Buyer’s Guide to Contemporary Radiators

Emily Brooks rounds up some of the key design considerations for contemporary radiators
by Emily Brooks
28th November 2012

Who says that a radiator has to be white? That it has to be horizontal? That it has to be flat? Or even that it has to hang on the wall? Certainly not the clutch of manufacturers that have turned radiator design upside-down in the past decade or so.

In fact, heating has undergone such a style metamorphosis that earlier this year New York’s Museum of Art and Design dedicated an exhibition to contemporary radiators: here, the honeycomb- and doughnut-shaped examples made it obvious that this once-banal by-product of a warm home will never be the same again.

Look-at-me statement pieces are not for every home, but the basic message is that a radiator doesn’t have to look like a radiator any more. However, there is also some much quieter design being produced that’s just as modern – pared-down heating systems that have a simple, streamlined look that almost melts into the wall. Even better, the trickle-down to the high street means that you don’t have to pay designer prices any more for a decent vertical radiator or even a ‘plumbing as art’ feature piece.

Do the maths

As with any style of radiator, it’s essential to properly calculate the heat output of your rooms, and buy the right size: a room that’s overheated is just as uncomfortable as one that’s underheated. “Start with the basics,” advises Barbara Payne, head of product and marketing at contemporary radiator specialists Bisque. “Work out what your output is first, then have a look to see if you can find a radiator that matches this, rather than the other way around.”

Output is calculated in BTUs (British Thermal Units) or wattage, and online calculators abound where you can work out your output for each room. The size of your room is just one factor, says Barbara: “Insulation and how your walls are constructed, and double glazing, are both big ones, how exposed your home is and whether you’ve got lots of windows can also make a big difference.” Online calculators tend to reflect the sorts of sums that your plumber would do, so they’ll be pretty accurate, but take advice from your supplier or plumber if you have any concerns.

New directions

The vertical radiator is gaining in popularity. Its shape means that it can fit in a more unobtrusive space instead of a prime wall spot; sculptural upright designs (such as Bisque’s near-classic Hot Spring) are great for enlivening corners. There are even ‘free-standing’ models, plumbed-in at floor level, that can be used to divide a room or add an artistic focus to your space. Other trends include dual-purpose radiator/mirror panels, which are brilliant for bathrooms, and products with built-in lighting that make a stunning feature when night falls (The Radiator Gallery’s Nuage model, for example).

Now that radiators are beautiful enough to be considered design features in their own right, colour is on the up, too. White and metallic finishes are classic, but you might want to consider turning up the brightness here and there. Bisque provides a custom-match painting service for all of its coloured ranges, or you can choose from an existing palette. Jaga’s Play is a brilliant design specifically for kids (it’s cooler to the touch and it comes with bump-friendly rounded corners) that comes in a jolly striped colour scheme. Jaga is leading the market with more energy efficient designs, of which Play is one. It uses 10 per cent of the water of a normal radiator (two litres as opposed to 20) and a heat exchanger made from aluminium and copper that heats up super-fast, promising up to 12 per cent energy savings as opposed to normal radiators.

New technology has also seen different materials being used. Aluminium is ultra-light (and usually recycled), and quick to heat up; it’s usually used for plain, flat-fronted panels but it can also be cut into amazing, intricate shapes, like Aestus’s beautiful Bernini model.

Electric radiators are changing, too, and because they have no bulky plumbing they offer some of the most simple modern designs on the market: B&Qs Focal Point range includes single slabs of natural stone in black or white, for example, and The Glass Radiator Company makes the ultimate minimal radiator – the electricity is connected up to a thin sheet of film sandwiched between two slabs of glass. Next year, Bisque is planning to launch a range of wooden electric radiators that work in a similar way.

Let sense prevail

Contemporary radiators may be more exciting than ever, but there’s a ‘sensible bit’ to consider, too. They’re not easy, or cheap, to change: you may love sculptural shapes and wild colours now, but will you still in 10 years’ time?

Finally, stunning contemporary radiators – like any radiators – are about form as well as function, as Bisque’s Barbara Payne reminds us: “Choose an efficient boiler, and insulate your house really well. There’s only so much you can do with the radiators themselves: they will only ever be as good as the system that that surrounds them.”

Main image: ‘Bernini G@ut’ designer radiator from The Radiator & Bathroom Gallery

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