Underfloor heating in the Barbican Estate

“The principle of electrical under-floor heating consists of warming the surface of the floor by embedded cables resulting in a gentle and generalised radiation.”

“The use of floor heating by electric cables of a type which are virtually indestructible eliminates pipes, radiators, equipment, boilers and mechanical plant.”

Chamberlin, Powell & Bon, Architects “Barbican Redevelopment” April 1959

Chamberlin Powell and Bon  and the City Corporation considered a number of alternative heating systems.

  • Open fires. Seriously, they did. I guess they probably didn’t have to consider that one for long.
  • Individual appliances such as gas fires or electric heaters.
  • Central heating using electricity or gas.
  • Central hating using solid fuel or oil
  • Central system using a heat pump.
  • A district heating scheme (heat supplied from a plant somewhere else in the City).

After a process of elimination, the final choice lay between oil-fired central heating and electrical underfloor heating.

The system the architects recommended in their 1959 report was underfloor heating, supplemented by conventional electrical fires or radiators. In this arrangement, the underfloor heating would provide background warmth, and the occupiers could turn on individual electrical fires whenever they wanted extra heat.

The architects listed the benefits as follows:

  • The occupants would have ample heat and would be able to control it to their satisfaction. (Not completely true. They would not be able to turn the background heat off. By “control it”, they meant that they could increase it with the use their own electric fires.)
  • There would be no smoke or waste products.
  • The background heat would extend throughout the building, so no part would become cold.
  • The City could take advantage of low tariff rates for “off peak”” consumption.
  • The system would be relatively cheap to install and would require no permanent staff for its maintenance.

Heating is supplied by cables placed in the floor screed made of sand and cement when the floors were laid. The cables lie in the bottom part of the floor screed on an insulating quilt of ethylene/propylene material. This means that most of the heat is emitted upwards to the flat.

There is a separate page about the underfloor heating in flats. Click here to read it.