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Heated Tile in a Snap

Alternative Methods of Heating, Radiant Heat, Related Products, Tile February 18, 2009 Matt Weber


Install a snap-together porcelain tile floor with radiant heat—in a single weekend.

 

Remodeling a kitchen was only one part of the whole-house renovation my wife and I were undertaking. We wanted to make some significant upgrades, but were also pressed for time, staring down the barrel of dozens of projects to come. This played into our choice of materials. As long as we were covering the kitchen floor with tile, we thought it would be nice to add a radiant heat system, but needed a DIY-friendly setup that we could install quickly without a lot of major reconstruction. So we turned to MP Global Products, a company which distributes a two-component system for do-it-yourself heated tile floors.

The first component is called QuietWarmth, which is a system of low-profile, electric radiant heat underlayments. The underlayment mats line the floor and are butted at the seams to function like a hidden electric blanket beneath the tile. The mats replace typical floating floor underlayments, making the total overall thickness from subfloor to floor surface only around 3/8 inch. Quietwarmth not only deadens impact sound from the hard surface flooring, but it also makes the surface warm enough for bare feet, and assists with heating the room.

The second component is Avaire Interlocking Tile. Avaire is genuine porcelain tile that is permanently attached to a non-skid, sound-deadening grid. This is a floating tile system, so no thinset or cement board is needed, which saves lots of labor. It installs directly over solid, flat subfloors, including vinyl, wood and concrete, and the rubberized grid absorbs minor imperfections in the surface. Even a first-timer can tile an entire room in a single day, because the tile simply clicks together with a little help from a mallet and block.

  Prep Steps

As with any new floor system, take steps to prep your subfloor. Both QuietWarmth and Avaire can be installed on or below grade over most wood, vinyl, concrete and ceramic floors. The floor should be clean, smooth, dry and structurally sound before installing Avaire Tile. It must be flat within a tolerance of 1/4 inch in 10 feet. I used a straight-edge to test the evenness of the floor and was lucky enough not to find any problems. High spots should be sanded, and low spots should be filled using a cement based leveling compound.

Next, remove any carpeting, baseboard or shoe molding against the wall. Keep the trim intact and you can re-install it later. Or, like us, you can take the opportunity to upgrade to a different style.

 

 

Also, take the chance to eliminate any squeaks in the floor. Use a stud finder to locate the floor joists and drive 3-1/2-inch screws through the subfloor into the framing to tighten any noisy areas.

 

Shown above is the notch in the floor plate for the lead and sensor wires.

Electrical Rough-In

The next step in installation is readying your home electrical system. Although QuietWarmth radiant heat is intended for DIY installation, if you aren’t well versed in electrical work then consult a professional electrician to wire the system. In a nutshell, QuietWarmth operates from a thermostat with a built-in GFCI outlet (highly recommended). The thermostat includes a sensor wire that nests in the floor system to detect the temperature. Each heating mat has a pair of lead wires that run all the way to the thermostat (via a conduit in the wall), where each mat is individually connected. And the thermostat controls it all.

 

When installing, follow all local building and electrical codes. While it is possible to branch the heat system from an existing circuit, the manufacturer advises against this. The size of the required power supply depends on the total square footage of heated padding. For example, one 3-by-10-foot panel requires 2.2 amps, one 3-by-5-foot panels require 1.1 amps, etc. The seven pads in my installation required 9 amps, so we installed a new dedicated 15-amp breaker for the heating system. We ran the power supply line from the breaker box, which happened to be located in the basement directly below the kitchen floor. Because everyone’s wiring situation is likely to differ, I won’t spend much time on the specifics of wiring, but be prepared to drill some holes and fish some wire. Depending on the amperage requirements of multiple pads, a relay may be required. However, QuietWarmth does supply detailed instructions as well as installation DVDs to help with the electrical work.