Hunting Radiators

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People say it all the time: during any renovation, surprises happen. Curveballs, if you prefer that kind of athletic terminology. I do not because I do not enjoy sports.

The cottage renovation has been almost eerily lacking in them, all things considered. Yes, there was the rotted sill plate that needed to be replaced in the front, and I guess the original wall framing inside was worse than anticipated, and there’s the ongoing lack of gas service, but…is that it? I don’t really know what I was expecting. Maybe it’s just what you get when you buy a condemned shell of a house…you kind of expect everything to be disastrous so it feels like a little bonus when certain aspects are actually pretty OK. It’s possible my definition of “OK” has just gotten a little skewed and kooky.

I fully admit, own, and embrace that I am not an expert on…really anything. During the early planning stages of the renovation (which started pre-purchase, since I had to figure out a budget and all that…), I met my plumber, Carl, at the cottage to talk about the plumbing and the heat system in the house—namely, that there was none, and we’d be starting from scratch. I remember offering that the intelligent and modern thing to do would be to install a forced air system for heat, and I remember him quickly agreeing with me that this would be the correct and most cost-effective solution.

BAM. I know, you don’t have to tell me how hip and with it I am. I was even a little excited about the new fancy forced air system that this house would have because, for some extra cash, it could also be an A/C system! AIR. CONDITIONING. In an old house. This place was basically shaping up to be a fucking SPA.

So that was the plan. Now you know.

Fast-forward warp-speed-style to a couple of weeks ago. Demo is done, new framing is done, I’ve switched to present tense, and I ask Carl if we can get going on installing the ducts and the furnace. That way, everything will be in place when the dumb gas line finally decides to materialize. So Carl sends some of his dudes over to the house that evening. I meet them there.

Carl has several dudes who work for him. I really like them all. They’re funny and smart and they are all OBSESSED with Mekko and in general we just have a nice time getting frustrated about plumbing. Plumbing is really frustrating in general so you can choose to be a dick all the time or you can choose to be a cool and groovy dude. These are cool and groovy types. I know how most of them take their coffee so I consider us all very good friends at this point.

Anyway. Dudes walk through newly-gutted, newly-reframed house. Dudes exchange worried looks.

“And you said you wanted to put forced air in here?”

There’s this one guy who works for Carl who I would still say is pretty cool but his attitude is not so groovy. He’s what we call crotchety. On the surface he sort of seems to hate everything and everyone but I know he’s really a softie. We’ll call him Joe.

“No fucking way you’re running ducts in this house,” says Joe. “No way, no how.” He’s visibly angry already, just at the prospect of even attempting the job.

I ask him to elaborate.

The basic gist of the story is that in a house with no attic and only a partial basement, running the necessary ductwork from room to room becomes much more complicated, so almost everything has to be run within the living spaces—not above or below them. With framing to accommodate the ducts, this isn’t really a problem…but this is a small house with 7.5 foot ceilings. Joe begins mapping his best guess of how the ducts would need to be run: through a chase that would need to be built in this corner, across a soffit on this wall…the picture he paints takes up a lot of space and looks super ugly. He quickly gets flustered and goes out to the van to smoke a Newport.

One of the guys calls Carl. Carl says he’ll be on his way as soon as he gets done with whatever he’s doing.

Joe sits in the van and smokes. Me and the other guys stand around outside, where it’s a little bit lighter, and shoot the shit. We talk about the neighborhood, about Kingston, about the house, about their haircare regimens, about cars, about their pocket-knives, about how cold it is. Eventually, Carl shows. We all go back inside, cellphone flashlights activated.

Carl looks around. He explains that the forced air system isn’t impossible, but would involve some soffits and chases and custom ductwork, meaning added cost. At one point he just stops. “Wait, why do you want forced air in here, anyway?”

“I just thought that’s what people did.”

“Honestly, you’d be better off with radiators. A lot easier to snake pipes than run all these ducts. We can do the same system we put in your house.”

“Like…baseboard radiators?” I ask.

“Yeah.”

Allow me to explain something: I have this thing about baseboard radiators, and the thing is that I dislike them. I don’t mean that to make anybody feel badly about their baseboard radiators. I know full well that I sound like a dick. It just seems like they take up too much space, the heat they radiate isn’t all that nice, and they somehow look neither vintage/interesting nor modern/inconspicuous. The thought of putting them in this house (particularly since I’ve just finished removing vestiges of the former, defunct baseboard radiator system) makes me sad and upset.

Then I have a Dangerous Idea.

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“Carl,” I ask, “is there any big difference from your perspective if I wanted to use old cast iron radiators instead? If I bought them all and got them in the house and everything?”

“No, not really. If that’s what you want.”

Even though I don’t love baseboard radiators, I do love old cast iron radiators. They’re beautiful, they’re effective, and the heat they give off is comfortable and gentle. They also just add instant character to a room, which is something this house is going to need.

So, yeah…I’ve made it my mission to find, purchase, and move about 7 vintage cast iron radiators for this house. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen/heard of this being done, so I guess we’ll all find out together how it works out.

I’m an idiot.

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Naturally, this exciting choice of mine has turned out to be more complicated than I initially thought. This is because I don’t always think things through. My first instinct was basically to measure the spots in the house where a radiator could/should reasonably go, then find a radiator that would fill the space nicely and look good in said spot.

Wrong. Wrong strategy. I even spent a couple hours shopping, picked out a bunch of radiators, and got the dude to quote me a price armed with only this information. It wasn’t one of my more intelligent moments, but I didn’t buy them so I guess that’s something.

As it turns out, sizing radiators is actually a fairly exact and math-y thing that involves more than saying “yeah, that’d look good under that window.” Go figure.

Here’s what I’ve deduced with a little help from the internet and a little help from Carl:

1. The first thing you need to do is figure out the BTUs (British Thermal Units) required to effectively heat a room. This depends on many factors about the room itself, but luckily there are online calculators out there to help you take those factors into account and figure it out. I used this one. Using my SketchUp models as a guide, I went through the cottage room by room and figured out the BTUs required to heat each space. Then I wrote them all down in a notebook for easy reference while I’m shopping.

2. When shopping for radiators, you need to know how to calculate the BTUs per hour that a given radiator will produce. You do this by calculating the square footage of the surface area of a radiator (which depends on whether it is tube-type or column-type, its height, depth, and number of sections), and then multiplying that number by the heat emission rate per square foot, which is reliant on the water temperature produced by the boiler (hot water standard is 170 BTUs/hr, steam is 240 BTUs/hr). This guide makes things pretty straightforward.

3. Make sure you can identify the difference between steam radiators and hot water radiators. I think the easiest way to do this is to look at the ends. Hot water radiators should have a pipe at either end for the supply and return. Steam radiators have one pipe because they only need a supply line. I’ll be installing a hot water system because it’s easier and more efficient.

