Radiator efficiency tips from BestHeating
Radiator efficiency is paramount with the prospect of higher energy prices and a cost of living crisis for all of us to prepare for this winter.
There are around 190 million radiators in the UK and each of them will have a job to do throughout the autumn and winter months.
It makes total sense to take proper care of them and reduce the risk of having to call out an expensive engineer when the cost of everyday essentials are on the rise.
So, below are some top tips on improving radiator efficiency and what you can do to make them work smarter, not harder!
Why care for your heating system?
At BestHeating, we like to think you should care for a home’s heating system in a similar way you might with a family car.
Every year you have to take your car for its annual MOT – and your home’s heating system (and radiators) can be thought of in much the same way.
As with your family vehicle, failure to care for your heating system can sometimes lead to several problems that may cost a small fortune to fix.
With energy prices sky-rocketing, inflation set to rise and people making choices between “heating or eating”, it is prudent to take steps to mitigate any issues before they arise and protect yourself and your heating system’s components.
Caring for your radiators
In an energy crisis, radiator performance should be something that everyone is concerned about, because if your radiators are not operating at their optimum level you are wasting energy and, ultimately, money.
Alongside them being the correct size and ensuring radiators are in the correct position – it’s important to keep them clean and free of obstruction, so they can do the job they were created to do.
Keeping radiators clean may seem like an obvious way to ensure they operate properly, but many people overlook the different components of a radiator and where to clean to guarantee good performance.
We’re not just talking about the surface of the radiator – or the bit you and your visitors can see – we’re talking about in-between panels and even INSIDE the radiator itself.
Get rid of radiator dust
Dust on the front panels of a modern radiator is easy enough to get rid of with a cloth, sponge, or one of those fancy feather dusters made by that cleaning brand that rhymes with “smash”.
But if you have standard convector radiators (like Type 11, 21 & 22’s) convection currents can cause the fins at the back of your radiator to fill with much more than just dust.
For people with pets, here is where you’ll likely find the hair of half a dog, cat hairballs and all manner of other dusty elements that prevent your radiator from kicking out heat.
These items create an insulating layer on your radiator and prevent heat from escaping as it should, making your appliance less efficient and leading to colder spaces in your home – both of which waste money and energy.
There are a few tricks you can use to get this dust out from between the fins of the radiator, but our personal favourite is the hairdryer hack.
How to do the radiator hairdryer hack
Before you begin, it’s a very good idea to lay an old sheet, towel or blanket down beneath the radiator.
This will help to collect the dust that you’re about to blow out from behind your radiator, and should protect your flooring.
If you have a laminate or wooden floor, you don’t have to worry too much about doing this, as you will be able to vacuum up the dust after it comes out.
When you have the blanket or sheet in place, simply point the nozzle of your hairdryer down the back of the radiator – in the space between the appliance and the wall – and away you go.
Set your hairdryer to its highest setting to really get a blow going and this should force out all the collected dust and dirt and send it hurtling towards the floor.
Then, simply pick up the sheet or blanket and give it a shake outside, before sweeping or vacuuming up any last little dusty morsels from the floor.
Bleed your radiators to ensure radiator efficiency
Trapped air in your heating system is not only easy to spot, but also simple to remedy and a guaranteed way to improve radiator efficiency.
When you switch on your heating, go and have a feel of every radiator in your home.
If you find cold spots at the TOP of any of your appliances, the chances are that the radiator needs to be bled.
We’ve a great expert guide on how you can do this, so go check it out – How to bleed a radiator.
NOTE – Only bleed radiators with the heating switched off – doing it with the heating on poses the risk of burns and scalds.
Balance your radiators to optimise radiator performance
Alongside keeping them free of dust and ensuring they are regularly bled, ensuring your heating system is “balanced” is paramount to efficient radiator performance.
A balanced heating system ensures that each of your radiators heat up consistently and evenly – meaning your system is operating at its most efficient level.
Close all the valves on each of your radiators, then slowly turn each of them on in small amounts – working your way from the one closest to your boiler.
So the one nearest your boiler may need a quarter turn to open, then the next a little more, before you reach the radiator that is furthest from your boiler, which should be opened fully.
Doing this you can avoid the radiator nearest to your boiler being burning hot, and the one furthest away being lukewarm or even cold.
This method of balancing can be done in a few minutes, and will ensure you’re getting the best out of your central heating system – leading to lower bills and cosier spaces.
Check out our great guide on balancing radiators for more help in getting the job done.
Regularly check the pressure of your boiler
Though plumbing and heating can be a complex beast, the principles of how it works are pretty simple.
Hot water heated by your boiler is distributed to the radiators around your home and this heat is transferred to the air through the means of convection.
Your boiler pressure is important because if you don’t have enough hot water in the system your radiators will not heat up properly, and your rooms will be cold.
Check the pressure gauge on your boiler and be sure it is sitting in or around 1.2 to 1.5bar – this will guarantee you have the correct level of water in the system.
If the gauge is showing above 1.5bar, it may be that you need to release some of the pressure by bleeding one or more of your radiators.
Check for those cold spots and release the trapped air and then check your boiler pressure again to ensure optimum performance.
Don’t block your radiators to improve performance
Whether with a sofa or another piece of furniture, or with your curtains or anything else, blocking your radiators is a surefire way to limit their performance.
If your radiator is under your window, you may be tempted to simply close your curtains and leave the radiator behind them – this is a mistake.
To be sure that most of the heat from your radiator comes back into the room, try placing the bottom of your curtains on top of the window ledge instead of over the radiators – and be sure to tie them back when opened.
Doing this will mean that the heat from the top of the radiator is not blocked or forced to escape through any gaps in your window frame.
Remember, hot goes to cold, so blocking your radiators with curtains is guaranteed to make your home feel colder, wastes more energy, and means it costs you more to heat your room.
