Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Radiator Covers
If you’ve ever typed the words ‘Radiator Covers’ into a Google search, you’ll know that you get around 7 MILLION results with a different viewpoint on why they exist, how they do or don’t affect the efficiency of your heating and how you can make one of your own standing on your head, with the kids cartwheeling in the background and a brass band playing the Dambusters theme tune on the radio.
There’s a lot of information telling you what radiator covers are actually doing, how they improve/hinder convection/conduction and whether there is any point to them at all – not to mention when and if you should use them with your home heating or not.
To help you out, I thought I’d trawl through the results pages (yes, all seven million of them*) so you don’t have to and put together this Radiator Covers Guide to explain if there’s any point to covering your radiators, what affect they might have on your heating bills and even how you can make your own without any cartwheels, brass bands or headstands in sight.
To put it simply – I’m uncovering all of the coverage on radiator covers…
(*I didn’t really look at all seven million pages though, could you even imagine?)
Why Use Radiator Covers?
Before we get into the nitty-gritty over whether they affect how efficient your heating can be, or how warm or cold a room may feel with or without a radiator cover installed, let’s take a look at WHY you might want to make use of a radiator cover in the first place.
Child-Proofing Your Radiators
Just like with most things that cost money, it’s vitally important to protect radiators from your children – the last thing you need is an expensive repair bill after one of the kids has broken your new cast iron designer rad with its skull!
All joking aside, a radiator can present a serious risk of burns if a small child happens to touch it
This is a particularly big problem with steam radiators which tend to be hotter to the touch than other types (more about that later). Thankfully they don’t feature much in modern homes anymore – but still, for safety reasons, many homeowners look to childproof their radiators with gates and covers. Better to be safe than sorry.
Your Radiator Is One Ugly So-And-So
Until very recently, many radiators looked as if they had fallen quite heavily from the ugly tree and hit every single branch on the way down.
Not everyone can afford to replace their old radiators with shiny new radiators, so often decide to choose a cheaper option and look to hide it away under a radiator cover instead.
Wooden radiator covers made from Medium-density Fibreboard (MDF) are a quick and relatively cheap way of hiding a radiator away and there are some cool printed wraps and specialist paints that have been designed specifically for the job too, alongside a variety of other materials that perform just as well.
With all that water sloshing about and temperatures going up and down all the time, it’s only natural that your central heating will get a little noisy every now and then.
Whilst it’s far from the perfect solution, if you have a persistent noise coming from a radiator, covering it up will help to reduce the volume of those annoying sounds.
Having said that, sounds coming from your central heating are not a good sign and could mean that you need to bleed your radiator to let out trapped air, or may even signify a more serious problem with your heating system as a whole – check out our blog on curing noisy central heating to get help with fixing any problems.
Get Back Some Space
Radiators are (obviously) a good source of warmth that every room needs from time to time, but they do take up a bit of space, and for many people – particularly those in smaller urban houses and apartments – space can come at a premium.
By buying a radiator cover, or taking the time to make your own, you can reclaim some of that space and use the shelf on top of the cover to display books, pictures, a porcelain pig collection or perhaps even a mini herb garden.
Do Radiator Covers Reduce Heating Efficiency?
As you can see above, there are a few reasons to invest in a radiator cover, but despite those justifications for covering up your rads, the question that everyone wants an answer to is – do radiator covers reduce your heating’s effectiveness and efficiency?
Well now, that is a question…
To put it simply, the answer to that particular quandary does depend on who you’re asking.
For example, if I am a business owner that sells radiator covers, I am going to want to present evidence that supports what I do; otherwise I am going to go out of business quicker than Sam Allardyce losing the England job.
Conversely, if my company sells sleek designer radiators (which incidentally it does), I am much more likely to tell you that the cost of covering up your radiators and the affect it has on your heating bills is not worth the trouble.
But (luckily for you) I am an honest soul, so what I am going to give you instead is a true and fair representation of the facts as I find them, whether or not that puts extra money in my sky rocket (pocket) or not, it’s the right thing to do.
