In Europe during the early 1900's, as modern plumbing started to become less of a privilege, the amenities of modern living began to take hold. Tubs provided the opportunity for regular bathing (and a much better-smelling world), while the invention of the home radiator heating system brought steady and convenient heat.
Many places in Europe are damp at their driest, and this is probably why it made so much sense to drape damp clothing over the radiator to dry out. Somewhere along the line, somebody got fed up with the cold shock of getting out of a tub - and the added disappointment of a cold, damp, likely smelly towel. Maybe it was planned, or maybe a towel was simply left on the radiator, but whatever happened in that inspired moment, the towel warmer idea was born.
We've come a long way since then. In the United States, dedicated towel warmers have gone from a luxury item found in hotels and spas, to an affordable household comfort item. No longer confined to the bathroom, towel warmers are gaining popularity in kitchens, bedrooms, mudrooms and basements, providing added heat and reducing humidity, moisture, and mildew.
Advancements in design and engineering have brought us highly efficient, effective, and beautiful options for every application and taste. Our buying guide will hopefully help you navigate these options, to find that perfect unit that will make you wonder how you went so long without one!
Before choosing a towel warmer, ask yourself the following questions:
- Which will fit my budget? Economical or designer model?
- What's the difference between electric and hydronic models?
- What are the benefits of choosing hardwired or plug-in installation?
- Which will suit my needs better, freestanding or mounted?
- Should I choose simple, sleek lines or a more eccentric, artistic design?
- What kind of finish will complement my existing d�cor?
- Should I choose a unit with or without a timer?
Today's market allows for a wide range of prices. Whether seeking a moderately priced unit or absolute design sophistication, warmers are available for nearly any budget.
Warmers can vary in price depending on the style, size and installation type - just to name the most obvious. As we will discuss further, there are many ways to install a towel warmer, as well as potential budget considerations for units that may require professional installation. Many manufacturers offer a budget-friendly line of towel warmers that are available for under $300, as well as impressive, first-class units in designer finishes that can exceed $4,000. Browsing with your budget in mind is the first step in choosing a towel warmer that will best suit your needs.
Electric vs. Hydronic
There are two main types of towel warmers - electric and hydronic - and both are highly efficient.
Electric towel warmers typically have very low energy consumption rates: many consume the same power as a standard light bulb (60 Watts). Electric models contain one of two types of low wattage elements: some use a dry element, while others use an element to heat mineral oil within the unit. Electric towel warmers are available as either hardwired or plug-in. Hardwired units will need to be integrated into the building's electrical system, while plug-in models simply plug in like any other appliance. Both types of electric towel warmers may be operated with an on/off switch or with a timer. Some of the larger electric units can provide enough heat to warm a room, although electric units are typically used in conjunction with another heat source to heat a room most effectively.
Hydronic models simply utilize your hot water plumbing to produce heat by running hot water through the towel warmer. This can be done one of two ways: by connecting to your home's hot water heater (open system) or to a specific hydronic heating system (closed system). In most cases the hydronic towel warmer can not only be the most efficient energy saving method but can also be the most difficult to install if not included during the original new construction of the house or during a complete remodel project.
Today's towel warmers incorporate many safety features like thermostats and automatic shut off capabilities that help make safety a non-issue when making your decision. Since towel warmers have no moving parts to wear out they are a very reliable appliance choice.
Mounting and Installation
Another important point to consider is the ease of installation. By far the easiest and most DIY-friendly are the electric plug-in models. Most use a standard 120V plug and can be plugged into an outlet like any other household appliance. Freestanding plug-in models are portable and can be easily moved as needed.
While the installation of any towel warmer is usually simple, there are many possible variables in plumbing and electrical configurations. For this reason, proper installation of hardwired electric and hydronic towel warmers often require the skills of a licensed electrician or plumber to maintain the manufacturer's warranty, which will add to your initial expense.
There are three primary types of installation: wall mount, floor mount, and freestanding.
Wall-mounted towel warmers are a fantastic idea for areas with limited floor space, and can take the place of conventional towel bars. Wall-mounted units are available in both hydronic and electric versions, and can be either plug-in or hardwired. All hydronic towel warmers are either wall or floor mounted since they must be connected into the existing hot water plumbing or radiant heating systems.
