Panel radiators — clever by design

As the accepted form of space heating, panel radiators have long dominated the market — but moves towards renewable and low-carbon energy sources do not signal their demise.
Nearly every home and many offices have panel radiators, but they are usually ignored and unloved. Dean Chughtai from MHS Radiators takes an alternative view and celebrates a true classic — that still has a key role to play in an era of renewable energy.There was an article in The Independent newspaper recently predicting the decline of the traditional panel radiator. Is it true that people are shunning the compact in favour of designer models? The simple answer is, ‘No.’ The traditional compact — whether Type 21, Type 22 or Type 23, which indicate various combinations of panels and fins — is alive and well and being fitted in new build and refurbished homes and commercial projects across the UK. So why, when there are so many other options, are compact panel radiators still leading the way? The unspoken truth is that the panel radiator is an archetypal design classic — and is a triumph of both form and function. Although just as ubiquitous as the Mini, the iPod and the red telephone box, it remains largely uncelebrated. Householders all over the UK are content to hang their washing over them, dry their towels on them and even buy radiator cat beds from the Innovations catalogue to adorn them. Panel radiators are installed and specified because they work — and work well. They are relatively cheap to produce and can be manufactured in such numbers that they almost become a commodity. While the finished article is not always appreciated, compact radiators are part and parcel of every room. What’s more they’ve stood the test of time. As boiler technology has progressed and energy efficiency has become a priority, the simplicity and effectiveness of the compact radiator has remained largely unchanged. Their energy efficiency has been enhanced by the introduction of the thermostatic radiator valve, which, coupled with a condensing boiler, has enabled both fuel savings and a reduction in fuel bills. So will the introduction of renewables ring the death knoll for the compact radiator? Again, I think reports of their demise are premature. While the H&V industry is rightly excited about the introduction of solar hot water and heat pumps, the consumer is some way behind. Yes, we’ve seen the introduction of solar panels and wind turbines into B&Q, but heating systems are generally updated when they give up the ghost or a homeowner moves house — and that usually consists of an upgrade to a condensing boiler. The wholesale acceptance of renewables and any large shift towards them will be driven by organisations which are leading the way in the introduction of new technology. We saw this with condensing boilers; housing associations and local authorities were early adopters, but it took some time before the Government and householders followed suit. That said, panel radiators can readily be used with renewables, although care has to be taken sizing them. As technologies like solar and heat pumps operate at lower temperatures, the radiators need to be sized accordingly. However, this need not be a problem. Indeed, as the Code for Sustainable Homes begins to really bite, radiator sizing will become a ‘hot topic’. We are all used to radiators being a certain size and installed under windows. However, as houses and commercial buildings become better insulated, the need for these larger radiators reduces — and small ones can sometimes look out of place. However, if renewable-energy systems are used, operating at lower temperatures, then the standard sized radiators can again be used — keeping the visual balance of the room.
Despite it being a classic, the panel radiator still benefits from some design tweaks. For example, the Classic range from MHS has three versions — the traditional ribbed model, a simple flat-fronted version and the Line, with grooves running either horizontally or vertically (depending on the model size). These changes mean that people can still have the radiators they know and trust, and installers can use their established skills and familiarity with the product to install them. So is the end in sight for our traditional radiators? Will we see the wholesale take up of underfloor heating or funky designer radiators? I don’t think so. Something that has become a design classic remains with us and becomes a part of our lives in such a way that we cannot imagine what we did before it was invented. That is true of the panel radiator. It is going to be with us for an awfully long time — and I, for one, am very pleased indeed. Dean Chughtai is with MHS Radiators.
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