Guide written by:
Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter
An electric towel radiator is a heating appliance designed to dry towels and heat up the bathroom at the same time. Usually made of steel or aluminium, towel radiators can come in a range of colours and weigh between 5 and 15 kg. In terms of size, they generally measure a minimum of 50 cm in width and can stretch over 1 metre in height. Electric radiators are usually made up of two vertical rails and a number of round or flat cross tubes. Each model varies in terms of power output and it's important to select the right size of radiator to match your bathroom. Electric towel rails can operate using dry thermal technology or they can be filled with a thermal liquid. Either way, the radiator heats up using an electric element.
Alternatively, homes fitted with gas boilers can install a hydronic towel rail. These towel rails are plumbed into your central heating system and look more or less identical to electric models. They can also be referred to as central heating towel rails.
Towel radiators are categorised according to the energy used to power them. They can be powered by electricity, central heating or a mixture of both.
Electric towel rails can be filled with a thermal fluid or they can feature a ceramic, soapstone or lava stone solid heating core in which case they are known as dry thermal towel rails.
These towel rails cannot be used without a central heating system. The heat output of a hydronic towel rail depends on the size of the unit and will be indicated in the product specifications.
A dual fuel towel rail is a central heating towel rail that also incorporates an electric element. This means that the towel rail can be used outside of the winter season – for example, during the first or last chilly days of the year – without you having to switch your boiler on.
Equipped with two types of heating technology, dual fuel towel rails are economical and practical.
These towel rails are basically radiant panel heaters with a towel holder attached. A radiant towel rail diffuses heat by radiation through short or long infrared waves. As they can be expensive to run, these towel radiators should only be used as occasional bathroom heaters.
Electric towel rails are the easiest models to install. These towel rails can vary in terms of power output. They produce and distribute heat using a solid heating core or a heating element contained in thermal fluid. If they contain thermal fluid, they may be known as oil filled towel rails or thermal fluid towel rails while models with solid heating cores are generally referred to as dry thermal towel rails.
Thermal fluid towel rails are made up of round cross tubes through which thermal fluid circulates. This heat transfer fluid can consist of water or oil and is designed to distribute heat. It is heated up by a heating element. While the power of the element can vary, the thermal fluid is always quick to heat up. Thermal fluid models are generally considered the low end option when it comes to electric towel rails.
Ceramic towel radiators feature flat cross tubes. In this case, a heating element is contained with a ceramic core which distributes the heat. This material retains heat much better than thermal fluid which can save you money on energy. These towel rails generally offer good value for money.
Soapstone core towel rails also feature flat cross tubes. Just like ceramic core radiators, these towel rails feature a solid heating core. However, soapstone distributes heat more effectively than ceramic. The heating element is also held within the heating core.
Lava rock towel rails are a relatively new addition to the market. They usually feature flat tubes and retain heat very well. An element is used to heat up a lava rock core which releases heat for longer. Lava rock boasts is about equal to soapstone in terms of heating properties.
Electric towel rails may also feature a fan heater to help the bathroom heat up more quickly.
Electric radiators will usually come with a thermostat which allows you to control the temperature. Most will also feature a frost mode.
A programmer allows you to program the towel rail to come on at set times while a timer will ensure your bathroom is heated as long as required.
These days, many electric towel rails will come with smart control which allows you to program and control your appliance from a smartphone or laptop via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.
Your choice of material will affect the following factors:
Steel is the most cost-effective material when it comes to towel radiators. The tubes can be round or flat and the material is often painted black or white, but can come in a range of other colours, including green, grey, and so on. Steel may also be chrome-plated.
Aluminium heats up efficiently and is generally used to make higher quality towel rails. Durable and available in a range of colours, aluminium towel rails usually feature flat tubes with a flat or streamlined design.
Stainless steel is durable and heats up quickly. Rust-resistant with a chrome finish, stainless steel offers the most high-end option when it comes to towel rails.
Cast iron can also be used for central heating towel rails, but isn't very common. It retains heat well but is slow to heat up. While durable, cast iron is also heavy.
It's very easy to work out what kind of heat output you need from an electric towel simply by considering the size of your bathroom. It is recommended to start with about 100 W per m² then add on an extra 30% to account for the heat absorbed by towels. Therefore, you'll need approximately 130 W per 1 m².
Heat output in W
Electric towel rails with fans will generally indicate the power rating of the heating element and the fan separately. For example, you might see a heating element rated 500 W and a fan at 1000 W for an overall rating of 1500 W.
An exceptionally large bathroom may even need another heating element or even a second towel rail altogether.
Bathroom zones refer to the safety zones surrounding the shower or bathtub where the installation of anything electric is strictly regulated. An electric towel rail must be installed at a minimum distance away from these water points to prevent any risk of accident. These zones are defined by the standard BS 7671:2008 under the UK Electrical Wiring Regulations.
A 600W oil-filled towel radiators can weigh around 7 kg while a dry thermal towel rail with a fan can easily weigh over 15 kg. With this in mind, it is essential to choose the correct wall plugs for your surface and the overall weight of the appliance. It is often necessary to drill through tiles to install in a bathroom so you will also need to select the right type of drill bit.
Don't forget that bathrooms are considered special locations under the Electrical Wiring Regulations. This means that you are not allowed to install a bathroom heater yourself.
You must hire a qualified electrician to complete the job for you.
Guide written by:
Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter, 248 guides
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