How Do Radiators Work?
Radiators heat your home through convection. In most cases, hot water or steam is generated in a boiler, where it travels to the pipes. In some cases, electricity heats coils inside the radiator. The heat inside the coils or pipes warms the air around them. This warmth is then circulated through the room when the air is moved or distributed.
Different radiators may operate in varying ways based on how they receive heat. In a steam radiator, your boiler produces steam, which is fed to the unit. When it cools, it condenses and travels back to the radiator to be reheated. These units may have one or two pipes.
In a hot water or hydronic radiator, hot water is continuously circulated through the radiator, and then back to the boiler once it cools. These units always have two pipes.
Electric units use resistance to produce heat. They are the most expensive to run but technically the most efficient because they convert all energy into heat.
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Radiator Cost by Heat Source
All radiators heat your home through convection. But how they get that heat is completely different. If you have a boiler, it may produce either steam or hot water. If you do not have a steam or hydronic (hot water) system, you have an electric radiator wired directly to your home’s electrical panel. These are usually used as supplemental heating systems rather than whole-house systems because they tend to be more costly to run.
Radiator types have different costs. Your total cost depends on the materials, size, style, and type. Costs below are for radiators rated up to roughly 10,000 BTUs and below. The room size you heat impacts the unit size and cost. In most instances, the average room needs roughly 5,000 BTUs, but some open spaces may need considerably more.
|Heat Source||Average Costs (Unit Only)|
|Hot Water||$100 - $1,000|
|Electric||$200 - $1,500|
|Steam||$300 - $2,500|
Hot Water Radiator Price
The cost of a hot water radiator ranges from $100 to $1,000. Hot water units come in a range of sizes. Typically, you start by measuring the area’s height and width. Then, you calculate how many “tubes” are in each row, which gives you its depth. The most common depths are 4 and 6 tubes. Depending on your setup, you may need a radiator with its intake and output pipes on either side, or you may need one with the pipes together. You can keep labor costs down by opting for a similar setup to what you have.
Electric Radiator Price
The cost of an electric radiator averages $200 to $1,500. Electric units come in many shapes and sizes. They can be installed along your baseboard, wall-mounted, or freestanding. Electric radiators can resemble the look of a traditional hot water or steam radiator. If you have traditional radiators in your home and want to add an electric unit for supplemental heat, you can usually match the overall style for a cohesive look. Electric units also come in flat panels for the walls, giving your home a contemporary look.
Steam Radiator Cost
The cost of a steam radiator is $300 to $2,500. Steam units can have one or two pipes. Most plumbers recommend that you upgrade to two pipes if you have a single pipe for better efficiency and longer-lasting use. However, doing so increases the installation and radiator costs. Steam units also have valves for bleeding trapped air and steam. Depending on the size and type, you may have options for valve placement.
What Size Radiator Do I Need?
Radiators are sized in various ways. First is physical size, coming in several heights and lengths. Measure your current unit for the best fit.
The next measurement is heat output. Hydronic and steam radiators are sized by BTUs or the amount of heat they can emit, while electric radiators are sized by watts. Several factors determine the necessary BTUs, including your climate, the amount of insulation you have, and the size of the space you are heating. Most radiators are sized to heat a single room, so you ideally have a radiator in each room to provide even heat.
The number of BTUs you need can be loosely calculated with this formula. Begin by measuring your room’s length, height, and width, and multiply these for the room’s cubic feet. Because the room type influences your need for BTUs, you can multiply the cubic feet by the following, depending on the room type.
If the room faces north, has many windows, or is under insulated, add 15% to this figure. This is the total number of BTUs necessary to warm the room. For example, if you have a family room that is 20’ x 24’ x 10’ and it has a set of French doors along with several windows, your BTUs would be 27,600. If the room is well insulated, you can round it down. If the room is drafty or under insulated, you may want to round up. Large rooms often need two or more radiators. Smaller rooms likely only need one.
Once you have the total number of BTUs, you can translate them into watts if you are using an electric radiator by multiplying by 0.293. Therefore, in a room that requires 27,600 BTUs, you need an electric radiator or radiators that can produce 8,087 watts.
