If you’re trying to create an energy-efficient home in Texas, you probably pay a lot of attention to windows, doors, heating and cooling, and insulation. While it’s true that these areas can result in significant savings, don’t overlook the space right underneath your feet. Your flooring options can also affect your home’s energy efficiency.
Carpet provides many advantages including comfort and noise reduction. However, it could also contribute to energy efficiency.
“Carpet has a low thermal conductivity, which makes it act like a heat insulator and keeps heat in the room,” said Matt Daigle, CEO and Founder of Rise, which provides sustainable options for building and home improvement projects. “Carpet is a great choice for downstairs areas or drafty rooms where the heat would otherwise escape.” If you can keep the heat in, it would take less energy to warm the room, and Daigle says your energy bill will reflect this.
According to Floor Trends Magazine, adding the right carpet pad underneath can provide as much heat insulation as the fiberglass insulation you use in your attic, crawl space, basement, and walls.
“When considering carpet as a flooring option for your home, be sure to do your research,” Daigle advises. “New carpets can contain several known human carcinogens, including formaldehyde, and release a host of dangerous chemicals that can negatively affect your indoor air quality for several years.”
Fortunately, there are also numerous manufacturers of natural carpets. “They make carpets you can feel safe and comfortable letting your children play on,” Daigle said.
Tile is one of those flooring options that can be energy-efficient in some seasons, but not others. “Tile is a favorite when it comes to bathrooms and kitchens, and for good reason,” Daigle said. “It has a great thermal mass, which means it retains heat from the sun, also making it an ideal option for passive solar designs.”
Fortunately, Texas rarely gets unbearably cold, but in more frigid climates, tile could be a problem in the winter. “Tile is cold and would cause a home to be colder requiring a heat source to bring up the temperature inside the house,” warns Joan Slaughterbeck, owner of Slaughterbeck Floors in Campbell, CA. “That leads to increased energy usage and spending.”
In the summer, tile can help to keep an area cooler, but with a caveat. “Tile will be cooler only if it is not in direct sunlight,” Slaughterbeck explained. “If the sun warms it up, it can be like asphalt to step on, depending on the outside temperature, of course.”
Hardwood seems to be a good middle ground between carpet and tile. “Hardwood would not be as cold as tile, but still not as warm as carpeting, which helps makes homes warmer,” Slaughterbeck said. Slaughterbeck claims hardwood would keep a more moderate temperature throughout the year. Incidentally, according to Uptown Floors, hardwood floors in red and brown shades are growing in popularity among Texans.
What about other types of flooring options? Some types of engineered hardwood floors have a polypropylene foam sheet, which not only reduces noise but can also add insulation. “Vinyl and the new category, luxury vinyl, would not add warmth, but they also would not be as cold as tile,” Slaughterbeck said.
Heated – or radiant – floors are another option for energy-efficient floors. “There are two types of radiant floor heating systems: electric and water-based systems,” explains Daigle.
According to Daigle, both types provide ample heat to a room. “Radiant floor heating systems are generally much more energy-efficient than more conventional heating systems,” he said. “The lower temperature requirement, especially when combined with thermal mass in the floor, can allow for much lower energy bills.”
However, they’re not ideal for every type of flooring. “Under tile radiant, heat is great, but under hardwood – not so much,” warned Slaughterbeck. In fact, she says there are certain species of wood you definitely shouldn’t use radiant heat for. “And the heat shouldn’t get too hot, or you risk really damaging/warping the floors.”
Another caution: you shouldn’t put radiant heat under floors that are glued down. In addition, Slaughterbeck cautions against pads. “The pad type seems to get inconsistently hot and is strongly not recommend.”
Rugs can help you decorate your home, and add splashes of colors. But they can also improve energy-efficiency. “Putting an area rug over hardwood, tile, or vinyl is a great idea that would help with the warmth of the home and reduce energy costs in the colder months,” Slaughterbeck says.
Here’s something else you may not have considered. Daigle says one of the best flooring options is no floor at all. “That’s right – if your house is built on a slab, polished concrete floors are a fantastic option, as they eliminate the need to introduce an extra layer of flooring, and because they have great thermal mass and are poured in place, they pair very well with radiant in-floor heat like a hydronic system,” he said.
Terri Williams is a freelance journalist with bylines at The Economist, USA Today, Yahoo, the Houston Chronicle, and U.S. News & World Report. Connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.