So I’m going to set out a case that looks at those ‘FOR’ and those ‘AGAINST’ using a radiator cover and YOU can let me know which you think is the best option in the comments below.
Everyone Has An Opinion On Radiator Covers
The main reason that a lot of people think using a radiator cover is a bad idea is because they (quite obviously) do cover a radiator up and, by the nature of doing such a thing, you would expect that to have a negative effect on how efficient they are and can be.
As we’ve discussed here before – and are sure you know the ins-and-outs of already – radiators heat a room through natural convection. Just to jog your grey matter, that’s the process of cold air sinking and warm air rising via the radiator – thus circulating the heat around the room.
Now common sense and science would dictate that covering your radiator up will halt this flow of cold and warm air in its tracks – or at the very least have a negative affect on how free the air is to circulate and there is evidence to support this being the case too – but whether or not that reduces a radiator’s ‘efficiency’ is another question entirely.
I would suggest that covering your radiator does slow the speed in which it heats up the room because it slows down the convection currents and InspectAPedia – a free online encyclopaedia dedicated to all things building and inspection – appears to agree, commenting: “Because adding a radiator cover slows the movement of heat out of the radiator and into the room, the rate of heat loss out through the building’s exterior wall is likely to be increased — also increasing your heating bills.”
Despite the convection currents being halted, the ‘radiated’ heat created when a radiator is turned on will still manage to find its way out, so your radiator should still heat your room – just a little slower than without a cover.
InspectAPedia also suggest that you can avoid the problem of higher heating costs when covering a radiator by adding foil-faced, solid insulation to the wall behind it.
Around a half an inch of insulating board is perfect, but if you don’t have that much space between the wall and the radiator you could always install a foil reflector like Radflek instead – that reflects around 45% of the heat you would otherwise lose back into the room and allows the air to flow freely in that area.
Radiators Need Room To Breathe
There are three main types of heating – radiation, convection and conduction – and they each affect us (and the space around us) in different ways.
Just like the warmth from the sun, or holding your hands in front of a fire in winter, radiant heat provides a feeling of comfort. Radiant heat doesn’t directly heat the air, but instead travels in straight lines of energy; only turning to heat when these rays come into contact with and are then absorbed by your body (or your dog’s body if they’re sat nearer to the rad than you) or absorbed by the radiator cover.
As we’ve said before, convection heating happens because when air is heated it begins to expand and becomes less dense. This air rises and cooler air – with the aid of gravity – displaces it. As the warmer air rises, it diffuses its heat and warms the air that isn’t as close to the source of heat. The warmer your radiator or heat source is, the further away the convection current will carry the heat. So on that score at least, you would have to say that a radiator cover is going to have a negative effect on the temperature of a room.
By far the slowest method of transmitting heat, conduction is heat travelling through solid objects. You’ve seen it before. Heat a piece of metal at one end and the other will gradually get hot; the kind of thing that happens if you leave a poker in a fire. It may take a bit of time, but eventually the heat is going to be transferred through the entire piece of metal – this is not the case with radiator covers made of wood (more on that soon).
According to most experts in the human condition, the optimum mixture of heating types needed to leave us feeling all nice, warm and happy is around 20% radiant heat and 80% convection.
The majority of radiators that we deal with on a daily basis work by convection – with an obvious bit of radiation thrown in (not the Chernobyl type though). This type of radiator NEEDS to be exposed to the air to operate properly.
Radiators like the Milano Compact are designed to expose the maximum amount of surface area to the air flowing around them, thus raising the temperature of that air and allowing it to rise up and heat the room.
That’s one of the main reasons that the ‘fins’ on the back of the radiator are vertical and perpendicular to the wall instead of parallel and horizontal – helping to maximise convection – and why putting a piece of furniture up against a radiator is a big fat ‘no-no’.
Anything blocking that air flow reduces the efficiency of the radiator, meaning it is working harder to achieve the same amount of warmth that it may otherwise have been able to achieve without a radiator cover.
But Can Radiator Covers Increase Efficiency?
