Towel Warmers: An Affordable Luxury
If you've ever had the good luck to stay in a five-star hotel or spa, you may have enjoyed the simple luxury of freshly warmed bath towels. With today's varied selection of towel warming options, homeowners on any budget can add this cozy touch to their bathrooms.
Towel warmers are bathroom fixtures that gently warm bath linens. They come in designs ranging from simple, plug-and-use metal towel bars to ornate, even custom built-ins that can coordinate with just about any bathroom design, from Victorian to Art Deco.
Also called "drying rails," towel warmers have the added benefit of keeping damp towels from becoming mildewed, and can also be used to warm up baby blankets or quilts on chilly nights. They also offer a great place to safely dry delicates such as lingerie. Towel warmers generate radiating, gentle warmth that can even serve double-duty as a primary or secondary source of heat in the bathroom.
There are two main types of towel warmers: electric and hydronic. Electric towel warmers heat up using an internal electric heating element, much like a curling iron, while hydronic units connect directly to a home's hot water heater.
Electric warmers can be freestanding units plugged into a standard wall outlet or they can be integrated into a home's wiring like any other built-in home appliance. In some high-end bathrooms, towels, robes and slippers are warmed in specially heated, pull-out drawers, hardwired into the bathroom vanity. Both freestanding and drawer electric warmers heat up in about 15 to 20 minutes.
Plug-in, floor units are the most affordable way to bring warm towels into a bathroom. Models start at about $100 and come in a variety of styles, colors and finishes. One advantage is that they can be moved into other rooms as needed, but they can take up valuable floor space in smaller bathrooms.
Wall-mounted electric units come in both plug-in and hardwired versions, and each is available in a variety of styles and finishes. They range in price from $200 to $800. One popular option is the swiveling, wall-mounted towel warmer, like those offered by WarmaTowel, which allow you to pull the rails out when you want to use them, but also to swivel them flat against the wall to conserve bathroom space. Wall-mounted warmers are also available in a variety of fun, novelty designs, ranging from guitars to hearts. Wesaunard's Creative Line of towel warmers offers a range of specialty looks.
Although most warming drawers are actually designed for kitchen use, they are easily adaptable to bathroom installation as a towel warmer. Warming drawers start at about $600, installed, but may also require the purchase of a new vanity cabinet to safely house the electric warmer. Some brands, including Jenn-Air's designer collection, come with a choice of front panels, allowing you to easily integrate your new appliance with your overall bath design.
Hydronic units require a more involved, professional installation by a plumber, with a return line to connect to valves and a pump to circulate the warmed water through the unit. The cost of hydronic units can range into the thousands of dollars, depending on design and finish. However, hydronic units have several distinct advantages. They warm up in under five minutes and because they don't have electric heating elements, they can be located in areas where they might get really wet, like next to a bubbly hot tub or a walk-in steam shower. Hydronic units are often used as attractive, efficient heat sources in the bathroom, with some higher-end models designed to look like the type of radiator found in classic European hotels, such as those by Myson.
Both electric and hydronic towel warmers are relatively energy efficient bathroom luxuries, costing between 25 and 60 cents per day if left on continually. But many models come with a programmable timer, allowing homeowners to wake to freshly warmed, fluffy towels each morning, while saving on their utility bills.