Innovative design means panel radiators are fit for every room of the house.

Thanks to an explosion of new styles, finishes and designs, there's room in every room of the house for panel radiators.

“The product offering is wider than it has ever been before,” says Ray Farley, vice president, Myson Inc., Colchester, Vt. “And this for a category that was considered not that long ago as simply products for a limited, high-end market. I think what we are seeing on the market today is a combination of practicality and design that appeals to a lot more consumers.”

While there certainly still are plenty of radiators called “towel warmers” for the express purpose of warming towels in the bathroom, there are plenty of options for contractors who want to combine heat with décor.

Take a look, for example, at Myson's Bench Radiator, suitable to warm up hats, gloves and backsides in a foyer or mud room. The radiator incorporates a column radiator into a styled piece of furniture. The radiator comes with a beech-laminated seat and specially designed legs that conceal pipe, valves and fittings. It generates the equivalent of 18 feet of baseboard heat, and the seats are available in 53-, 61-, 73-, 85- and 93-inch lengths, and the radiators are available in a wide range of colors.

The Bench Radiator was named one of the most innovate building products of the year by Home magazine during last January's International Builders Show.

But don't just think benches. Think vertical columns that separate a room. Think wall panels that wrap around a curved wall. Think fluid shapes that wrap around corners. Think about every color, style and finish you might ever want. Think traditional. Think modern. Think everything in between. Even think TV, too.

“Thanks to these models, innovation in architectural detail and interior design are no longer held hostage to the 'old rules' of mechanical heating systems,” says Owen Kantor, vice president of marketing and sales, Runtal North America, Ward Hill, Mass.

In talking with various manufacturers and reps for panel radiators, we found a few factors in common among competitors for the increasing popularity of panel radiators:

  • New Styles & Finishes: As our introduction points out, and as some of the pictures included in this feature clearly show, panel radiators come in a variety of styles and finishes.

    “I think the Europeans were sold on the functionality of panel radiators a long time ago,” says Paul Ross, president, Hydronic Alternatives, Springfield, Mass., “so it's only natural that what we see more from Europe now appeals to aesthetics.”

    We spoke to Ross a couple of weeks before ISH Frankfurt took place in March, but he told us that metallic finishes, such as the ones featured here from Radson, would be on display.

  • Alternative To Traditional Hydronics: Towel warmers were the first products to gain a toehold to baseboard or cast-iron radiators. Kantor told us that 2 feet of baseboard might produce 1,200 Btus, but a modest-sized towel warmer could produce 8,000 Btus. Plus, it naturally put the heat up higher - not a bad thing stepping right out the shower. A towel warmer also was an ideal mate for radiant heat since plumbing fixtures were taking up more and more space, not leaving enough floor space for PEX to adequately heat the room alone. Finally, a towel warmer also will reduce the growth of mold and mildew, and keep towels fresh between laundering. (As a result of these heating benefits, Kantor prefers to call his products “towel radiators” rather than “towel warmers.”)

    Now contractors are beginning to see decorative panel radiators as a possible alternative beyond just the bathroom. “Flat-steel panel radiators are our single largest growing segment,” Ross says.

    However, don't just think these are pretty metal wall hangings. The Btu ranges have grown just as large as the design and offer plenty of firepower to warm a living room.

  • Versatility: All the manufacturers talked about how relatively easy it is to mass produce a product, but still leave it open to customizing. One less flat panel here or two more tubes there, and the radiators take up as much space or as little space as possible. Runtal's Web site, for example, mentions that it builds radiators from 20 inches to 29 1/2- ft. long in increments of 2 inches. The output of Runtal products range from a few hundred Btu/hour per foot, to over 7,900 Btu/hour per foot.

  • Don't Forget The Bathroom: While we've emphasized other rooms, don't forget the bathroom. Myson recently adapted a towel warmer from its Tempo line, fitting it with a full-length, one-way mirror with a built-in, remote control plasma television. When the TV is off, the screen is hidden. The unit projects less than 4 inches.