Do Radiator Covers Block Heat? Are They Safe?

Last updated: June 8, 2021

For many people, radiators are simply part of the fabric of a room and they are not given much thought beyond that. But they are hardly objects of great beauty and therefore many of us may choose to fit radiator covers for a aesthetic, as well as other reasons. So in this article we will look at the pros and cons of covering up those radiators.

Why Use Radiator Covers?

Wherever your interior design tastes lie, there can be no doubt that the domestic heating system is rarely regarded as one of the more attractive features of the home. In fact, the truth is that a radiator is large slab of metal along one wall, and tends to be something seen as the price we pay for enjoying a warm room. This is one reason why some people may choose to fit covers over their radiators. A radiator cover can certainly improve the overall look of the room and can also provide useful shelf space on the top of the radiator. There is another factor to be taken into account when thinking about fitting covers. It should be obvious that radiators can be hot, after all that is why we have them! But with young children or other vulnerable people in the home, that heat can be a source of danger from contact with the radiator, particularly with older cast iron radiators which can become extremely hot. So radiator covers could reasonably be viewed as an important safety feature, potentially preventing nasty accidents.

It is also worth mentioning that any heating system will trap air from time to time, which will result in noise coming from the radiator. Fitting a radiator cover can be a useful means of noise reduction. Of course, bleeding radiators is the way to deal with persistent noises.

Do Radiator Covers Actually Block Heat?

People may often wonder whether fitting covers to their radiators will reduce the efficiency of their heating system by blocking heat from circulating around the room. This is not as simple a matter as you might think. Radiators heat a room primarily by means of convection. In other words, a current of air circulates around the room, driven by the property of cold air to sink, due to gravity, and warm air to rise. This flow of warm air is called a convection current. If a radiator is covered, there is no doubt that some of the heat will be blocked and the flow of the convection current will be reduced. Similarly, radiant heat, the warmth we feel from the energy emitted by the radiator, may also be reduced by the cover. Some of the heat that may otherwise enter the room may also escape through the wall behind the radiator instead.

Could Radiator Covers Improve Efficiency?

This might seem like a rather odd question having read the previous answer, but in certain circumstances, the answer to this may surprise you. The space behind the radiator is effectively wasted from the point of view of the central heating system. If the radiator cover incorporates a reflector to insulate the wall from heat transfer, then the efficiency of the radiator is increased and many radiator covers include just such a feature as standard. In addition, it is worth considering the shape of the standard radiator. The space over the top of the radiator is effectively wasted, since that air is not physically occupied by the householders. It is suggested that by fitting a radiator cover that heat, rather than rising straight up, will be diverted forward, horizontally and into the room, although a proportion of it will inevitably be absorbed by the shelf on top of the radiator cover. It is suggested that some radiator covers, such as wraps, can increase the efficiency of the radiator by providing a darker and more closely fitting surface to more effectively radiate the heat, which theoretically should reduce the amount of work that the boiler has to do to provide energy. We will look at these and other types of cover in more detail later on in the article.

Benefits of Radiator Covers

There is no doubt that the primary reason for buying a radiator cover is aesthetic, since few of us would regard as radiator as an attractive feature of the room. As well as disguising an unattractive radiator, a radiator cover can also provide a useful shelf space on the top. It is certainly true that they also add a level of safety to any home where young children or others are at risk of injury from hot surfaces.

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Different Types of Radiator Covers

There is a surprisingly diverse range of radiator covers available to potential buyers. The most common cover is constructed from medium density fibreboard or MDF and is often supplied in flat packed kit form. Many popular DIY stores can supply this type of cover. Similar designs are available in wood, although they are more expensive and tend to block a considerable amount of heat from the radiator. Despite this, wood or MDF covers have the advantage of being easy to paint in order to match the decor of the room. As mentioned previously, wraps, such as ‘Radwraps’ are a type of cover which adhere to the surface of the radiator. They are available in a wide variety of designs and are claimed to increase the efficiency of the radiators by improving the rate at which heat is conducted around the room. Fabric covers, such as those by the Cozy company simply fit over the radiator like a sleeve. It is claimed that this type of cover could reduce the domestic heating bill by up to 35%. It is fair to say that not all radiator covers are necessarily about practicality. Instead their function is more to do with style. Designs such as those by Couture Cases are primarily concerned with changing the appearance of the radiators. They can have quite a dramatic look such as their ‘crystal’ design, which disguises the radiator behind a glittery curtain. Whilst this is not to everyone’s taste, it certainly makes a statement! Also in the Couture Cases product range are radiator covers constructed from galvanised steel. Galvanising is a process by which zinc is chemically bonded to iron or steel in order to prevent rust occurring, so these covers are built to last. It has to said however, that a metal radiator cover will not provide optimum protection from a hot radiator, in fact these covers can become quite hot, so may not be suitable for central heating systems in homes in which young children live. You may also like out guide to the best radiator paint.

Is it Safe to Cover a Radiator?

It would be a very poor company who sold a dangerous product and a well designed radiator cover should not cause any concerns about home safety. It is important that the cover is the correct size for the radiator. If it is too snug, it will certainly affect the efficiency of the central heating. For this reason, gaps of 20mm depth, 30mm height and 40mm width above the dimensions of the radiator are recommended. This is particularly relevant if you intent to design and build your own radiator covers Remember, efficient radiators will contribute to prolonging the life of the boiler and will help to lower heating bills. As well as correctly sizing the cover, fitting a rear heat reflecting panel will reduce heat loss through the external wall and increase heat flow into the room. It is worth reiterating that some radiator covers, such as the galvanised metal types, can look very smart, but can also be prone to becoming quite hot with prolonged use. So for families with young children or vulnerable adults, a metal radiator cover may not be the safest choice.

To Cover or not to Cover?

The decision to cover a radiator is largely down to personal choice. Whilst not as essential a feature of a home as the boiler for example, a radiator cover can improve both the look and the in some cases, the safety of a home.

You may also like our article on the best oil filled radiators.

Source:

  1. All About Home Radiator Covers – Home Advisor