Dec 192013

Folks who’ve been reading JuicyMaters for any length of time, especially the ones who focus on my posts about my yurt, know that I have a hydronic radiant floor for heating during the winter. As I’ve written before, I am very happy with having made the choice to use radiant floor heat.

With that said, as with anything else, there is room for improvement over the way I designed my floor the first time. I am tweaking that design in the bedroom yurt I am adding to my “main yurt”.  Let’s talk about how to take a good system, a radiant floor, and make it better.

 In the main yurt I have two kinds of finished floor.  The half that is the kitchen area and the bathroom are 12×12 ceramic tile while the other half…the living/dining/sleeping half…is hardwood.  Not engineered wood flooring like Pergo, but rough cut 1×6 oak that I cut to exactly 6 inches wide with a table saw then planed to one inch thick with a power planer.

If I had it to do over again (and what I am doing in the new bedroom yurt) I would do things slightly different on both the tile and wood floor in order to improve the ability to heat my home.

 The first three layers of the floors…both in the existing yurt and in the new one, are identical…2×8 white pine floor joists on 16-inch centers, with one inch composite tongue-and-groove subflooring on top of the joists, with 12 inch by 8 foot strips of 19/32 C/D plywood with 3/4 inches of space between them for the runs of 1/2 inch Pex tubing.  This will not change, but everything above it is different…on the new tile floor in the new yurt and how I would do wood floors if I were doing them again.

Floor framing-2x8'a on 16" centers, tongue and groove composite 1" sub-floor.

19/32 plywood strips, 12"x8 feet, with 3/4 inch gap between them for 1/2 inch Pex tubing.

Tile floor…how I did it, how I will do it differently.

Above the subflooring, a properly installed tile floor consists of two layers.  First you install some form of backer board, usually a cement or cement/fiber composite.  These backer boards do two things.  They level any irregularities or unevenness where the subfloor panels (or the tubing layer is installed in a radiant floor) meet and they provide a surface that is all but inflexible to prevent cracking the tiles and the grout between them.

Then, above the backer board, you install and grout the tile.

If I had it to do all over again on the original yurt, I would choose a different type of backer board. What I used was a 1/2 inch thick cement/fiber composite backer board. What I should have used, and will in the future, is a 1/4 inch thick cement only backer board.

The reason for both changes is to improve heat transfer from the Pex tubing to the surface of the floor. The reasoning behind using the 1/4 inch rather than the 1/2 inch board is obvious… There is less material for the heat to travel thru, thus, less time for the heat to dissipate. The change from a composite to a solid backer board is to move to a denser, less insulating material. The composite backer board is a mixture of cement and a filler material that leaves air spaces in the board that act as insulation, thus inhibiting the transfer of heat.

Wood floor… How I did it, how I will do it differently.

The changes I would make in installing a wood floor again are similar to the tile floor changes, with the exception that you only have one layer above the subfloor, the finish flooring itself, rather than two layers (backer board and tile).

As I said earlier, my wood floor is rough cut 1×6 oak that I sawed to an exact, consistant 6 inch width and power planed it to exactly one inch thick.  It makes for a beautiful hardwood I had expected it would.

What I should have considered but didn’t is the considerable insulating properties of wood.  Wood is basically a collection of air pockets encapsulated in cellulose.  This cellulose accounts for approximately one third of the wood mass.  The rest of wood is air pockets surrounded by the cellulose.  One way to visualize wood would be to think of layer on layer of bubble wrap with cellulose replacing the plastic.

That makes for a very insulating material…not what you want in a material that is expected to transmit heat as a radiant floor is.

In the new yurt I am installing ceramic tile flooring (as described above) so I won’t be trying the following, but I do think the following are viable ways to have beautiful wood floors with essentially putting an insulating blanket, the inch thich wood, on top of a very (otherwise) efficient radiant floor.

Probably the second most efficient material for a radiant floor that looks like a hardwood floor would be to use one of the engineered wood flooring products, like Pergo.  They are durable, dense (for efficient heat transfer) and thin so heat doesn’t have far to travel, averaging about 1/4 inch thick.  I know, I know…there are two drawbacks to engineered wood products…cost and material toxicity.  Frankly, I had looked at these products when building my first yurt and cost was what drove me away.  The cost factor is something you will just have to look at and decide for yourself if you want to spend the money.

As for the toxicity of the flooring materials, that is an extremely important consideration, especially since the heat from a radiaant floor is even more likely to release VOC’s than a floor that is a more “normal” temperature.

With that said, many manufacturers of engineered flooring use glues and other materials that are not toxic.  Pergo, for example, uses non-toxic glues and other materials. (No, that is not a paid link.)

One other possibility.