You would think after all I have written above, that it’s impossible for a radiator cover to improve the efficiency of a radiator, but I have news for you, according to a few different sources, if it’s done the right way a cover can actually add around 5-10 degrees F more heat to your output.
The argument is that a bare, uncovered radiator is an inefficient way to heat a room. The reason for this belief is that warm air going straight up to the top of the room doesn’t get projected out into the space like it would with a radiator cover installed.
But heat is going to rise whether you have a radiator cover on or not. Unless there is a flow of air (convection current) helping it to be moved around the room, the heat is going to rise regardless – that’s just Year 6 science isn’t it?
You’d perhaps assume so, though according to homeadvisor.com, under a radiator cover with ‘proper’ backing – something like Radfelk again – a radiator can and will distribute heat better than one that is uncovered.
This happens, they say, because “the backing pushes heat away from the wall and the lid reflects heat away from the top”, meaning the “heat that would otherwise go directly to the ceiling is pushed towards the level of the living area.”
Home Advisor also state that “studies have shown the difference (in temperature) in the lower space of the room can be affected by as much as four and a half degrees”, though unfortunately, I can’t find any evidence anywhere to suggest that this is the case, nor do they list or link to any source for the claim on their website.
U-switch the online comparison site also have an opinion on this point, stating that “a radiator shelf helps to throw heat forward from the radiator into the room“, but to be honest, the jury has to definitely be out on that one.
I genuinely don’t see how heat can be ‘thrown’ out into the room by simply placing a shelf over a radiator, it doesn’t seem to make much sense.
Yes, placing one over a radiator that is under a window may help to prevent heat from escaping between a curtain and a window, but “throwing” it out into the room would surely have to involve some sort of fan like a radiator booster.
Without such a thing, surely the laws of physics have to change. Don’t they?
Telling It Like It Is
I’ve come across lots of differing opinions on the subject of radiator covers, but none that I found were as straight-talking as Samson’s Joinery in Glasgow.
Samson’s have years of experience in putting together incredible pieces of bespoke furniture and – among the many commissions they have under their belts – radiator covers have been a popular purchase for many of their customers.
Despite them playing a big part in putting cash in the till, Ross Samson (owner of Samson’s Joinery) has this to say on the subject of radiator covers improving efficiency: “Covering a radiator cuts down its heat output, end of story“, adding that many of his competitors “make the ludicrous claim that by building up heat behind the screen and sucking up cooler air from below, heat is convected through the top slits and shoots out into the room, making the radiator work more efficiently. Rubbish!“
Now that is a pretty honest assessment of what a radiator cover actually does and doesn’t do. Ross also backs up his claim with a bit of science too, he mentions the heat that is lost or absorbed into the very top of the radiator cover and how this has an affect on the overall efficiency of the system.
If you have a solid top to your radiator cover, a lot of the heat that would normally escape will be absorbed into that material. Ross asks why manufacturers don’t point this out more often and suggests that adding a reflective material to the underside of the shelf will help to radiate the conducted heat back into the room – albeit nowhere near as efficiently as an uncovered radiator.
But it’s not just that to consider; what about the range of materials and technologies being used to make radiator covers more efficient. Are there any amazing innovations that I might have overlooked? Is it all as cut and dried as it seems?
What Kind Of Radiator Covers Are Out There?
I’ve already mentioned MDF – the kind of material that you’d find adorning the radiators on Changing Rooms circa 1995 – but should people really be covering their radiators with it and what other materials are there that might be useful for a radiator cover and how good are they?
Available in a whole host of styles and colours (you can even have your own picture put onto one!) – Radwraps are an instant pick-me-up for almost any radiator.
Not only do they transform a radiator into something of an art installation, but they could also improve your radiators efficiency by up to 118% – when compared to a traditional wooden radiator cover.
James Maddocks, director at Radwraps had this to say on replacing wooden covers with a Radwrap: “If every home in the UK which has wooden covers fitted were to replace one of them with a Radwrap, the country could save up to £75 million a year in energy costs. And if every home in Europe did the same thing, the result would be a huge saving of up to £1.5 billion in energy costs.”
