Cold Floors? Radiant Heat and the Best Floors For Them


Cold floors?  It’s that time of year again and radiant heated floors can help.   Before you buy, check out our species and styles most recommended for this application.

As you may know, some wood species are better candidates for radiant heat installation than others.  If you prefer solid wood floors, chose a species know for its stability.  Here is the order for best floor type selections as recommended by the National Wood Flooring Associations (NWFA).

Floating Wood Floors and Laminates – Highly recommended because they tend to move as a total unit better accommodating moisture and temperature changes.

Engineered Flooring – Works well with radiant heat because of its dimensionally stable plywood construction.  This construction allows each wood layer to run perpendicular to the other thereby resisting movement and moisture fluctuations.

Quarter Sawn or Rift-Sawn Flooring – This cut or style of flooring is preferable to plain sawn because it will expand upwards and downwards from elevated moisture, not side to side, producing less gapping and board edge cupping.

Strip Flooring  – A better choice than plank flooring because narrow board expand and contract less than wide boards do because there are more seams in a floor to take up or allow for any excessive board movement.

If you choose to use solid boards or planks wider than 3", make sure the board moisture content is dry, around 6-9% before, and maintained well after installation.  For any wood application over radiant heat, the newly installed system should be operating some two weeks prior to the floor installation.  This helps to further dry out any unknown pockets of trapped moisture.  Acclimation is critical with radiant heat installations to prevent board shock.  In no case should radiant heat exceed 85 degrees.  Maintain indoor humidity levels around 35-55%.

Although common red and white oak have been used successfully, species 15-20% higher in stability than red oak are considered ideal choices.  See our Stability Chart for boards listed on the higher stability spectrum.

It is true that Brazilian Cherry is more stable than red oak.  However, we do not recommend it for radiant heat applications.  Due to the sustained high heat associated with radiant heat, it can have a negative impact on Brazilian Cherry.  Natural oils, calcification, and other properties of this species can slowly migrate to the surface just under the clear top finishes manifested as small whitish oxidation spots.  This whitish calcification is a characteristic of the species, not a defect.  Individual boards showing this can be replaced with new boards, it cannot be sanded out.

Good Species for Radiant Heat Applications: Bamboo, Australian Cypress, Bolivian Rosewood, Koa, Mesquite, Teaks, Bloodwood, and Mahogany. 

Poor Species for Radiant Heat Applications: Maple, Beech, and Birch

*Wood Stability – A measured amount of movement that can be expected in some species of wood after installation.  Species stability is directly related to local humidity, temperature, and surface moisture.  Therefore, acclimation for radiant heat is very important for a successful installation.

Note – Even when using and ideal species for radiant heat applications, actual wood performance can still vary due to the radiant heat system construction, installation techniques, as well as your region of the country. 


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