Trench heating vs underfloor heating: What is the difference?

12 May 2023 Cariad Marketing

It is important to know the difference between trench heating and underfloor heating because these two types of heating have different pros and cons. Knowing the distinction between the two will enable you to select the most appropriate type of heating system for your home or building based on factors such as cost, efficiency, ease of installation, maintenance requirements, and the desired level of comfort.

This information can also affect the design and construction of a building, as the choice of heating system can affect the layout and placement of heating elements and other building components.

Speak to our trench heating grille specialists.

Differences between trench heating and underfloor heating

To understand the differences between trench heating and underfloor heating, we must first understand how they both work.

Underfloor heating can be used to act as a primary heat source, replacing all your radiators, or purely to heat the floor. Underfloor heating systems typically fall into two main types: electric underfloor heating and water-based (hydronic) underfloor heating. The electric underfloor heating systems use electrical cables to generate heat, whereas the water underfloor heating systems use pipes within the floor, a heat source, and a pump that pumps the water through the pipes, resulting in a heated floor.

Here’s a brief overview of the types of underfloor heating:

1. Electric Underfloor Heating:

  • Heating Element: This system involves installing electric heating cables or mats beneath the floor. The cables, or mats, connect to the building’s electrical supply.
  • Installation: Electric underfloor heating is relatively easy to install, especially in renovation projects, as it doesn’t require laying down pipes for water circulation.
  • Control: Electric systems often have individual thermostats for each room or zone, providing precise temperature control.
  • Cost: The initial installation cost can be higher compared to water-based systems, but they can be more cost-effective for smaller areas or single rooms.

2. Water-based (hydronic) underfloor heating:

  • Piping System: This type of underfloor heating involves circulating warm water through a network of pipes installed beneath the floor surface.
  • Heat Source: The warm water is heated by a boiler or a heat pump, which can be powered by various energy sources such as gas, electricity, or renewable energy.
  • Installation: Installing a water-based underfloor heating system typically requires more planning and coordination, especially during the construction phase.
  • Efficiency: Hydronic systems can be more energy-efficient compared to electric systems, especially if connected to a high-efficiency boiler or heat pump.
  • Cost: While the initial installation cost may be higher due to the complexity of the installation and the need for a heat source, water-based systems can be more cost-effective in the long run, particularly for larger areas or whole-house heating.

Within these two main categories, there are variations and subtypes of underfloor heating systems, such as:

  • In-screed heating: Heating elements or pipes are embedded within a screed layer, which is a thin layer of concrete or levelling compound applied over the subfloor.
  • Under-tile heating: electric heating cables or mats designed specifically for use under tile or stone flooring.
  • Under-carpet heating: similar to under-tile heating but designed for use under carpeted floors.
  • Radiant panels: These are typically used in ceilings, walls, or even within furniture, and they work similarly to underfloor heating systems by radiating heat into the room.

Various factors, such as the size of the area to be heated, energy efficiency goals, budget, and the availability of energy sources, influence the decision between electric and water-based underfloor heating.

Underfloor heating pros and cons

When considering the installation of underfloor heating, it’s essential to weigh the underfloor heating pros and cons associated with both types.

Electric underfloor heating is a popular choice for many homeowners due to its unique advantages and considerations. Let’s delve into the electric underfloor heating pros and cons to help you make an informed decision for your home:

Advantages of electrical underfloor systems are:

    • Easy to install
    • Will only increase floor height slightly
    • Can choose wattage output depending on different scenarios
    • Cheaper to install in smaller areas such as bathrooms and domestic kitchens
    • Can be seamlessly installed into existing rooms with minimum disruption to the space

Advantages of water underfloor heating systems are:

    • Ideal for large areas and multiple rooms
    • Usually cheaper to run than electric heating
    • Cheaper to install in new builds and full refurbishments
    • For low energy usage, they can be run using Air Source Heat Pumps
    • Systems can be controlled remotely via mobile phone, iPad or computer