4. It’s better to be too big than too small (har, har). Temperature to the system can be decreased but not increased beyond the standard capacity of the boiler. Just be careful because you don’t want one radiator that’s too oversized and the rest to be correctly sized—this is what leads to big temperature discrepancies between different spaces.

 

ANYWAY. This is what I’ve learned…or at least I think I’ve learned. Now I have to go find them! Hopefully it won’t be too bad. I’m aiming to spend $1,000-$1,500 for all the radiators. They aren’t super expensive but they aren’t cheap either. Luckily this is a modest house, which means modest radiators—nothing super ornate or fancy looking, which is more expensive.

Even though I’ve been looking at Craigslist a fair amount, I think my best bet is a good salvage place that will just have a ton of selection. The size guidelines of the radiators combined with the space constraints of the house means that I’ll have to be looking for pretty specific radiators—in other words, I need them to be effective and fit in their designated spots. It feels like a tall order, but possible!


139 Comments

  1. Just thought I’d take a peek, and….new post! I love the idea of the old cast-iron radiators!! Had to read, so now I’m late for work. Best of luck with this endeavor.

  2. Hey Daniel, I’ve been a reader for a LONG time now, but never commented until today. I just wanted to chime in and say I think you are making the right decision here. Cast iron radiators are going to look fantastic!! I wish you the best of luck!! <3

  3. Applause, applause, applause! (see this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tcmppBfc1Lo) I’m so glad you’re going with the cast-iron radiators because they’ll add charm and character and a historic nod to this place. And I haven’t seen you take a wrong turn yet!

  4. this made my heart go pitter patter!

  5. Joe and Carl’s explanation of why radiators don’t work for the cottage is what I always say to people when they ask why Ireland and the UK rely on radiators rather than forced air heating. We don’t have basements here, and the houses are more modest in size! Our 200 year old Irish farmhouse was outfitted with ‘central heating’ (hot-water radiators with an oil-fired burner) sometime in the last few decades, and I love that it is still considered a luxury for our house to have central heating, haha. I have really come to appreciate radiators since moving to Ireland – the kids love to drape their clothes over them to warm them up in the morning before school, and like you said, the heat is gentle and even as well as providing moisture to the air. Also, my husband doesn’t have headaches near as often as he used to when we lived in the States with forced air heat, which can be quite drying.
    I’m so excited to see what you choose! I love that you are going with cast iron radiators, and your explanation of the calculations was super interesting (not sarcasm, haha).

  6. I’m new to houses. Not to living in them, I’ve been in my suburban ranch for almost 30 years, but to doing anything with them other than taking trips to Pottery Barn or inheriting furniture from family. Your description of your processes is so valuable – not that I’m ever going to be installing radiators in 1950s suburbia, but how to think one’s way through the often impenetrable (does that warrant another har-har?) maze of sources and decisions.

  7. Time for a road trip to MA! We’ve got at least 2 really great radiator resources. This salvage place is less expensive- http://www.nedsalvage.com/ and has a ton of rads to choose from (plus a lot of other really cool stuff). Or this guy, who is basically the radiator guru in greater Boston. His prices are higher but he guarantees everything will work flawlessly. http://www.antiqueplumbingandradiators.com/

    Good Luck!
    -Amy

    • Oh MAN, those places look fun! Clawfoot tubs neatly laid out as far as the eye can see?? I want to go! I’m hoping that I can find everything I need locally, just because transport is a hassle with these guys, but now I want to plan a road trip just because…

    • I second the New England Demolition and Salvage recommendation. The place is huge – that vast expanse of clawfoot tubs only covers a portion of the second floor of their warehouse! Their prices are great too, but it’s in New Bedford, so it would be a bit of a drive for you; not really a practical distance for transporting radiators (or clawfoot tubs for that matter). Unfortunately, it looks like it may be closing soon when the owners retire, but you should check it out while you still can!

    • Now this just makes me want to cry, there’s everything I need and more!!!!!!

  8. Oh, this is really interesting! For real. I never really thought about the differences in heating systems before. And as someone who has a lot of issues in the winter with dry air from forced heating, this sounds like an alternative that I would really like. Plus I have fond memories of college where I would visit one of my friends in her super-old dorm with radiators, and she would always use them to make baked potatoes. Heh.

    • I’m glad, Lori! Radiators are definitely better if you’re sensitive to dry air and allergens. I grew up with forced air and now that I’ve lived with radiators for several years, I DEFINITELY notice a difference when I stay in places with forced air for heat. I actually don’t find forced air unpleasant as other people are saying they do, but the air quality issue thing makes me want to avoid it.

  9. Daniel, you crazy man, you wonderful boy. This will be brilliant, if it doesn’t kill you. I am lighting an elegant pillar candle for you right now.

  10. This makes a lot of sense. At first, I thought, why doesn’t he go with modern, light radiators? And then logic kicked in and my brain yelled, “money!” I hope you have a few beefy friends to help you transport all the radiators. Do you have to have them restored, as well?

    • Yeah…I didn’t even price out doing nicer new production radiators—I can’t imagine that I can afford it! There are some really nice ones out there, but honestly I’m excited about the prospect of bringing vintage cast iron into this place…with so much of the house being new, I think that shot of character will go a long way.

      I’ll be trying to find radiators that don’t need a ton of work—I don’t really want to incur the added expense/hassle of getting them sandblasted or dipped or anything. Hopefully a good cleaning, a coat of paint, and some new hardware is all they’ll need to be fully functional.

  11. Come up and visit my bonkers radiator place in Somerville! Dude is SKETCHY but has every possible radiator available (and will sandblast them and prime or paint for you), and boy does he know all those math things.

    • Seconding this… “Home of America’s largest collection of antique cast iron radiators”!

    • That sounds fun! I love sketchy salvage dudes, haha. Hoping I can find everything I need locally, but if I’m in a pinch…hmmmm. (even if I’m not, I still want to go…)

      • If you come up to Boston, check out these two places:

        http://www.restorationresources.com/

        http://www.machine-age.com/

        The latter is basically a museum, because the things they have tend to be pricey, but man, it’s fun to hang out there and gawk.

      • Oh, and Machine Age is a huge warehouse, with a back room of cheaper stuff.

      • It’s the place I instagrammed a couple times with the bonkers ROUND radiators and a radiator with a BUN-WARMER BUILT IN omg love. We will go when you come up. I think he’s losing his lease when they do the green-line extension to Union Sq., which is a real shame.

  12. Another ambitious but oh-so-cool project! This is really fascinating. Can’t wait to see what you find in your old radiator quest.

