Radiators use two principle methods to produce heat. Old-style steam radiators are driven by a boiler, usually located in the basement of the building. Steam from the boiler flows up a tube into the radiator. The radiator absorbs heat from the steam and spreads it into the room. In electric radiators, an electric element produces the heat. Electric current flows into the heating element, which resists the flow of electricity. This resistance turns the electricity into heat, which heats the radiator.
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In spite of their name, radiators mostly heat by convection. Radiator heaters have fins that spread the heat into the air immediately above and around them. As this air heats up, it expands and rises into the room. The heat slowly flows away from the radiator, spreading heat out into the room and gradually cooling and sinking again.
As the air above the radiator heats and rises, it creates a vacuum, pulling more in, which also heats and rises. Gradually, this establishes a continuous stream of air called a convection current. The convection current flows in a stream up and away from the radiator, then cools and flows back toward it. As the convection current starts to gain power, it distributes more and more heat through the room. It takes a while, but a whole room can be heated by the convection currents flowing from a heater in one corner.
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