Heating an older home can present a range of challenges due to factors such as poor insulation, outdated heating systems, and drafty windows and doors.

In fact, about 70% of the energy consumption in the residential sector comes from homes built before 1983, according to a study by ConSol, a building and energy consulting firm in California.

As a result, heating an older home can lead to higher energy bills and lower comfort levels.

However, retrofitting an older home for energy efficiency and comfort can greatly improve the situation. By upgrading the home’s insulation, heating system, and other features, homeowners can save money on energy bills and create a more comfortable living environment.

One effective method for achieving these goals is the installation of radiant floor heating.

Radiant floor heating involves installing tubing underneath the existing flooring of a home, through which warm water or other fluids circulate to provide heat.

This method can be used to retrofit an older home and provides a range of benefits, such as increased energy efficiency, improved comfort, and reduced noise levels compared to traditional heating systems.

Preparing for Installation

Before installing radiant floor heating, it’s important to assess the existing heating system to ensure that it can be integrated with the new system.

This may involve consulting with a professional HVAC contractor to ensure that the system is compatible and up to code.

In addition, it’s important to check for suitable floor joists and subfloors to support the new system.

Radiant floor heating requires access to the underside of the floor, so a crawl space or basement may need to be accessible for installation.

Preparing the living spaces for installation is also important. This may involve clearing out furniture and other objects to allow for access to the floor, and ensuring that any pets or small children are kept out of the work area for safety reasons.

It’s also important to ensure that the area is well-ventilated and that any necessary safety equipment, such as goggles or gloves, is on hand.

By taking these steps to prepare for installation, homeowners can ensure that the process goes smoothly and that the new system is installed safely and effectively.

Installing Radiant Floor Heating

Types of Radiant Floor Heating Systems

There are several types of radiant floor heating systems available for retrofitting existing homes. Some of the most common types include:

  • Electric Radiant Floor Heating: This type of system involves installing electric heating elements directly under the finished flooring.
  • Hydronic Radiant Floor Heating: This type of system uses hot water to heat the flooring, and it’s typically the most energy-efficient option.

Installing the Tubing Under the Existing Floor

For those looking to retrofit an existing home with radiant floor heating, installing the tubing under the existing floor is the most common approach.

This can be a challenge in older homes, where access to the floor joists and subfloor may be limited.

However, with proper planning and the right tools, it’s possible to install the tubing in a serpentine pattern under the existing floor.

Connecting the Tubing to a Heat Source

Connecting the tubing to a heat source is another important step in the installation process. In older homes, this may involve upgrading the existing heating system to ensure compatibility with the new radiant floor heating system.

It’s also important to add insulation to increase energy efficiency and prevent heat loss through the floor.

This can involve adding insulation to the underside of the floor joists or installing a layer of insulation between the subfloor and the finished flooring.

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Other Methods for Retrofitting Existing Homes with Radiant Floor Heating

In addition to installing the tubing under the existing floor, there are other methods for retrofitting existing homes with radiant floor heating. These include:

  • Installing the system on top of the existing floor
  • Using an electric radiant heating alternative

3 Places to Retrofit Radiant Floor Heat in Existing Homes

There are several places in an existing home where radiant floor heating can be retrofitted, including:

  • First-Floor Living Spaces
  • Second-Floor Bathrooms and Bedrooms
  • The Basement

Radiant Heat in First-Floor Living Spaces

i. Assessing the feasibility of retrofitting radiant floor heating in first-floor living spaces

Before installing a radiant floor heating system in first-floor living spaces of an older home, it is important to assess the feasibility of the retrofit. Factors such as the age and condition of the existing floor, the layout of the space, and the accessibility of the subfloor and crawlspace should all be taken into consideration.

ii. Preparing the living space for installation

Once the feasibility of the retrofit has been determined, the living space should be prepared for installation. This may include removing existing flooring, cleaning the subfloor, and adding insulation to improve energy efficiency.

iii. Installing the radiant floor heating system

The tubing for the radiant floor heating system should be installed in a serpentine pattern, secured with clips or staples to the subfloor. Once the tubing is installed, a layer of lightweight concrete or self-leveling compound should be poured over it to provide a smooth, even surface.

iv. Connecting the system to a heat source

The radiant floor heating system should be connected to a heat source, such as a boiler or a heat pump. A manifold should be installed to distribute hot water evenly throughout the system.

v. Adding insulation to maximize energy efficiency

To maximize energy efficiency, insulation should be added beneath the subfloor and around the perimeter of the living space to prevent heat loss.

vi. Finishing touches

Once the installation is complete, the finishing touches can be added. This may include installing new flooring, baseboards, and trim. With the installation of a radiant floor heating system, first-floor living spaces in an older home can be transformed into a comfortable and energy-efficient living space.

Warming Up Second-Floor Bathrooms and Bedrooms

When it comes to retrofitting second-floor bathrooms and bedrooms with radiant floor heating, the process is similar to that of first-floor living spaces. However, there are a few specific considerations to keep in mind.

i. Preparing the living space for installation

Before beginning the installation process, it’s important to assess the feasibility of retrofitting radiant floor heating in second-floor bathrooms and bedrooms.

This involves checking the subfloor and floor joist structure to ensure it can support the weight of the system and assessing whether there is adequate space for the tubing and installation materials.

ii. Installing radiant floor heating in second-floor bathrooms and bedrooms

Once the feasibility of the installation has been determined, the next step is to install the radiant floor heating system.

This involves laying the tubing under the existing floor and securing it in place, typically using specialized track systems.

It’s important to take care when installing the tubing to ensure that it is spaced evenly and does not overlap or cross over itself.

iii. Connecting the system to a heat source

After the tubing has been installed, it needs to be connected to a heat source. This can be done by running hot water through the tubing from a boiler or other heat source.