When choosing between a wall or floor mounted unit, consider the placement on the wall. If you have a bathroom wall design that includes an element like wainscoting, or the bottom half of the wall is tiled while the top is flat, you'll need to determine if you would prefer to have the unit placed above the tile line, on the floor in front of the wall, or perhaps find a unit that can be made level on uneven walls.
On the other hand, a freestanding towel warmer provides great flexibility in placement and use. Plus, installation is a breeze: even the most novice DIY-ers could tackle this one! All freestanding towel warmers are electric and most use a standard household outlet plug to operate.
Please note: It is important to have work done by a professional installer, electrician or plumber when it comes to the more complicated towel warmer applications. Also look into acquiring any necessary permits as required by local government and obtain them before starting your project. Find out if you need to have your work inspected by contacting your local code authorities. Electrical products have the potential danger of fire and must be installed according to the manufacturer's specifications. If questions arise before, during or after installation, do not hesitate to contact the manufacturer directly, as they will be able to answer most, if not all, of your questions.
Size and Style
There really is a towel warmer to go with every bathroom! The list of styles is extensive, ranging from contemporary to classic, artistic to traditional, and even antique-style. Curved or straight rails? Arched or straight tops? Whatever your taste, we have something for you!
When choosing such an eye-catching addition for your home, what's most essential is to choose something that reflects your personal style. An important part of this is the finish: while some manufacturers may choose to stick to the more common polished brass or chrome finishes, towel warmers are available in an array of designer finishes like oil-rubbed bronze, antique gold, satin nickel, and more. If you're adding your towel warmer to a bathroom with existing fixtures, choose one that complements their style and finish.
Some units can include a shelf for storage and/or extra heating, or a robe hook. While there are many choices and options available, consider your own personal use of the warmer: some features may really not be necessary. Eliminating unnecessary features may also save you some money.
Along with the style, consider the size. How many towels do you expect to be on your warmer at any given time? Will a larger unit affect the aesthetics of your room? Remember that the greater the surface area of the warmer, the faster the towels are warmed and dried. If you're looking to not only warm or dry your towels but also to add heat to your room, you should consider purchasing a larger unit that gives off more heat.
Timers and Switches
Modern towel warmers are very energy efficient, and the most efficient way to use them is to leave them on continuously. This is because the energy used to initially heat the unit is significantly more than is needed to keep the unit warm once heated. Manufacturers have, however, kept user preferences in mind with many offering timers and shut-off switches.
With a timer, you can set your warmer to turn on well before your bath or shower so that your towel is nice and toasty when you get out. Some manufacturers offer built-in timers or switches directly on the unit, while others offer them as a separate option. Some models also offer a thermostat to keep the temperature of the warmer at your particular preference.
For such a simple concept, there are certainly many options and points to consider. We hope this guide has aided you in your decision-making process, and that you've found your perfect towel warmer. If you have, keep reading for a few useful tips to help you get the most out of it.
Helpful Towel Warmer Usage Tips
For the most part, towels are made of loose fibers. A single layer draped over the warmer will allow the heat to pass through the towel and this can be great if you only want your towel to dry. Would you like to get your towel as warm as possible? Try folding your towel over the warmer. Remember that although these units will produce radiant heat, towels should be in direct contact with the warmer bars to achieve the best performance.
If your bathroom is very drafty or air-conditioned, you may find that the top layer of the towel is slightly cooler than the inside layers. This is because the cool air in the room pulls the heat from the outer layer of the towel. To remedy this, try placing an additional towel on top of the one you want warmest. This will provide an insulating effect and the towels beneath will stay wonderfully warm.
If you prefer to turn your warmer off when not in use, you will generally need to allow ample time for the warmth to build up in the fibers of the towel. While the heating times vary between models, when not used continually, most electric models will need about 15-30 minutes for the towel warmer to warm up and an additional 35-45 minutes for the heat to radiate through the layers of towel. Since hydronic towel warmers use already heated water as the heat source, their wait time will be significantly less than an electric unit.
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