Knock on Wood

From Janelle:

We’ve been looking at wood floors for months.  The designer was pushing hard for dark floors and while I agree they’re beautiful they’re just not my style and who wants to worry about every speck of dust? I fell in love with beautiful 100 year old wood culled from a Kentucky barn at Vintage Wood Floors in Costa Mesa.  We were tempted but the price tag was just too steep.

The search was on for something light but warm and not too yellow or red.  We found a beautiful wood from Lazio, Italy (Rome is the capital of the area) with wide planks, a bit of a rustic look and a warm oat color.  It was perfect.  We placed an order and….the manufacturer won’t provide a warranty over radiant heat.    How disappointing!

Italian wood flooring; beautiful!

Italian wood flooring; beautiful!

During the agonizing decision phase of whether to install radiant heat or a traditional furnace no one mentioned anything about the type of wood flooring being dictated by that decision.  I feel like I went to the doctor and elected a procedure upon the doctor’s advice but halfway through discovered that most of the uncomfortable elements weren’t mentioned and I may have chosen differently if I had been properly informed!

Tidbits garnished from and

  • Radiant heat systems use a three-stage process to convey heated water to its destination.

1)    A water heating system that can be either a standard boiler, water heater, a geothermal heat pump or even solar panels.   (In our case the heating system is our water heater.  It seems to me that we need more hot water than that but the “heater guy” insists that it is sufficient.)

2)    The heated water is pumped through a tubing network installed in the subfloor.

3)    As the warm water moves through the tubing network, it releases its energy and returns to the boiler system to be reheated.

There are several ways radiant heat systems can be installed.

By installing the radiant heat tubing directly under the wood subfloor from below. This is the most common installation in home renovation.

By installing the radiant heat tubing within a plywood underlayment system, directly over the existing concrete slab or existing wood subfloor.

By installing the radiant heat tubing within the concrete slab during the pouring of the concrete.

  • Consider using quarter-sawn wood for planks wider than 3 inches, regardless of species, for enhanced dimensional stability.
  • For best results, use narrow boards, preferably not wider than 3 inches.  Narrow boards will better accommodate wood’s expansion and contraction across a floor.
  • Quarter-sawn planks up to 7 inches across (when properly installed) can work well with radiant heat systems.
  • It isn’t recommended to use radiant floor heating under plank flooring wider than 3″. Despite all your precautions, there is a high probability the user will not be satisfied.
  • So are 5” planks good or not?  The floor I’d chosen consists of
    9 1/2” wide planks and they’re beautiful
    I don’t think I like quarter- sawn but I do like the wider planks!
  •  Hardwood flooring that is three-eighths of an inch thick conducts heat better than thicker floors and resists gapping.
  • Not all woods are recommended for radiant heat.  I do not recommend using Maple, Pine or Brazilian Cherry because they are noted to be unstable wood species.
  • Extensive laboratory testing….found that American hardwoods – including cherry, oak, ash, maple, hickory and walnut – are good choices for radiant-heat flooring.
  • Ok, seriously so which is it.  Maple IS or ISN’T recommended??

Who knew that flooring would be so technical?  Lucky for us Lewis is good at that.  We will keep looking.  I like the color of Toasted Honey….

From Lewis:

You learn something new every day. It seems the main issue is the expansion and contraction of the floor system which we already knew but I guess the fluctuations that a heated floor could cause is more noticeable in wider planks because of less joints to absorb the movement.  Well, at least we found the color we want.

What do you do when you receive bad advice?

What is the best wood flooring to use over radiant heat?


The best type of wood flooring style to use would be a “Floating Engineered Floor.” One of the benefits of using a floating floor is that the floor boards are locked together at the joints of each board and not nailed or adhered to the subfloor. This allows the whole floor to move as a single unit if a dimensional change within the wood floor takes place. Another reason is that an engineered floor with a stable plywood backing makes for a more suitable floor with less chance of dimensional movement than a solid wood floor. Floating engineered wood flooring can be installed over most all subfloors and surfaces (except carpet) as long as they are flat and secured well. Using a floating floor will drastically reduce any possible seam contraction (opening of joints) between the floorboards. There has been some argument that a floating floor will be more noisy when walked on compared to a nail down or glued down style of flooring. Personally I do not believe that to be always the case, but using a style that is 1/2 inch or thicker will be more sound deadening. There are also underlayment pads available that dramatically reduce sound transfer when walked on. Installing a floating floor is a very quick and easy installation for a “Do it Yourselfer.” The boards are simply glued or (depending on style purchased) clicked together, thus eliminating the need of using nails or staples to secure the flooring to the wood subfloor – that may puncture the radiant heat tubing. There are many different styles and colors of floating wood floors to choose from.

DO MANUFACTURERS WARRANTY THEIR “FLOATING FLOORS” OVER RADIANT HEAT? Most floating floor manufacturers provide a warranty for installations over radiant systems (with the possible exceptions of their maple and brazilian cherry species), but the installation of their flooring has to be done according to their specifications (instructions are in every carton of flooring). The surface temperature of the subfloor should not exceed 85 degrees. A floor that is too hot can become dried out and distorted.


(Non-Floating) Engineered Flooring can also be used. Again, because of the stable plywood backing an engineered floor makes for a more suitable floor with less chance of dimensional movement than a solid wood floor. Most engineered flooring can be direct glued, stapled or nailed down, but care has to be taken to avoid stapling or nailing the flooring down and puncturing any radiant heat tubing. I DO NOT RECOMMEND GLUING DOWN ANY FLOORING DIRECTLY TO THE EXPOSED RADIANT HEAT PIPING. Doing so may cause damage to the radiant heat tubes and be a big expense if the heating system has to be repaired. I ALSO DO NOT RECOMMEND DIRECT GLUING DOWN ANY WOOD FLOORING OVER A BRITTLE LIGHT WEIGHT CONCRETE. If direct gluing down an engineered wood floor is desired and the wood sub-floor has a radiant heat panel system (shown above) with exposed tubing, I would recommend installing a 3/8 inch underlayment plywood over the piping first. Always follow the manufacturers recommendations as to the installation of their flooring.

DO MANUFACTURERS WARRANTY (NON-FLOATING) ENGINEERED FLOORS OVER RADIANT HEAT? Some manufacturers do, (with the possible exceptions of their maple and brazilian cherry species) some do not. The ones that do state the installation of their flooring has to be done according to their specifications (contained in every carton of flooring) and the surface temperature should not exceed a particular temperature. The surface temperature of the subfloor should not exceed 85 degrees. A floor that is too hot can become dried out and distorted.

2 Responses to Knock on Wood

  1. Lynda MARTINELLI Rahaeuser says:

    Good luck… but You may want to consider Walnut or Ipe (I think it’s called) with your situation.. It’s the toughest, hardest wood out there. Check it out..Brazilian Walnut (Ipe) is the hardest species we carry. Known for its exceptional hardness and resistance to wood boring insects and fugi, this exotic hardwood is a great choice in both residential and commercial installations. Typically users who require an extremely durable floor or desire a dark floor choose Brazilian Walnut. We offer only one superior quality grade (clear grade), in both Prefinished and Unfinished formats and several sizes.

  2. Well, according to one of the web sites walnut is a good choice but it is also a very dark wood and I think that we will stay away from dark woods so we can hide our dust bunnies better!

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