  13. I grew up in a house with cast iron radiators and poles. To, me the heat was so much more lovely that the heat I get from my modern setup. You could put a pot of water on top of the radiator at night. Warm towels in the bathroom… Put coats on the hall unit to be warmed before you left for school…. Draw a stovetop on the cover to play house…. Lovely memories…..

    BUT… I had a bathroom unit to fall over and land on my foot in 1988. it took 2 adults to get it off me. I lost the toenails and to this day the toes are crooked and the nails don’t grow normally. Just make sure you anchor them securely….

    • Yes—all of the reasons you’re listing is why I love them! I didn’t live anywhere with radiators until I was in my late teens and they still feel homey to me. Just something about them!

      That’s so scary about one falling over onto you! OUCH. I’ll definitely keep that in mind. So sorry that happened to you!

  14. I agree, really interesting thoughts and information! It makes sense to use radiators in the cottage: more pleasant heat, less dust and allergens. I do wonder however, about the air conditioner thing. I guess you would just use window air conditioners (aka personal serenity devices)?

    I live in a 1956 ranch that has a forced air heating system that:
    1. is installed backwards (hot air blowing from the inside walls, cold air returns IN?! the outside walls…
    2. has EVERY vent in the way of all the “tweaking” renovation I want to do. *sigh*

    I’ve been thinking about installing eventual radiant heat myself (underfloor? possible wall radiators?) and have been considering the modern, European-style wall radiators due to their small footprint and and the whole not-touching-the-floor-and-making-it-easier-to-clean thing. Like these: http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/asktoh/question/0,,385604,00.html

    Have you thought about those yourself? If you have, have you rejected them due to a period appropriate/style reason, cost or something else? Just wondering…

    • Yeah, unfortunately I think window units during the summer months are the answer for this house. That’s what we do, and pretty much everyone else in Kingston—they aren’t attractive but they are effective! I don’t think it would really be seen as a negative from a potential buyer’s perspective just because it’s so common here.

      I have thought about that type of radiator! I really like them, but I think outfitting this house with them would be too huge of an expense…at least the ones I’ve looked at are really pricey. I really wish they were more common in the US! I think we might put one in our downstairs bathroom when we renovate, since it’s such a tiny space and it would be SO NICE to get the radiator off the tiny amount of floor space. For this house, though, I think adding the vintage character of old radiators will be nice, and it’s small enough that none of them need to be HUGE and take up a ton of space.

  15. Once again you are certainly choosing the path less traveled.

    As you and other commenters mentionned, hot water heaters are definitely more charming.

    However, echoing Courtney’s comment, and having grown up in a place with very harsh winters (think another 5 hours north up the 87, I can tell you that a hot water heater system is certainly not what would be preferred despite the above, for a number of very practical reasons. For one, as you mentioned, installing a brand new hot water system is a true science in getting it right in terms of keeping all the rooms warm to an appropriate temperature. You can’t easily control the temperature in zones so you’ll be heating the entire house at once with the only possible adjustments on the valves of each radiator unless you install some sort of automatic valves. Further, in terms of maintenance, you need to maintain the system and bleed the air out once a year (or more if the system is not functioning properly), and make sure the valves are ok. You can end up with situations where air builds up in the system due to differences in temperature (as the oxygen diluted in the hot water separates from it as it cools down and stays in the system).

    On the other hand, with electric heating, and especially if you’re willing to put in a few extra dollars to really insulate your house properly (air tight), you can save a great deal of money in the long run by using electric heating that can be controlled with thermostats in each room (on timers, on top of that). There is nothing more luxurious than walking into a room that is EXACTLY 70 degrees (or more or less depending on your preferences), have the temperature be lowered automatically during your sleep and raised in time for wake. Utility rooms can be kept colder, bedrooms warmer, etc.

    I completely agree that baseboard heaters are super unsexy. There are more “luxurious” alternatives such as convection or radiant heaters which are affixed to the wall more or less in the space where the hot water heaters would normally be (under windows). They’re clean, there’s no fan or anything to make noise and they are basically maintenance free. There is no upfront cost for a new boiler and plumbing, only the cost of the actual radiator which is not that much, only the wiring that you are going to have to be putting in in any event so you’re saving on trades, too:

    http://www.lowes.com/pd_505975-34156-T400L_0__?productId=4781047&Ntt=electrical+panel&pl=1&currentURL=%3FNtt%3Delectrical%2Bpanel&facetInfo=&cm_mmc=search_google-_-Dynamic-Search-Ads—Fashion-Electrical-Lighting-_-Fashion-Electrical-_-_inurl:/Electrical&k_clickID=32bfea38-5f62-3d29-abaf-00000c937f3c
    and
    http://www.lowes.com/pd_640194-50857-CNS+100-1+E_0__?productId=50260677&Ntt=wall+heater&pl=1&currentURL=%3FNtt%3Dwall%2Bheater&facetInfo=

    Anyway, that’s my unsolicited two cents’ worth. I’m really eager to find out how this pans out!

    • Totally hear everything you’re saying! The electric option is very interesting. I’ve actually never seen something like that in use or known anybody who had them, but I definitely see the appeal! Huh. It seems like the reviewers are using them as supplementary heat for other types of systems—I’m curious how they would work to be the primary system in a whole house. Admittedly something I’ve never really thought about before and will look into further, if only just for my own edification!

      I guess all I can really say is that I have hot water radiators in my house, and I love them! I don’t find the maintenance at all difficult or overwhelming, and the heat is definitely sufficient in this climate. The pitfalls you’ve listed are certainly valid, though.

      • I think part of the reason they are so popular north of the border is that electricity is a bit cheaper than in the US. They’re pretty much standard in any new residential construction (that or the less awesome baseboard heaters). The house I grew up in had them as the only source of heat and it works just fine though it does dry out the air more than hot water heaters.

        Seems to me like if you have to somehow supplement your central system with additional heat sources, your main system is not efficient or effective which means you’re throwing money out the window.

        But yes, if you have an existing system, it makes sense to maintain it and amortize its cost over the largest number of years.

        I’d compare the BTU output of one of the wall units to what can be delivered by a hot water heater and figure out different configurations in the house and what the cost would be for each for installation and operation on an annual basis + amortization.

      • Having grown up in Europe I feel I need to put my 2 cents into this discussion. Hot water radiators all the way! So yes, definitely they need to be sized correctly for the space they are heating, BUT then….every individual radiator has a thermostat on/in the valve, so each room can be heated exactly how you like it! So look for those (I don’t have a link, sorry, and I have never seen them used in North America), because they will save you a ton of money in the long run, and our environment :)

      • I’m glad the electric option has been mentioned. My place was retrofitted with electric baseboards to replace the central heating (fireplace). This does mean each tiny room can be regulated. Your focus here then shifts to insulation, especially since you have no attic. A ceiling fan should be part of all this, but given your low ceilings, that’s a challenging finesse indeed!

