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How to Choose the Perfect Radiator: Your Essential Buying Guide

how to choose a radiator

Buying a radiator isn’t simple. But it can be. The sheer amount of options and designs makes choosing a radiator in 2017 a bit of a headache. So here’s a quick guide on how to choose a radiator, with links to more information in each section. (We recommend bookmarking this article so you can pop back to refresh your memory.)

How to Choose a Radiator without Worrying

This guide will help you know exactly how to choose a radiator by first giving you a quick understanding of what's available. That way you'll know how to choose the radiator that suits your needs. Secondly, using a tape measure, you'll know the easy measurements you'll need to note down to make sure that you get the most efficient radiator (and one which fits your plumbing). And lastly, what extras you'll need once you buy a radiator you love. You'll also find answers to some common questions too. So let's get started...

What are the Different Types of Radiator?

Every home radiator is a combination of the following features:

Either Central Heating, Electric, or Dual Fuel

A Central heating or plumbed radiator are your typical radiator. Essentially, a metal container that fills with hot water which is heated by the boiler. That heat then escapes into your home at a rate that depends on its material, size, and design.

Electric radiators are, as you can guess, a container full of fluid (often thermo-fluid) that is heated by an electrical element. All powered by your nearest power socket or wired directly to your main supply.

Dual fuel radiators are both of the above. Typically a standard central heating radiator with a mains-powered 'summer heating element' inserted into it. This gives you the option of heating the radiator using electric, even if your central heating is off.

Shop central heating radiators here Shop electric powered radiators here

Single or Double (& Flat or Convector) Panel Radiators

single, double, and double convector

Single ‘panels’ (think of them as ‘hot water containers’ instead) are your basic radiator. A single panel, mounted to the wall, facing outwards into the room. It might also be split up into multiple columns for more surface area - but it’s still a single panel. Single panels are slimmer and fit closer against the wall than doubles.

Double panel radiators are two single panels stacked against each other (for roughly twice the power) and mounted to your wall. They can end up sticking out quite far from your wall - but in some designs, this might be a good thing.

Convector radiators are a single or double panel radiator with convector fins welded to them. More on convectors below.

Shop single, double & convector radiators here

Horizontal or Vertical Radiators

horizontal and vertical radiator example

Horizontal Radiators are your standard wider-than-they-are-taller shape. Found everywhere and usually under the window (traditionally to warm those cold draughts).

  • The safe option design-wise, your typical white radiator fits in everywhere
  • More common, more choice, less expensive

Vertical Radiators are tall, space saving, and since they’re more obvious than horizontal radiators they’re normally much more decorative.

  • Can free up a lot of space in the right room
  • Great for making a statement with - there’s plenty of designer vertical radiators to choose from

Shop horizontal & vertical radiators here

Panel, Columns, and Convector Radiators

panel, column, and convector radiator example

Column radiators are made from tubes arranged in rows that connect at the top and bottom to form a single section (unlike a double panel radiator). They’re often more traditional in design and probably what comes to mind when I say “Victorian radiator”.

Panel radiators are mostly a large thin container that fills with hot water. If a second panel is attached behind the first, it’s called a double panel radiator.

Convector radiators are panel radiators with a single or double section of zig-zagging ‘fins’ that are welded between two panels (or behind one panel if it’s a single). Commonly surrounded in a case with vents on the top and bottom to channel air through to heat it better.

Shop column, panel & convector radiators here

And Then There's Heated Towel Rails and Ladder Rails

example of ladder rails

Towel rails and ladder rails are radiators made primarily for heating towels to make them warm and fluffy (perfect for those cold winter mornings) as well as drying them; heating rooms is only their secondary function - though they can easily heat smaller bathrooms - as such they tend to be far less powerful (and cheaper to run). Many radiators have slots cut for hanging towels, but using it just to heat towels would be expensive - hence a towel rail.

Shop heated towel radiators here

What is BTU and How Much Do I Need?

radiator btu

BTU is the measure of heat output. The higher the BTU, the hotter your radiator can get. Watts are the same, except they refer to electric radiators.

When buying a radiator, the standard practice is to use a BTU calculator to figure out how much BTU you need.

More BTU means it’s more expensive to run, but you can always just turn it down; after all, it’s nice to have it just-in-case, than need it and not have it.

Find out your BTU here

What Size Radiator Do I Need? Is Bigger Better?

example of two different radiator sizes

Size, along with material, affects the BTU output - bigger radiators are likely to put out more - but when thinking about size, don’t forget about depth.

Example: You could choose a radiator that’s really long, really tall, but you could also get a compact one with plenty of depth, like a double panel convector. Equally, you could have two single panel vertical radiators to avoid a chunky look and they would look almost like wall decorations.

Basically just use the BTU calculator to figure out what you need, and then it’s all down to how you want the room to look. Just go wild.

Again, find out your BTU, it's super easy

What's The Best Radiator Material?

example of different radiator materials

When you choose a radiator, what it's made from affects how quickly it heats up and how quickly it cools. “What radiator material is best?” is a common question and while aluminium is technically the best, it's also typically pricier than other materials. Though you will get that money back in the long run. And for someone looking to save money in the short term (aluminium is great for long term savings) then a different material might be better.

