For years, radiators in general and bathroom radiators in particular have been the “ugly ducklings” of the world of interior design. They were accepted as necessary evils, at least by people living and working in cooler countries such as the UK, but it’s probably fair to say that, given the chance, many designers would have prefered to do without them. Over recent years, however, homeware manufacturers have started to produce more creative and attractive radiator designs so that this humble necessity can actually play a part in the overall decor rather than detracting from it. Because of this, the idea of designer radiators has become a reality, rather than an ironic joke. While we’re obviously very happy about this we’d like to drop in a quick reminder that radiators are still primarily functional items and hence it’s important to look at the practicalities and overall build quality before getting too involved in the design elements of radiators. With that in mind, let’s look at some of the key points you should consider when choosing a new designer radiator.
Physical size and thermal capacity
Let’s take a step back here and remember our high school science. There are three ways heat can be transferred - convection, conduction and radiation. In spite of the name, radiators are actually convection heaters, this means that they heat the air which comes into contact with them, this warm air then circulates around the room (or in larger rooms at least part thereof), warming the space and its occupants as it travels. The greater the surface area of a radiator, the more air it can heat at any given point in time and hence the greater its thermal capacity. There is therefore a fairly strong correlation between the physical size of a radiator and the quantity of heat it can output. In larger rooms, you may have the option (or indeed be faced with the necessity) of using more than one radiator to generate sufficient heat, but even larger bathrooms tend to be of a size where the use of a single radiator is a given, perhaps with a heated towel rail to back it up. That being so, we suggest that you start by working out the capacity of radiator you will need and then seeing what your options are in terms of physical size. As a working rule of thumb, if you’re in a modern home (built or at least substantially renovated within the last 20 years or so), with effective insulation and double glazing and your bathroom only has one small window and one outside wall then you would probably need a radiator with a capacity of about 400 British Thermal Units (BTUs) times the cubic volume of your bathroom (length*width*height in metres). Once you’ve established this, you can assess your options in terms of physical size and while you’re looking at this, remember to account for depth (projection) as well as height and width.
For the sake of completeness, we’ll take a quick gallop through some radiator materials which are available on the market, but which we don’t currently stock at Poshh for reasons we’ll explain. Then we’ll take a closer look at the two materials most commonly used for modern designer radiators and explain why.
If you’ve any interest in interior design (or history), you’ve probably seen pictures of the cast iron radiators used in Victorian time, you may even have seen them in the real world. Put in the right setting, they can look absolutely stunning. In our opinion, however, a modern home is very rarely the right setting for cast iron radiators, even when a bathroom has a period feel and the cast iron radiator is a modern reproduction. The fact of the matter is that the use of cast iron for radiators dates back to a time when the sort of people who could afford indoor bathrooms with radiators kept regular hours, meaning that they generally had a good idea of when the bathroom was likely to be in use and also had servants to keep feeding the fires as required to keep such radiators running. If you have a lifestyle when you can confidently predict when you’re going to want to use your bathroom and are able to set up your central heating so that it is on at least 90 minutes before you want to go into the bathroom, then you may be able to make a cast iron radiator work for you, although even then, we’d have concerns about weight and maintenance. For most people, however, we suspect that cast iron radiators have had their day, at least as working radiators rather than decorative items.
For years, stone, and particularly marble, has been loved by designers and used for high-end worktops, floors and baths. It’s now being used for radiators, where it looks good and performs well. Frankly, however, at this point in time, there is a hefty price tag to pay for these good looks and while the performance is good, it’s (currently) nowhere near good enough to be able to argue that the savings in terms of running-costs will make it easy to recoup the up-front costs of a stone radiator (in our opinion). In addition to all of this, stone is heavy, so you may have weight issues, particularly if you want to wall mount your designer radiators.
Much the same comments apply to glass. We’d love to see glass radiators reach a price point where they become genuinely affordable options for the average bathroom, since the use of glass in a small bathroom can really help to open up a space and make it seem bigger. At this point, however, we think that the up-front cost is more than can be justified by the performance, although we do acknowledge that glass is much lighter than either cast iron or stone and hence it’s easier to find wall-space for it.
Aluminium and steel
These are the top choices for modern designer radiators since they combine effective performance with good looks and an affordable price. Steel is also prized for the fact that it can be moulded into all kinds of shapes. For those who are wondering, there are very few radiators on the market which are actually made of chrome, mainly for reasons of cost. Most of the so-called “chrome radiators” you will find after a standard internet search are actually steel radiators, with a chrome finish or, at best, chrome plate.
Choosing the right radiator for your space
We’d suggest that your make your first decision whether you would prefer a free-standing or wall-mounted radiator and, if the latter, check that the wall on which you wish to mount your designer radiator is actually up to the task. Load-bearing walls should be absolutely fine and there’s a good chance that a partition wall will be able to handle the light weight of a modern, designer radiator, but we also think that it never hurts to check.
Once you’ve cleared that point, we recommend that you look at your bathroom as a whole and then think about how your choice of designer radiator could enhance it. For example, if you want to add vertical height to your bathroom, then you could use a vertical radiator to draw the eye upwards. Similarly if you want to make your bathroom appear wider then a horizontal radiator would probably be the way to go. Radiators with a painted finish offer maximum flexibility going forward, since they can be painted in new colours essentially as often as you’d like. The key to making this work is to use car paint as this is designed to withstand both changes in temperature and corrosion. On the other hand, a classic metal finish will generally look good pretty much anywhere and hence provide a “fit-and-forget” solution. These days, you can buy radiators as “statement pieces”, almost like wall art, but we’d recommend against it. The fact of the matter is that wall art can be changed very easily, whereas radiators are intended to be long-term investment pieces and as such we strongly suggest you look for a more classic design you can live with day in and day out, season after season, rather than one which is “on trend”.
As is generally the case with bathroom appliances, if you see two items of similar appearance but very different prices, then the chances are that they are of very different levels of build quality. Here at Poshh, we only sell designer radiators from brands you can trust, like Hudson Reed, brands which have been in the business for years, know what they are doing and value customer service (including honouring guarantees). This allows us to sell with confidence and makes it possible for you to buy from us with confidence. Once you’ve picked the designer radiator that’s right for you, remember to stop by our radiator valves section to pick up the perfect valve to go with it. You might even consider buying a thermostatic valve to make your new designer radiator even more energy efficient.