If you want maximum efficiency ceramic tile over a 1/4 inch solid concrete backer board provides the densest floor reasonably possible.  Some people want the beauty of wood while also wanting an efficient floor…and I have finally found a solution.  Ceramic tile that looks like wood!

I know…it has been around for a while, but what I have seen in the past did a VERY poor imitation of wood.  I would look at it and say, “Gee…they want that tile to look like wood…and they failed miserably!”

A friend from high school, Alex W., is in the process of remodeling his condo in Florida and I saw some pictures of his finished floor and was blown away!  At least from the pictures (and Alex’s confirmation) the pictures look just like the actual finished floor.  I really thought it was wood…but it is ceramic tile, making it the perfect flooring for someone wanting a “real wood” look along with the heat transmission properties of tile.

Finished wood-lookalike ceramic tile floor.

I don’t know where to get it, and I don’t know how expensive it is (woulda been rather rude to ask, don’t ya know), but he sent me a picture of the box, and with a little Googling I’m sure you can track it down.

Manufacturer information for wood-lookalike ceramic tile.

So there you have it folks: A hydronic radiant floor that is more efficient than my earlier design.  Tell me what you think in the comments below, and don’t forget to sign up for the JuicyMaters eNewsletter…click on the newsletter banner at the top of the sidebar.

One last thing…Y’all come back now, ya hear!?

All about Bob the nutjob!

Bob is a N Georgia blogger, homesteader, yurt liver, self-sufficiency nutjob, pig farmer, political activist, politician baiter...and the best damn cook you know that doesn't make a living at it.He can be followed onTwitter. You can also "Like" our Facebook page.

  16 Responses to “Yurt living: Staying toasty warm with radiant floor heating”

Comments (16)
  1. Bob, thank you for sharing your yurt experience. We are in CT and wonder if a yurt is a viable option in this area. Your thoughts?

  2. Hi Jason, welcome to the JuicyMaters community. Keep coming back… You never can tell what you find here!

    I’m not familiar with Connecticut zoning laws and how strictly they are enforced, but I will make two observations and a suggestion.

    Yurts are rare in the eastern United States, but what seems to be the most your friendly state east of the Mississippi is right next to Connecticut… Vermont. The state of Vermont probably has more yurts than are many other states east of the Mississippi combined. Perhaps that would bode well for yurts in Connecticut as well.

    Regardless of state law, the number of a locality where you want to build your yurt than willing medical authorities seem to be to bend the rules. Urban County commissions tend to not really give a damn about their constituents except during election season, while small County elected officials are more aware of just how much damage a single person can do to their reelection efforts, and tend to be more responsive to their constituents.

    Good luck! Living in a yurt is awesome, and worth the extra effort dealing with the legalities of it.

  3. I always liked the idea of using hot water tubes to transfer heat through your house. As I understand, it ain’t unlike what we used to do with chicken houses back when they were heated with coal instead of LP.

    That was in the 50’s or early 60’s, well before my time. I’m told it was a colossal pain to keep the things working, but advances in that kind of technology might once again make it preferable to brooders and space heaters.

  4. Hi Firestorm, welcome back

    Warm floors go back centuries that he, at least as far back as ancient Rome, though in Rome that he was generated from hot air, not water. Forms were elevated on pedestals 3 to 5 feet tall and the rows of pedestals were walled off from each other essentially creating tunnels underneath the floor. Much like hydronic radiant floors where hot water goes in one end of the tube and cooler water comes out the other, hot air, generated by fires Stoked by slaves, was pushed through the tunnels by other slaves fanning the heat in the direction they wanted it to go.

    Having your heat source be the floor has many advantages. First of all, heat rises, so you don’t have heat coming out of vents already almost a ceiling level and going up and being wasted. The heat rises off the floor warming the entire vertical space. Also, most people feel warm if their feet are warm, and radiant floors keep your feet nice and toasty.

    Keep coming back to see us Firestorm. At JuicyMaters we always like to see return family members..

  5. Thanks for this. Going to post a linkback to this over at We have had a few people ask about heating their yurts with radiant heat.

    Maybe I missed it in the article, but how are you heating the water? Wood boiler?

  6. Hi Jeff…glad you stopped by.

    I’ve written several posts on my radiant floor that covered the basics and this was a bit of a followup and I left out a few things I should have included, like my heat source. Sometimes I forget everyone hasn’t read all of the posts and I assume they know what has gone before…sorry.

    I have two Takagi tankless water heaters in my yurt…one for potable water and the other a closed-loop system for the floor. I think (if access to natural gas or propane isn’t a problem…I’m not fond of electric water heaters for floors) that my system is the most efficient way to go unless you come up with some kind of solar driven system.

