A Primer on Oil-Filled Radiators

Oil-filled electric radiators are today’s version of the old-style hot water radiators of the past. If you have been in an older building, or lived in an apartment built before the Korean War, you have probably experienced a radiator and the fidgety controls and clanging and banging as the hot water made it to the radiator. You also remember how those radiators filled the room with an even warmth and how a radiator kept the room warm long after the music show ended.

Modern oil-filled radiators work with the same principals as hot water radiators, only they are self-contained and portable, usable anywhere there is an electric outlet. Instead of a central boiler, and steam or hot water, a reservoir of oil is heated by a small electric coil or set of coils. The oil and the heating elements are shielded and insulated from each other. The heated oil then circulates by convection throughout the radiator fins, heating them, without the need of a pump since the hot oil will rise through the sealed system in one direction, and the cooled oil returning from the other.

The surface of an oil-filled radiator can be hot to the touch, and a potential burn hazard. Check the specifications for the models you are considering, and determine if an electric radiator will be appropriate in your application or home. The benefit is that the radiator fins stay warm long after the electricity heating the oil has turned off, continuing to heat the room.

All oil-filled radiators come with thermostatic controls, from simple on-off operation to programmable so the radiator only comes on during certain times of day. Some models of oil-filled electric radiators come with a blower fan to more rapidly spread heat from the fins to the surrounding air. This allows a smaller radiator to heat a larger space, although it will also consume slightly more electricity to operate the fan. Most models are a “sealed system,” meaning that the oil reservoirs are permanently sealed, and will never need refilling during the life of the radiator.

You should look for the Underwriter’s Laboratory seal on an oil-filled radiator. This will give you some assurance that the radiator has been assessed for safety of operation. Oil-filled radiators must come equipped with a ‘tip switch’ so that should the radiator be knocked from its feat, the heating elements are disabled, and the radiator goes cool, preventing it from becoming a fire hazard.

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