When we refinished the floors in our 1870s row house, we found holes that indicate steam radiators once stood in the entry hall and in a bay in the dining room. Since both of those areas tend to be cold in the winter, we asked the previous owner what happened. He said he took the rads out . . . because he thought they were ugly! —Mike and Heather Casey
Not everyone appreciates the utility (and Steampunk beauty) of vintage cast-iron steam radiators. But even if you hate them, there are better ways to go. Remember that when the radiators were put in, the builder or plumber calculated heat requirements for the house as a whole and specifically for each room. Radiators were sized and placed accordingly. Removing one or more leaves the house with inadequate heat. Unheated rooms will be chilly. To replace the heat source, you’ll need a unit capable of producing between 30 and 60 BTUs per square foot, depending on your home’s zone (energy.gov/eere/buildings/climate-zones). For example, a 150-sq.ft. entry hall in cold Zone 5 would require a heating unit with a capacity of 9,000 BTUs.
It’s possible to replace the missing radiator, and tie it into your existing heating system, with either refurbished or new radiators sized for the space. You may be able to find a vintage radiator of the correct size online or through salvage dealers, but Ecorad offers reconditioned cast-iron units in many sizes and styles.
The new-radiator route may lead to steam or hydronic units, such as period-friendly, close-to-the-wall steam radiators and made-to-order panel radiators from Runtal North America. Slim-line panel radiators come in baseboard, wall, and column configurations, and even do curves.
Before you take out old radiators, consider a time-honored solution: radiator covers. Improve flimsy electric baseboard units with Shaker- or Colonial-style covers from Overboards. For larger cast-iron radiators, options include custom wood covers from Wooden Radiator Cabinet; wood with metal grilles from Fichman Furniture; and all-metal covers from Monarch and Arsco Custom Metals. Simpler still: Wire-brush the offending rad and apply a few coats of a shiny metallic paint. It’ll work wonders.