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It’s important to make sure that the heat source is properly sized for the space and that the system is balanced to ensure even heat distribution.

iv. Adding insulation to maximize energy efficiency

To maximize energy efficiency, it’s important to add insulation to the second-floor living spaces. This can be done by adding insulation to the walls and ceiling, as well as adding additional insulation under the floor if necessary.

This will help to minimize heat loss and reduce energy consumption.

v. Finishing touches

Once the system has been installed and connected to a heat source, the final step is to add finishing touches to the living space.

This may include installing new flooring or carpeting, as well as adding decorative elements to enhance the overall aesthetic of the space.

With proper installation and care, radiant floor heating can be an effective way to warm up second-floor bathrooms and bedrooms in older homes.

Retrofitting a Heated Basement Floor

i. Assessing Feasibility: Before beginning, it’s important to determine whether retrofitting a heated basement floor is a viable option for your home. Factors to consider include the age and condition of the existing concrete slab, access to the underside of the slab, and the home’s heating system.

ii. Preparing the Space: Once you’ve determined that retrofitting is possible, prepare the basement by clearing out the area and cleaning the concrete slab. It may also be necessary to remove any existing flooring.

iii. Installing the System: The next step is to install the radiant floor heating system. This involves laying the tubing onto the concrete slab and securing it in place with fasteners. The tubing is then connected to a manifold and a heat source, such as a boiler or water heater.

iv. Insulating for Efficiency: To maximize energy efficiency, it’s important to add insulation between the tubing and the slab. This helps to prevent heat loss and ensures that the heat is directed upwards into the living space.

v. Finishing Touches: Once the system is installed and insulated, the finishing touches can be added. This may include installing a new floor covering, such as tile or carpet, or simply sealing and polishing the concrete slab for a sleek, modern look.

With a properly installed and insulated radiant floor heating system, your basement can be transformed into a cozy, inviting living space that you and your family will love spending time in.

Exploring the Electric Radiant Heating Alternative

Electric radiant heating is an alternative to traditional water-based radiant heating. It uses electric cables or mats to generate heat directly under the flooring surface. This method is ideal for retrofitting an older home as it does not require any modifications to the existing heating system.

Benefits of Electric Radiant Heating

Electric radiant heating offers several benefits such as cost-effectiveness, ease of installation, and flexibility in zoning.

It does not require any ductwork or vents and can be installed under any type of flooring. Electric radiant heating also provides efficient and comfortable heating without any noise or drafts.

Preparing the Living Space for Installation

Before installing electric radiant heating, it is important to prepare the living space. This includes ensuring that the subfloor is level and free from debris, and any existing flooring is removed. The room should also be properly insulated to prevent heat loss.

Installing Electric Radiant Heating in Existing Homes

The electric radiant heating system is installed by laying out the electric cables or mats on the subfloor. The cables or mats are then secured in place with adhesive or staples.

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A thin layer of self-leveling cement or gypsum is applied over the cables or mats to ensure even heat distribution.

Connecting the System to a Heat Source

Electric radiant heating systems can be connected to a heat source such as a thermostat or a timer. The system can also be zoned to control the temperature in different areas of the home.

Adding Insulation to Maximize Energy Efficiency

Insulating the living space is important to prevent heat loss and increase energy efficiency. Proper insulation can also help reduce the running costs of the electric radiant heating system.

After installation, the electric radiant heating system is ready for use. The flooring can be finished with tiles, hardwood, or other flooring options.

The electric radiant heating system provides a comfortable and efficient heating solution for older homes.

Other Smart Ways to Retrofit an Older Home for Energy Efficiency

Making an older home more energy efficient requires a combination of smart strategies.

In addition to installing radiant floor heating, there are other ways to improve the efficiency of an older home.

#1 Doing an Energy Audit

Before starting any retrofitting project, it’s important to know where most of the warm air is escaping and cold air is entering.

An energy audit is a great place to start, as it will identify the main sources of heat loss in your home. Some utility companies offer energy audits for free, so it’s worth checking with them first.

If not, consider hiring a professional energy auditor who will provide a comprehensive plan for warming up your home.

You can also do a basic energy audit yourself by finding leaks with the smoke from a stick of incense.

#2 Checking Windows and Doors for Leaks

Sealing gaps around windows and doors is one of the easiest and most effective ways to warm up your older home.

Place weatherstripping around loose doors and windows, and caulk obvious holes around window sashes.

You can also seal windows for the winter using a plastic sheeting kit you can buy at your local home center or hardware store.

Even drapes and blinds can help retain heat in the colder months. If you still notice a draft beneath your door after you’ve installed weatherstripping, a rolled-up towel or “door snake” can further block drafts.

#3 Insulating the Home

Older homes tend to be insulation challenged. If your home is insulation free—or just lacks adequate insulation—you can retrofit it by hiring trained installers to inject a nonflammable foam resin into existing walls.

This means there’s no need to remove either exterior or interior walls and, according to the manufacturers, the installation can take less than a day for a whole house.

The foam is filled with tiny air bubbles that increase its heating and cooling properties.

However, before insulating an older home, it’s important to maintain some airflow to prevent moisture buildup.

Talk with your energy auditor to ensure adequate airflow once your home has been retrofitted with insulation.

#4 Installing a Programmable Thermostat

Replacing an old thermostat with a newer model is a relatively straightforward affair that can be done by most DIYers in homes of any age.

You can buy a programmable thermostat that can create different heating schedules for every day of the week, or one that has a set schedule for weekdays and another for weekends.

By operating your home’s heating system through a “smart” thermostat, you can make sure the house stays warm and toasty when it’s occupied and saves you money on heating fuel when it’s not.