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Radiator Covers

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If you've got a cast-iron radiator, you're in luck. Radiators, either steam or hot-water, make your old house look great and they provide soft, humidified warmth.

Many homeowners like to put covers over their radiators, a practice I found curious until I began looking into it and realized that not all covers inhibit heat flow. Covers range from utilitarian, powder-coated metal enclosures with clover leaf-style grilles to fancy wood enclosures that double as bookshelves.

Improves Appearance: Maybe. Cleaner: Definitely.

Metal Radiator Enclosure
© Beautiful Radiators
Many homeowners believe that radiators are downright ugly. Something about the dark recesses of cast-iron radiators seriously creeps out many homeowners, and they prefer the straight, clean planes of a radiator cover.

Not exactly my view, but each to his or her own. What is certain is that radiator covers do help you keep your radiators cleaner. Radiators' narrow spaces and floor-hugging profile are dust magnets. While diligent cleaning with vacuum nozzle attachments can mitigate the dust, wouldn't you rather cut down on the frequency of cleaning?

Covers keep radiators cleaner in two areas:
  1. Top: Dust and dirt settle on the flat, closed wipeable top surface of the radiator cover, rather than settle into the baffles. When the cover has cooled down, you can easily wipe it down with a wet cloth.
  2. Sides: Dust can work its way through the open side grills. But because access is limited, you only get about half of the amount of dust. Dust that clings to the grille itself can be vacuumed off. Or, in the spring, remove the cover entirely and hose off outside.

Do Covers Impede Heat Flow?

MDF Shaker-Style Radiator Cover from Fichman
© Fichman
Powder-coated metal radiator covers do an excellent job of transmitting most of the radiator's heat back into the house. As heat flows upward, it hits the closed top and begins to flow sideways from the grilles (the top itself, being metal, captures heat and transmits it to the room).

One benefit is that some covers are fitted with pans that can be filled with distilled water to provide humidified air to the room. Putting water pans atop radiators is an age-old practice. But covers allow you to better hide the pans.

Because wood is a good insulator, wood radiator enclosures will not transmit heat to the degree that metal covers will. So, if your house is so cold that it needs to take advantage of every BTU that your radiators can offer, you may not want to choose wood covers.

Wood Covers: Costly Beauty

Wood Radiator Cover
© Shutter Shack
Solid wood radiator covers tend to cost at least twice the amount of metal covers. These covers act more like pieces of furniture, since the wood tops provide enough insulation against heat so that you can place some curios on them. Even though wood does insulate to some degree, I would still avoid putting anything that could be affected by heat on them.

My only concern about the functionality of wood covers is that wood and water do not mix. Whether yours are steam or hot-water radiators, chances are good that at least one of them leaks--or will leak in the future. Even without water hitting the wood, the constant on/off heat cycles will eventually cause the wood to expand and contract, leading to warping and cracking.

Sources For Radiator Covers

Bookcase Style Radiator Cover
© Custom Radiator Enclosures
  • Beautiful Radiators: Utilitarian metal radiator covers--unspectacular but attractive enough. Be sure to check out their website, one of the most informative I've seen on the subject of radiator enclosures. Custom sizing available.
  • Fichman: Fichman is a furniture supplier based in Rochester, NY. They have a number of radiator covers, starting at $175, constructed of MDF that come flat-packed and which you assemble yourself.
  • Custom Radiator Enclosures: Many of Custom's covers are of the bare-bones, powder-coated metal variety. But they have a number of "bookcase-style" covers that are quite handsome, one even with a deco flair.
  • Shutter Shack: A selection of 6 solid wood radiator covers, starting at $385.

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