Like the look of a hardwood floor, but hate its cold, hard feeling? Dread stepping into the tiled bathroom on a cold winter’s morn? Need to heat your home more efficiently?

Then you might be interested in installing a heated floor in one or more rooms. It sounds luxurious, and it is — ranging in price from $1,600 to $6,000 per room; the national average spend is $3,834, according to HomeAdvisor. That’s for radiant heated flooring, the most common subfloor system.

In this article, we’ll cover what you need to know about heated floors, from the types of systems available to their costs.

What are the types of heated floors?

Flooring designed to warm a home is called radiant floor heating. As the name implies, the heat radiates, or spreads, up from the floor to the entire room, evenly warming up the space in a way that traditional air heating (aka “forced-air”) systems can’t.

There are two basic types of radiant floor systems:

  • Electric radiant floor heat: Electric radiant floor systems are powered by mats containing embedded electrical coils or with loose wires/coils strung through a grid. Though more expensive to maintain, they’re cheaper and easier to install, and are better for retrofitting in individual, already-built rooms.
  • Hydronic radiant floor heat: Hydronic radiant floor systems have a boiler or furnace that heats liquid, usually water, which is then circulated to a variety of pipes (called loops or tubes) beneath the floor. Hydronic systems are more expensive to install, but cheaper to operate, and are better for heating an entire house.

Hydronic/water systems fall into several sub-categories, depending on how they’re powered:

  • Geothermal systems take the earth’s heat and use it to warm the fluid that circulates through the pipes.
  • Solar radiant heat systems collect energy from the sun via solar panels, and then circulate a fluid to heat the floors.
  • Propane systems use propane gas as the fuel source to provide heat.

How much do heated floors cost?

The cost of installing heated floors, usually expressed per square foot, depends on several things: the type of heating system you choose, the size and number of rooms you want to heat, and the sort of floors you have.

According to HomeAdvisor, electric systems run around $8 to $15 per square foot, averaging $11. Hydronic systems overall run $6 to $20 per square foot, averaging $13.

But with hydronic systems, you also have to figure in the cost of a boiler, pump or heating tank.

  • For geothermal systems, the pump can run from $4,750 to $13,500 (about half the cost of the entire system for a 2,400 square foot house).
  • For solar systems, the water heating unit can run from $2,600 to $6,500 (roughly one-third of the entire system’s cost).
  • For propane systems, a tank runs $2,400 to $2,900 per unit, around two-thirds of the cost of the entire system.

What influences the cost of heated floors?

While the type of radiant heat system is the biggest expense, a few other factors affect the bottom line when it comes to heated floors.

One is the kind of flooring you have. You can install radiant heating systems with any type of flooring, but they work better with some materials than others. The best flooring allows the unimpeded transfer of heat to the room; that’s why porcelain or ceramic tile and concrete floors are the most highly recommended (and partly why bathrooms, kitchens and basements are the most popular candidates for heated floors).

Still, you can heat any sort of floor, as long as you’re willing to pay for it. Here’s a general cost guide:

Type of Floor Cost per Square Foot (installed)
Source: Fixr.com
Vinyl $2-15
Carpeted $2-21
Concrete $4-6
Laminate $8-15
Tile $9-30
Hardwood $10-25
Marble $12-60

Labor costs

You also have to figure in the price of paying the contractors to install your heated floors. Labor makes up the majority of a heated floor’s installation costs. If the materials run an average $1.50-$2 per square foot, the plumber, electrician or HVAC pro is going to run $8 to $12 per square foot, according to Fixr.com.

While it’s theoretically possible to install heated floors yourself, it’s not highly recommended, as the job involves electrical wiring or plumbing — areas generally off-limits for most DIY-ers.

The final word on heated floor costs

Heated flooring is expensive to install. But in the long run, it’s a luxury that can save money. Radiant heating systems cost $1-5 per day to run, compared to an average $20 for traditional heating systems. Because they operate more efficiently (heat naturally rises, remember), you experience fewer drafts and hot or cold zones. And you can actually lower your home’s thermostat but get the same amount of warmth. Many radiant heat floor homeowners see a 10 to 30 percent savings in their energy bills. Not to mention, especially toasty toes.