If you were to look at Google trends over the last five years to see how people are searching for “how do radiator valves work”, there’s a slight trend you can see emerging. Interest always peaks around November/December time. It’s an obvious sign that when the cold months take hold, and people start to turn their central heating back on most evenings, many people realise they don’t really know how their radiator valves work.
You might be reading this now, looking at your nearest radiator valve, and not completely understanding its workings. That knowledge gap may be costing you money on heating bills without you even noticing it. But don’t worry, a helping hand (me) is here to steer you clear of using your radiator valves incorrectly. I’m going to guide you through how to use the valves on both sides (yes, there’s one on each side) so that you can use your radiator like an expert.
Let’s start by getting to know your main radiator valve, i.e. the one you control the heat with. If you have a manual radiator valve with no numbers, it will take a lot of finessing to adjust the way you want it. I recommend turning it fully down and then opening it little by little any time the heating is on. You’re looking to find a sweet spot where the radiator is hot, and the room is warm, without the need to completely open it.
In most homes, you’ll tend to find that thermostatic valves are on most of the radiators. It’s the one with a number or a little gauge on the side. If you’re in a home where these valves are cranked all the way to 5, you’re using your valves all wrong. That sliding scale is just about as mysterious as the numbers inside your fridge (another story for another day). The scale refers to a corresponding temperature you’re looking for the room to get to; the idea is that once it gets there, the little capsule inside the valve will close the opening and only let hot water in when it needs to keep the room warm.
So how do you know what temperature the numbers on your valve are? Well, you look at the conversion table on the back of the valve box, which you’ve obviously kept all this time. I’m joking by the way. No one keeps them boxes. A rough rule of thumb is to take the number you have the valve set to, and multiple by 8, e.g. 2 by 8 would be 16°C. And yes, that would mean having it at 5 is you telling the valve the radiator needs to get this room feeling like 40°C as quickly as possible. That will see it wasting a lot of heat and fuel to have your living room feel like it’s on the equator, so get it turned down. If you want to see the different types of thermostatic radiator valve you can have installed, look at the current range of designs available at Trade Radiators.
But what about the other valve on your radiator? If you look over to the opposite side, you should have a tiny valve with a little plastic cap on it. This is your Lockshield valve. It controls the flow of water from one radiator to the next. When you have two radiators in a room, and one is getting hotter quicker than the other, and you can’t feel any cold patches on the colder radiator, it means that you may need to improve water flow for the colder radiator. That is what the valve on this side of the radiator is for. If you’ve ever had someone around to balance your radiators, they’re playing around with the Lockshield valve to adjust how fast water moves through your heating system.
And what if you’re just too lazy to figure out how to work your valves? You could always get smart with heating and opt for modern home heating systems, but if you’re wondering whether your heating system works at all, have a look at this article to determine the type of heating system your home needs.