IP Ratings: Choosing your Bathroom Heater

White tiled bathroom

Electricity and water don’t mix. But I don’t need to tell you that. This is one nugget of wisdom so indispensable for survival in our modern world that most people learn it many years before they’re old enough to understand what electricity is. Even once you’ve sat through a GCSE physics class, you still might find it difficult to put into words the science behind the danger. This is just one of the things you know not to do: don’t run with scissors, don’t eat the red berries, don’t touch electric sockets with wet hands.

Frayed WiresAnd rightly so. Water is a very good conductor of electricity. Water can worm itself through gaps your hands are much too large to fit through to create a deadly bridge between your body and the electric circuits running through your wall. Within an instant your body can become a conduit for electric current, as electrons hurtle through your body on their path to the ground. Electric shocks caused by inappropriate use of electric appliances around water sources can cause serious injuries and even death.

Our instinctive caution about the combination of electricity and water can be so deeply ingrained that many people dismiss electric bathroom heating outright. However, properly installed, a suitable electric heater can make a safe and practical bathroom heating solution – with many benefits over conventional piped heating systems. Electric heaters are quick and easy to install – so you don’t have to live without a loo while a plumber takes up your floorboards. Some forms of electric heating can provide heat instantaneously – ideal if you’re counting the pennies and want a heater that you only use when you’re actually in the bathroom. Most importantly for the savings-conscious, electric heaters can be controlled independently from the rest of your heating – so you can enjoy warm towels throughout the summer without having to switch your central heating system on.

How to choose appliances for bathroom heating

Fret ye not – finding a safe electric heater to use in your bathroom is actually quite straightforward, and most retailers will give you plenty of assistance when you make your choice. There are two things you need to consider:

1. Electric bathroom heaters must be installed by a qualified electrician
2. Electric bathroom heaters must carry the appropriate IP rating for their fitting location

Number one is a no-brainer, but it’s worth re-iterating. DO NOT try and install an electric radiator, towel rail or heater in your bathroom unless you are a qualified electrician. However highly you value your DIY know-how, the consequences of a mistake could be fatal – for you or the other users of your bathroom. Even if you do install the item correctly, you will not be able to sell your house without professional re-wiring because it will no longer be compliant with electrical safety regulations. You should never use plug-in radiators or heaters in your bathroom – whether they are plugged into sockets inside or outside the room.

Number two is a little more complicated – so here’s our handy guide to choosing a heater with the right IP rating for your bathroom:

IP Rating

What are IP ratings? 

The IP Code system is a scale which classifies the degree of ingress protection offered by electric appliances against both solid and liquid particles. In other words, it’s a measurement of how waterproof your gadgets are.

The first number in an IP rating shows the appliance’s protection against solid particles – including everything from hands to fingers to particles of dust. The second number in the IP rating is a measure of the appliance’s protection against water. This is the important number to consider when choosing an electric heater for a bathroom. The number can range from 0 – 8, where “0” indicates no protection at all, and “8” indicates protection against long periods of immersion under pressurised water. An “X” in an IP rating does not necessarily indicate zero protection – however it does mean that the manufacturer has not tested the appliance for its protection levels in that category. 

What are Bathroom Zones? 

To provide clear guidelines for electricians, IEE Wiring Regulations divide domestic bathrooms into four zones, each with its own requirements for electrical protection. It’s important to note that not all bathrooms are large enough to have all of these zones – and that the guide should always be combined with a good dose of common sense. We always recommend checking with your electrician before you choose an electrical appliance to install in your bathroom; a good electrician will not install an appliance in a bathroom if they do not deem it safe. 

Bathroom electrical zones

Zone 0

This is the area occupied by sources of water such as your bath and shower. The area includes your taps or showerhead and everything beneath: from the showerhead to the tray, from the taps to the tub. We’re not sure how or why you’d want to install an electric heater in this area – but if you were thinking about it, don’t. If you’re determined, you’ll need to restrict your choices to appliances with an IP rating of IPX7 or above.

