Heating Your Self Build Home

Discover the heating options for your self build home design project, including the benefits of underfloor heating.

Heating your self build

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One important item to think about is how you’re going to heat your self build home. Given that it will have a huge impact on how comfortable you feel, it’s not a choice you want to rush into. There are many factors to consider, including efficiency, cost and environmental impact.

How does a basic heating system work?

There are two main tasks for a basic heating system. Space heating which means the warming of your home and a hot water supply. Traditionally, the elements of a heating system are:

  • A boiler to generate hot water
  • Pipes to transport the heated water
  • An emitter to release the heat into the space
  • A hot water tank to store some of the hot water for use through the taps.

However, in June 2022 there were changes to Part L of the building regulations in England. These changes may mean that more self-builders will stop using a traditional boiler and opt for an air source heat pump system instead.

Choosing a heating emitter

The very first thing you need to decide is which emission method you want to use. In other words, how is the heat going to be released into your home? Radiators are probably the most familiar emitter choice. They are cost-effective, simple and reliable, although they do take up wall space and can be considered visually obtrusive.

If you’d rather not see the heating apparatus, then an under-floor (UFH) system could work well. This is very popular with our self build customers as it maximises comfort and efficiency, while taking up less space. Some customers will mix UFH downstairs with conventional radiators upstairs. It is important to note, your choice of heat source will also influence the size of radiators required in your home.

How to choose a heat source

Once you know how the heat is going to be emitted, you need to decide how it should be generated in the first place. Many people choose a gas boiler as it’s very effective and often the most financially viable. There’s also a growing trend towards low carbon and renewable energy sources. As people try to limit the impact on the environment to meet new regulation requirements.

With all these considerations, the decision can feel overwhelming. That’s why it’s important to go through your system stage by stage, to work out your priorities for each element. A heating system is a long-term investment, so you might also want to consider where things might be in a few years.

Best renewable heating systems for a new build

A renewable heating system is any system powered by a renewable source. Rather than by burning fossil fuels like gas or coal. The power could be generated by the sun, the wind or even renewable fuels, like wood. These sources majorly reduce the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere.

There are plenty of options available:

  • Solar thermal panels, which generate power from sunlight
  • Ground source heat pump, which absorbs heat direct from the ground
  • Air source heat pump, which absorbs heat from the outside air
  • Biomass Boiler, which generates heat by burning renewable fuels, like wood pellets

Insulation is key

Whichever heating system you choose, the golden rule to having an efficient and warm home is insulation. It prevents heat from escaping outside, and means more of it stays in your home so that you need to generate less. This is vital for traditional heating methods such as gas or coal, as it will help to keep costs down. It is also important if you are using renewable heating methods, as they are unable to generate the extreme temperatures made possible by fossil fuels.

Which is the best heating system for a new build?

The right system for you depends on the type of build and your priorities. If you have a connection to the gas mains or can easily make one, then an efficient gas boiler will effectively heat your home.

Most of our customers now match our energy efficient timber frame and SIP building structures with a heat-pump as the primary heat source. If you’re concerned about the environmental impact, then adding a renewable energy source, such as photovoltaic cells, to your new home may be a good idea. We are also seeing an increase in the number of customers focussing their efforts on constructing an air-tight envelope to their new home and then adding a mechanical ventilation system to further reduce heat loss and provide an internal environment with good indoor air quality.

If your home is ‘off-the-grid’, then the calculation is different. A biomass boiler or heat pump, possibly working alongside solar panels, would be a good approach.

Underfloor heating

Underfloor heating is a popular choice amongst self-builders. It’s comfortable, saves space and often uses less energy than more traditional systems. To help you decide whether it’s right for your new home, here’s our guide to UFH in new builds.

What is underfloor heating?

Underfloor heating (UFH) is incredibly efficient. Unlike wall radiators, heat is released from pipes or wiring threaded under the floor. The floor heats up becoming a heating emitter. This provides room-wide warmth with no cold spots, keeping you snug and warm

The heat can either be transferred by water, in which case flexible pipes are used. Or by electricity which uses cables. There are many different types of UFH. So you will need to carefully research to find the right one for your project.

What are the benefits of underfloor heating?

Perhaps the most compelling reason for choosing UFH is how comfortable it is. Imagine never having to step on a cold floor in bare feet? Heated floors feel amazing and they provide full-room coverage. Meaning you’ll never have to awkwardly huddle near the radiator again!

UFH may seem like a luxurious choice, but it can actually make financial sense and is usually more efficient than traditional radiator-based systems. The great thing about UFH is that it doesn't require high flow temperatures like radiators do*. This means you could potentially save on energy costs compared to traditional heating methods.

UFH is flexible and can be installed in any type of home and it’s easy to customise too. You can choose which rooms or areas of the house have UFH, including upper floors. It also works brilliantly where space is at a premium, as you don’t have to leave room for radiators.

It’s a very discreet solution, with everything hidden under the floor. Meaning the heating apparatus doesn’t interfere with the look of the room. You also don’t have to worry about sharp edges, hot elements or pipes, particularly ideal if the house is home to young children. UFH is also a popular choice for new builds and extensions as it delivers a high heat output that is ideal for large open-plan living and kitchen areas.

*(source: Nu-Heat – Underfloor Heating vs Radiators)

Why choose underfloor heating for a new build?

Installing a UFH system in a new build is very affordable, compared to installing a radiator-based system. Choosing a low-temperature system may also be more cost-effective in the long term due to lower energy requirements. New builds are perfect for this as they’re very well insulated and energy efficient due to new building regulations. If you’re thinking about using a renewable source for your heating such as a heat pump, then a UFH system would be the ideal emitter solution to compliment it.

UFH can easily be installed in a timber frame home too. It’s definitely worth considering if you’re planning to order your system with us as the ground floor pipes can be incorporated into the screed when its laid.

Can I have UFH upstairs?

Yes, UFH can be installed on all floors, and there are even UFH options that also reduce noise transfer between floors. Specialist UFH systems for joisted floors, can be installed over the joists from above before the floor deck is fitted. Or between joists from below before the ceiling is in place. With no height build-up, these UFH systems avoid any disruption to fixtures and fittings with floor coverings fitted as soon as the floor deck is in place.

Can I have carpet with underfloor heating?

Yes, UFH is compatible with a wide range of floor coverings, including carpet, tiles, engineered timber and vinyl. A good supplier will design your system to work with your choice of floor covering to provide consistent and controllable heat.

Choosing the right underfloor heating system for a new build

There are several methods for installing a UFH in a new build. The best one for you will depend on your individual project requirements. There are two major factors that will influence the decision. The size of your property and the timescale. The size of your property is a factor because it may influence the type of screed you use. Which could in turn influence which system would work best. For projects with a quick turnaround time, it may be best to have the system retrofitted. To avoid delays caused by having to let wet screed dry.

How do I control the heat level of my underfloor heating system?

A good supplier will design your UFH to give you complete control over your heating. With individual room-by-room temperature control and scheduling. The controls are easy to use, and some systems can even be accessed via your smartphone or tablet.

Heating your self build home

One of the benefits of building your home from start to finish is that you are in complete control. You have the option to choose a good insulation and heating system, that works for you. Which means you can benefit from an energy efficient home that is comfortable to live in.

As experts in timber frame construction, we can discuss all the options you need to consider, through our self build consultants. You can also visit our show centre and learn about the types of insulation systems available to self-builders and how underfloor heating can be installed.