How to balance radiators - the little-known household task experts swear will slash your energy bills this winter

When was the last time you balanced your radiators?

Light blue painted panelled wall, tall radiator, blue velvet sofa with decorative cushions, wall art
(Image credit: Future PLC / Oliver Gordon)

Knowing how to balance your radiators could save you more money than you think - and we’ve got the lowdown on what that really means. 

The idea of balancing radiators may conjure up images of wonky radiators sitting off-centre on your walls, but it’s a lot more technical than that. This little-known household task should be part of the regular maintenance of your central heating system and should be looped in with checking your radiators heat up and flushing your radiators.

But few people know why or how to balance radiators, which means they’re missing out on a quick and easy way to save energy in the home. That’s why we asked the experts for all of the information you need to know about this essential maintenance task to keep your home warm this winter.

How to balance radiators

‘In a nutshell, balancing your radiators is when you're trying to get your radiators to all heat up at a similar rate, whether being furthest away from the boiler or closest,’ explains Nicholas Auckland, heating expert at Trade Radiators. And as running your heating for just an hour a day will be going up in price; it’s more important than ever to ensure that your radiators are balanced.

picture of nicholas aukland
Nicholas Auckland

Nicholas Auckland is a heating and energy expert with over 10 years of experience in the industry, as well as the Managing Director of Trade Radiators. Nicholas is dedicated to finding the best heating solutions for every need, as well as optimising energy usage, reducing costs and helping others live with lower costing energy bills. Nicholas has become a trusted leader in the industry, frequently collaborating with the media and other partners to assist with cost of living issues and other home-related problems.

Why should you balance your radiators?

If you want to ensure your central heating system is running smoothly and your house is as energy-efficient as possible, balancing your radiators is key. The idea behind this little-known household task is that by adjusting the valves on your radiator, you can control the flow of hot water from your boiler to ensure an even heat distribution. 

So, if one of your radiators takes longer to heat up than others, you can increase the flow of hot water to warm it up faster while decreasing the flow to radiators that heat up quickly. 

Nicholas says, ‘Balancing your central heating system not only improves comfort but also helps you save money on heating bills. An unbalanced system can cause your boiler to work harder than necessary, leading to higher energy usage and higher bills.’

That’s why it’s so important to add this task to your to-do list - especially now the energy price cap is due to rise in January 2024. 

corner of dining room with white radiator underneath window

(Image credit: Future PLC/David Parmiter)

What happens if your radiators aren't balanced?

‘If your radiators are unbalanced, they will heat up at different speeds in different areas of your home,’ says Nicholas. ‘This means that certain parts of your home will take longer to warm up, and especially during cold winter months, this can be frustrating.’

Of course, this also means that you’ll need to keep your heating on for longer if you want to warm up certain rooms in the house. This will ultimately result in wasted energy and money as you’ll keep pumping heat into rooms that are already at the optimum temperature. 

Ultimately, you want to ensure that you’re heating your home as efficiently as possible. Unbalanced radiators don’t allow for such efficiency, though, so it’s best to address unbalanced radiators as soon as you spot the signs. 

A simple check would be to walk around your house, comparing your radiators against each other. If you wanted to, you could even use a thermometer to be as exact as possible. 

Living room with radiator covered in wooden cover.

(Image credit: Future)

How to balance radiators

You’ll be happy to know that you don’t need to spend your hard-earned money on hiring a plumber to balance your radiators. While it's a lengthy process, it's fairly easy to do at home if you follow this step-by-step guide. 

What you’ll need

How to balance radiators - step-by-step

1. Turn off your heating

While balancing your radiators should result in hot radiators across the board, the last thing you want to do is tinker with your radiators while they’re hot. So, it’s extremely important to turn off your heating before starting this process. You should also give them ample time to cool down fully, too. 

When you’ve done that, grab some old towels and place them around your radiators. 

2. Bleed your radiators

There’s no point balancing radiators that are already in need of some TLC - especially if your radiator is making weird noises. So, it’s best to give them the attention they deserve before moving on to the next step. 

Nicholas says, ‘If you noticed that some radiators are only heating up at the bottom, then it's a good idea to release any trapped air from the radiators to fix this problem.’

