Helpful Radiator Buying Guide

This post is a paid partnership with Designer Radiators Direct.

Radiator Buying Guide - Bathroom featuring cast iron radiators below the windows

For quite some time now, I’ve been thinking that I’d quite like to replace the radiators in my flat with something a bit more attractive (I’ve had my eye on a copper one for the living room). I also learnt from Kate Watson-Smyth and Sophie Robinson’s podcast that your radiator should be the same colour as the wall it is mounted on rather than white. I don’t fancy painting my existing ugly radiators so getting new ones definitely seems like the right option…eventually.

However, when I started looking into radiators, I realised that the sheer amount of options out there is a little overwhelming. They come in all shapes, sizes, and materials and there are numerous technical questions that need to be addressed before you can choose one that is right for your home.

When I have absolutely no clue how to make the right decision I always consult the experts. Designer Radiators Direct was able to answer all my questions and provided me with some very insightful information. I thought it might be handy to share this information with you in case you find it helpful too. So below is my very helpful (and rather extensive) radiator buying guide.

Radiator buying guide - living room featuring horizontal purple radiator

Consider Heat Output When Choosing Radiators

One of the most important things to consider when investing in a radiator is the heat output. It’s paramount that the unit that you choose will give off enough heat to warm the room sufficiently, and this depends on many things such as the size of the room, its function, wall materials and the number and type of windows in the room.

So in order to choose the right radiator, you need to first work out the ideal heat output for the room. This is where the technical bit comes in. Heat output is measured in British Thermal Units (BTU) which is a calculation of the energy needed to heat 1lb of water at 3.8-4.4°C (39-40°F). You can measure the ideal heat output of your room using a BTU calculator. This will help you narrow down your choices and find a radiator that is both suitable and effective for your intended room.

If you have a particularly large space, you may require several radiators spread evenly across the room. If this is the case, you should divide the calculated BTU between the number of radiators you need.

Radiator buying guide - bathroom featuring a flat panel vertical radiator

How Big Should my Radiator Be?

The size of the radiator you require will depend on the heat output (measured in BTU) that you require. Generally speaking, the larger the radiator, the larger the BTU output. But it is sadly not as simple as choosing the size of the radiator that you require. You also have to take the available space into account. If any of this technical stuff sounds too complicated for you to work out alone, I suggest getting in touch with a qualified heating engineer who can advise you.

Radiator buying guide featuring column radiators below the windows in a monochrome living room

What Should my Radiator be Made out of?

So now we know how big the radiator should be and how much heat it needs to produce, we can move on to the next topic in our radiator buying guide, which is choosing the material it could be made from. There are a few options to choose from. They each have their benefits so let’s explore them a little.


Stainless steel is an incredibly popular material for radiators. It is solid and dependable and brings a range of benefits. As an alloy it is corrosion-resistant, making it perfect for bathrooms and kitchens, where it is often subjected to lots of water and heat. It is also incredibly low maintenance, needing little to no tending to after installation.

Radiator buying guide - modern kitchen diner featuring a vertical purple column radiator


Aluminium has come to be one of the most popular materials for radiators with both consumers and manufacturers for a variety of reasons. The metal is cheap to manufacture which allows manufacturers and retailers to keep the costs down. It is a very light material, which makes installation a lot easier.

Not only is aluminium is highly durable and corrosion-resistant, but it is also biodegradable and therefore more environmentally friendly. Old aluminium radiators can be recycled for scrap metal and reconstituted into a new product very easily indeed. They are also environmentally friendly from an energy-saving point of view. Aluminium conducts thermal energy superbly transferring the heat generated by your central heating system into the room far quicker than other materials. This can ease energy bills, particularly in the winter.

Cast Iron

Cast iron radiators have been around since the birth of the modern radiator so they are tried and tested and proven to be reliable. They are made from very ductile metal and this can mean that they take quite a while to heat up, making them unsuitable if you require quick bursts of heat.

Having said that, they retain the heat much longer so their heat output is durable and strong. They also distribute the heat very evenly due to the fact that they are often made from evenly spaces columns that have air flowing between them. This feature also makes cast iron radiators very easy to clean. The fact that the columns are so spaced out means that you easily clean between and behind the columns.

Cast iron radiators can be a real effort to install though as they are very heavy. It pays to have help when installing them to avoid any accidents. It’s also worth bearing in mind that they can be quite bulky and therefore can take up a lot of space in small rooms.

