most flooring types, including tile, stone, and laminate. However, the heat output might be affected by the insulating qualities of certain floor coverings like thick carpets, which may require a higher temperature to deliver the desired warmth.

What role does a thermostat play in an underfloor heating system?

A thermostat helps regulate the temperature of an underfloor heating system, ensuring optimal heat distribution while minimizing energy usage.

How does insulation contribute to the efficiency of underfloor heating?

Insulation helps minimize heat loss by preventing heat from escaping downwards into the substrate or subfloor, thus making the underfloor heating system more energy-efficient.

Can wet underfloor heating be installed at the floor level in a renovation project?

Wet underfloor heating installation typically involves embedding pipes within the screed layer, making it more complex and disruptive, hence it’s often more suited to new builds or major renovations.

Who should I contact for the installation of electric underfloor heating – a plumber or an electrician?

For electric underfloor heating, you should contact a qualified electrician since the system involves detailed wiring and needs to be safely connected to the electrical supply.

What’s the difference between hydronic and electric underfloor heating?

Hydronic underfloor heating uses hot water circulated through pipes (often from a natural gas boiler or renewable energy sources), while electric heating relies on heating cables to generate heat. Each type has its own advantages and is suited to different project types.

Can all types of underfloor heating systems be used with vinyl flooring?

Most types of underfloor heating systems can be used with vinyl flooring, but it’s essential to ensure the floor doesn’t exceed the recommended temperature for vinyl, which is typically around 27°C.

How often does a wet underfloor heating system require maintenance?

Generally, a wet underfloor heating system requires less regular maintenance. However, valves and manifolds should be checked periodically by a professional, especially if the system seems less efficient or if there are noticeable cold spots.

Leave a Comment