Bathroom heating is a hot topic. It might not be the first thing you think about when you embark on a design project, but you’ll certainly be glad you factored it in when you step out of the shower into a warm room on a cold morning. Underfloor heating is ideal for small bathrooms or, if your space is big enough, you could opt for a heated towel rail or radiator to dry linens and keep the room cosy. Read on for expert advice to help you decide which will work best for your lifestyle and home.
Professional advice from: Aran Seira of Purely Electrique; Barbara Payne of Bisque; Daniel Baker of Geyser Radiators; Steve Birch of Aestus.
Investigate radiators and heated towel rails
Both radiators and heated towel rails can be connected to the boiler in a closed heating system; heated towel rails can also be part of a sealed electric setup. Start by deciding which fuel option is best for your installation and lifestyle. There are pros and cons to each. Firstly, radiators or towel rails plugged into the central heating will only operate when the rest of the system is switched on. This means that in summer, damp towels won’t dry as quickly. The solution to this is an electric radiator, which can be switched on and off when needed – all year round if necessary.
“Electric models are ideal if you want to avoid the expense associated with installing a new central heating system, as the heat source is independent,” says Steve Birch of Aestus. “The towel rails are filled with thermal transfer fluid, which is then heated by the electric element to produce a warm towel rail or radiator whenever you want it. But note: electric towel rails and radiators should be fitted by a suitably qualified installer to avoid costly mistakes.”
If you want the best of both worlds, opt for a dual fuel towel rail. “These are perfect for use in a bathroom, especially during the warmer months of the year,” explains Daniel Baker of Geyser Radiators. “They can be run on the central heating system during colder periods and then on electric when the weather is warmer, removing the need to heat the entire house through the central heating system.”
Calculate the right heat output
Heat output is calculated in British thermal units per hour (Btu/hr). The easiest way to work this out is by using a BTU calculator, which many radiator and heated towel rail manufacturers and retailers provide on their websites. “Calculating BTU is a simple process that involves entering a few details, including which room is being catered for, the dimensions of the space, whether the home has single or double glazing and how sheltered the building itself is,” says Birch. “The results help to determine how many radiators are required and how powerful they will need to be.”
Find a certified plumber
Have radiators and towel rails installed by professionals to guarantee safety and avoid unwanted costs later on. Alternatively, if you buy your towel rail from a bathroom showroom, the store will often include installation in the purchase or recommend an installer. “Visiting and buying from a reputable showroom is the best way to secure a reliable aftercare service,” recommends Birch.
Pick your style
Of course, design is also key. You may be concerned about the look of a traditional-style radiator or rail in your bathroom, but modern heating solutions can be visually stunning. Reproduction period models can also make a statement in older houses. Whichever design you go for, a striking radiator gives you the chance to create a feature in the room.
Check out different radiator materials
The majority of central heating radiators are made from mild steel. This can be formed into a variety of different shapes, and material costs often make it the most affordable. However, it’s not always the right option. “Mild steel isn’t recommended for rooms with high levels of moisture. Instead, opt for stainless steel, which is ideal for wet rooms and steamy bathrooms,” advises Barbara Payne of Bisque. “Aluminium options, meanwhile, have a high heat output, which allows for a slimmer profile, meaning they’re often a great space-saving option in compact bathrooms.” Toughened glass is ideal for busy bathrooms because it’s durable and easy to keep clean. It’s also available in a variety of colours to create a real statement piece. “In addition, glass can be mirrored, which means it can double up as a great accessory,” says Birch.
Consider underfloor heating
There are several benefits of underfloor heating, depending on the type of system you choose (more of which shortly). It can be a great choice, for example, in a tiny bathroom in which every inch of wall space matters – especially if you’re facing a choice between adding more storage or a heated towel rail. While it may save space, though, there are other issues to consider. “Radiators and towel rails tend to have a much quicker response time from the system being turned on to the effects being felt,” Baker says. However, just as with central heating, a timer can ensure you’re not stepping into a freezing cold room each morning. You’ll also need to factor in the way you intend to furnish your bathroom. “Installing underfloor heating below items of furniture, such as cupboards, can potentially cause the wood in the furniture to sweat, and the heat directly rising into the furniture can have a detrimental effect on it,” Baker adds. If underfloor heating seems like the right choice for you, you have two types to decide between.
Explore wet underfloor heating
Wet underfloor heating is connected to the central heating system, which circulates heated water through a series of pipes under the floor. The pipes are an efficient and effective replacement for radiators, requiring a lower temperature to give off the same or better heat. “This is because the underfloor heating covers a much larger surface area than a radiator and thus can warm a room more efficiently,” says Aran Seira of Purely Electrique.
Look at electric underfloor heating
This features a series of electric wires beneath the final floor finish. The lifespan of an electric system is 25 years, according to Seira. “It’s also stated that the electric systems can last a lifetime, depending on whether the floor covering is changed or not, and how many times,” he adds. “Obviously, the more you tamper with floor finishes, the more chance there is of the system getting damaged.” The disadvantage of an electric system is that it takes slightly longer to heat up, but once heated provides cost-effective and evenly distributed heat.
Research compatible flooring
Solid floors are generally better thermal conductors. This makes finishes such as stone, slate, porcelain and ceramic tiles the best partners for underfloor heating, as they will provide a high output of heat thanks to their conductive properties. Most mid- to top-range laminates can also be used with underfloor heating, but you should check for suitability.
Count the cost
The most significant factor in the cost of your underfloor heating is simply the size of the floor: the bigger the space, the more expensive it will be. “The second most influential factor on cost would be how labour-intensive the installation is,” Seira says. Materials will affect your outlay, too. “The subfloor also comes into play when looking at the overall cost of installation. If the subfloor is floorboards, plyboard should be laid on top to stop any movement of individual boards. If the subfloor is concrete, the installer needs to ensure it’s level and flat, usually by adding self-levelling compound. Again, due to the extra labour, the costs may rise.”
Have the best of both worlds
For the ultimate in bathroom warmth – cosy toes and toasty towels – fit both underfloor heating and a rail or radiator. As Payne says, “We find many customers opt for a specific towel rail in conjunction with underfloor heating to get the best of both worlds.”