Here’s a quick summary of each:

  • Cast iron was popular before modern insulation because it took ages to heat up and ages to cool down. If the Victorian look is all you want, then stainless steel versions of old cast iron designs are available.
  • Mild steel is very common and low cost. You’ll find plenty of good-looking designs as well as a range of painted colours.
  • Stainless steel doesn’t rust and stays warm for long after you turn off the heating. However, not all stainless steel is created equal, so make sure you buy from a good manufacturer. It’s a solid choice, but the prices reflect the quality.
  • Aluminium is a superconductor, meaning the moment you turn it on it immediately starts to heat your home. It also cools immediately so achieving the perfect temperature is easy. They’re also lightweight and easy to install (so lower installation fees).

Check out our in-depth article on Radiator Materials: Your Guide to Choosing the Best (For You)

Shop radiators by material here

How Much Does a Radiator Cost?

different priced radiators

More important than how it looks, and more important than anything really when you choose a radiator. Your budget. OnlyRadiators.co.uk has the most affordable selection of radiators, so that's a good place to browse to get an idea of prices. But really it all depends on a few different factors, such as knowing how materials affect the price of your radiators.

Shop affordable radiators here

What Else Do I Need to Buy With My Radiator?  (Valves!)

how to choose the best radiator valves

Yes, valves, two of them (they're sold in pairs). So you’ll need to purchase a pair of valves for every single radiator you buy. It’s very rare that a pair of valves will be included with a radiator.

Find out how to choose the best pair in our guide to choosing the best radiator valves.

Shop radiator valves here

What Other Radiator Accessories Are There?

different radiator accessories

Central Heating Inhibitors are very important when adding new radiators to your system. They coat the surface of the metal and prevents the metal in your system from rusting and reacting with anything else. We stock Adey Professional Heating Solutions as our recommended heating system care, their products have received a second Queen’s Award for innovation for their high performance chemicals. What more is there to say? Your system will be well looked after for many rust free years.

Radiator boosters are somewhat controversial, some people hate them, some people swear by them. They are essentially fans that sit atop a radiator to blow the hot air into the room, making the radiator more efficient and (in theory) saving you money. Like any ‘gadget’ it really comes down to the type you buy, and who from.

Decorative radiator valves could be considered non-essential (as long as you DO already have valves) and there’s plenty of wonderful options out there. The effect they can have on a design is substantial.

Paint is a great way to keep a radiator looking like new, and no, it doesn’t even have to be the same colour. It comes in tubs or in spray form.

Shop radiator accessories here

Do I Need a Plumber? Can I Install it Myself?

find a great installer

Short answer: Just pay a professional, this thing is going to be fed full of hot water while people gather around it - mistakes can cause a lot of damage to your home - and do you really want to go through all the effort just to risk having it break down in the middle of winter? What a Christmas to remember.

Long answer: Fancy yourself a DIY champ? Our article might help: Fixing (or Fitting) Your Own Radiator: When to Pick up the Phone or the Wrench

Find a reliable installer here

Conclusion

So knowing how to choose a radiator and make a great choice begins with having an idea of what you want from a radiator. You might only need a slightly warmer radiator than you have now, but it's the bathroom, making a heated towel rail an ideal choice. Next is knowing your technical limitations such as the angle of your piping, how large the room is, and details such as number of windows. From there you're free to browse purely on aesthetics and choose a radiator that doesn't just warm your home, but warms your heart too.

We hope you found this guide useful in helping you know how to choose a radiator. If you have any further questions, or some feedback to help us serve future customers even better, please comment on this article or give us an email at info@onlyradiators.co.uk. For an immediate response, please use our phone number - visible at the top of the website - and our customer service staff will be ready to assist.

3 thoughts on “How to Choose the Perfect Radiator: Your Essential Buying Guide”

  • Thank you for this article, it has been really helpful.

    Reply
  • Great considerations here, and so much to think about to get that perfect radiator. You're right, there are spatial limitations that many people don't consider - it's also important to think about the materials of the wall the radiator will be attached to as a studwork wall will place certain limitations on your radiator options.

    Reply
    • Hi Tabitha,

      Thank you for your input, you're absolutely correct, the weight of the radiator is an important consideration depending on the type of wall you're placing it on. Column Radiators tend to be the heaviest, I personally have a 38kg (plus water weight) on my stud wall at home and have never had any problems with it. There are some very god wall plugs available for plasterboard that certainly can take a fair amount of weight. This video might be worth a watch to anyone who's interested to find out more, https://youtu.be/hj05t10f8Yw. Any heavier than that though and you should consider removing the plasterboard where the brackets would be and reinforce the stud wall with more ply. This is a topic that we'd like to cover in more detail at a later date, so I'll be sure to update this comment with that link once it's done. Feel free to contact us if you'd like reassurance that a specific radiator is compatible with the wall type you have.

      Reply
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