Do radiator covers block heat or are they a good investment?

white latticed radiator cover
(Image credit: ManoMano)

Do radiator covers block heat? It is a common question asked by those looking for a way to conceal their heating source or to improve the decor of a room that is currently being spoilt by a boring or dated radiator. 

There are many different types of radiator and some are far more attractive than others. If you are renovating a house you may well find that, while the radiators chosen by the previous owners are in perfect working order, they may not make the most stylish design impact on the space. Or perhaps you are trying to save money and only have the budget for standard panel radiators but would rather they remain out of sight. 

Whatever your reasons for fitting radiator covers, it is important to understand the effect they could have on how well your radiators perform — you really don't want to be paying to warm up your home only to block most of that heat from reaching you. Particularly in an age of spiralling energy costs.

Here, we take a look at whether the common belief that radiator covers block heat is true or simply a lot of hot air.

Do radiator covers block heat from a room?

Before we can take a more in depth look at whether radiator covers prevent heat from permeating a room, it is useful to look at how radiators work. 

Put very simply, radiators take the heat from the hot water inside them and transfer it into the room they are fitted in. 

"Radiators get warm as the heat travels through the conducting metal of the radiator then, through the convection process, the area around the radiator is heated," explains Polly Shearer, heating expert at Only Radiators. "The more powerful your radiator, the more warmth will be spread around the room." 

Convection occurs when the warmth produced by the radiator moves into the air, before that air rises up and gets circulated around the room. 

Radiator covers do exactly what the name suggests — they cover the radiator. But does this stop the heat produced entirely or will it find a way through?

"Of course, putting a solid object around your heat source will have an effect on the heat output as it acts as a barrier," says Polly Shearer. "However, a radiator cover will not block too much heat as long as your cover has gaps and slots for heat to escape, and warm the air up through convection. 

"If your radiator cover is completely solid, you’ll be losing heat and energy, which will be more expensive as your boiler will work harder to reach the temperature set by your thermostat."

When thinking about how to optimise the performance of your radiators, be sure to design your layout so that no bulky items of furniture are placed in front of them either, and familiarise yourself with how to bleed a radiator in order to keep them running at their best.

black and gold Art Deco radiator cover

The Anastasia Adjustable Black Glass Radiator Cover from MY Furniture features 3mm gaps between the strips to enable effective air/heat circulation — plus it makes a handy console table too.  (Image credit: MY Furniture)

Which are the best radiator covers for heat?

"The reality of the story is, an uncovered radiator will have a higher heat output and work more efficiently if it doesn't have the barrier of a radiator cover," says Polly Shearer. 

However, it is important to bear in mind that not all radiator covers are created equal — meaning some designs will block more heat than others. There are also a few tricks to make sure your radiator cover doesn't stop heat entering the room. 

According to Homeserve, fitting a radiator cover with a reflective foil backing can really help things, while opting for a design with a louvred front panel or one with plenty of slots and gaps will ensure heat is still able to enter the room. You should also ensure that the cover is not too tight a fit around your radiator to allow air to circulate. 

And when it comes to the best materials for radiator covers, which are best? 

"Wood is the most common material for a radiator cover, even though it isn't a very good conductor of heat," says Polly Shearer. "It is the best material to childproof your radiators — it won't get as warm as other materials like metal, and will absorb some of the heat. Galvanised metal is a great material for heat conduction and will ensure no heat is lost, but this isn't one for protecting your kids from burns!"

gold decorative radiator cover and console table

The Fitzgerald Gold Console Table from French Bedroom doubles up as a radiator cover — the open, clamshell pattern will allow plenty of heat through.  (Image credit: French Bedroom)

What is the best way to fit radiator covers to prevent heat loss?

It is not just the type of radiator cover that can have an effect on how much heat they stop from entering a room — it is the way in which they are installed too. 

Before you buy a radiator cover, it is important to take into account the space required between the radiator and the cover to ensure heat is allowed to circulate. 

"The gap between the radiator and the cover should be at least 5cm in width, 3cm in height and 3cm in depth to ensure it won’t affect the BTU output," says Polly Shearer. 

To ensure you buy the correct size of radiator cover, measure the length of your radiator (including valves), its height and the depth from the wall. You will also need to measure skirting boards and any window ledges. When you have these measurements add 5cm to the width, and 3cm to the height and depth. 

Finally, be sure not to cover your radiator and its cover with any large, solid items of furniture such as a sofa — this will only serve to block heat even more. 

What are the benefits of radiator covers?

Radiator covers do block some heat from radiators, so if you have gone to the trouble of sourcing the best radiators around it does not necessarily make sense to cover them. However, it is clear that well-designed radiator covers, with plenty of holes and gaps for heat to escape through, will have little impact on heat output.

There are also some real benefits to fitting radiator covers, including:

  • Safety: If you live in a household with young children or pets, installing radiator covers can reduce the risk of burns. Some radiators can get really hot to touch which could cause serious harm — fitting a cover will remove this worry.
  • Appearance: If your budget doesn't stretch to replacing boring or tired-looking old radiators with new designer or column models, radiator covers are a more cost-effective and easy way to instantly refresh the decor of a room.
  • Storage spot: Radiator covers give you an instant shelf above — perfect for displaying ornaments or other decorative items in living rooms and bedrooms or as a place to keep bowls of keys, post and other essentials in hallways.
  • Protection: As well as hiding your radiators, covers can also protect them from damage — pipework and valves can be prone to being knocked and kicked in high traffic areas so installing a cover could prolong their life. 
Natasha Brinsmead

Natasha is Homebuilding & Renovating’s Associate Content Editor and has been a member of the team for over two decades. An experienced journalist and renovation expert, she has written for a number of homes titles. Over the years Natasha has renovated and carried out a side extension to a Victorian terrace. She is currently living in the rural Edwardian cottage she renovated and extended on a largely DIY basis, living on site for the duration of the project. She is now looking for her next project — something which is proving far harder than she thought it would be.