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Are column radiators more efficient?

Energy efficient column radiators

Ever since the world of home heating started to make its way into the interior world, the design options have been endless. With so many different sizes, shapes and colours to choose from, deciding whether to go for a classic column radiator, a panel radiator or a designer radiator can be a stressful job.

So, we are taking a look at traditional designs to see whether classic column radiators are more efficient than their standard panel counterparts to try and help you select a style that is right for your home. The column radiators vs panel radiators battle is on!

What is a column radiator?

Column radiators are generally traditionally styled radiators made from hollow tubes of mild steel. Often described as ‘cast-iron style’ radiators, column radiators offer the same character and charm of a real cast-iron but with a more lightweight steel column body that heats up faster.

Each section of these radiators (as you may have guessed) is made up of a number of columns. Unlike panel radiators – where you have Type 11, 21 & 22 – there are no single column radiators. Instead there are double, triple and four column radiators and the more columns the higher the heat outputs.

Column radiators are available in a range of sizes with horizontal, vertical, low level and even electric options but we will leave electric radiators out of the equation for now. So the chances are there will be several column radiators that will be suitable for the size of your home.

But are column radiators more efficient? Let’s talk about how they work to try and figure it out.

Side of a double column radiator

How do column radiators work?

Just like other central heating radiators, column radiators have hot water flowing through them which heats up the columns and the air surrounding them.

As the air heats up it rises and is replaced by cool air creating a convection current which spreads heat across the room.

infographic explaining natural convection and radiators

So are column radiators more efficient?

Since column radiators have a larger surface area and more space between each column they are very effective at heating the air around it.

Whereas if you think about the build of standard single or double panel radiators (convector radiators) they have a solid steel front panel and one or two sets of convector fins attached to the back.

This means that as hot water enters a panel radiator, heat is transferred into the convector fins which help to increase the surface area and circulate warm air around the room through convection currents. All good so far.

The problem is that the heat that is transferred into the convector fins is kind of a waste. Column radiators don’t have additional metal parts to heat up to help them do their job. Instead, the column radiator is like one big set of convector fins!

So the column detailing not only looks beautiful and gives the radiator more character but it also means that more air is heated up at a faster rate causing the convection cycle to heat the room quicker than panel radiators. And if your home is heated quicker then you may not need to have the heating on for as long which could help save you money on your heating costs.

What about BTUs?

This is where it gets a little more complicated.

BTUs (British Thermal Units) essentially measure radiator efficiency and determine the heat requirements of your room. And we always advise using our BTU calculator before choosing your radiators so that you have an idea how much heat your home needs.

So let’s compare the BTU outputs of a Milano Windsor column radiator and a similar size Stelrad Compact convector radiator. Your central heating system probably runs on Delta T50 so that is it BTU figure to pay attention to.

Milano Windsor Horizontal Double Column White Traditional Cast Iron Radiator

Stelrad Compact - Type 22 Double Panel Convector Radiator (K2) - 600mm x 1000mm

BTU at Delta T3017403034
BTU at Delta T5033675910
BTU at Delta T6547258309

Looking at the tables it is clear that the convector radiator has a higher BTU output across the board.

“But, I thought column radiators were more efficient?” I hear you say. And you’re absolutely right!

How can column radiators be more heat efficient if they have a lower BTU output and BTUs measure radiator efficiency? The answer to this goes back to what we were talking about the shape of the radiator.

Although convector radiators may get hotter than column radiators, they are less efficient at circulating the heat around the room. So you could argue that the room would get hotter with a column radiator even though the BTUs are lower because heat is transferred further and faster.

But this could also depend on a number of other factors such as how well insulated your external walls are and if you have furniture blocking the radiator. We would also advise installing thermostatic radiator valves to make your heating system more efficient and cost-effective.

White cat sat on a convector radiator
Milano Aruba Ayre - Aluminium White Horizontal Designer Radiator 600mm x 1190mm (Double Panel)

What about designer radiators?

A designer column radiator works in the same way as a traditional column radiator. Since they don’t have convector fins they don’t waste any heat energy. Whether you are looking at the oval columns of a Milano Aruba or the flat panel columns of an Alpha, all of the heat from the columns is transferred into the air around the radiator to circulate around the room efficiently.

Designer radiators also offer a variety of different materials to choose from, some of which make them even more efficient. For example our aluminium designer radiators are fantastic heat conductors and have around five times the emissivity level of steel radiators making them ideal for larger spaces.

Another benefit of designer column radiators over panel radiators is the option of having a vertical radiator. If you live in an apartment or a smaller home you need to utilise your space efficiently and our tall column radiators use height effectively to save space around the radiator for furniture and storage.

Over to you

We hope we have given you more of an understanding on the way that column radiators work and how they distribute heat efficiently. Now the choice is over to you! Finding the best radiator for your home has a lot to do with personal choice, style and price. If you’re still unsure which one you like the look of,  head over to our Find Your Style page to see our radiators in some of our favourite customer homes!

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