America cozies up to towel warmers

In addition to warming or drying towels, the heaters can warm bathroom floors.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Towel warmers are finding a home in American bathrooms.
These comfort items are prevalent in European hotels, where they often hook American travelers. In Europe, their main function is drying towels in a damp climate.
In the United States, towel warmers are popular for a variety of reasons -- they heat terrycloth in harsh-winter states; they dry plush fabrics in humid states; and their radiating heat warms the stone and tile surfaces of today's bathrooms, and that is a comfort no matter where you live.
Kent and Carol Granger of Kansas City became familiar with towel warmers because their previous house had one. Now the couple swears by them: Having one installed was a top priority for their new condominium. "It's a nice perk," said Kent Granger, a retired lawyer. "I'm at the point in my life where I'd like to start pampering myself."
Two types
Towel warmers look like a series of metal towel bars. Two main types exist:
UElectric models have tubes filled with mineral oil. They can be plugged into an electrical outlet or hard wired with a 110-volt line connected to an electrical box.
UHydronic models use a standard water heater to warm up their water-filled tubes. They require a copper-tubing return line to connect to valves and a pump for the circulating loop to make the water move through the tubes. Because there are no electrical restrictions with hydronic towel warmers, they can be placed in a moist environment -- on the deck of a jetted tub or at the end of a walk-in shower.
Customers like electric models best because they are easier to install and are more portable. They come in stand-alone units. Otherwise towel warmers have to be mounted to the wall with blocking support behind them.
Price tag
Small four-rail plug-in units start at $100. However, people can spend up to $8,000 for a 22-carat gold-plated towel warmer that takes up the length and height of an entire wall. The average price range is $800 to $1,200, say bath showroom salespersons.
Sizes can be customized to specific dimensions at no additional cost, says John Bernard, owner of Wesaunard, a Virginia-based towel warmer company. Compact warmers are 18 by 24 inches. Large models are 30 inches by 6 feet.
A variety of finishes cover the metal tubes. The most popular one is oil-rubbed bronze, says Ray Farley, vice president and general manager of Myson, a towel warmer manufacturer. The metal tubes also can be color matched to the paint of a bathroom wall for a 10 percent charge, he says.
Most towel warmer customers are new-home builders, says Megan Murray, a bath showroom sales associate at Expo Design Center in Lenexa, Kan.
In bathroom remodeling jobs, towel warmers are not usually a priority, says Holly Mann, showroom consultant for Ferguson Enterprises in Lenexa. But there are avid fans out there.
"If people have had a towel warmer before," she said, "they tend to get them again."