While renewable energy has continued to hog the headlines due to government schemes and the subsequent changes to incentives such as FiTs, underfloor heating has had a quieter press than that of other technologies, such as solar and heat pumps.
With the industry increasingly engaged in educational courses, the understanding of which technology will prove the most effective in individual situations is growing.
This will have a number of positive effects on the industry in future, as end-users become more familiar with renewable energy, encouraged by the assurance they receive from installers and contractors.
One of the results is likely to be greater understanding and more willingness to consider underfloor heating in a wider range of settings.
As 2011 drew to a close, MTW Research published its report on the underfloor heating market, showing a more positive picture for 2012 and further into the future.
The situation will improve from around the halfway point this year, it says, which will no doubt be welcomed by those involved in this area.
According to the 100-page report, sales figures for this technology have been somewhat varied in recent years. The figures for 2010 showed an improvement on those recorded in 2009, but were less healthy last year.
This was attributed to tough economic conditions, with the decline in domestic housing refurbishment projects singled out as a major factor.
The report states that there was also “a host of other negative issues” that resulted in a reduction in consumer confidence and a general dampening of the market in 2011.
The years ahead
The situation is unlikely to change significantly in the first few months of 2012, says MTW, but will improve as the year progresses.
As the report was published, the government announced measures to support the mortgage sector, which are predicted to stimulate more activity in the domestic housing sector.
This may well have the effect of further boosting the predictions of modest growth forecast for the year ahead.
While the market is predicted to improve in the medium term, this will accelerate on an incremental basis in the future.
The underfloor heating market will deliver above-inflation growth figures in the first half of 2013, with a rise of around 4 per cent predicted for that year.
This will increase in 2014, assisted by a lowering of inflation and increasing volume demand, says the report.
Following on from this, the electric underfloor heating market is predicted to be buoyant in 2015. This will be accompanied by improving sales figures for foil mats, carbon mats, single cable systems, thermostats and cable mat underfloor heating, according to MTW.
The market has a number of elements in common with others that will continue to affect conditions. The report alludes to the issue of price competition within the lower and middle sectors, which is predicted to restrict growth in the near term.
However, the overall forecast is for increasing growth supported by a number of factors, with improving consumer awareness chief among these. The expected rise in both the volume and value of sales is the basis for further optimism in the medium term.
The underfloor sector is also in a good position to take advantage of an increasing number of opportunities, says MTW. Its figures show that approximately 60 per cent of suppliers have either a ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ credit rating.
There has, of course, been a long-running debate on the settings most suitable for underfloor heating, combined with a comparison with the fitting of traditional systems.
While many perceive that the new-build environment is most ideally suited to this technology, others feel that there is a reluctance by some installers and contractors to consider it.
Uponor applications manager Neil Young told H&V News there are a number of misconceptions and little-known benefits surrounding underfloor heating systems, such as improvements in health and hygiene.
One example is that the even heating of floors reduces the danger of damp associated with cold spots under furniture and kitchen units, thus eliminating conditions that promote the growth of destructive mildews, says Mr Young.
Another misconception is that the technology is only affordable for the wealthy. “Underfloor heating is no longer limited to the extravagant homes of the rich and famous,” he says.
“Many domestic households, commercial properties and even social and affordable housing providers have seen improved running costs and energy-efficiency savings from switching to the radiant heat source rather than traditional radiators.”
Energy-efficient heating is one of the main benefits, he adds. By covering the entire floor area, it needs to run only a few degrees above the air temperature to provide enough warmth to gently heat the whole room.
Running the system at a lower temperature and reducing the heat wasted at levels above head height makes for significant savings on fuel costs.
Another frequently overlooked advantage is that the system can also provide cooling functionality when required. “Given that underfloor heating installations consist of water flow from a manifold through a network of pipes, it makes sense that using cold water instead of warm can have the reverse effect of heating a room and instead will keep it cool,” says Mr Young.
Underfloor heating is an ideal partner to renewable energy systems, he adds. This is supported by the successful delivery of a number of projects, including the impressive setting of Great Dixter in East Sussex.
This project included the upgrading of former outbuildings to provide student accommodation, classrooms and offices. Once these had been ‘super-insulated’, underfloor heating was installed.
This uses water from a thermal store heated to around 40 deg C by a ground-source heat pump. Crofton Engineering, which oversaw the project, says that energy-efficiency levels of around 500 per cent are being recorded as a result.
In the case of Great Dixter, the educational facility also includes whole-house heat recovery and the fitting of individual room thermostats. This means the underfloor system combines with the other elements to ensure that indoor air quality and comfort levels remain high.
For projects where renewable energy systems are not an option, it has been proposed that thermal stores could still be used in conjunction with underfloor heating solutions.
When heated by electric immersion heaters using night-time tariffs, they can provide a cost-effective means of delivering an energy-efficient system.
With acceptance of the need to ensure that high levels of insulation are the first priority in any setting, the energy-saving potential of underfloor heating is being increasingly recognised.
With improving economic conditions predicted for 2012 and the years ahead, the options and potential benefits available from the installation of underfloor heating systems seem set to become more widely appreciated.
The MTW Research report costs £565 and is available from www.marketresearchreports.co.uk