New Radiator Cost by Size
The size of your radiator impacts cost. Size is only one determining element, though. Material, style, orientation, and the heating element also impact your final cost. As stated above, plumbed radiators are sized in BTUs and electric units in watts.
Plumbed Radiator Sizes (in BTUs)
Typically, radiators that emit more BTUs are larger than those that emit fewer BTUs. However, you can sometimes find a radiator that comes in a single height and width while also coming in several BTU outputs. Below are the average costs of plumbed (hot water and steam) radiators in a range of average sizes. Keep in mind that hydronic radiators are rarely sold in round numbers for BTUs. You are likely to find a radiator at 3,467 BTUs or 5,795 BTUs. Small units often have fewer options and may be more expensive than mid-sized models because mid-sized models are available in more styles and materials, giving you several choices and potentially lower costs.
|Size||Average Cost (Unit Only)|
|3,000 BTUs||$200 - $500|
|4,000 BTUs||$250 - $350|
|5,000 BTUs||$350 - $500|
|6,000 BTUs||$400 - $600|
|7,000 BTUs||$500 - $700|
|8,000 BTUs||$500 - $800|
|9,000 BTUs||$500 - $900|
|10,000 BTUs||$600 - $1,000|
|12,000 BTUs||$600 - $1,200|
Electric Radiator Size (in Watts)
Electric radiators are sized by watts. Below are the average costs based on the number of watts produced by most electric units.
|Watts||Average Costs (Unit Only)|
|400 Watts||$100 - $500|
|500 Watts||$200 - $600|
|600 Watts||$300 - $700|
|700 Watts||$500 - $900|
|800 Watts||$600 - $1,000|
|900 Watts||$800 - $1,200|
|1,000 Watts||$900 - $1,500|
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House Radiator Prices by Type
Radiators come in many types and styles. Some refer to how they are installed, such as baseboard radiators installed along the baseboard of a wall. Others may refer to the unit's style, such as flat or column. Each type is available in several sizes, finishes, and materials. They can be considered central heating radiators, except the heated towel rail. Consider your home’s style and the radiator’s placement when making your choice.
|Type||Average Costs per Unit (Plumbed)||Average Costs per Unit (Electric)|
|Baseboard||$65 - $1,000||$35 - $1,000|
|Single Panel||$100 - $300||$80 - $150|
|Flat Panel||$100 - $300||$80 - $150|
|Freestanding||$200 - $500||$300 - $1,200|
|Column||$200 - $1,000||$300 - $1,200|
|Towel||$200 - $1,200||$200 - $1,200|
|Dual Panel||$300 - $500||$300 - $1,500|
Baseboard Radiator Prices
The cost of hydronic baseboard radiators is $65 to $1,000 per heater. The cost of electric baseboard radiators ranges from $35 to $1,000 per heater. Baseboard radiators are long and thin units designed to install at the baseboard level of your walls. They can be freestanding, flat, wall-hung, or protruding. They come in several materials, colors, and styles. They can use hot water or electricity to warm a room but do not use steam.
Single-Panel Radiator Prices
The cost of a plumbed single-panel radiator averages $100 to $300. The cost of an electric single-panel radiator is $80 to $150. Single-panel units are designed for small room usage. They have less surface area available to produce and give off heat, so they tend to be thinner. They can be flat-panel radiators designed to sit on the wall. They can also be designed to sit at ground level and be slightly wider and boxier. They come in several colors and styles.
Flat-Panel Radiator Prices
The cost of a hydronic flat-panel radiator ranges from $100 to $300. The cost of an electric flat-panel radiator averages $80 to $150. Flat-panel units are a type of single panel. They are designed to hang on your wall and take up little space. They have a more contemporary appearance than column radiators and can be found in several sizes. They are also available in a wide range of designer colors. These can be oriented horizontally or vertically, depending on your needs.
Freestanding Radiator Prices
The cost of a plumbed freestanding radiator is $200 to $500. The cost of an electric freestanding radiator ranges from $300 to $1,200. Freestanding radiators come in two basic styles - column and dual-panel. Column radiators are the most common for traditional styles and older homes. Dual-panel freestanding radiators have more of a transitional appearance. Freestanding units can usually heat the entire room and come in many sizes and materials.
