6 posts / 0 new
Last post
warm bathroom floor

We have a home built in 1740 located in MA. Our master bedroom,bathroom combination is located on a first floor addition. The bedroom was likely built 150 years ago and the bathroom likely 50-70 yrs ago. These rooms are quite cold in the winter and fall.

We are considering a remodel of these two rooms which currently share wall to wall carpet throughout. We would like to remove the carpet and put in a "warm" flooring product (without involving radient heat) in the bathroom and then replace the carpeting in the bedroom. Our questions is around the flooring in the bathroom. Does anyone have any suggestions for flooring that we could use that would be a warm and comfortable alternative to carpeting as well as being water resistant and easy to clean?

Thanks so much,

Re: warm bathroom floor

Getting the floors warm, especially the bathroom floor, especially if you remove the carpeting, will depend on the amount of heat you have in the rooms.

Could you advise what type of heat you have now in these rooms, (forced hot water, kickspace heaters, forced hot air, etc.),radiators, baseboard, hot air registers,etc. & does it feel adequate.

Are the exterior walls in these rooms adequately insulated (R19 or better).

There are ways to do a heat loss calculation to compute the amount of heat you need in each room.

Re: warm bathroom floor

Thanks so much for your reply.

The room is heated with hot water radiator. Unfortunately it does not feel adequate. Often times the shower feels like an ice box in the winter. We had some siding replaced in the house this summer and found that some time in the past insulation was blown into the walls. So we know there is insulation but we don't know what the "R" rating is. Given the age of that part of the house it is likely the best type of insulation we can get.

Our hope is that there is some type of flooring product that can help the floor feel warmer than a traditional bathroom tile. The only thing we can think of is cork but we don't know how appropriate that is in a bathroom and whether it is too modern a look for the house. Are there any other alternatives that can help the situation?

Any advice would be appreciated.

Re: warm bathroom floor


So glad to see you have hot water heat.

It's one of the easieset and least expensive systems to modify; you can expect a considerable improvement in making these rooms much more comfortable in the winter months.

Questions still in my mind are: 1) do you have subfloor access (cellar or crawlspace) to the heating pipes under the bedroom & bathroom; 2) is the boiler & its piping mostly copper pipes & no older than, say 10-15 years, using a circulator (pump) to distribute the water, as opposed to a much older system of mostly large cast iron piping.

If the boiler is more than 10-15 years old, it may still be functional, but the efficiency of newer units will save you considerable $$$ in fuel costs.

I strongly suspect that the type of flooring you finally install in the bathroom will tend more toward vinyl tile, or similar such waterproof covering that is easier to keep clean.

This may seem a poor choice to you now, but with a hydronic system, you can get the bathroom as hot as you want it on cold winter days.

Carpeting in the bathroom is often prohibited by many local town codes; there is always some fixture that springs a temporary leak, or overflows causing a real mess, compounded by carpet & similar flooring.

The other issues would be the square footage dimensions of especially the bathroom, but also the bedroom, ceiling heights, etc.; also, how large are the radiators in the 2 rooms & why aren't they doing an adequate job of heating.

This could be because they were too small to begin with when they were installed, or that they have been partially clogged over the years (usually with iron oxide) & are putting out only 1/2 the heat they should.

If they are of adequate size, & they are only warm to the touch on a cold day, then they may have a partial clog, or the water temp at the boiler is too low (should be 180-200 degrees, as measured on the boiler temp gauge, when the rooms need heat).

Has the system been serviced regularly, (boiler cleaned every year religiously) & do you have a service person you have confidence in; have you approached any local hydronic (hot water) service person/contractor about this issue & have they made any suggestions, & given you a price quote.

The first step would be to try to get your present system to put out the heat it is supposed to for these two rooms, especially the bathroom.

If it's just a matter of internally cleaning the radiators, & increasing the boiler water temp, then an experienced hydronic service person would be able to do this for a modest fee.

Quite often, the bathroom radiator is "at the end of the line" in the piping/radiator heating distribution loop; the boiler hot water is pumped first thru the kitchen rad, then the living room rad, then the bedroom rad & finally the bathroom rad; by the time it gets to the bath rad, the boiler water is only lukewarm & can't heat the bathroom.

It's possible to re-arrange the pipes supplying the radiators in such a case.

If improvement can't be obtained by simple adjustments & cleaning, then it's rather easy with an hydronic system to add more heat to the areas that need it.

