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Illinois Country Living

Doug Rye, licensed architect and the popular host of the "Home Remedies" radio show

Energy Solutions

Cozy Winter Floors
How to warm your toes from the ground up

It feels like fall has finally arrived. Just three days ago, as I write, it was 90 degrees in the afternoon with a low of 76 in the early morning. When I stepped outside to get the newspaper, barefooted, the cool porch floor felt good. I walked back into the house and the cool floor felt good. But this morning, the low was 46 chilly degrees and when I walked outside, again barefooted, the porch felt cold, but inside the floor felt nice and warm.

You see, “cool” and “warm” are often relative terms. A 70-degree floor temperature in the summer feels cool, but a 70-degree floor temperature in the winter feels warm. Basically, everyone likes cool floors in the summer and nice warm floors in the winter.

I have never met a person who likes cold floors in the winter. Most of you would agree that it is difficult to be comfortable at any location if your feet are cold. Since winter is just around the corner, let’s discuss how to keep your floors warm.

I have a rule of thumb about the cold floor problem. If you are located north of Interstate 40 (I’m talking about the entire route, which pretty much goes coast to coast), insulating floors or crawl spaces is important. There are, of course, a few exceptions, such as Gatlinburg, Tenn., which lies south of I-40 but, because of its high elevation, has very cold winters. Flagstaff, Ariz., too, is located at a high elevation, which causes temperature extremes in the winter and summer. But, for the most part, this line is pretty accurate.

If your floor is on a slab and not properly insulated, the slab temperatures will always be a just a few degrees lower than your thermostat setting, except where it is near the exterior wall. If the exterior temperature is 35 degrees and your thermostat is set on 75 degrees, a slab temperature at the exterior wall will be about 55 degrees. Your feet will feel cold if you are sitting near that location and your utility bills will be higher as the warm air molecules rush toward the edge of the cold slab.

If you have this situation in your existing house there’s not much that you can do except to wear heavier socks and not sit near the wall. However, caulking the joint where the wall touches the slab would definitely help stop the cold air. If you are building a new house, cold floor problems can be solved by the installation of 1-inch foam board, located between the cold air and the exterior edge of the slab. Just remember your picnic ice chest is only three quarters of an inch thick and works very well. The rigid insulation can be installed in the concrete “L” block or installed vertically behind the brick veneer.

It probably is impossible to insulate the parameter of a monolithic slab. Monolithic slabs are quite common where I live in Arkansas and you can tell whether you have one by looking at the exterior wall of the house. If you don’t see any concrete blocks or brick, then you probably have a monolithic slab.

Another solution, of course, would be to actually heat the slab in your new house by circulating hot water through the slab. This is usually very costly, both at installation and in operation, unless you heat water with a geothermal system. Generally, I do not suggest heating the slab in homes anywhere south of Interstate 70 (yes, I’m talking about I-70 now) and I do not really think that it is necessary to heat the slab in any home that is built according to the techniques I teach.

In many cases, an acceptable solution is to install small electric heating cables under the tile in your bathroom. You can get information about this at any ceramic tile showroom.

For those of you who are wondering about crawl spaces or basements, you will have to wait until next month. In the meantime, I promise you that I’ll be wearing my house shoes when I go outside to get the paper.

More Information:

Doug Rye, the “Doctor of Energy Efficiency-the King of Caulk and Talk” can be heard on several different Illinois radio stations. Or you can go to his Web site at, e-mail him at, or call 888-Doug-Rye or 501-653-7931. You can also sign up for a free newsletter and order his “how to” videotapes.


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Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives

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