Get Warmer Floors in the Winter

Steps to take to ensure your floors aren’t freezing this winter

By Hannah McKenzie

Get Warmer Floors in the Winter

Q: Every winter, the hard floors in my home, including the cast iron bathtub, are freezing cold. My home has a crawl space foundation. Aside from wearing slippers or bracing for the shock of the cold bathtub floor, what can I do to have warmer floors this winter?

A: Getting out of bed on a chilly morning can be challenging when your feet are headed for a frigid floor. Rugs, socks and slippers are the cheapest options while you save money for the necessary home improvements. However, installing floor insulation without considering your whole house as a system may not noticeably warm the floors.

For warmer floors, you’ll need to ensure heated air is staying inside your home. Here are some steps to take:

Air sealing: Keeping heated air indoors and cold air outdoors is the first step to making the inside of your home more comfortable and affordable to heat. Poufy soft insulation does not stop airflow, but caulk, spray foam and rigid foam board do. Focus on the ceiling plane before the floor plane because warm air rises. Details are important, so hire a home energy contractor or do it yourself with a handy guide from Energy Star® (bit.ly/energystar-sealing).

Duct sealing: If most of the heated air from the HVAC system never arrives inside your home, of course your feet will be cold … as will the rest of your body. Existing homes in North Carolina lose as much as 30 percent of heated air through tiny cracks and gaps in HVAC systems. Joints, pipes and fan boxes should be sealed with a material called duct mastic. Home energy and HVAC contractors are best suited for the job, but you can also do it yourself. An online video from FineHomebuilding provides a guide (bit.ly/fhb-ductsealing).

Insulating: Once all of the tiny holes and cracks are plugged, it is time to insulate the attic. Blown insulation tends to be most popular because it is low cost and can be filled around wires, pipes, vents and ceiling joists. Another option is spray foam insulation on the underside of the roof. We’ll explore this method more thoroughly next month.

Floor Insulation: While the information above may seem unrelated to warming floors, these improvements prevent cold outside air from entering your home and will very likely keep your whole house — including the floors — feeling closer to the thermostat setting. But there are steps to take to better insulate the floors themselves. Floors in existing homes are traditionally insulated with fiberglass batts between the floor joists, which is a perfectly adequate and affordable way to insulate floors. To go the extra mile, many home energy specialists currently recommend closed crawl spaces with insulation attached to the foundation walls. Closed crawl spaces entail more than just closing the crawl space vents. Including all the closed crawl space parts and steps explained on crawlspaces.org is important so you do not trap dangerous gasses or create a haven for termites and mold.

In the coming months, we’ll explore spray foam insulation and closed crawl spaces in more detail.

About the Author

Hannah McKenzie is a residential building science consultant at Advanced Energy in Raleigh who specializes in working with nonprofit developers like Habitat for Humanity to make new affordable housing energy efficient.

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