    • I second Adrien’s idea for electric heating. No furnace/boiler. More electric wiring but after that it’s a super easy install. We have Convectair heaters in our Montreal apt. and country cottage. I love that we can vary the temp in each room; cool in the bedrooms, hot in the bath.

  16. (I also do not work for Lowes I just know you deal with them often which is why I linked to their website!

  17. Do you guys (americans) not use in-floor heating? It is awesome, and invisible. Granted – in the cottage it would probably not be feasible, because of the low ceilings – but otherwise I love it. I hate having to arrange furniture around radiators, which are usually ugly (not yours, but in general :), and hellish to dust behind. I live in an apartment right now, so I have to live with my radiators, but if I had a house I’d want in-floor heating.

    • Radiant floor heat is a pretty new phenomenon in the US! I think it’s becoming more and more common, but typically as a supplementary heat source like just in a bathroom or kitchen floor to make things a little more comfortable. Electric systems are more common here, but hot water systems are available too. I think it’s VERY rarely used as a primary heat source here, which is unfortunate because it sounds incredibly pleasant! I’m considering using it in the bathroom of the cottage, and possibly in my house, too.

      • The big thing here now is to have radiant floor heat (usually water-borne) heated by some kind of “heat pump” – either something like what I think kathyg is talking about below or, more commonly, a geothermal pump that heats your house using heat from the groundwater. The reason being that once you’ve installed the pump, you have no further heating costs during the lifespan of the pump.

        Oil is very expensive here, electric heating also gets expensive. Gas and steam I’m not sure even exist as heating options.

      • missnicoleo—yes, I know! I wish it was possible to put them under hardwood. They sound amazing for under tiled floors, though…it sort of seems like a no-brainer to me!

      • Elin—huh! I think the heat pump is a fairly new phenomenon here, too. My understanding is that geothermal pumps are VERY expensive and rarely used, but that is really cool.

  18. Dear, dear Daniel. I thought I loved you before, but now? Even more! This, coming from a person who has some sort of cast iron fetish, be it radiators, stoves or sinks. If it’s laying by the side of the road and made of cast iron, I’m dragging it home with me. (Anyway, you will remember that I bought the Victorian with the daisy contact paper ALL OVER the kitchen and pantry? It’s gone; ask my cracked and blistered fingers.) The house also has steam radiators. They whisper and sing. I love them! They do take up space in a room, but they look elegant and there’s nothing like putting on your pre-heated clothes on a cold winter’s day. Plus, if you read up on them you find they are one of the best ways to heat and they actually move the air around and do other unexpected feats of heatery. Good luck! I’ll be watching for the pix.

    • They are pretty amazing, right? I didn’t know any of this before buying my house, but have been told that my century-old radiators (which are hot water, not steam, but anyway) are actually much more efficient than modern baseboard counterparts…AND they’re nice to look at. I’m a sucker for cast iron, too, admittedly…I still just sort of marvel at how old they are and how well they work.

  19. Is Joe from Philly? He just has to be from Philly.

    Signed,
    A Midwesterner Who Now Lives in Philly

    P.S. I hate baseboard radiators as well. Yours is an ambitious project but the results will be worth it!

  20. I agree with everyone else, all this radiator talk is (surprisingly? bizarrely?) really interesting!! I wouldn’t have expected it to be so complicated either, but now that you say it I guess it’s kind of a “duh” moment. I always heard properly sizing any kind of HVAC setup takes a lot of math, so it makes sense that it would be the same for individual radiators. I think they will be lovely and appropriate for this house and I’m excited!!

  21. This is super helpful to me Daniel. I’ve asked my salvage guy to find me some radiators (15, actually I want ones exactly the same as in the forefront of your pic). I didn’t discuss with the plumber the number, type, size, etc. of said radiators! Methinks I should get on the phone asap. Your radiators sound like a bargain, I’m budgeting 7000Euros for my 15, albeit cleaned and primed :(

    • I’m glad it’s helpful! Doing the calculations is actually sort of fun once you understand it. 15 is a ton of radiators! This sounds like a fun project…

      I wonder if radiators just have less value here…I think Americans often assume that they’re ineffective, so I’d bet that they get ripped out more often and very few people actually buy them. Even though they’re heavy, cast iron is worth very little as scrap, so salvage places often have a very large supply and very little demand. It doesn’t stop people from asking a lot for them (and it does depend if they’re more rare and ornate and stuff) but hopefully I can do this pretty cheap!

  22. Love the idea hot water heating. I’d be thinking of one of those under-floor systems of PEX tubes between joists. And for A/C, I’d probably make plans for a SpacePak high-velocity system (even if you can’t afford the mechanics at the moment). Cheers!

    • Thanks, Keith! I think the under-floor PEX is what my friend did in a mid-century ranch he renovated years ago…from his description, it sounded like something totally foreign! I’ve never heard of anyone else doing that in the states, but it sounds really nice…

      I’ve only heard really negative things about the high-velocity systems!! I think my plumber even said he won’t install them anymore because they’re so riddled with problems. It’s a shame, because the concept is cool, and perfect for retrofitting in old houses!

      • I’m in awe of your capacity to absorb research. I’m usually the idea person in my circle but you beat me every time!! I’m addicted to your projects and your (crazy? obsessive? neurotic? haha!) attention to details!! :o)

  23. Great! Another adventure!!!… :)

  24. I love that “Dangerous Idea” was capitalized.

    You can shorten a radiator by doing a bunch of weird things with threaded rods and brute force. I only know this because I Googled it.

    • Huh! I always sort of figured that was possible, but I’ve never heard of anyone doing it. I think that’s too adventurous for me!!

  25. And people think that they don’t need math in the real world. Good luck with your search!

  26. I hate, hate, hate, (did I mention I hate) forced hot air heat! It is only warm when it is blowing, as soon as the blower shuts down it is cold. It soooooo dry, we have humidifiers all over the house and still sometimes have to boil pots of water to get it over desert like dryness. The ducts are always full of dust. I so miss the steam radiators that I had growing up in Brooklyn, so warm, so moist, so comforting, it sounds like I am talking about a dessert! If I ever buy or build another house (assuming I am not in the Caribbean, one can only hope) there will be steam or hot water heat in it.

    • Well, that makes me feel better about this whole thing, haha! I have a lot of airborne allergies and I definitely notice a difference with forced air just because I get so congested. I’ve never found it particularly unpleasant otherwise, but everything you’re saying makes sense!

