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How to choose your radiators

Winter has arrived, bringing with it chilly mornings and frosty nights. If you plan to install or update plumbed radiators – ones that are fed by hot water from your boiler – this guide will help you to get started.

Professional advice from: Darren Hickman of Aestus; Steve Birch of Vogue UK Towel Warmers and Radiators; Bal Seira of Radiating Style


Where’s best to hang my radiators?

This is a contentious question. Some people argue it’s best to install radiators near an area of heat loss, such as under a window, so any cold air entering the room can be warmed with the circulation flow. Others say that installing them away from cold areas is more cost-efficient.

Confused? Steve Birch of Vogue UK has a simple answer: choose the position of your radiators based on your room’s layout. “Remember, you don’t have to stick with the current position of your radiators. In fact, moving them might enable you to use the space more efficiently,” he says.


How does moving my radiator affect my décor?

If you’re working with a radiator that’s connected to your main central heating system, then the whole thing will need draining before you can remove your chosen radiator from the wall to avoid damaging the floor with any spillages.

“If you’re working with papered walls, then there’s a strong possibility that once the radiator’s removed, you’ll be left with holes from the fixtures and fittings,” says Birch. “A tip if moving a radiator to another papered wall is to try to position it on a central strip of paper. This way, you’ll only need to replace that section, rather than having to paper the entire space. Make sure you keep a spare roll or two for this.”



Why does the condition of the wall matter?

Walls on which you’re hanging radiators need to be able to carry the weight. If you see cracks on your chosen wall, Darren Hickman of Aestus advises replastering before installing a radiator.

“The radiator should not be hung on the wall before replastering takes place, as this may cause further disintegration of the wall, which will inevitably lead to loose fixtures and fittings, and potential damage to your new radiator,” he explains.

Interested in underfloor heating, too? Check out this guide 


Can I hang my radiator on a stud wall?

If you’ve added an en suite or extra bedroom within your home’s footprint, it may have been created using stud walls. These are made of plasterboard supported by a frame of vertical and horizontal timbers called studs. Given that the studs are the strongest parts of the wall, you’ll need to hang radiators from them rather than simply from the plasterboard.

Your first step is to find them. “Lightly knock on the wall and when you hear a solid sound, you know you’ve hit a stud,” advises Hickman. If you don’t feel confident, buy a stud finder, widely available in DIY stores and online. 

How much heat will my radiator give out?
“The easiest way to work this out is by using a BTU [British Thermal Unit] calculator, which many radiator and towel warmer manufacturers provide on their websites,” says Birch. “Calculating the BTU for a room 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,” Birch continues. “The results will help you determine how many radiators are required, and how powerful they will need to be.”

Which materials work best?

It really depends on your individual requirements.

Mild steel is Birch’s top pick. “Not only is it suitable for all types of heating system, but mild steel radiators also deliver a high heat output, so are extremely efficient,” says Birch.

Stainless steel is another popular option; malleable – so it can be welded with ease – as well as durable. Moreover, it’s recyclable, making it an environmentally friendly choice.

“Aluminium is a good material, because it heats up quickly, doesn’t corrode and is the lightest of all the radiator materials,” adds Bal Seira of Radiating Style. “Aluminium radiators also offer the benefit of being recyclable.”

Cast iron often comes top of the wish list, with choices ranging from reclaimed models to reproductions. Be aware that cast iron takes a while to warm up, but it retains the heat well. 

What about finishes?

A premium finish to radiators or towel rails will allow you to move away from the standard white options long associated with the home.

“Metallic finishes, such as brushed or polished chrome or stainless steel, nickel and gold are hugely popular, as well as antique bronze, copper and brass finishes “ says Birch.

“Many models can even come with a textured or sculptured finish.” That being said, chrome still remains the most popular finish, as it suits both traditional and contemporary kitchen and bathroom schemes.

Do I need radiator valves?

Yes! Valves are used to control heat output, so you’ll need a pair for every plumbed radiator in your home. Choose from manual valves or thermostatic ones, depending on the pipework you have in place – an expert will be able to advise you.

Manual valves allow a constant flow of water into the radiator. In contrast, thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs) sense the air temperature around them, then regulate the flow of hot water to the radiator. You set the temperature level yourself, so the space is always comfortable for you. TRVs are easy to adjust, so you can save money by choosing a lower setting: once the room reaches the temperature you’ve chosen, the radiator will switch off.

“Valves not only enhance the function of a radiator, but its look and style, too,” says Hickman. “Options available range from traditional to contemporary  solutions, whether that be straight, angled, cubed or crosshead in design.” 


How do I know if a radiator needs bleeding?

Radiators need bleeding when trapped air displaces the hot water that normally heats them, meaning they will not work at full capacity doing the job of heating your space. “You can tell when your radiator needs bleeding as the top section will feel much colder than the bottom when your heating is turned on,” says Birch.

Learn how to heat a chilly kitchen on any budget

How do I bleed a radiator?

Easily! Using a radiator key, turn the valve anti-clockwise to open it. (Keep a cloth close by to catch any water that bubbles out when you do this.) Once the valve is open, you’ll hear the air being released. Let it escape until you start to see water. “At this point, simply close the valve, but make sure you don’t over-tighten it,” Birch explains.

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Photo by CS Photography - Search contemporary design ideas

What’s next in radiators?

Bold colours, highly textured materials and the addition of a full-length mirror are rivalling standard radiator designs. “Continued developments in technology and manufacturing techniques have made it possible to bring traditional designs into the 21st century,” concludes Birch.

Sophie Baylis, Houzz Contributor

About our expert View all posts by this expert

Houzz Experts

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