Radiator buying guide

In years gone by, central heating radiators were purely functional appliances, designed to emit a constant flow of warm air to heat the home with little thought given to aesthetics or green credentials. Today, a wider choice of radiators is available to homeowners, not only with a sharper focus on design but also with greater energy efficiency to help reduce the impact on the environment.

Whether you’re replacing the central heating system in your home or are renovating a single room or the entire property, choosing new radiators should be an integral part of the project, so you can be confident you’ve selected models that make effective use of the available space, compliment your design scheme and heat your rooms to an optimal temperature for comfortable living.

What size radiator should I buy?

In the homes of the past, it was not unusual to find expansive radiators that seemed to fill entire walls, often churning out far too much heat that was necessary and causing homeowners a logistical nightmare when positioning furniture. By comparison, modern single panel radiators are sleeker, smaller and more energy efficient, eliminating the need for oversized models.

Calculating the size of radiator depends on several factors, including:

  • the size and purpose of the room
  • number of doors
  • the number of windows.

Although most people have their own preference, as a rule-of-thumb each room in the home has its own ideal temperature:

  • Living room: 21 ºC
  • Bedroom: 15 ºC
  • Bathroom: 23 ºC
  • Kitchen: 16 ºC

The output of a radiator is measured in BTUs (British Thermal Units); it is vital that the output is sufficient for the size and type of each room. Measure each room in cubic feet and enter this information into a BTU calculator to work out the output needed. Remember that north-facing rooms tend to be colder, while single and double glazed windows will also affect the output needed for optimal heating.

Where Should I Position a New Radiator?

If you’re replacing an existing radiator, it is likely that you will be constrained by the position of the pipework that supplies the hot water from the central heating system. Relocating pipework isn’t an impossible task but it creates additional work, mess and cost – although in the long-term it might be beneficial if you’re keen on the new radiator being installed in a different position.

Whether you’re relocating an existing radiator or installing a brand new one, it’s important to plan ahead to ensure that it will be able to heat the room efficiently without getting in the way. Today’s efficient radiators no longer have to be installed underneath windows or on external walls which could cause heat loss, particularly in modern homes that are airtight. In an older property, siting a radiator in the coldest part of the room could be advantageous as this encourages the warmth from the unit to be pushed into the room.

It’s important to plan how you intend to use the room, particularly when positioning furniture. Radiators should not be installed behind sofas or large items of furniture, as this will prevent the natural flow of warm air into the room. Slimline radiators will fit snugly into alcoves or on unused wall space, so you can enjoy greater flexibility when planning the layout of the room so that the new radiator works efficiently, providing you with the perfect temperature for daily living.

Can Changing Thermostats Improve my Energy Efficiency?

Cutting fuel bills and reducing the carbon footprint are high on many people’s agenda, so you’ll likely need a central heating system that improves energy efficiency. Manual thermostats on each radiator that are adjusted by hand in response to the homeowner’s desire for more or less warmth offer a simple way to regulate temperature in the home, but for a more automated system, two options are available:

Thermostatic radiator valve (TVR): these valves are fitted to each radiator and can be adjusted manually, but an in-built thermostat measures the air temperature close by and adjusts the flow of hot water to the radiator as necessary. Therefore, the radiators won’t be churning out heat constantly if the room is already warm.

Smart thermostat: a more recent innovation, the smart thermostat responds to the homeowner’s actions and behaviour to maximise energy efficiency. By detecting your phone’s location, the smart thermostat only activates the central heating when you, or a member of your family, are on the way home, meaning the radiators won’t be on unnecessarily when the property is empty. With several smart thermostats, you can even automate individual radiators throughout the home.

What are the Popular Styles of Radiators?

Browsing the best radiator brands such as Myson, Jaga or Stelrad will reveal a huge variety of styles and materials, from traditional panelled models suited to older properties to designs at the cutting edge of modern home interiors. The savvy homeowner planning a new boiler installation or a property renovation has a repertoire of designs from which to choose, making the radiator a key element of interior design.

When selecting the style for a room, function and appearance are the two most important considerations. In a bathroom or kitchen, for example, a ladder design is ideal for hanging towels to dry and exudes elegance and style – perfect in the modern home. A traditional free-standing column radiator, in cast iron, is the first choice in older properties as they retain a sense of bygone charm and stand out as important period features. If space is a premium, a stainless steel column radiator could be a sophisticated solution that is a fantastic focal point in any living space.

While the traditional white radiator remains a common choice in homes – neutral to the eye, cost-effective and easy to obtain – different colour options give homeowners more scope to blend their new radiator into their interior design scheme. Many radiators can be purchased in different colours so you can select the ideal one to compliment your décor, while chrome versions offer a contemporary, stylish finish perfect for bathrooms and kitchens.

What are the Common Pitfalls When Installing New Radiators?

Once your new radiators are installed, changing or repositioning them is time-consuming, costly and impractical, so it makes sense to plan carefully before you purchase – or risk falling into one of the most common traps:

  • Incorrect radiator size: when it comes to radiators, bigger is not necessarily better. In fact, very large radiators can cause your central heating system to operate inefficiently. Undersized radiators will do little to stave off the cold, so accurate planning should ensure you select the correct size of panel for each room.
  • Incorrect positioning: for a radiator to work efficiently, you need a free flow of warm air into the room. Obstructions from furniture or soft furnishings or proximity to doors or windows could affect how freely the air can move, leading to cold spots or the radiator having to work harder to produce heat.
  • Incorrect pipe diameter: the diameter of the hot feed to the radiators will depend on a number of factors, including the size of the radiator and the number in your central heating system. Pipework that is too narrow will not allow hot water to flow into the radiators at the correct pace, leading to panels that are underpowered. If you wish to add a new radiator, the existing pipework will dictate how effectively this can be done. Obtaining professional advice from a qualified installer is vital to ensure that you get the most out of your heating.

Read our central heating installation guide to learn more about updating your system.