Yes, crystal. I have to admit, I couldn’t believe it when I read it out loud either, but crystal covers are a thing and when you look at them and think about it, they make perfect decorative and practical sense.
One like this from Couture Cases is less about enclosing your radiator in a box that absorbs heat, and more about putting an ugly rad behind a curtain – a curtain that shields the bad looks of a grotty radiator, while still allowing a free-flowing current of convection to happily promote warm air throughout the space.
Stylish, practical and a surefire talking point for dinner parties.
A ‘Cozy’ Jacket
It may seem a bit weird or even ironic, but putting a jacket on your radiator could improve efficiency and save you some cash too. Designed to work with steam radiators, The Cozy™ is the brainchild of a group of friends in the USA, and came into being through a crowdfunding operation, that resulted in the formation of Radiator Labs.
A retrofit design that claims to save up to 35% on your heating bills, The Cozy™ is really easy to install and doesn’t require you to make any adjustments to your plumbing in any way.
Great at conducting heat, so perhaps not something to have around the kids, a metal radiator cover offers a real designer style, and certainly something very different from the standard radiator covers.
This one is again from Couture Cases – maybe they’ll give me a job after this – and is made from galvanised metal.
Galvanising metal is the process of applying a zinc coating to steel or iron. This process prevents rust and looks pretty cool too. They’re definitely going to give me a job now!
Wood, Wood and Medium Density Fibreboard
I know at the top of this piece I did say that I would give you an impartial view of radiator covers, but when it comes to wood, I really have to take a deep breath and stop myself from ranting.
Wood, you see, is a terrible material for a radiator cover’s efficiency because it absorbs so much and doesn’t conduct heat very well. That’s why every single wooden frying pan you have ever seen has been a toy.
There was a time back when I was a lad when building an MDF radiator cover was the done thing, but come on people, there is plenty of good science behind it and wood is a bad choice.
Please Note: There are many different types of radiator cover available. This is by no means a definitive list of choices, just a selection of types that I thought you may like to see.
The Science Behind Radiator Covers
I’ve already delved into convection currents and I don’t really want to dwell on that too much, as you’re probably already a bit bored of rad cover chat anyway (I know I nearly am).
However, I just wanted to add a bit about the Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors (APHC), the Chartered Institute of Building Service Engineers (CIBSE) and the Institute of Domestic Heating & Environmental Engineers (IDHEE), and more importantly what they all had to say about radiator covers and their affect on heat output and costs in general.
Each of these respected institutes and associations contribute heavily to the Domestic Heating Design Guide and they each confirm – as I mentioned above – that a radiator’s heat output is principally achieved by convection rather than radiation.
When designing a heating system that is incorporating a radiator cover – or a number of covers – the guide states that “a reduced heat output has to be taken into account” adding that, “if cabinets are put over radiators after the original design then it is likely that the reduced output is not warming the space properly.“
So if the space isn’t being adequately heated with a radiator cover in place, then surely you have to turn your heating up and that can only mean one thing – you are paying for more energy!
BPEC, the awarding body for a number of colleges and courses up and down the UK also state in their ‘Domestic Heating by Gas‘ guide book that “enclosures around radiators reduce the heat output.“
Now I am clearly no rocket scientist, nor am I a nuclear physicist, but it doesn’t take either one of them to know that if huge official bodies (like those mentioned above) are stating that you’re going to be spending more money on fuel if you choose to install a radiator cover, then the chances are that you’re going to be spending more money on fuel if you install a radiator cover.
The Truth About Radiator Covers
I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure if I am any the wiser about the pros and cons of radiator covers.
The truth is, I can see benefits in both having them and doing away with them altogether.
Lies, Damned Lies & Statistics
I found a stat that says there are around 27,000 people a year injured by hot water pipes and radiators – 3,000 of those in the home.
So obviously, from a safety point of view there is a bit of sense in having a radiator cover, but then – doesn’t a sign work just as well in the workplace? And aren’t they more affordable?
