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Such is the importance of central heating, it could arguably lay claim to being behind the development of the bathroom as we know it today. Else, we will still be bathing in a steel tub in the front room, before an open fire. And while the bathroom has evolved over the past 40 years, not least in interior fashion, heating has remained core to the overall design, to provide warmth and comfort.
It has spurred a variety of sources from concealed underfloor systems for minimalist schemes to more stylised ‘designer’ models for both radiators and towel warmers, which can act as a focal point for a room. While underfloor systems sales have grown, and now account for 6.5% of the total UK heating market, according to AMA Research, there is still need for decorative heating. Managing director of MHS Radiators Ian Bradley comments: “Indeed, radiators remain the second largest segment of the central heating sector after boilers, attributing for around 22% of the market mix.” He continues: “This market share is estimated to increase 18% from 2014 to 2018, according to AMA Research, so the outlook certainly remains positive.”
Choice of styles
Seemingly, there has never been more choice in the radiator and towel warmer market, from sizes and outputs, to benefit a variety of room sizes, through to materials and finishes. It certainly isn’t a case of one size fits all for radiator or towel warmer design. While polished chrome remains a key look for the ladder-style radiator or towel warmer, it has been joined by a plethora of matt or textured finishes, spanning a variety of metals or colours. Sales director of Vogue (UK) Steve Birch points out: “Metallic finishes such as brushed or polished chrome or stainless steel, nickel and gold have become hugely popular. Additionally, antique bronze, copper and brass or even sculptured finishes are also prevalent amongst UK homeowners.”
And sales and marketing director of Frontline Bathrooms Michael Sammon agrees colours and textures are key, as he states: “With monochrome making a comeback this season, our new Modo radiator in Anthracite is ideal for channelling the trend, though glossy chrome is still a popular choice. We are also seeing more of a move towards matt finishes and textures in both white and black options, as well as more visually striking designs that incorporate geometric patterns and waved shapes to add interest to a scheme."
Certainly there is equally a broad variety of radiator designs from traditional columns, to contemporary ribbed designs, panels, hoops and even models based on coathangers. This wide choice also helps designers and retailers to differentiate their offer between a £50 budget chrome towel rail found online to models in excess of £300.
Practicalities of heating
But, of course, designer or towel warmer choice is not based on aesthetics alone. It must also provide the appropriate function, whether that is warming a bale of bath sheets or heating an entire space. Ian Bradley of MHS Radiators explains: “There are many issues to consider – from the size of the room requiring heating, the number of heat emitters required, the actual heat output and also functionality (e.g how many towels will a towel rail be required to heat?). Certainly, these are hot topics that should not be ignored when specifying the appropriate heating, but Ian Bradley also offers some sage advice to help bathroom designers and retailers: “If a towel rail is to heat an entire bathroom, a rail with larger diameter tubes is recommended, as the larger the diameter the more heat is produced. There also needs to be enough tubes in order to generate the level of heat required.” He continues: “That might seem an obvious statement to make but, unfortunately, some manufacturers do reduce the number of tubes and/or their diameters to lower costs, resulting in a significantly poorer output and level of product performance.”
It should also be noted the impact of colour on the heating levels provided by a radiator, as Bradley warns: “Output also varies between white and chrome-plated rails as, size for size, a white finish generates significantly more heat than chrome. Furthermore, coloured and special finish towel rails are also becoming increasingly popular, as they offer the same output as white rails while being more aesthetically pleased.
Material makes waves
While radiator and towel warmer specification may not be so susceptible to the vagaries of interior fashions such as the Scandi trend, there are some significant movements that accomplished designers will heed. Ian Bradley takes a look at material choice, when he comments: “Steel remains popular, due to its robustness and ease of manipulation during manufacture. Stainless steel is also being used more frequently, due to its excellent aesthetic properties. Aluminium models are also another option thanks to their compatibility with low temperature systems, high outputs, low water content and efficient heat transfer into a room – not to mention its cost effectiveness and ability to be endlessly recycled.”
Whatever the material, shape, colour or texture of the chosen radiator, one thing is for sure that highly visible and aesthetically pleasing radiators and towel warmers will continue to be a hot topic. While underfloor heating may continue to grow in popularity, having climbed single digits in 2014 and 2015, there will always be a need for the comfort of warm towels.
Ian Bradley concludes: “Given their continued popularity, towel rails and radiators with towel hanging options are set to remain key features for kitchens and bathrooms for the significant future. Whatever shapes and sizes are used, provided they are manufactured to high levels of quality, they are still the best products for keeping towels warm, while ensuring rooms retain a stylish and elegant appearance.”