Flush your radiators for maximum efficiency
In the grand scheme of things – and when compared with the other actions you can take to improve radiator efficiency – flushing your radiators is a pretty big job.
It involves checking for colder spots at the bottom of your radiators and locating where problems with performance may lie.
If radiators are warm at the top and cold at the bottom, it likely means your appliance is troubled by sludge and debris build-up inside the radiator itself.
To remedy this, you can remove the radiator from the wall and flush it out with a hosepipe or pressure washer – as this should get rid of any blockages that are limiting your radiator’s performance levels.
Go check out our guide to flushing radiators if you need to get the job done.
Consider installing a radiator fan
Small radiator fans are a great way to heat a room up a little quicker than usual.
Some are fitted beneath your radiator and blow air upwards, while others sit on top and do the same thing.
Radiator fans can increase the amount of heat delivered to a room by improving the standard convection properties of your radiator.
They can be really helpful in smaller spaces, but purpose built ones can be rather expensive to buy and are probably best used in your coldest rooms only.
You can purchase a RadFan – which can help to reduce heat lost through windows by anything up to 35%.
Secured by magnets at the top of your radiator, a RadFan is easy to install and simple to operate, so it’s a decent purchase to make to improve radiator performance.
NOTE – Radiator fans do use electricity to operate, and that of course costs money, so be sure that the benefits outweigh the outlay by researching how they may be suited to your home.
For ultimate radiator efficiency – install thermostatic radiator valves
Central heating controls like TRVs are a great way to limit the amount of heat a radiator produces and can increase the comfort of your home too.
TRVs are ideal for larger radiators and perfect for use in rooms that are not used as often.
Turning down your TRVs when rooms are not occupied means radiators are not working as hard, but can still help to prevent moisture build up and reduce condensation.
By turning down radiators like this, less hot water needs to make the journey through your radiators, meaning they don’t lose as much heat. This means your boiler is not working as hard and will ultimately save you money.
Check out our collection of affordable thermostatic radiator valves and see how you could save.
NOTE – TRVs should not be used in damp rooms like bathrooms and ensuites, as the moisture in the air in these spaces can interfere with how they operate. So stick to all other rooms and avoid using TRVs in the bathroom.
Some final radiator efficiency tips
Insulate, insulate, insulate
Your radiators are pretty much wasting time, money and energy if the heat they produce is travelling straight out of the house.
From cavity wall insulation to the types of windows that you have and the gaps there may be around them, to door frames and loft insulation and cracks in the walls – there are plenty of places to consider to keep the draughts at bay.
Check out our guide on making your home more energy efficient for extra tips on insulation and energy saving at home.
Install a MagnaClean filter to your heating system
The main result of installing a MagnaClean filter to your home’s heating system is that it helps to filter out sludge and maintain performance.
In every central heating system, there are lots of small pieces of metal that can sometimes become loose and start to build up inside radiators and pipework.
A MagnaClean filter uses a small magnet to catch and trap these particles before they can start to become a problem.
This sludge and debris can be really problematic when it starts to build up, so investing in a filter like this could be really beneficial in ensuring your heating system lives a long and problem-free life.
It will help your hot water to flow at a higher pressure, keep any corrosion at bay, and prolong the working life of your boiler and heating system – so despite the obvious costs in investing in one – and they are anywhere between £100-£300 – it’s a sensible choice to maintain radiator efficiency.
Last but not least – buy new radiators
If all else fails, and your radiators just are not up to standard, why not buy some new radiators?
New modern radiator designs can be anywhere up to 50% more efficient and effective than radiators built before the year 2000.
And obviously we have a very wide range of suitable replacements for your existing radiators at home.
To explore our ranges simply visit the store, and to get help and advice on choosing the best radiator for your space, make use of our BTU Calculator to determine the correct size and output for each room of your home.
Your radiator efficiency tips
Do you have any radiator tips of your own?
If so, drop us a comment below or get in touch via our social channels, as we’d love to hear what you’ve done to improve the performance of your radiators and your home’s heating.
Frequently Asked Questions
Flushing radiators can certainly help improve their efficiency of performance, however it is quite an involved job and not really a ‘quick fix’.
You can check for cold spots at the foot of your designer radiators to see if they need flushing – if they are hot at the top and cold at the bottom, it probably indicates a conglomeration of debris and sludge within the radiator.
To flush the system, you can remove the radiator from the wall and flush it out using a pressure washer or hosepipe, ridding it from any unwanted debris that could be causing a blockage and preventing the rad from running efficiently.
For more tips on maximizing the performance of your heating devices, explore our blog, How to improve radiator efficiency and performance.
Central heating radiators offer the highest heat outputs and the best levels of heating efficiency out of any plumbed radiator design.
That said, many vertical radiator models can provide an adequate heat output for the specific space they are installed in. Take a look at our dedicated blog, Top 5 Vertical Central Heating Radiators, for a deeper insight.
For the most effective and efficient distribution of heat, BestHeating would recommend leaving a clearance of 50mm above, and 100mm below your radiators.
By creating clearances of these sizes at either end of your radiators, you can guarantee the warmth emitted from them will be able to travel around the room freely.
Our Advice Centre blog, Where to Position a Radiator, offers more detailed radiator positioning advice, should you require it.
Efficiency of performance in radiators can be measured via the BTU output they provide, which can be worked out using our BTU Calculator.
Outputs will vary based on a number of factors including size and material, but there is no correlation to suggest vertical radiators perform more efficiently than horizontal models, or vice versa.
John trained in journalism before finding his way to the BestHeating Advice Centre team. He uses his journalism skills to meticulously research heating topics and bring you the latest news and views on all things home heating related. He’ll also beat you at any sport that involves a cue!