How do heating elements work?

Posted in: Energy and Heating
A pair of electric elements for an electric heated towel rail

The key component in an electric heated towel rail is the heating element. This is the part that ensures your towel rail gets hot enough to warm your towels or provide heat into your room.

In this article, we'll take a look at electric heating elements in a bit more detail so you can understand how they work.

How heating elements heat up towel rails

All electric heated towel rails and radiators are powered by being connected up to the mains electricity supply.

The heating element contains a filament, which looks like a long, thin, metal rod that sticks into the heated towel rail. When the towel rail is switched on at the mains, the filament gets hot and heats up the water-based solution contained inside the body of the towel rail. The hot fluid flows around the towel rail and heat is emitted from the bars.

Unlike a conventional hot water central heating system where a constant supply of water flows in and out of a radiator or towel rail, the fluid is sealed inside the towel rail and is simply reused and reheated each time the rail is switched on.

How efficient are electric elements compared to gas?

In terms of pure efficiency, an electric heating element provides 100% efficiency. All the electricity used goes towards heat. This compares favourably to the most modern, gas powered, combi boiler central heating system, which will only operate at around 90% efficiency. Some energy is wasted during the heating process.

However, the benefits of one over the other is not quite as simple as it sounds.

A unit of electricity is more expensive than a unit of gas. Additionally, just like a gas hob compared with an electric hob, gas provides maximum heat immediately, whereas electricity takes longer to reach optimal heat. You might find your home takes longer to reach a comfortable temperature if using an electric heater than a radiator powered by a gas-fired boiler.

The comparison is further complicated by the fact that the initial installation costs of a conventional central heating system is much more expensive than an electric one. Boilers are very costly and laying a network of copper pipework to distribute hot water around the home is labour-intensive. Installing electric heaters and connecting them to the mains is a much more straightforward process, though it must b done by a qualified electrician.

So while electric heating is technically more efficient and cheaper to initially install, on a monthly basis it may be more expensive to heat your home electrically rather than by gas. Which you choose depends entirely on your budget and lifestyle requirements.

A variety of electric heating elements

What types of electric heating elements are there?

When it comes to heated towel rails, there are two main types of electric element for you to consider.

  1. Single heat / Non-thermostatic elements - These operate at a single temperature when switched on.
  2. Variable heated / Thermostatic elements - These allow you to adjust the heat on your towel rail, usually with some form of low, medium and high setting.

Many electric elements also come with smart functionality, whereby you can connect them to WiFi and control them via an app on your phone or tablet.

There is also the option of having a dual fuel towel rail which allows you to connect your towel rail up to the conventional central heating system and to the mains electrical system. This flexibility allows you to use your towel rail independently and without switching on your entire central heating in your home.

Of course, the more features you have on your heating element, the more expensive they are to buy.

Do electric heating elements fail?

It's important to note that most modern electric heated towel rails come with a safety cut out, so that power will be switched off to stop the electric element from getting too hot and burning out.

However, one of the most common reasons for heating element failure is if there is not enough fluid in the towel rail. If the element heats up and is not fully immersed in the water-based solution, then this will shorten the life-span of the element and cause it to get weaker over time.

The installer of your electric heated towel rail should ensure there is sufficient fluid inside the radiator upon installation. You can periodically have the levels checked by a professional as time goes on.

Huge variety at Trade Radiators

Whether you're looking to buy a heating element for your electric towel rail, or your look for electric radiators or towel rails with an element already installed, you'll find a massive range to choose from via the link below.

All deliveries to the mainland UK are fast and free and all of our products come with extensive guarantees that cover finish and the element.

View Our Electric Heating Range

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