Cons of underfloor heating:

Underfloor heating systems offer several advantages, such as heating, energy efficiency, and the freedom to design rooms without radiators. However, they also come with some disadvantages:

  • Cost of Underfloor Heating Installation: Underfloor heating systems can be expensive to install, especially in existing homes. The underfloor heating cost involves not only the heating system itself but also the labour required for installation, which may include lifting and replacing flooring.
  • Disruption During Installation: Installing underfloor heating typically involves some disruption to your home, as it often requires lifting and replacing flooring. This can be particularly challenging in existing homes or during renovations.
  • Slow Response Time: Underfloor heating systems are known for their slow response time. It can take some time for the system to heat up or cool down, which may not be suitable for those who want quick temperature adjustments.
  • Compatibility with Flooring: Not all flooring materials are suitable for use with underfloor heating. Some materials, like solid hardwood, may not be recommended due to the potential for warping or damage. This can limit your flooring options.
  • Maintenance: Although underfloor heating systems are generally low-maintenance, they can be costly to repair if they develop issues. Leaks in the pipes or problems with the electric components can be challenging and expensive to fix.
  • Energy Costs: While underfloor heating can be energy-efficient, the underfloor heating cost of installation and the potential for higher electricity bills (for electric systems) may offset long-term savings.
  • Incompatibility with Some Furnishings: Furniture with legs that do not allow heat to flow freely, such as heavy, solid wood pieces, can hinder the even distribution of heat in the room.
  • Retrofitting Challenges: Installing underfloor heating in an existing home can be more complicated and costly compared to incorporating it into new construction. In some cases, it might not be feasible without significant renovation work.
  • Noise: Some underfloor heating systems, particularly those using water-based pipes, can produce noise, such as gurgling or clicking, which may be bothersome to some individuals.
  • Difficulty Controlling Individual Rooms: Zoning and controlling individual rooms with underfloor heating can be more challenging compared to traditional radiators or HVAC systems. You may need to invest in advanced zoning systems to achieve precise temperature control.

It’s important to consider these underfloor heating pros and cons when deciding whether underfloor heating is the right choice for your home or specific project. The suitability of underfloor heating depends on various factors, including your budget, the type of flooring you plan to use, and your heating preferences.

Trench Heating

Trench heating works by drawing cold air through grilles and into trenches. The air is then warmed over a copper and aluminium heat exchanger and rises to heat the room by convection. This allows the entire room to have warm air distributed evenly from floor to ceiling. The size of the trench determines the amount of heat that is produced by the trench heating and it is affected by the width and depth of the unit installed.

Advantages of trench heating:

    • Economic and energy efficient
    • Aesthetic and discreet as they don’t take up much space and come in different materials (wood or aluminium).
    • Flexible design and customisable.
    • Ease of installation.
    • Easy access and low maintenance.
    • Can be used in conjunction with other heating methods.
    • Doesn’t take up wall space.

Disadvantages of trench heating:

    • Dust can accumulate in the trenches so it needs to be cleaned regularly.

Trench heating vs underfloor heating comparison

Trench heating works well to produce heat at floor level and circulate it evenly throughout the room, so your room is at the desired temperature. This type of heating limits the likelihood of cold spots or draughts, especially in a large room.

Trench grilles can be installed across the threshold of patio doors, bifold doors or French doors and can be customised to fit curves. Trench heating saves space in your room and furniture can be placed wherever you’d like, plus, you can use any materials for your large space including wood, carpet, tile, laminate flooring or rugs. Trench heaters also lead to low turbulence, meaning fewer dust and allergens are circulating in your space.

Underfloor heating vs Radiators

Underfloor heating uses both convection and radiant heat to warm a space. While it can also be used to heat a large space, it can be quite costly to install in a big room. It’s not just floor insulation that you need to consider when fitting an underfloor heating system, but inadequate room insulation is a primary cause of higher running costs as large, draughty rooms lose heat much quicker.

