How To Eliminate Cold Floors Forever!
There are few things worse than being uncomfortable in your own home and few things more uncomfortable than cold feet. Unfortunately, for many people who live above crawl spaces, winter means cold floors and frozen toes. But this is not a fate you have to casually accept!
Here are the best ways to warm up your floors even as outdoor temperatures plummet!
Keep the cold air out
One of the best ways to keep your floors warm is to ensure that cold air isn’t constantly entering your home. Windows and doors are the most common culprits of cold air intrusion, particularly in older buildings.
Take a close look at the weatherstripping that runs along the edges and make sure that it is making a positive seal. If the weatherstripping is cracked, missing, or fails to contact your doors and windows then it should be replaced. If the weatherstripping looks alright but you can feel airflow on windy days, then the air seal is not sufficient and needs replacing.
Less common, but not less serious, are holes or cracks in your walls and baseboards. Maybe the past owner had run a wire through a wall which has now been removed – leaving behind a vacant reminder of its former passage. Or, a now unused cat-door gently flaps in the winter breeze. In any case, these air leaks need to be patched, sealed, or otherwise covered!
Small cracks and holes can be fixed with caulk while larger gaps can be sealed with a can of spray foam insulation.
Check on your crawl space insulation
Building homes atop crawl spaces has become less common over the years, with more builders switching to concrete slab construction. However, for homes built atop a crawl space (or unheated basements) having enough floor insulation can make the difference between comfort and misery.
Typically, underfloor insulation is installed as batts – essentially thick sheets of fiberglass insulation mounted to a heavy kraft paper backing. These batts are suspended between the floor joists, trapping warm air against your floors and keeping your feet cozy. Older homes or homes with retro-fit additions may have little or even no insulation, resulting in seasonally uncomfortable toes.
Even if your home was initially built with insulation, underfloor insulation has a tendency to sag over time – particularly in humid or damp climates. As the insulation pulls away from the underside of your floors, cold air is able to sneak in and steal away your home’s warmth.
Unlike other parts of your home, like your attic, floor insulation is limited by the thickness of your joists. In attics you can pump in nearly unlimited amounts of insulation – creating a fluffy mound of protective fiberglass – but floor joists offer a physical limitation to the amount of insulation that can be installed.
Due to the space limitations imposed by floor joists, and the fact that hot air rises, the recommended minimum R-value for floors is significantly lower than attic insulation. For example, in South Carolina the US Department of Energy recommends floors have an R-value of R-19 while attics should be R-49 to R-60.
For fiberglass insulation with an R-value of about 3.1 per inch of thickness, this means that floors will require 6 inches of insulation while attics will require a minimum of 16 inches of insulation.
Conveniently, floor joists are usually at least 6 inches thick, making it a relatively simple process to add enough crawl space insulation to reach the recommended values.
Wait, What’s an R-Value?
While we don’t need to get into the weeds about this, it is important to understand R-value on a basic level. Essentially, R-value measures a material’s resistance to heat transfer. Lower values mean that there is very little protection between heat moving from one side of a material to the other, while a higher value provides greater resistance to heat transfer.
Some materials may have lower R-values for a given thickness, but as long as you simply use more insulation the same overall R-value can be achieved.
Insulate on top
If you want to take your floor insulation to the next level then consider installing an insulated underlayment. Keep in mind that unlike installing insulation between your floor joists, this will require your existing floors to be completely removed first. However, if this major home improvement project is already on your radar and your existing floors are too cold, it makes sense to include insulation as a part of your installation.
Insulated underlayments only make a small amount of difference, typically adding about R-3 worth of insulation.
For this reason it is almost always better to start your improvements elsewhere and only opt for insulated underlayment when you were already planning on exposing your subfloors.
While we’re on the subject of replacing floors, the flooring materials a homeowner chooses will make a difference in comfort. Carpets will always provide a warmer feel than icy tile floors and laminate will fall somewhere in the middle. Some types of flooring, like cork, offer a bit more warmth and comfort than traditional flooring options, but they often carry a premium price tag.
A less permanent alternative: Area Rugs
Not planning on replacing your floors in the near future or live in a rental unit but still want to enjoy warmer floors? Historically rugs have been used to make hardwood floors softer, warmer, and more comfortable and today there is no shortage of high quality rugs available.
Even a relatively thin rug will make a significant difference in how cold your floors feel, as the fibers pull the heat from your bare feet less quickly than hardwood floors. If you go with a plush berber rug atop a thick rug pad the benefits are even more pronounced!
Have your HVAC system inspected
If you feel that no matter what you do your home (or parts of your home) aren’t able to get warm enough in the winter, then it is time to have your HVAC inspected. Between failing heater coils, undercharged heat pumps, and improperly installed ductwork, there are myriad reasons why your home might not be as comfortable as you desire.
Add extra heat
Sometimes the simple answer to staying warm is to add more heating capacity! There are several ways to warm your home, ranging from running out to Walmart to pick up a space heater to more elaborate solutions like under cabinet heaters or radiant floor heating systems.
While more heat will undoubtedly result in a warmer home, your household energy efficiency will take a hit. For this reason it is generally recommended that you focus on improving your home’s insulation and eliminating heat loss first.
Unfortunately, as is often the case, the more expensive options like radiant floor heating will provide the best, and most efficient results. Space heaters are best used to keep your personal area warm instead of trying to heat large spaces. Toe kick heaters are best for areas where you frequently find yourself standing in front of a counter and make a great addition to cold kitchens.
Warm floors are a great way to ensure you have a comfortable home throughout the coldest winters. The best way to accomplish this is by improving your home’s efficiency: eliminate air leaks and make sure you have the right amount of crawl space insulation. If your floors are still too cold, make sure your HVAC is working properly, add area rugs, and consider using a personal space heater or installing supplementary heaters!