Radiators: Working Hard (and Green) for 150 years
In England, radiators are as ubiquitous as the corner pub. And they make sense for the climate: it's always a little rainy there and radiators make it easy to hang wet items to dry. But what if you don't live in a soggy climate? If you've ever wondered whether your old home's cast-iron radiators provide any benefit aside from their unique aesthetic, the short answer is an enthusiastic yes.
Energy Efficiency in the Shape of an Accordion
According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), radiant heat is more efficient than baseboard heating and typically performs better than forced-air heating because no energy is lost through ducts.
Pioneered in the 1860s, the now-iconic accordion-shaped freestanding radiator connects to a boiler by a single pipe--steam from boiled water rises to fill the radiator, circulates through its sections and transfers heat to the room. Cooled steam then condenses into water and drains back into the boiler to be reheated later. By the 1900s, two-pipe radiators--which work with both hot-water and steam boilers--became the norm and today they're the more popular option at salvage yards.
Radiant systems sip energy, making them ideal for off-the-grid homes, and hydronic (a.k.a. liquid-based systems) can also be heated with a wide variety of energy sources, including standard gas- or oil-fired boilers, wood-fired boilers, solar water heaters, or some combination of these heat sources, according the DOE.
Get the Most out of Your Home's Radiators
Follow these simply tips to keep your radiator performing at a high level:
- Keep your radiators clean and don't block them with furniture, carpeting or drapes
- Twice a season, bleed your hot-water radiators of trapped air
- Invest in heat-resistant radiator reflectors, which are placed between exterior walls and the radiators to reflect heat from the back of the radiator into the room. You can make them yourself by covering a sturdy piece of cardboard with a layer of bubble wrap topped with tinfoil.
- If you're in the process of restoring or replacing your home's radiators, consider working with a plumber, who can help you maximize their performance
And most of all, enjoy them. Not only do they look good, they're green.
Mary Butler is a Boulder, Colorado based writer and editor, who spends much of her free time remodeling an old house.