Furthermore, underfloor heating takes longer to heat up the room than a regular radiator. You also cannot use it under some items of furniture or fittings, which restricts how you set up your living space.

Underfloor heating and radiators are two common methods of heating indoor spaces, and they each have their advantages and disadvantages. The choice between the two depends on various factors, including your preferences, the specific needs of the space, and your budget. Here’s a comparison of underfloor heating and radiators:

Heat Distribution:

  • Underfloor Heating: Underfloor heating systems distribute heat evenly across the entire floor, which then radiates upward, warming the room from the ground up. This results in more consistent and comfortable temperatures throughout the room.
  • Radiators: Radiators provide localised heating. They heat the air immediately around them, leading to temperature variations in the room. Cold spots are common, especially in larger rooms.


  • Underfloor Heating: Underfloor heating is generally considered more efficient than radiators. Since it operates at lower temperatures (typically around 104–122°F or 40–50°C), it requires less energy to maintain a comfortable temperature. This can lead to lower heating costs in the long run.
  • Radiators: Radiators operate at higher temperatures (around 140–160°F or 60–71°C) and can be less efficient because they heat the air, which can be lost when windows or doors are opened.


  • Underfloor Heating: It is hidden under the floor, so there are no visible heating elements. This can provide a cleaner and more aesthetically pleasing look to the room, allowing for greater design flexibility.
  • Radiators: Radiators are typically visible and can be bulky. While some modern radiators are designed to be more attractive, they may still affect the room’s aesthetics.

Installation and Maintenance:

  • Underfloor Heating: Installation can be more complicated and expensive, especially in existing structures. Maintenance is usually minimal once it’s installed correctly.
  • Radiators: Installation is generally simpler and more cost-effective. Radiators require occasional maintenance, such as bleeding to remove air, and can sometimes develop issues like leaks.

Response Time:

  • Underfloor Heating: Underfloor heating systems have a slower response time. They take longer to warm up a room, but they maintain a more constant temperature.
  • Radiators: Radiators can heat a room quickly, providing immediate warmth. However, they may cycle on and off, leading to temperature fluctuations.

Flooring Types:

  • Underfloor Heating: It works best with certain types of flooring materials, such as tile, stone, and laminate. Carpet can insulate the heat and reduce its efficiency.
  • Radiators: Radiators are compatible with any type of flooring.


  • Underfloor Heating: Initial installation costs can be higher, but long-term operating costs may be lower due to increased efficiency.
  • Radiators: Radiator systems are usually more affordable to install but may have higher operating costs.

The choice between underfloor heating and radiators depends on your specific needs, budget, and preferences. Underfloor heating is known for its even heating and energy efficiency, while radiators offer faster heat and lower initial installation costs. Consider factors like the type of space, flooring, and design preferences when making your decision.

Trench heating

Trench heating can be your primary source of heat in your home, or it can be a secondary source if you happen to have a lot of windows and several levels in your home. Ideally, you would then use different types of heating methods.

Get in touch with one of our experts to help you to decide which trench heating grille is best for your home.

To learn more about trench heating vs. underfloor heating.

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Perfect for every space

At The Trench Grille Centre, we have a wide range of high-quality grilles that have been carefully designed to add a sense of warmth and style to your space..

Our Linear Stainless Steel grille adds a touch of modern elegance, while the Linear Snap Profile in natural aluminium combines contemporary style with durability. For a timeless, classic look, explore our Natural Wood Roll-Up options in Ash, Beech, Oak, and Sapeli.

If you prefer a sleek and clean finish, our Roll-up Closed Profile grilles in natural aluminium and satin stainless steel are perfect choices. For a touch of opulence, consider our Roll-up Double T-Bar options in black, gold, natural aluminium, and satin stainless steel.

Elevate your space’s ambiance and comfort with our trench heating grilles, each meticulously designed to provide not only exceptional heating performance but also a touch of sophistication. Upgrade your interiors with The Trench Grille Centre and experience warmth and style like never before.

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