This is known as increasing the btu's (british thermal units) to a room or section of the house, which will add more warmth to such rooms; everything is measured in btu's/hour; an attendant strategy is to add more insulation to under-floor joists, ceilings, walls, etc., to prevent the heat btu's from escaping the room's envelope to the outdoors; fiberglass batts & other insulation is very low-cost, much of it is diy & a great bargain.

Heat loss calculations are done to determine how many btu's/hour are needed to keep a particular room, set of rooms, or an entire house, warm on a cold day; in the case of the bathroom, the figure is usually doubled if the bathroom has been particulary hard to heat; there is also the reality of coming out of a shower or bath drenched in water on a freezing day; many bathroom heating elements simply are not designed for this reality.

This is an essential step for the homeowner to determine how much heat is needed, as well as the size of the heating element (radiator, baseboard, etc.)

A very rough calculation (assuming 8' ceilings) is the take the room's square footage and multiply by 30 or 40 to determine how many btu's/hour are needed; thus a bathroom 10' X 10' = 100 X 40 = 4000 btu/hr to heat this room; the sites below are more accurate.

The next step is to calculate the btu/hr rating of the radiator that occupies the room; the sites below will have to be consulted to do this, as each radiator is built differently & has its own btu/hr output.

Since bathrooms are often cramped for space, the bathroom radiator may measure only 1' or 2' long X 5" wide and 3' high; such a radiator can only put out a few thousand btu/hr & is often inadequately sized, especially for a bathroom, where showers & baths are taken on very cold days.

If the bathroom radiator or any of the other rads has any rust accumulation between any of its sections this indicates an old or ongoing leak, & the rad should be immediately replaced before the heating season starts.

In such cases, if boiler adjustments can't improve things, there are several hydronic heating elements that can be added in conjunction with the radiator, or replacing it.

Several options: If there is adequate room in the bathroom, a larger cast-iron radiator is sometimes installed.

Radiators are heavy & often must be assembled on-site, which is costly, so this option is often discarded.

There is high-output baseboard elements, assuming there is adequate room in the bathroom; these put out ~800 btu/hr per foot of baseboard; there is also double-ganged baseboard, where 3' of baseboard are double-stacked or triple stacked on top of each other to accomodate small bathrooms, such rads can put out ~7000 btu/hr.

A small fan-driven kickspace heater weighing only 20 lbs. by Beacon-Morris or Myson (or others) is installed at the base of a bathroom vanity; these have a much higher heat output of 5,000 to 12,000 btu/hr.; they are only 16"W X 5"H X 12" deep & of course use the hot water piping already there to heat the bathroom.

Quite often, the piping in the boiler room is slightly modified so that zone valves or zone circulators are installed; this strategy puts the bathroom & bedroom on their own thermostat; the rest of the house is put on a 2nd thermostat; this is usually of moderate cost & gives the homeowner complete heat control of the bathroom, when the problem doesn't respond to simply adding more radiator or convector.

There are also newer stainless steel "towel warmer radiators" that look like a small ladder that are installed (Myson, Hydronic Alternatives).

Finally, even though you expressed a non-preference for radiant, there are several sub-floor piping arrangements that can install a radiant zone just under the bathroom flooring, or a combination of the bathroom & bedroom (assuming sub-floor access to these areas).

Click onto the Pm magazine site below (I believe site registration is now necessary) then enter "a little floor warming please" (author: Siegenthaler) into their search box; the author also mentions that even the existing piping can be run under the floor boards to heat the floorboards.

Consult the Yellow Pages under "Heating Contractors" if you don't currently have a technician that you feel can help you now; their display ads will reveal which ones specialize in hydronic (hot water) heating.

Also consult the YP under "Heating Supplies" or "Heating Systems-Parts" & phone them; ask for the "parts dept. counter" and ask the counterman to recommend 2 or 3 hydronic installers (always call in the afternoon, as they are extremely busy in the A.M.)

Always get at least 2-3 estimates for any work to be done; the price quotes and selection of convectors/heating elements & how the contractor proposes to solve the cold bathroom problem will vary greatly among contractors.

On the Beacon-Morris site, click onto "Products", then onto "Residential", then onto "Twin-Flo".


Re: warm bathroom floor

Thanks for the very detailed and well thought-out reply Jack.

However, one of our primary criteria is that we are not going to actively heat the floor - we are only looking for a bathroom-appropriate flooring material that is less cool to the touch than tile or vinyl... Any suggestions with this are appreciated.

Re: warm bathroom floor

Some tile storess sell these tiles that look like ceramic but are actually some kind of plastic. I had a friend install them as an alternative to actively heating

Sponsored Stories

TV Listings

Find TV listings for This Old House and Ask This Old House in your area.