Column Radiator Prices
The cost of a plumbed column radiator is $200 to $1,000. The cost of an electric column radiator averages $300 to $1,200. Column radiators are an older style that can be found in many homes. The radiator is made up of several vertical “tubes” or fins sitting next to one another. These tubes are known as columns. Column units may be freestanding or wall-mounted. They can be plumbed for hot water or steam and come in many sizes of electric watts.
Heated Towel Rail Prices
The cost of a heated towel rail ranges from $200 to $1,200 for both hot water and electric versions. Heated towel rails do not heat the room, but they do operate similarly to radiators. Heated towel rails warm the objects on them. These are usually towels but can be other types of cloth or garments. They help the cloth dry more quickly, reducing mildew growth and keeping towels fresh longer. They come in many styles, including ladder, flat panel, and freestanding.
Dual Panel Radiators Prices
The cost of a plumbed dual-panel radiator is $300 to $500. The cost for an electric dual-panel radiator averages $300 to $1,500. Dual-panel units have twice the number of fins inside than a single-panel radiator. This means they can produce twice the amount of heat as a single-panel radiator per inch. They are designed for larger rooms and take up more space. They are often freestanding, but some may be wall-mounted. They are usually mounted1 at the baseboard level because of their width, but many are much taller.
Central Heating Radiator Cost by Orientation
Many radiators are available in horizontal and vertical orientations. While some radiators must be horizontal, such as baseboard radiators, others can be configured in different ways to fit various spaces. Column, flat-panel, single-panel, and dual-panel radiators can all be found in vertical and horizontal orientations. This can get the amount of heat you need on a smaller or thinner wall by allowing the radiator to extend upward rather than outward.
Costs are mostly dependent on the unit size rather than orientation. However, as there are fewer types of vertical radiators, they can be slightly more expensive to purchase. Installation costs are the same.
|Orientation||Average Costs per Unit (Plumbed)||Average Costs per Unit (Electric)|
|Horizontal||$100 - $1,000||$300 - $1,200|
|Vertical||$300 - $1,200||$300 - $2,000|
Horizontal Radiator Cost
The cost of plumbed horizontal radiators is $100 to $1,000. The cost of an electric horizontal radiator averages $300 to $1,200. Horizontal units are the more common type. Baseboard, freestanding, and some panel radiators are horizontal. It is common to use a horizontal radiator when you have wider rooms or longer walls. This can spread the heat over a larger area.
Vertical Radiator Cost
The cost of plumbed vertical radiators ranges from $300 to $1,200. The cost of electric vertical radiators is $300 to $2,000. Vertical units are a good choice for small rooms and narrow walls. They can extend up to 6’ with various widths. You can find column and flat-panel radiators in a vertical orientation. These radiators start at widths as narrow as 6” and extend to 2’. This helps you fit them into areas where a traditional radiator may not fit.
New Radiator Cost by Material
Most radiators today are made of steel. A few are also still made in cast iron, which is the material that many older steam radiators were made from. Regardless of the material, many radiators today are available in a range of colors and styles. This can give you a more modern look for your home. Steel can be formed into many shapes that can be used for radiators and given several designer colors. While cast iron is uncommon, you can find it in column and some freestanding radiators. Steel units are available in all types. Below are the average costs for each.
|Material||Average Costs per Unit (Plumbed)||Average Costs per Unit (Electric)|
|Cast Iron||$200 - $700||$400 - $1,000|
|Stainless Steel||$200 - $1,000||$200 - $1,200|
Cast Iron Radiator Cost
The cost of a cast iron plumbed radiator averages $200 to $700. The cost of a cast iron electric radiator is $400 to $1,000. Cast iron is the material most often used for column radiators. These can be freestanding or wall-mounted, depending on the style. The plumbed units can be steam or hot water. These units are long-lasting and can hold heat better than steel. This makes them a good choice for older homes where column radiators are desired. They can also be a good fit for those who want to turn off the boiler from time to time and let the heat continue radiating from the cast iron to save energy.
