Radiant Heat for Wood Sub-Floors

By Todd Fratzel on Heating

Radiant Heat – Current Details for Wood Framed Floor Systems

Radiant heat is so popular in today’s new homes that it’s being used in a majority of the new homes we build. Over the last 5 years I’ve seen an industry that changed details about as often as the seasons change here in New England. However, I’m happy to say that the industry seems to have narrowed the design and construction of radiant heat for wood sub-floors into a fairly standard approach.

Standard Below Sub-Floor Approach

When we first started installing radiant heat in new homes there were so many different approaches that your head would start spinning out of control. Five years ago when I built my new home the plumber used a special rubber hose instead of the industry standard PEX that’s used today. All of the changing approaches were not surprising considering the use of radiant was fairly new to the industry here in the US.

I’m happy to say that the constant change in approaches is no longer happening. Today a vast majority of new homes heated with radiant are now built similar to the photo above. First aluminum heat transfer plates are attached to the bottom of the wood sub-floor. Next PEX tubing (#1 above)  is snapped into special tracks on the heat transfer plates (#2 above).

A close up of a typical heat transfer plate is shown in the adjacent photo. Shown here is the Uponor Wirsbo Joist Trak Heat Transfer Panel. The plates serve a couple functions. First of all they help transfer heat to the wood sub-floor more evenly and reduce the likelihood of hot spots. Secondly they hold the PEX tubing in constant contact with the sub-floor (this is something that was hard to achieve with the older stapling methods). Lastly they help protect the PEX tubing from any small nails or screws that might be fastened down into the sub-floor (albeit little protection if you drive long screws or large framing nails!).

Radiant Heat – Insulation for Wood Sub-Floor Installations

The other aspect of radiant heat for wood sub-floors that seemed up in the air for years was how to best insulate it. Again it seems as though the industry has finally settled in on an approach.

Today when we install radiant heat below a wood sub-floor we use foil faced fiberglass with the foil facing up towards the heat tubes. In the adjacent photo you can see the pink fiberglass insulation installed in the joist bays.  The foil is facing up to help reflect heat back up towards the sub-floor.

The other important factor that you can’t really see is the position of the insulation. The insulation shown at right is installed in a 12″ deep joist bay. The insulation is only about 6″ thick (R19 approx.) which leaves an air space above it between the foil facing and the bottom of the sub-floor.

Be Sure Your Radiant Heat Is Installed Properly

We’ve been successfully using this approach for several years and it works amazingly well. If you’re thinking about using radiant heat in your home be sure to inquire with your heating installer about this approach. Be sure that you find out if they are using heat transfer plates, many will skip this in order to keep pricing down but I do not recommend it.

Also be sure you ask about the insulation and how the entire system works as a unit. If you follow these simple methods your new radiant system will work very well and give you and your family a great heating source.


About the author

Todd Fratzel

I'm full time builder for a large construction company in New Hampshire. I run their design-build division that specializes in custom homes, commercial design-build projects and sub-divisions. I'm also a licensed civil and structural engineer with extensive experience in civil and structural design and home construction. My hope is that I can share my experience in the home construction, home improvement and home renovation profession with other builders and home owners. I'm also the Editor-in-Chief and Founder of Tool Box Buzz. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, suggestions or you'd like to inquire about advertising on this site.

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  1. jeff_williams says:

    When I started reading the article I was going to ask what the upside down sleepers were for but by the end I see it’s to hold the insulation in.

    Ever used sleepers on top of the subfloor with the pex laid between and then a thin layer of concrete poured up even with the sleepers? For thermal mass and all of that. More expensive I’m sure but is it any better?

    • Todd says:

      ha ha….those are not sleepers Jeff! Here in the Northeast all ceilings are “strapped” with 1×3 pine before drywall. It seems that it’s a regional thing as most parts of the Country don’t do it. It also helps hold up the insulation! :)

      Around here no one seems to use the thin concrete. Frankly this method works so well I see no reason to change things up!

      • jeff_williams says:

        Yeah I couldn’t think of the right term at the time so I called them upside-down sleepers.

        The reason I asked about the thin crete was because I saw that’s how they did it in the HGTV Dream House up in Stowe, VT from a couple years ago. Obviously not the same state but not too far away either. I’m sure your way is way cheaper and less labor intensive.

        Do you still strap if using web trusses?

  2. David Gaisford says:

    Is this system good when the floor is to be carpeted?

  3. B.W. says:

    What application is mostly used in your area for radiant heating, electric,gas boilers, geothermal?

  4. Pascal says:

    Todd – would you see the same benefits in heat transfer if this application were installed under a tiled bathroom? Are there any considerations for under a bathroom floor that you would recommend? Lastly, I assume these installations use just hot water in them, what methods of controls / thermostats do you recommend?

    • Todd says:

      This system is also used under tile in the same exact configuration. These are typically controlled by regular thermostats in the room.

  5. Neil says:


    I read your article and now I think I am ready to do my basement and main floor. I have been looking at a company that uses the the hot water tank as a heating source (Radiantec), the have kits for people like me DIY. Have you any experience or hear of them. I live in Maryland and while not as cold as where you are, it does get cold. I am concerned on the regulation of the water flow during the summer. Let me know your thoughts

    • Todd says:

      Neil – I’ve never done a DIY radiant system. I’m sure it can be done but I like to let the Pro’s handle that stuff. What exactly is your concern? I assume you’ll be using a separate unit for domestic hot water vs radiant right?

  6. My family and I stamp the reflective radiant heat transfer plates used to increase your BTUs, but way cheaper than the big company brands out there. We sell them for $40 for 50 feet.


    Thanks again for the work you do.

    Dave Collado
    845 248 9040

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