  27. I don’t really get radiators as I’m from the South, and I do see the beauty in them. I love that first pic, thinking of blowing it up and putting on a canvas! Seriously. Art and Architecture. OK… BUT…since you didn’t mention it, have you seen the ductless split hv systems for cooling AND heating? http://www.mitsubishicomfort.com/en/consumer/product-solutions/product-showcase
    We have one, a friend has one, a relative has one…all work wonderfully…we’ve been very happy with them in small spaces. Assume you’d have to do as your radiators, have more than one.

    • I have seen those systems—I’ve heard good things about them. My plumber says he installs a lot of them and people love them. I think they’d feel really overwhelming in this house since the ceilings are so low, though. If they were smaller/slimmer, I’d probably be considering it! I’m so fussy.

      • Depending on how well insulated the house is after your work on it, you might only need 1 or 2. It might be something to consider as a second heat solution (in combination with the radiators), depending on how expensive heat is in your area, and if you can get a tax credit for them from your electric company or whatever energy efficiency orgs New York has. They are super efficient, and they are both an air conditioner and a heater that works well to the below zero range.

        (For those who don’t know what these are, it’s basically like a reverse refrigerator. It takes the “heat” that’s in the outside air – even at 15 degrees out, there is some heat in the air, because it’s not negative zero out – and puts it into your house, spitting the now even colder air back outside – SO COOL!).

      • They also have versions that fit inside the ceiling!

  28. Well….you may be an idiot (and on that I disagree completely) but you’re OUR – your devoted readers – idiot and we love you.

  29. you have baseboard heaters in your house? are they different than your radiators? I just don’t ever remember seeing them in any pictures. And I agree, they are the most aesthetically objectionable heating option!

    • Nope, I don’t have baseboard radiators in my house, just the big old cast iron ones. There were a couple of baseboard rads remaining in the cottage when I bought it, but most had been stripped out while it was vacant and presumably sold for scrap. I think at one point they were on like EVERY wall…old windows, zero insulation…I can’t imagine how cold it was in there!

  30. Oooh good luck finding what you need. It will be so beautiful when finished! Are you tiling the bathrooms? Maybe in floor radiant heat there? I grew up with radiators and my parents installed a nifty little a/c system out of PVC pipes I think. Just a couple of small white circles in an odd corner. We live with frigid winters and many 90degree summers and it was such an improvement. Are you able to do an a/c unit like that or planning to go without?

    • I think I’m planning to tile the upstairs bathroom, and have been considering radiant heat for up there! The downstairs is just a powder room and I think I’ll just stick with the existing wood.

      I have no idea what kind of a/c system you’re talking about, but I’m intrigued! My current plan is to just go without A/C here (window units are always an option, though)…I don’t know of any A/C system that I think is a good fit here AND wouldn’t require ductwork.

      • I think it was this kind of thing. http://www.americanvintagehome.com/air-conditioning-space-pak-repair-installation.html my mom loved her plaster walls and would never let them go for a/c! This worked really well!

      • Oh, yes! I’ve heard about high-velocity systems…my plumber isn’t really a fan (he says they have lots of problems with ones they’ve installed, but maybe the installation isn’t good?) and I have a friend who has it and complains about the noise…but again, maybe an installation problem? I’d pretty much kill to have some sort of central system in my own house in the summer, I know that much…

      • Oh, I’m just thinking, in your house with all those high ceilings and the symmetrical alignment of windows, it was built for cross-ventilation. Wouldn’t a few strategically placed window fans (upstairs), and closed shutters/curtains in the South and West-facing windows alleviate the heat in summer? But then again, you probably get high humidity like we do here in Southern Ontario, hence the wish for air-conditioning :)

  31. Absolutely with you on restored antique rads. They make the environment so much cleaner, more healthful and cozy. I abhor ducted systems for the dust, sediment and particulates that blow into living areas (and beings -!) This Old House has an article on vintage rads: http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/article/0,,1171946,00.html

    As for cooling, I say go with vintage table fans — easy to find ones that are functional art forms.

    • The auto-link above didn’t capture the entire url — just copy/paste it (through “html”) and it’ll take you to the article.

  32. Well Daniel…I do love an old rad…especially for drying mittens…and they just look charming…as long as you’ve got room for them…go nuts…I myself wish I had something other than the electric baseboard heaters my old house has…expensive , ya think??

    we did install the ductless heating and aircon system as well..and it is great but I know you wouldn’t like the biggish units that need to be installed on each floor on the wall…we had a good spot for them but you still stare at them .

    so go for the rads and good luck finding the right ones..I’m sure they are out there.

  33. Awesome! I really wanted to do something similar in our current 1920s house, but old radiators turned out to be expensive and tricky to find in Seattle on our short timeline. We ended up with a classic forced air system, but I really hope to do a salvaged radiator system at our next project. I’m curious…how come you’re running this off a hot water heater instead of a boiler? And are you going to have to upgrade the size of your hot water tank? I assume it’s a traditional hot water heater and not tank-less. Hopefully there’s some good rebates on those bad boys in your area! Anyway, good luck finding those radiator beauties…I’m excited to see the end result!

    • Oh, I’m not running them off a hot water heater! It will be a hot water system (as opposed to steam), powered by a tankless hot water gas-powered boiler. Since there isn’t an existing boiler OR hot water tank, the boiler will actually do the job of both—we did the same thing in our house and it’s been great! It’s also a good fit for here since the basement is so small. Here’s some pictures of our system and a little more explanation: http://manhattan-nest.com/2013/12/09/hooray-heat/

  34. I have radiators (which I love) and a combination boiler – which provides the hot water to both the radiators and the hot water tap.
    Pros
    – cut my gas bill in half
    – you never run out of hot water
    – more room in basement because I don’t have a hot water tank
    Cons
    – they are more expensive
    – it takes longer for the hot water to get to the faucet.

    I have a ductless A/C unit for the summer. A ductless heat pump would probably heat and cool the whole cottage.

    • Yep, that’s exactly what we did in our house! We didn’t even have gas service before it was installed so I have no idea how it affected things, but I can say that our utility bills seem very low in comparison to a lot of people we know, so I’m happy with it! I don’t mind the lag time it takes to get hot water out of the tap, honestly, but I’ve heard other people say that too. Anyway, the combo boiler is the plan for the cottage, too…a big expense but I’m not sure there’s any way around spending a big chunk of change here no matter what, and I’ve been budgeting for it since the beginning.

  35. I love this idea. I’m an architect and mostly do old house renovations, and so fully support using technologies appropriate to the house. It makes sense more often than not. If this doesn’t pan out in finding the radiators, take a look at small duct high velocity systems. You can get one that does heating and cooling, and the ducts are 4″ insulated generally, so can be run in crawl spaces, normal wall and floor cavities between studs/joists. Very minimally instrusive.

