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Which Home Radiator is Best for You?

Radiators and their metal coils are familiar to many. But did you know there are different types or how radiators work? Learn how each heats a home.

Home radiator on wall

Which Home Radiator is Best for You?

The term “radiator” was coined in 1834, and these heating devices have been used in schools, office buildings and homes ever since. While you may know that a radiator is a vital component of some heating systems, you may not know how a radiator produces heat or whether or not your home would benefit from one. That's why American Home Shield created this quick guide on what makes radiators work and why they remain popular choices for some homeowners.

How Do Home Radiators Work?

With their large, distinctive metal coils, radiators may be a familiar sight. But what do those coils do, and how do they produce heat? Essentially, radiators circulate a heated substance through pipes. Once this substance transfers its thermal energy to that conductive material, the pipes become radiant heating elements. Once the substance cools, it is returned to the original heating source (a boiler, in many instances) to be warmed up again. However, not all radiators require fluids to operate. Modern radiators, in particular, sport innovative features that make them a bit different from their more traditional counterparts.

What Are the Different Types of Radiators?

  • Hot Water. This is the most basic type of radiator. Hot water fills a metal container and is then moved throughout the device using gravity, a pump or convection currents. As it heats the metal pipes, the water cools, sinks to the bottom and is ultimately released through the radiator's drain.
  • Steam. In these models, steam replaces hot water. However, steam radiators don't require pressure to circulate heat. While no longer widely used, steam radiators were often installed as a heating solution for large (or tall) buildings.
  • Fan-Assisted Heat Exchanger. Rather than relying upon radiant heat per se, these systems work by creating a cycle of convection. A temperature-controlled switch regulates an electric fan that blows air over a heat exchanger, circulating warm air. The warm air rises and cold air is drawn into the heat exchange where it is heated, etc. While quite effective, fan-assisted heat exchangers require both an outside heat and a separate power source.
  • Underfloor. In this heating solution, a network of pipes or cables within your home's subflooring conducts heat up through the floor, warming the room both radiantly and by convection. This system works best in spaces with conductive flooring, such as tile. Installing such flooring can add to the expense of using such a system.
  • Skirting Board Heating. First, pipes are installed in the skirting boards along your floor. Hot water is then pumped or otherwise circulated through them, effectively turning your walls into a radiant heat source. The technology is essentially that of a traditional hot water radiator, just without exposed pipes.
  • Electric Baseboard. These radiators are very low-cost, reliable and easy to install. Low-profile units running along the base of the wall circulate warm air from a central heating component that is surrounded by radiating fins. This allows homeowners an extra degree of control in how they distribute heat within the room.
  • Portable. There are two main varieties of portable radiators. The first kind uses electric elements to heat a conductive solid, such as quartz. The second relies upon metal tubing filled with oil. These handy, standalone devices can easily be moved into spaces to augment your existing heating system, tackle cold spots or provide warmth in rooms that are seldom occupied.

How Do I Know If I Need A Radiator?

While radiators may be one of the oldest ways to heat your home, they are also still one of the most effective. If your current heating system is inefficient or is causing your winter utility bills to spike, it may be time to explore other options. Consider protecting your radiator with an American Home Shield® Home Warranty. It covers up to 21 major home system components and appliances including wall-mounted heaters, floor furnaces, heat pumps, hot water or steam circulating heating units and electric base boards. Contact AHS today to make sure you stay comfortable year-round. 

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