Zone 1

Zone 1 encompasses the area directly above your bath or shower. Precisely measured, it extends vertically to either the highest fixed water outlet (i.e. your showerhead or bath taps) or a height of 2.25m – whichever is highest. Practically speaking, in most bathrooms this works out as the entirety of the wall surrounding your bath or shower, from the floor to the ceiling. If you have a walk-in shower with no basin or water tray, Zone 1 is extended to a distance of 1.2m from the centre of the water outlet. It’s rarely practical to mount an electric heater in Zone 1, but if you want to you will need an appliance with a rating of at least IPX4. 

Zone 2

Zone 2 in your bathroom encompasses all areas within 0.6m of the boundary of Zone 1. This is the area surrounding the outside of your bath and shower and can be a convenient place to situate a towel radiator. Electric heaters for use in Zone 2 must have a rating of at least IPX4.

Zone 3 (Outside zone) 

Zone 3 includes all areas of your bathroom which do not fall within the above zones. Many bathrooms are small enough that they don’t really have a Zone 3 – or any areas of Zone 3 they do have are not large enough for a heater. Zone 3 is not a regulated bathroom space; there are no restrictions on the levels of electrical protection required by appliances in this area, apart from the caveat that any heaters used must not be in reach of someone using the shower or bath. However, I would always exercise extreme caution when choosing a heater for a Zone 3 bathroom area. At Electric Radiators Direct we always recommend choosing electric bathroom heaters with a rating of IPX4, even if the area in which they will be installed is entirely within Zone 3. 

So what's the best electric heater for my bathroom?

Ecostrad Fina-E Blue Smart Electric Towel Rail

Once you’ve worked out what IP Rating you need for your bathroom installation, you can start to think about what sort of heater you want to use. As a rule, we don’t recommend installing an electric radiator or panel heater in a bathroom. While some electric radiators carry a high enough IP rating for bathroom installation, the temptation to absent-mindedly cover them with wet towels (obstructing ventilation and potentially causing a serious electrical hazard) is too risky. So, bearing this in mind, what are your options?

Electric Towel Rails 

Towel rails are the obvious choice for bathroom heating – and for good reason. Most obviously, they give you the facility to dry your towels safely and conveniently. This is an obvious boon for your comfort and convenience, and can also help to prevent damp. Towel rails offer all the efficiency of electric radiators but with more flexibility when it comes to installation: towel rails can be installed higher up the wall than electric radiators, which is handy if you have limited space in your bathroom. Finally, and most importantly, all our electric towel rails are IPX4 or above – so you can relax and enjoy your bathroom heating with total confidence and peace of mind.

Shop our range of electric towel rails

Infrared Panels

Fully enclosed devices, infrared panels make excellent bathroom heaters and come with a high enough IP rating for installation by a qualified electrician. Infrared provides soothing warmth that’s perfect for ridding your bathroom of early morning chills. Infrared panels are slimline and discreet, taking up minimal room in even the pokiest of bathrooms, and provide unobtrusive, comfy bathroom heating. Choose a simplistic white panel, for a classic bathroom aesthetic, or try a reflective mirror panel for truly covert heating. 

Shop our range of infrared panels

Electric Radiators

Ecostrad Adesso electric radiatorWe have a wide collection of bathroom electric radiators that are suitable for installation in areas where they could be exposed to water. All of the heaters in this category have suitable IP ratings and are safe to hang clothes on to dry. As we already touched on earlier, it’s important to be aware that other electric radiators are not suitable for clothes drying because they may have venting that needs to be kept free of obstruction, or have thermostats which can cause inaccurate readings if they are covered up. So, even if they do have the right IP rating, they still might not make a suitable bathroom heating solution. This is why we’ve put together a list of all our best bathroom radiators, to make sure you’ll be getting the right heater for the job. Many are also Bluetooth compatible for in-depth weekly programming you can control using your phone.

Shop our range of bathroom radiators

You can check the IP Rating of any product on our site by looking at the list of specifications provided on every product page. For more guidance on safely heating your bathroom, give our expert sales team a call on 0330 300 4444.

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