Solving Underfloor Heating Problems

UFH is an efficient, durable and comfortable heating option - provided it's properly specified and installed. Peter Richardson reveals how to avoid common underfloor heating problems
by Self-Build Zone
28th February 2018

Installing an underfloor heating (UFH) system can help reduce energy bills and free up wall space. But as with any hidden part of your project, thorough planning and supervision of the works are vital to ensure you get the right result and prevent problems.

As a rule, the more things you cover up in homebuilding, the more likely it is something might go wrong – and potentially remain undetected until it’s too late for a simple fix. But products such as concealed WC cisterns and water-based underfloor heating are rightly popular for the many benefits they offer for self-build and renovation projects.

To help you reduce the risk of issues further down the line, here are some of the most common problems we’ve encountered with underfloor heating installations – and how you can avoid them:

UFH design & installation

The first thing to do is be certain your project designer chooses an underfloor heating system that’s well regarded in the industry and has all the relevant certifications.

Always put a written contract in place with your designer and ensure that they hold sufficient professional indemnity insurance (which may be needed should he or she advise you incorrectly).

Check what warranties and/or guarantees the manufacturer, supplier and installer will provide on completion of the work, too.

Many of the leading providers specialise in creating bespoke UFH designs to suit your scheme, which will help ensure that you get the desired heat output and that the fitting process is well-planned and executed.

With water-based underfloor heating, the quality of the installation will always be key to success. Poor workmanship is the most common cause of leaks – but you can mitigate the risk by engaging a recommended tradesperson and paying attention to critical areas of the UFH network.

You should make sure that all the ring seals are complete and undamaged, for instance. Check that underfloor heating pipes are cut accurately at right angles, too, with the subsequent joints properly made.

There are a number of Building Regulations requirements relating to the position and quality of insulation used for the pipe runs. So be sure to consult with your local authority or approved building control inspector when the time comes to lay the network. This will help to ensure your installation conforms to the regs.

Commissioning underfloor heating

Another common reason for insurance claims on UFH arises because of inadequate testing and commissioning. On completion of the work, and before any expensive floor finishes are applied, it’s essential that the whole system is adequately pressure tested

Remember, prevention is always better than cure – so it will be cheaper and easier to rectify any problems while the installation is still exposed and the relevant trades are still on site.

Bear in mind that, before the flooring and other finishes are applied, you will undoubtedly still have other trades onsite. It’s important, therefore, to make sure the pipe runs and cabling are fully protected to avoid your contractors stepping or dropping tools on them. This issue is more common than you might think, and often goes undetected until much later in the UFH installation’s life.

You should also get accurate drawings of the underfloor heating pipe network done before the floor screed goes down. Be sure to issue these schematics to your follow-on trades so that they can avoid inadvertently damaging the installation while completing their part of the works.

UFH issues post-installation

Following the steps we’ve already outlined will help to minimise the risk of workmanship issues.

Nevertheless, there are still things that can go wrong with wet underfloor heating, such as gradual leaks due to wear and tear.

A slow leak may sound innocuous, but it can cause substantial damage to your home and its contents.

Remember, the escape of water from pipes and consequential damage is unlikely to be covered by a structural warranty policy.

If this kind of problem does occur, you will need to look to your home insurance for recompense. However, this will generally only cover the cost of repairing the damage caused by a leak – and may not stretch to finding the source of it.

This can leave you having to foot the bill for identifying the faulty underfloor heating pipe, repairing it and then reinstating the fabric of your building.

That could prove particularly expensive if it turns out you need to remove and reinstate floorboards and coverings; especially if the work involves high-end tiled or marble surfaces, say in a wetroom.

To ensure you’re properly protected, check whether your home insurance policy includes suitable ‘trace and access’ cover.

You should also ensure the amount of cover is adequate. The average claim for underfloor heating systems may well be in excess of £40,000.

Ultimately, UFH isn’t an exotic option – it has rightly become a self-build staple, and correctly-designed and installed will offer you many years of worry-free, efficient heating.

Peter Richardson is a director of Sennocke International Insurance Services, the company behind Self-Build Zone and Build-Zone. The group has been providing specialist advice, technical services, insurance solutions and structural warranties to self-builders for over 15 years.

Main image: Leaving tools on or around underfloor heating pipework during the installation process runs the risk of damage to the protective coating, which could cause leaks in the future

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