    For folks who want to go this route, be careful what brand of heater is chosen. Some of them, including some that I consider to be quality brands and quality heaters have one flaw…their warranty is voided if used for a radiant floor. Make sure you don’t wind up with one of them.

    I’ll have a complete “how-to-yurt” guide out in about 45-60 days that will cover everything about yurt living…making sure a yurt is right for you, covering the legal aspects of dealing with zoning departments, financing options for alternative housing styles, insurance, construction (the kit AND interior construction considerations) and unique considerations on your living. Keep checking back as, like I said, it should be ready in around two months.

    Thanks for stopping by and…keep coming back!

  7. We built a tiny house and used a lot of cork for the floors. There are two kinds: engineered ‘planks’ similar to pergo, and tiles that must be glued down. We chose the tiles, for many of the same reasons you mention about not using pergo. It was the best floor I’ve ever had, no question.

  8. Hi dl…glad you stopped by.

    I considered a cork floor (they are very comfortable on the feet and amazingly durable) but cork is also a great insulator…not a good thing for a home with a radiant floor heating system. You want to encourage, not discourage, the movement of heat through the floor.

    Keep coming back…we always welcome new member of the JuicyMaters community/family.

  9. Is this better then just laying down a concrete slab and installing the radiant heat in the concrete slab?

  10. Hi…welcome to JuicyMaters…we love adding to the JuicyMaters family! Keep coming back.

    A yurt can be built on a concrete slab with a radiant floor built into it, but there are several items that must be addressed in order to have a floor that works.

    ANY radiant floor is more than just embedding some tubing in the floor (of any type) and pushing hot water through the tubing, but a concrete slab floor presents special issues, some of which are counter intuitive, that most folks wouldn’t think of. Its really far too complicated to go into in a post comment, but if you’ll keep coming back I have an ebook (probably Kindle at Amazon, free in their lending library) that will be published on March 1 and that will be announced here. It will cover everything yurts…including radiant floors in a concrete slab.

    Again…welcome…and keep coming back!

    p.s. Sign up for the newsletter to keep up with what is going on here.

  11. Hi there,

    Thanks for sharing this information. I just built my first yurt and am super excited. We have yet to do anything with the floors. Currently a thick/nice plywood is down. I am interested in doing an inexpensive wood – probably a 1×6 pine rough sawn like you did (but you did oak). How much spacing did you need to leave for expansion? Also, did you use glue when you installed them or just nails? Finally, if you had the choice between tongue and groove or square cut which would you choose?

    Appreciate any feedback!

  12. Hi, Florida…welcome to the JuicyMaters family!

    Your floor will shrink, not expand. Put the boards as tightly together as possible, and even then you will develop small gaps between boards. As for how to install…I suggest (and did this myself) gluing AND nailing the boards. As far as nailing, I used very, very small nails, almost brads, so they wouldn’t show (I thru nailed them, not just edge nailed). If I had it to do over again I would still thru nail, but I would use “horseshoe” nails that would show well, and give the floor a very rustic look.

    As for the type of floor…again, for the rustic look…I prefer square cut to tongue-and-groove, but that is simply a matter of personal preference.

    Again…welcome to JuicyMaters family, and keep coming back!

  13. We installed radiant heat in concrete flooring for our yurts but have not fired them up yet. I was wondering if we need to insulate the walls of the yurt to retain heat or not?

  14. Location? Type of yurts? Company, if kit? I need more info to give you an answer that is anything more than a wild a** guess.

  15. This is a great thread! I’m looking at heating options for my 30 footer in Minnesota. It sits on a deck of tongue and groove 2×6s. My initial hope was to do in floor heat by running pex under the floor then insulate under that. I would heat the water with an outdoor wood boiler. A local plumber I’ve consulted is concerned that this system won’t provide enough heat given the yurts low r values and our cold winters. He suggested a forced air system with a furnace centrally located in a closet. Are you using radiant floor heat as an independent source or have you supplemented with something? How cold are your winters? Thanks for all your thoughts.

  16. If you want to have a radiant floor on your yurt (a great idea in my opinion) you need to put the tubing ABOVE the 2×6, not below it. Wood is an absolutely great insulator and your heat will never make it into the yurt.

    I used 3/4 inch thick strips of plywood that were 1×8 in size, with a 1 inch wide gap between them to run the tubing in. I made a mistake above that in that half my yurt is hardwood floor that I planed myself from roughcut 1×6, and its insulating effect keeps me from getting the heat I should.

    I am changing that. I am removing the hardwood and installing tile where all the wood is. Screw concrete impregnated tile backerboard over the plywood strips and then lay your tile over that. This will give you the best heat transfer.


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