Styles of Radiators

Next up in our radiator buying guide we need to talk about what style and shape of radiator is best for your needs. This is an important decision to make as it can often impact the efficiency of your radiator.

radiator buying guide - modern monochrome kitchen diner featuring a horizontal radiator


When you think of a radiator the first shape to come to mind is probably a horizontal shape. Horizontal radiators are some of the most popular on the market today and it is easy to see why. Horizontal radiators are great for broader heat dispersal. This makes them a perfect option for larger spaces and those with high ceilings where the heat can rise gradually through the process of convection. This ensures that there are no pockets of cold air in the room.  

The subtlety of a horizontal radiator is also a selling point as many people prefer their radiators to fade into the background. They work great on longer walls, but the one thing you must be careful of, is covering your horizontal radiator with larger items of furniture, which will minimise how much heat it radiates.

modern bathroom featuring a vertical column radiator


Vertical radiators have become increasingly popular over the past few years especially as people opt to make more of a statement with their radiators. They can be used to create a focal point in the room and often have a more design-led feel to them.

They are often a good choice where space is at a premium. Kitchens and bathrooms, in particular, can benefit from a vertical radiator as wall space is often lacking in these rooms. However, vertical radiators can often be useful in living rooms where a sofa or furniture would block a horizontal radiator. With a thin width vertical radiator, you would achieve greater BTU outputs because of the heat not being absorbed by chairs, sofas and television sets etc.

Radiator buying guide featuring a towel radiator in a bathroom

Towel Radiator

As we’ve just seen, bathrooms often lack space for larger horizontal radiators. And due to their smaller size, many bathrooms need to make the most of the space they have available. This is why a towel radiator can offer advantages over a standard vertical radiator. The ability to hang and dry your towels is definitely an added benefit when it comes to functionality.

Heated towel radiators aren’t just used in bathrooms either. We are increasingly seeing them appear in kitchens and hallways due to their practical and functional assets.

Electric Radiator

Electric radiators are another option that we need to include in our radiator buying guide. Perhaps the biggest draw here is that they are 100% efficient. Unlike the central heating system that has piping that fills the panels with hot water, electric radiators are plugged into the mains and use electrical energy to heat up the metal frame.

They can also be easily controlled with features such as heat-zoning, representative thermostats and highly accurate digital controls. These aspects make these heaters a favourite among customers who like to schedule the heating of their home.

Electric radiators are also considered to be quite low maintenance and you are able to save money on plumbing. And they don’t run the same risks as other heating systems when it comes to dangerous gases like carbon monoxide.

The bathroom and the kitchen are the two rooms where electric radiators are most commonly installed. This is because their flexibility allows you to heat different rooms at different times. For example, you may not want the bathroom to be heated when it’s not in use. You may simply want to switch the radiator on before you take a shower for example. These radiators can be turned on and off when necessary, making them easy-to-use in the home and independent of the central heating systems.

digital thermostatic radiator valve controlled by mobile phone

What Valve is Best to Use?

When it comes to radiator valves, this is where things get a bit technical again. A radiator valve is used in a radiator system to make sure that the temperatures within the radiator are controlled. It plays a key part in the heating and cooling of a radiator system and comes in many different forms. Choosing which valve is best for your needs is a crucial decision.

The main choice you have to make is between manual valves and thermostatic valves. Manual radiator valves are angled taps on your radiator which are there merely to turn the radiator on and off. In this system, the radiator’s temperature will be controlled by a thermostat positioned elsewhere, away from the radiator. The radiator valve is only used to control whether the radiator is on or off.

Thermostatic radiator valves, on the other hand, work by maintaining the temperature that you want on each individual radiator. A thermostat is located in the centre of the valve, which when set to a certain temperature will expand to stop water from entering the radiator when it reaches its desired temperature. To set the temperature you simply need to turn the dial on the valve handle.

radiator buying guide - stylish geometric vertical radiator in a modern kitchen

Where to Install a Radiator

We can’t put together a radiator buying guide without talking about positioning. Where you install a radiator will depend on a few things and it’s not necessarily as straight forward as it may seem. Firstly, you need to consider how big the room is, how much wall space you have available and also the balance of the room aesthetically. If you are short on wall space you can choose a vertical radiator as we’ve already discussed.  This is a good option if the only alternative is to install a horizontal radiator behind a sofa or bed, which will waste energy.

If you have drafty windows with poor insulation, placing a radiator beneath a window is the best option. As the cold air comes in through the uninsulated window, the warm air from the radiator rises and is carried by the draft, pushing warm air instead of cold air into your room. This is traditionally why most radiators are located below windows.

small radiator below kitchen window

So there you have it. Pretty much everything you need to know about choosing the right radiator for your home, and positioning it! I hope you have found this radiator buying guide helpful and that it saves you from the hours and hours of research that I did when thinking about getting a new radiator.

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