Tile Flooring in a Cold Climate

Answered by Jeffrey ~ December 1, 2010 ~ 5 Comments » | Respond to this question

The tile floor in my Bay City, Michigan, kitchen is so easy to clean, even during our harsh , messy winters, that I'm tempted to rip out the wall-to-wall carpet and put tile (with area rugs) throughout the whole house. It's a one-story house with a cement floor. Will tile retain cold temperatures and make the house more expensive to heat?

Joshua ~ Bay City, Michigan

Jeffrey Anderson

Hi Joshua, Ceramic tile is a better conductor of temperature than carpet or hardwood and as someone who has worked on concrete slabs in the winter time I can tell you that they get pretty cold. So I think even from a psychological standpoint you're going to be tempted to raise your thermostat when walking through the room or just sitting on a couch with your feet on tile floors. However, if you already have tile floors in your kitchen, you should have a pretty good idea of how cold they can get during the winter and if you could handle it in the whole home.

I know that some people really like how easy ceramic tile is to keep clean; my parents replaced the wall to wall carpeting in their family room several years ago with 12" x 12" quarry tile and they really like it. They did it because they have dogs and on rainy or snowy days the carpet took a beating and was just about impossible to keep clean.

One option you may want to consider that would allow you to use tile floors and may even reduce your heating bills is to install radiant heat mats under the new tile. There are a lot of different systems available now and you might want to check with some of the local flooring contractors around Bay City to see which they recommend. You don't want to install something that's going to have problems as the only way to fix it might be to tear up some tile.

The mats are installed under the tile and are connected together so an area of floor can be controlled by a thermostat. They can be fairly expensive so you might want to use them in rooms that you'll be spending a lot of time in and just install normal tile floors in the other areas. I would expect to pay about $10 a sqft for the matting and accessories, but the price could vary and your costs might be lower in Michigan. In a situation like this make sure you use something with good reviews and a very good warranty.

The same qualities that make ceramic tile feel cold when installed over a concrete slab work in your favor when the tile is installed over the heating mats. Once the tiles are heated from underneath they conduct the heat easily and hold the heat even when the thermostat cycles off. Since heat rises you may be able to keep the thermostat of your regular heating system a little lower during your cold Michigan winters.

If you're planning on installing your own tile and you decide to put heating mats in, I would be careful that they are installed according to the manufacturer's instructions and test them for proper operation before laying any tile. I would highly recommend that you use a contractor to install the tile and mats as even the tile can be a difficult job to get right unless you're a very experienced DIYer.

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