    • Thanks, Alli! I’m really interested in the high velocity systems. I’ve only heard really negative things about them, though! I feel like maybe it’s one of those things that needs a few years for the technology to develop. I want it in my house for the summer!!

      • Yes, the AC out of them is great! Definitely how I would retrofit an old house for AC, even if a different heat system was used. (Just saw a few weeks ago a beautiful new house in Maine built with radiant heat and the high velocity system for AC and supplemental heat, really cool). I think the technology is really there (or close anyway) but as with most new technology the trades haven’t really accepted/embraced it yet. All the problems Ive seen (in admittedly limited experience) have been install related. Until there are some installers that are really comfortable and know the technology, everyone else will try to talk you out of it or overprice their bids to cover not really knowing what they’re getting in to.
        PS I love your block, both your house and the cottage coverage! I’ve been a reader since back in the original Manhattan apartment days and have been blown away by how much your blog has changed and grown!

      • That’s interesting. I guess I hadn’t really considered that maybe the install is more to blame than the technology. I’ll look into it more!

        (and thank you for sticking around all this time!! :)

  36. As much as I love radiant heat, I grew up with it, have you given any thought to the in wall heat/AC systems. They’re not groovy looking but they work extremely well and you could have AC too? Just a thought… I wish you lots of luck with finding the right solution!

  37. By “in wall” I mean the ductless system that I see someone else had already mentioned above 😊

    • Yep, I knew what you meant! :)

      Yeah, I think given the ceiling height in this house and how large those units are, it would just feel like too much. I hope they get better looking over time, since people seem to love them otherwise!

  38. Hi Daniel,
    We love our old/used radiators. We have an old farmhouse in upstate NY and went through the same reasoning as you have about heating. We bought radiators from a junkyard (complete with a barking junkyard dog) somewhere on the border of Brooklyn and Queens (I have no idea where we were) and lugged them upstate one at a time on weekends. They sold them by the section, $3. per. Not having done any btu calculations we sized them by eye, little ones for little rooms, bigger ones for bigger rooms or rooms with more windows, tall skinny ones for tall skinny wall spaces, long low ones for under windows, etc. I remember our plumber tested all the radiators for leaks with an air compressor before he installed them. Perhaps by just dumb luck but it has all worked perfectly for 20 years. We have them on 2 zones, the rooms with plumbing (kitchen and bathrooms) on one and all the others on another so that we can make sure the pipes don’t freeze if we aren’t there for a while and we don’t have to waste fuel/$$$ on the others. The water in the radiators is mixed with antifreeze as well. We just replenished it for the first time this year. The heat is so comfortable. The circulating hot water radiators don’t get hot enough to burn you unlike our steam radiators in the city. Not a dangerous idea and you are not an idiot.

    • That’s so cool, Jane! Man, $3 a section…if only!

      I’m glad to know your system worked out without getting into all the calculations! I mean, it makes sense…and as long as you’re relatively consistent about room size vs. radiator size, it seems to not be a problem. Thank you!

  39. Are US radiators really that expensive? I have hot water radiators from a combi boiler too, and my plumber bought a multi-pack of 4 assorted modern radiators from a plumbing supplies place for about £300, I think. I’ve got a double panel one in the living room which is about 120cm, and the rest are all about 60 to 80cm wide. I am positive he didn’t do any calculations at all and nor did I. The house is nice and warm and I can dry my laundry on the radiators. However, I have read that UK houses are cooler on average than US houses because we don’t expect to be able to walk around in a t-shirt in winter, so the house may not be super-hot. I’d have loved to get cast iron vintage ones but they’re really expensive to refit. Oh, and bleeding radiators is super-easy and strangely satisfying!
    You can now get electric underfloor heating which doesn’t take up as much room under the floor as water ones, not sure if they’d be available in the US though.

    • Admittedly I haven’t done a ton of research on new radiators, but I think the basic answer is that they’re pretty expensive! Baseboard radiators aren’t bad, but that’s what I’m trying to avoid using here. I don’t know of any US companies that make affordable modern radiators, like I think you’re describing, so if you want that kind of thing in the US it generally comes from a European manufacturer and is very expensive.

      Electric floor heat is definitely available and fairly commonly used (particularly in kitchens and baths, and I think generally as a sort of supplementary, luxury heat source but not as a primary heat source), but to my knowledge it isn’t possible to install under hardwood flooring unless it’s a “floating” or engineered system. I’m trying not to replace the floors in this house (except probably in the bathroom) or add any additional height to the floor (thereby lowering the ceiling height), so I don’t think it’s really an option here! It does sound delightful, though. :)

      • Yeah, I forgot about your wood floors when I mentioned the underfloor heating, I am recently all excited about it because I want to use it in my bathroom so it was on my mind.
        I think old rads are much more beautiful anyway and I’m very jealous that you get to put them in. I wanted to but couldn’t justify the price. They will look amazing!

  40. I love reading this blog, because it’s often so, well, exotic! I always learn something about the US – forced air heating, steam radiators, air conditioning in private homes…

    It will probably bore you to tears, but I can’t stop myself – here in Germany the vast majority of houses are equipped with hot water radiators. The boiler is usually a gas, oil or district heating system. Electric heating is very rare since it’s pretty inefficient. I know, the French are really into electric heating, maybe because they have all that nuclear power, that needs to get used. My husband’s first flat in Berlin had an electrical storage heater. That thing was huge, ugly, noisy and just all around awful.

    Hydronic underfloor heating is still thought to be something of a luxury but it is becoming more and more standard in new housing developments. As an architect I would recommend underfloor heating, since it’s invisible, the system can be run on lower water temperatures and the heat is very pleasant. However it does take about eight extra cm of floor height, so with super low ceilings I see how that would be problem. There are hydronic systems, that work similar to hydronic underfloor heating, but can also be installed in walls and ceilings in conjunction with drywall or plaster. Although heat transmission is a bit inferior to underfloor heating. Also the heat is bit less pleasant, especially with the ceiling systems – people prefer having a cool head and warm feet to having cold feet and a hot head.

    I love it, that you think of calculating your heating needs as fun. I hated the subject in university and I’m very glad, that I haven’t had to do it in my job so far. Anyhow, if you’d like to delve into the cultural underpinnings and consequences of hot an cold air, you should absolutely read Reyner Banham’s “Architecture of the well tempered environment” (1969) and “Los Angeles – The Architecture of four ecologies” (1971).

    Thank you for all those posts recently. Keep them coming!