Stainless Steel Radiator Cost
The cost of stainless steel radiators ranges from $200 to $1,000 for those that can be plumbed. The cost of electric steel radiators is $200 to $1,200. Steel is a much more versatile material in looks and style than cast iron. It is lighter and available in an incredible range of colors. You are most likely to find steel in flat-panel and some unique designer radiators. It does not hold heat like cast iron does. However, its appearance is often a deciding factor for those who want a radiator that matches the space.
When thinking about a radiator’s energy efficiency, consider two things. The first is what is powering the unit. In a hydronic or steam system, you have a boiler providing the heated water. Your radiator can only be as efficient as your boiler. If your boiler is old and inefficient, then your radiator technically is as well. Newer boilers can be much more efficient, making your radiator more efficient.
Electric units are different. In an electric radiator, close to 100% of the energy powering the unit is converted to heat. This means an electric radiator is technically very efficient. However, electricity is generally the most expensive method of heating a home. While it is the most efficient, most homeowners find lower bills with a high-efficiency boiler and a plumbed radiator system.
Radiator Heat Cost per Month
Radiator heat is a heating option that is older and much less efficient than forced-air systems. You can expect your utility bills to run as high as $300 to $400 per month for a 2,500 to 3,000 sq.ft. home. If you use this type of heating in your house, you can lower the costs by making sure that your systems are well maintained and reducing the temperature when you are away for extended periods.
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New Radiator Price by Brand
Many good and reliable manufacturers produce steam, hot water, and electric units. Some companies specialize in one type, while others make radiators for all three. You may find that one may be a better fit than another based on style, size, or color. The following brands are considered to be good quality with many options. Of the brands listed below, Hudson Reed and Runtal are considered luxury brands. Runtal makes a very limited range of styles, but they have specific electric, steam, and hot water lines. Hudson Reed also carries radiators that can work with all three but in more traditional designs. Most other companies specialize in hot water or hydronic heaters. Companies like Buderus, owned by Bosch, and Ecostyle specialize in panel radiators. Pensotti is considered one of the middle-of-the-road brands, with the most options for style at an affordable price.
Below are the average costs for the most common brands in the U.S. for plumbed and electric radiators.
|Brand||Average Costs per Unit (Plumbed)||Average Costs per Unit (Electric)|
|Amaze Heater||N/A||$150 - $400|
|Pensotti||$200 - $500||N/A|
|Buderus||$200 - $600||N/A|
|Ecostyle||$300 - $1,000||N/A|
|Hudson Reed||$300 - $1,400||$500 - $1,000|
|Runtal||$800 - $5,000||$700 - $1,200|
Radiator Replacement Labor Cost
The cost of radiator replacement varies depending on whether you have electric or plumbed units. Plumbed radiators are the most common, and regardless of whether they are plumbed for steam or hot water, they install similarly. The average timeframe to replace a plumbed radiator is 3 to 4 hours, at roughly $200 an hour. This translates to $600 to $800 for the labor portion for hot water and steam radiator replacement.
Electric units take between 2 and 3 hours to install, at $100 to $150 an hour for $200 to $450 for labor. This makes electric radiator replacements slightly less expensive from a labor standpoint, but many electric radiators can be more costly than hot water radiators, making the total cost range similar.
|Type||Average Costs (Labor Only)|
|Electric||$200 - $450|
|Hot Water / Steam||$600 - $800|
Cost to Replace Radiators by Location
The radiator type you use in a given area will not necessarily change. However, some rooms require smaller units which may mean a lower overall cost for that location. Keep in mind that every room can have a range of costs, based on insulation, windows, ceiling height, and size.
Radiators for bathrooms and halls tend to be smaller than larger open rooms, and in some cases, a single or flat panel option may be all you need. Kitchens do not require large units either because you often get some heat from oven use. Most often, you find vertical flat-panel or baseboard radiators in kitchens. Bedroom radiators depend on the size of your room. Basement radiators will be the largest because they are often the coldest area in the house and do not get the rising heat from other floors.