Part of me thinks that so many people are banging on about health and safety these days, that we’ve overlooked a simple fact when it comes to heating – it gets hot!
If it’s a radiator, chances are it’s going to get warm at some point and you may need to be careful not to touch it. It’s common sense, if there’s an open fire, you’re going to tell your children to be careful around it and go as far as monitoring their every move when they are in close proximity to it. Why should the same not apply to a radiator?
But What About The Cost?
Finding a real in-depth report on whether or not it makes short or long-term financial sense to invest in a radiator cover has proved very difficult.
I feel as if the problem lies with there being such a large number of different types of cover to choose from, and a distinct lack of any real authority or regulator, ‘regulating’ the claims that can be made by manufacturers.
From making your own (which we’ll get to in a minute) to buying one of the hundreds that are available online, the outlay varies greatly and unlike radiators for example – that each have to undergo stringent tests to acquire an EN442 rating – there is no such awarding body or standard around for radiator covers.
The simple facts are these –
If you are going to install a radiator cover, get the right material. In my humble opinion that means avoiding the likes of any kind of wood. It’s simply not efficient and I will happily eat my words, film it and post it on here if anyone can prove otherwise.
Dependent upon where you go to find one, a radiator cover could be as expensive (if not more so) than a replacement designer radiator. Now I know you’re going to say – “Of course you’d say that John!” but it’s true.
I found some radiator covers that came in at around 400 quid and the simple truth is that you can pick up a HUGE designer radiator (that will look better than a radiator cover) for around half that price and still benefit from warmth and comfort and style.
Science can not be beaten on this point either.
Warm air rises, cool air falls, so in order to successfully maintain a convection current you need to keep your radiator free from blockages, which is why clearing it of dust every now and then is a good idea and that keeping it free of furniture and clothes and stuff is a no-brainer too.
If you’re planning a new build and want to use rad covers then fair enough, you can factor in the heat you are DEFINITELY going to lose when buying your radiators if you really want.
But then, you’re only going to have to buy bigger radiators, so what’s the point in that? You’re spending more money on something when there really is no need and you’re intending on covering up what you bought straight after buying it.
Now I know that a single panel convector radiator is no Ferrari Testarossa, but if you were to buy a sportscar like that and then cover it up with a tarpaulin, everybody you knew would think you’d gone mad; I believe the same to be true about the radiator cover tale.
If you are going to spend money on heating your home, do it in style with a designer radiator, you can still put a shelf over the top of that if you really think it is going to make a difference – but it really won’t.
The final word from me
If you intend on not using a radiator – perhaps in a hallway or elsewhere – then I see no reason to not get a good, hard-wearing radiator cover. But if the radiator you are covering is integral to your home heating, it’s definitely (in my opinion) a poor idea to cover it up.
There’s a lot of really good products on the market though, so make sure you shop around and find the best and most practical deal.
The choice, after all is yours, and not everyone is going to agree with me.
I would say though, that I trust the word of the experts on the subject and if massive associations that are affiliated to domestic heating are telling you that a radiator cover will cost you more money in the long run – from installation to running costs – then I needn’t really say more than that – buy a designer radiator instead!
If You Really Want To Make Your Own…
After all is said and done, like with anything else in life – the kind of shoes you buy, the way you style your hair, the car you drive – it’s all down to personal preference, and who am I to judge you if you want to install some radiator covers?
Because of that – and the fact that I am a very kind if somewhat strange kind of guy – I found the best guide I could on Making Your Own Radiator Cover.
If you choose to go down that route, good luck to you, you’re a braver person than me.
Here’s a video on how to make your own rad cover – the guy in the vid is funny too.
Let me know how you feel about using a radiator cover, whether you’ve built your own, or if you agree with me that it’s all really a bad idea to begin with or not.
I’d love to hear what you guys think.
Stay Safe and Happy Heating.
John loves reading design blogs and bringing those ideas to the Advice Centre in his own inimitable style. When he isn’t writing copy, you’ll find him reaching out to industry experts to get the latest on all the heating news.