    • Not bored at all—that’s all very interesting! Hydronic underfloor heating sounds SO luxurious and nice…I just don’t think it’s an option here! I suppose maybe it could be for the upstairs, though, since the ceilings are open and it can be installed under the subfloor. I wonder how it would interface with cast iron radiators on the first floor…maybe two separate systems or something? Hmmmm. Perhaps something to talk to my plumber about. It seems pretty DIY-able, too…

  41. While I do agree that big fancy radiators are cool-looking, I’m going to stick up for baseboard hot water radiators in one regard: they allow for more furniture placement options. I grew up with baseboard hot water, and could arrange my bedroom furniture to my heart’s desire. But when I moved to upstate NY and stayed in a series of tiny apartments with giant radiators beneath every window, I was stymied at every turn. So, you know, there’s that!

    • It’s interesting that you say that, Jacqui! I always feel like baseboard radiators are much MORE in the way because you don’t want to be putting furniture right up against them, so they seem much more restrictive to me!

  42. Firstly I think this is a brilliant idea. Secondly, have you thought about going to Build It Green? I bet they have salvaged radiators at not-too-bad prices. I could scope out the brooklyn one tomorrow and report back if you like, I’m going to be in the area.

    • Thank you, that’s a very kind offer! I think I can probably find everything I need up here (and I can’t imagine prices would be higher than in NYC!) but it’s certainly an option if I need it! That place is fun. :)

  43. I think you are making the right decision. Baseboard heat which we have in our 1925 fisher and cottage in Greenport is not charming but is expensive!

    Radiators have a lot of old house charm.

    FYI Build It a Green in Queens had a pile of them last time I was there.

    Good luck! I am so enjoying your posts.

  44. DH says that radiant floor heating is actually an old thing here in the US–the problem was that in the old Eichler homes (I love Eichler homes for the way they work, but there were construction issues), the slabs were made thinner and so they moved/settled quite a bit and the tubing would crack. If the tubing was steel rather than copper, it couldn’t be repaired and just had to be ripped out. To repair leaks (if you can repair them) in a slab, the leak has to be located and then the floor has to come up (the concrete has to be dug up and then re-poured). So, radiant floor heating got a really bad name here in the US for slab foundations.

    These days, radiant heating is done with wire (for small areas) or with Pex and hot water–and it’s quite a bit simpler to do with the newer materials. It’s an idea that was ahead of the available materials in the 50s and 60s, so this may be why it is taking longer to catch back on here. It might be worth looking into, but I think that you are probably right that the low ceiling height would preclude it.

    • Wow, you learn something new everyday! That’s really fascinating. I had no idea radiant floor heat had such a long history here. It’s amazing how long it can take a technology like that to recover from a bad reputation…it seems like such a recent phenomenon that people are even talking about radiant!

      I think radiant would be pretty much impossible on the first floor, but it may be an option for the second! Looks like a standard installation is below the subfloor, which I think is actually an option here—there is no subfloor under the 3/4″ tongue-and-groove flooring so I’d imagine it would be pretty effective…

  45. We have a spare radiator sitting on our deck covered. We removed it in our renovation. It used to heat our dining room. You can have it for free. I can send pictures and measurements if you are interested.

    • That’s very nice of you to offer, Diana! Where are you located? I’d definitely be interested…nothing beats free!!

      • We live just 30 minutes north of NYC in Westchester. I can send you an email with full details tomorrow. I’ll measure the radiator and send you the info as well.

  46. What is this wonderful world where you post like every week? It’s feeding my addiction to projects in my house. This is dangerous.

    Seriously though, I love how you jump into things you’ve never done and figure them out. It’s really a confidence booster to realize there’s gotta be a first time for everything, and welp, now it’s time to figure out radiators. (Or in my case, ductwork. Turns out it can be built from sheet metal!) Thanks for showing us it can be done.

  47. I know you are settled on rads, but Ana White has a great tutorial on in floor heating if you google it. It’s definitely something you could do. She says it’s super efficient for her Alaskan winters.

    • Thanks, Megan! I looked it up…definitely super cool! It wouldn’t be possible to do that type of system on the first floor of this house, but it may be an option for the second. I’m definitely curious about it and wondering how the cost would compare…

  48. I now officially love you. Baseboard radiators are evil. Cast iron is good. And now I know this can be done. Love.

  49. I love old radiators, we are buying new ones, old style, for the bedroom. We are looking for an unusual size so we have to get new ones, these are the classic swedish look for radiators =) http://lenhovdaradiatorfabrik.se/referens/naturhistoriska/
    For heating, I would go with air-source heat pumps, one outdoor unit and two indoor ones on each floor.
    http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/ductless-mini-split-heat-pumps

    Even if you ad regular radiators they will greatly reduce the energy bill. Of course that may not be the first thing on the list when selling a house, buyers often ignore the costs of heating. but from an environmental perspective it is good to reduce use of fossile fuels.

    High on my wishlist is a geothermal and subfloor heating. So neat to drill a hole in the ground and pic up heat, and cooling as well. http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/geothermal-heat-pumps
    the investment for that is around 18,000usd so pretty expensive, usually the break even is 10 years, but sooner for less insulated homes.

    • SIGHHHH…WHY is everything SO BEAUTIFUL in Sweden? Just give me 7 of those radiators and I’d be done! :)

      Geothermal heat pumps are so cool. It’s like science fiction! I think that’s just way too large of an investment to put into this house, but I’m interested to see how that technology catches on over the next several years.

    • Notice the Swedish rads have a middle support leg. Smart.

      In a radiator with a lot of sections, leaks can develop mid-span, in the crease where sections meet at the bottom, from the sheer weight. (If this happens, high temperature plumbers “stretch wrap”, wound around that crease several times and tightened with a strap clamp, should solve it.)

  50. Once again, you made my day! I love radiators. I also love plumbers. Brainstorming with plumbers about radiators? In the cold with Newports for breakfast? Now you’re just showing off. I fully support your plan, and expect nothing less than greatness from you. I will ignore that you even considered a different heat source, . Growing up in Chicago and now in NYC, we have always had old school radiators, and plumbers on call, and would not have it any other way. Nothing beats the comfort of the noise, smell, look and feel of a radiator… Even if it’s not working. Or about to sink through the floor. Our current plumbers are quality west village plumbers, with decades of experience with our cheap landlord, and are regulars at our place. We all agree our old building would be amazing with some proper attention (and money), but know it’s not going to happen. So instead, our routine is warm greetings and a how’s business and family, as we go to the radiator. Cold radiator? Must be the valve. Valve type is very important. The correct valve is whatever is in the truck. Radiator tilting into a floor that is desperate for repair? No problem. An unruffled mumble of “this can’t be safe”, some quick heavy lifting for 1″ tiles to go under a leg, and done. Still cold? Floor dipping even more? Time to bleed the radiator. As the old rad releases steam, I know the rad will live another day. This is when we say goodbye. I head to work and the plumbers to the truck for more tiles and a new valve.