We won’t go into too much detail about how to do that now, as our easy step-by-step guide on how to bleed radiators should make this a doddle. Just make sure you have some old towels handy.

3. Open up all radiator valves

The next step is to open up all of the valves on the radiators in your home. An anti-clockwise turn can do this, and if you have thermostatic valves or wheel head valves, you should be able to do it by hand. 

If you have lockshield valves (the valves that have plastic covers on top), you’ll need to remove the plastic cover and then use an adjustable spanner to turn it anti-clockwise. 

4. Note how long they take to heat up

A little patience and a partner will help you complete the next step. That’s because you then need to turn your heating back on and make a note of how long all of your radiators take to heat up.

It’s best to have someone else help you with this, and it’s a good idea to have someone tackle the ground floor of your house and another person tackle the top floor. In most cases, you should find that the radiators closest to the boiler will be the quickest to heat up. 

5. Turn the heating off and on again

When this is done, you should know which radiators in your house need turning down to balance the rest of the house. And while it may sound counterintuitive, you then need to turn off your heating and let your radiators cool completely.

Once that’s done, turn your heating back on and head to the radiator that heated up the quickest as soon as possible. 

6. Balance the fastest radiator

To balance this radiator, fully close the lockshield valve before opening it a quarter-turn. Before too long, you’ll feel it heat up - and you’ll also notice the next radiator get hotter, too. That’s because this process should help to push the flow of hot water to the next radiator in line.

Vanity with pink velvet chair and a large window

(Image credit: Future PLC/James French)

7. Check the temperature

When you can feel the fastest radiator has heated up fully, you need to grab your digital thermometer and take two different readings. 

First, you need to take the temperature of the pipework near the lockshield valve. Then, you need to take the temperature on the other side of the radiator, by the pipework near the thermostatic valve. In an ideal world, the difference between these two pipes should be 12°c exactly - but you may need to open or close the lockshield valve slightly until you reach this desired temperature difference. 

This 12°c difference is extremely important, as it’s considered to be the most energy-efficient number. By keeping it at 12°c, you can make sure that the radiator will get warm enough to heat the room without wasting any energy in the process.

Corner of a living room with grey walls, wood floor, white radiator, and monochrome furniture, lamps, decorations, and cushions

(Image credit: Future PLC/Colin Poole)

8. Repeat for each radiator

Now that the first radiator is balanced, you can then move on to the next - and then repeat the process for each radiator. And while this sounds like it’ll take you hours, you’ll quickly get into the flow of things and soon get into a rhythm. 

Nick finished by saying, ‘You will see that this solves the problem and all radiators are reaching the correct temperature. If not, it's time to contact a professional.’


What is the quickest way to balance your radiators?

Unfortunately, balancing your radiators isn’t a quick and easy job - especially if you want to make sure you do it properly. This process can be time-consuming, but how long it takes ultimately depends on how big your house is and how many radiators you have. 

But to complete this job as quickly and efficiently as possible, it’s important to make adjustments to the lockshield valves. This normally means closing the valves slightly on radiators that heat up quickly and opening them up more for radiators that heat up slower. 

How do I know if my radiators are balanced?

The simplest way to know if your radiators are balanced is to walk around your house, making a note of how long your radiators take to heat up and how hot they are when they reach full temperature. You’ll normally notice that the radiator closest to your boiler will heat up the quickest and be the hottest. 

Of course, you could also go around your house with a digital thermometer to make this process even more accurate. 

Take this as your sign to balance your radiators if you want to save some money this winter. 

Lauren Bradbury

Lauren Bradbury is a freelance writer and major homes enthusiast. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English and Creative Writing from the University of Chichester in 2016, before dipping her toe into the world of content writing. After years of agency work, writing everything from real-life stories to holiday round-ups, she decided to take the plunge and become a full-time freelancer in the online magazine world. Since then, she has become a regular contributor for Real Homes and Ideal Home, and become even more obsessed with everything interior and garden related. As a result, she’s in the process of transforming her old Victorian terraced house into an eclectic and modern home that hits visitors with personality as soon as they walk through the door.