Below are the average cost ranges to replace a radiator in various parts of the home.
|Location||Average Plumbed Cost (Installed)||Average Electric Cost (Installed)|
|Bathroom||$800 - $1,100||$400 - $950|
|Hall||$800 - $1,400||$400 - $1,200|
|Kitchen||$1,000 - $1,500||$800 - $1,700|
|Bedroom||$1,000 - $1,800||$800 - $1,900|
|Basement||$1,200 - $1,800||$1,400 - $2,000|
Cost of Moving a Radiator
You can expect to pay between $250 and $500 to have a radiator moved from one area of your home to another. The cost varies depending on what needs to be done to the area where it was removed and the preparation and plumbing required in the radiator’s new location. The plumber must disconnect and cap off the lines feeding to the old radiator and possibly add needed lines in the new location. Work to repair the wall where the radiator was may also be needed for cosmetic purposes. You may also pay different costs depending on the type of radiator, with baseboard radiators costing slightly more to move.
Cost to Install a New Radiator
The cost to install a new radiator ranges tremendously based on a few things. A new plumbed radiator needs a line run from the boiler. Depending on the boiler placement and positioning of other radiators, costs range from $600 to $3,200 for parts and labor before the unit is installed. Installation takes less time than a replacement because the old unit does not need to be removed and disposed of. This means the new radiator can be installed in less time for a cost of $200 to $400 for labor, plus the unit cost. This makes the cost range of a new radiator installation $800 to $4,600, depending on the type and area.
Electric radiators are less expensive to install in a new area. Wiring can be run more quickly, and the unit can be installed faster than a replacement. This makes the cost of a new electric radiator installation roughly the same as a replacement, $200 to $450 for labor plus materials for an average cost of $400 to $1,600.
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Designer Radiator Cost
Many older-style radiators were designed to be covered rather than seen. They were functional but not necessarily aesthetically pleasing. However, newer units can often be much more attractive. Known as designer radiators, many today come in several colors and styles. This includes glossy finishes, contemporary styles, and even subtle details on traditional column radiators that make them worth displaying without a cover.
Designer radiators start at around $500 and go as high as $5,000 for some luxury and designer steam models.
Radiator Cover Cost by Type
Many older radiators are designed to have a cover. This is mostly for freestanding units. Most wall-mounted radiators do not have space for a cover. While today’s designer radiators are made to be an attractive addition, some older units may need a cover to blend in with your surroundings. There are several cover styles and types to consider if you have an older style or freestanding radiator you want to hide.
Adjustable covers are ideal for radiators that are a little smaller or larger than the average because they are infinitely adjustable with a few minor tweaks. Under the window covers come in various sizes and are designed for radiators that come to just below the windows. Like all covers, these are vented to allow heat to escape.
If you want to maximize your storage, you can choose a cover with a shelf on top. With these covers, the radiator appears to be more like a piece of furniture in your home. The most expensive covers are custom covers which are perfect for radiators with a common shape or size. They are often made of wood and can add to a room’s aesthetic. Below you will see the average cost depending on which type of cover you choose.
|Cover Type||Average Price (Installed)|
|Adjustable||$75 - $300|
|Under Window||$75 - $300|
|Cover With Storage||$200 - $300|
|Custom||$200 - $500|
The amount of maintenance your radiator needs depends on the heating system type. Most electric models are very low maintenance. They only require periodic cleaning and inspections to ensure they are working properly.
Steam and hot water radiators are different. Because they contain water, you must bleed any water that accumulates in the pipes. Air can escape from the water, making your system less efficient. Once the air is bled through the valves, you must check the radiator’s pressure to ensure it is within range. This can be done at the boiler, where a gauge should be prominently displayed.
Depending on the system, you may need to add a central heating inhibitor to your system periodically. This is a liquid designed to keep your pipes clean and prevent rust in cast-iron radiators. It should be used on your boiler manufacturer’s recommended schedule.
Finally, the last of the maintenance is related to the boiler. Ensure its combustion chamber is cleaned regularly to remove grime and keep it working at peak efficiency.
