What to consider
Twenty-first century radiators are increasingly inventive in style, colour and form, but it is important not to lose sight of their purpose: to heat your home. Calculating the heat output – measured in British Thermal Units per hour (BTU/h) – required within each room is the primary priority. A Gas Safe Register plumber or heating engineer is best qualified to work this out for you. However, online BTU calculators (see manufacturers’ and suppliers’ websites) will help to give an indication.
Location will also have a bearing on your choice. Radiators should be placed in the coldest part of the room, usually below or adjacent to a window and/or on an outside wall — as cold air pushes heat around the room. Radiators are typically between 300-700mm high and 500- 3,000mm in length. As a general rule, the larger the size, the greater the heat output. If, however, you’re stuck for space or simply prefer to be without radiators, skirting heating is a discreet, space-saving alternative.
Don’t forget, heated towel rails are a necessity in the modern bathroom. There are two main types: those which simply warm your towels, and those which act as radiators, too, keeping your entire bathroom cosy. Mirror radiators are another functional option.
Steel is typically the cheapest choice. But, as Phil Marris, Managing Director of Jaga Home Heating, suggests, “The biggest mistake homeowners make when choosing a radiator is assuming that the options are limited to a few mundane variations on the traditional steel panel design.” He continues: “With so many shapes, colours and sizes available, it pays to do some research and see what might work with your interior design ideas.” Thus you may choose to invest in aluminium, which can be moulded into sleek vertical panels (NO. 7 in the gallery above) or sculpted features (NO. 8). Lightweight and only requiring a low water volume, aluminium radiators can be mounted on most walls. The material is also quick to heat up — but loses heat rapidly once switched off.
Cast iron is a traditional choice, particularly when specified for column radiators. Unlike aluminium, this material takes its time to warm up, but will hold onto heat long after being turned off. It is also a heavyweight option, so ensure your floor/wall is structurally sound. Among the more unusual but emerging options are stone and glass — which is not only energy efficient, but also gives scope for decorative artwork. Also give thought to the finish. Glossy surfaces are popular but, while they look radiant, they do not emit as much heat as matt finishes.
Period radiators are a real asset, but may require attention if they are to remain in efficient working order. Old radiators can suffer from cold spots, caused when sludge builds up inside — powerflushing (pflush.com) will remedy this problem. Cast iron radiators coated in layers of unsightly paint can be shot-blasted. Both are tasks for the professionals.
Old models can also be sourced online or in reclamation yards, but Andy Triplow of The Old Radiator Company gives the following advice: “Be careful when buying from a salvage company as, although the old radiators may look robust, they can be easily damaged and may have cracks that you are unable to see.” Triplow continues: “The gaskets, which seal the joints between the sections, are particularly susceptible to damage.”
Salvaged radiators can be reconditioned, but you may decide a reproduction offers a more straightforward solution.
(MORE: How to Replace a Radiator)
Thermostatic radiator valves
Thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs) not only enable you to manually set the temperature of individual radiators, but they also regulate heat output — automatically reducing flow to the radiator when the surrounding air temperature rises too high.
Fitting TRVs – combined with a central timer and thermostatic control – in a four bedroom detached house with oil central heating can shave up to £300 off your annual bill and cut your CO2 output by 1,717kg each year, according to the Energy Saving Trust (energysavingtrust.org.uk). This equates to £150 and 987kg respectively for electric central heating systems. Specifying TRVs will also improve your home’s rating on your Energy Performance Certificate.
To get the best out of TRVs, do not use them with radiator covers or radiators hidden behind long curtains, or place lamps in close proximity. Expect to pay around £10 for each TRV — but remember to factor in the cost of installation.
Advice from the experts
Simon Hall, Managing Director, Agadon Heat & Design (0845 450 5160)
“To calculate heat output you need to measure the room size and multiply the room length x width x height (all in feet) and then multiply by four. For example, if the room measures 12ft (long) x 9ft (wide) x 7ft (high), you will need a radiator with a power rating of 3,024 BTU. This calculation gives a good average. Though, as purists will point out, you need to account for factors like heat loss from windows, whether the room faces north or south, insulation, etc.”
Andy Triplow, Owner, The Old Radiator Company (01233 850082)
”Reconditioning old radiators is not a job to do yourself. The radiators need to be flushed out with a pump system to remove silt, sandblasted, fitted with new reducing bushes, and then pressure tested to check for any invisible cracks or leaks. There’s a failure rate of around one in ten in unrestored old radiators so you need to make sure they’ve been properly reconditioned and tested if you want to avoid expensive problems in the future.”
Value for money
Saffet Kalender, Managing Director, Aeon (01525 379505)
“Designer radiators are increasingly popular as people update their heating systems from unexciting panel radiators. But homeowners are also looking for energy efficiency and value for money. Invest in models with a guarantee of ten or more years, and look carefully at heat outputs. Plumbers have a tendency to err on the side of caution by specifying larger radiators than necessary, compensating with thermostats.”