Radiant Floor Heating vs Radiators
Radiant floor heating2 and radiators work similarly. Both use radiant heat and convection to warm a room. But they do so in different ways. Radiators heat the air directly, where it then circulates through the room. Radiant floor heating warms the floor and the people and objects on the floor rather than the air. This tends to make people more comfortable at lower temperatures, meaning you can often turn down your system.
Both types can be electric or hydronic and operate in the same way. Electric systems use resistance to create heat, while hydronic systems use a closed-loop boiler system to distribute hot water.
Of the two, radiant floor heating is more expensive, particularly in an existing home. Radiators are less expensive in general, but you may need several in a larger room or open floor plan to make the space comfortable. The two systems are sold and installed differently, with radiant heat being sold by the square foot and radiators being sold and installed by the unit. The costs below are based on an average 400 sq.ft. living room. Different rooms may change costs.
|Type||Average Costs (Installed)|
|Radiators||$1,000 - $3,500|
|Radiant Floor Heating||$4,000 - $10,000|
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Enhancement and Improvement Costs
Most radiators can be painted. If you choose, you can change your unit’s color to blend in with the room. Costs vary depending on the unit type and shape and whether you are painting the rest of the room. Expect to pay $20 to $50 per radiator.
Your radiator system likely uses a thermostat3 to indicate when to turn on and off. Thermostats can be programmed to only be on when you are home. Smart thermostats take this a step further, giving you control when you are not at home and learning your schedule to operate more efficiently. They cost between $200 and $500 installed.
Central Heating Inhibitors
Central heating inhibitors are liquid that can be run through your boiler system to clear build-up in the pipes and prevent rust in old cast-iron radiators. The inhibitor costs between $40 and $100 a bottle and should be used according to your boiler’s recommendations.
If you want to personalize your unit or make it fit in better, you can use one method to replace your current valves. Decorative valves come in many styles and finishes. They can have porcelain caps, spoke handles, and be made of many metals. They cost between $10 and $30 each.
Additional Considerations and Costs
- Lifespan. Radiators have varying lifespans, depending on their type and material. Expect them to last 8 to 12 years for electric models, with plumbed models lasting up to 20. Some older units have been known to last 80 years or more.
- Warranty. Many electric units come with an extended warranty, but always check before purchasing. Plumbed radiators usually have a more limited warranty of up to one year, but check with your plumber for more information.
- Troubleshooting. Many radiator problems are small and fixable. Before replacing your current system, hire an experienced plumber or electrician to inspect your existing radiators and see if they can be repaired.
- Repairs. Most repairs can save money over replacements. Replacing valves or single fins can often solve problems for less than the cost of a new one. Radiator repair costs between $150 and $500 on average.
- Alternatives. Radiators are one way to heat your home. Other methods include using heat pumps4, forced hot air, and radiant flooring systems. Keep in mind that each system may involve a much more costly and complicated install.
- How do I install a radiator in my house?
Radiators should be installed by a plumber for a hydronic system or an electrician for an electric system. Plumbed systems must be connected to a boiler in a closed-loop, while electric systems should be wired to your home’s circuit panel.
- Can you put a radiator anywhere?
Yes, in most cases. However, outside walls make the system less efficient because it loses some heat through thermal transfer.
- How much would a plumber charge to change a radiator?
Most plumbers charge between $600 and $800 an hour to change a radiator.
- Should I replace 40-year-old radiators?
Not necessarily. If they are working and in good repair, there is no need. If they are leaking, rusty, or unsightly, you may want to think about a replacement.
- Do I need to drain the system to add a radiator?
This depends on the system. Some closed-loop systems can have valves installed that allow you to shut off a section for additions. Others must be drained.
- Do you bleed a radiator when it is on or off?
You always want to make sure you bleed your radiator when it is off. If the heat is on, it can spray out hot water and may even be too hot to touch.
- Why is one radiator in my house cold?
If your heat is on and one of your radiators is still cold, it may either have a stuck valve or air somewhere in the system.
- How much does it cost to remove radiators?
Removing a radiator costs $250 to $400 for the labor and disposal of the old radiator.