    • Aw, don’t you just love the radiator situation in NYC apartments? There always seems to be something wrong with them. I love looking at the “creative” fixes at friends’ apartments…people come up with some crazy ideas for making those suckers operable!

  51. I think you should really consider underfloor heating, it works so well here in the UK and can absolutely be a primary heat source in a small space where every inch of floor space is precious. It isn’t even that expensive anymore and can easily be done yourself as you have a shell to work with!

    • Thanks, Arianna! A bunch of people are bringing this up. It’s not an option for the first floor but I’m going to look into whether it would be a good option for the second floor. It does sound incredibly nice!

  52. One little note – make sure to have the radiators checked – especially the bottoms, and double especially if they have a lot of paint on them. I got one to put in a previously unheated sleeping porch – a lovely long lowish one that could function as heated seating (ahh, butt-warmer, kitty bed…visions dancing in my head). Had the pipes put in. After many hours of scraping and sanding old paint I discovered that the old paint was all that was keeping it from leaking. It had rusted through several seams on the bottom. Had to get another one on short notice. No bench, didn’t fit the piping put in for the bench version….*sigh*
    But it’s still pretty and gives off wonderful heat.

    • Oh, what a bummer! I’ll definitely have the plumber pressure test them prior to running the pipes and installing. I’m trying to limit the search to radiators in good condition…I really don’t want to be stripping paint or sandblasting or dipping or whatever for this. Just a quick paint job, maybe a few pieces of new hardware, and install—that’s the goal!

  53. Would you believe that I just made the suggestion to Wendy that I wanted to use some salvaged cast iron radiators in our house? Seriously, I made this very suggestion on the phone this morning. A few seconds later I was yelled yet, cursed at, and ultimately hung up on. So weird.

  54. We had hot water radiator heat in our first two homes and miss it so much now! Of course, the worst heating system was the electric heat pump in the one modern home we’ve ever owned. Good for you for sticking with the vision..I fear I would have lost it once I learned MATH was involved!

  55. Daniel, thank you! We just bought a c. 1895 house, and we have putty colored, half-enamel painted (pink purple, and lime green), wall-mounted baseboard heaters that someone installed as an update many, many years ago. We were trying to find out about installing cast iron radiators again, because they were obviously original and removed during the swap to baseboards. They are so charming and work so nicely. This information is just what we needed to start the process. Thank you so much for posting about this. : )

  56. There’s no reason to box in a duct with drywall etc, if it’s a beautiful modern circular cross-section duct, painted white, subtle and simple and holding its own against the twee cottage scale.

  57. Wow that’s way more complicated than I would have ever imagined!

  58. You’ve got me excited about the cheapness of old radiators! I priced out a new one for a cold room in our house, but it was way out of our range.

  59. I have a feeling you already know about the treasure trove you have in Kingston…but just in case you don’t – have you tried Zaborskis? It’s been a while since I’ve been there but I remember many crowded floors of furniture, bathtubs and sinks, doorknobs, hardware, and radiators. Not sure what their prices are like but they seem to be the place to go when you need or want something for an old house.

  60. Honestly. Men and their plumbing . . .

  61. Dear Daniel,

    We’ve lived with forced air for many years. It is noisy and spreads allergens and dust. Any kind of radiator is better.

  62. Daniel, I just found your blog via both Pinterest (your mind blowing kitchen before and afters) as well as from the recent mention on chrislovesjulia. (I was hooked on your writing after seeing the link from them, and totally didn’t notice it was YOUR kitchen I was drooling over just the day before until I pulled it up again and noticed the name of the blog. Just found it a surprising and entertaining coincidence.) Anyway, I don’t usually comment much on blogs I read, but I just had to tell you how much I am loving reading all your entries. We bought a fixer-upper 1960’s colonial about a year ago, and not that our houses are similar in style at all, but even still, I am loving reading your thought processes on everything your doing, because I feel like I think in the same mental streams on all my choices. My husband was just telling me, “I don’t think anyone thinks as hard about design stuff as you.” Which I told him is not true, there are people who think this hard, they just usually get paid to. lol. But It’s cracking me up, and comforting me, all at the same time to read your thought process on stuff because I feel like I found my brain twin. (Although a quick peak at my blog should likely prove nothing of the kind….we are expecting our 3rd baby, and this baby has been kicking my tail, so I haven’t done much house stuff. And my blog pretty much reflects that. But I have been pondering ENDLESSLY about my house, while I’ve been stuck sick on my couch. So yeah… lol.) Anyway, it’s been great finding a brain buddy on here. :) I look forward to seeing all you do (and hearing how you thought it into being!)

  63. especially nice writing in this story. good luck.

  64. Hi Daniel, There are three problems with radiators/old radiators, in my books.
    1. they often leak at the connection between the pipe and the radiator
    2. if you plan to turn off the system in the winter, you’ll need to fill them with a mix of water and antifreeze and this reduces heat efficiency and corrodes the piping
    3. not so easy to zone.
    In my new/old farmhouse, I’m going to put in electric baseboards, although I will allow for the possibility of forced air downstairs in the future. Upstairs will only be electric baseboard, with thermostats in each room. the advantages:
    1. running cost for electric and oil is now relatively comparable. and
    2. when repair costs are factored in, electric is much cheaper and
    3. zoning is much more accurate, you can turn electric on or off room by room.
    So my advice: electric upstairs and downstairs, forced air downstairs if you choose. The one nice thing about forced air is that it heats the house up quickly.

  65. I just finished binge reading your blog. You are brilliant. Can’t wait until you have your own HGTV show!

  66. Your take on baseboard is spot on. I hate it too, but I hate inefficient ductwork even more. As you get deeper into the subculture of HVAC you will find plumber geeks that get unnaturally excited about ways of moving water to heat things.The field is sometimes called hydronics. Your appreciation of cast iron is shared by many a crotchety plumber.

    Of course you want to take sizing into consideration but sizing is considerably simplified using something called a thermal radiator valve, its a valve that connects to the inlet of the radiator and reacts to changes in the surrounding air temperature, essentially making each radiator into it’s own zoned heat emitter. Please don’t be a “dick” and tell me you don’t like how they look…I think they look great. There are even versions of these valves available that are equipped to converting one pipe steam radiators to two pipe hot water.
    So if you find an absolutly amazing steam radiator there is still hope.

    Keep these points in mind-

    -No series piping (from one radiator to another) Regardless of if you use TRV valves or not you want to avoid series piping with high mass emitters like this. Old school Monoflow t’s are one option, home run to manifold is another.

    – Build your system based on a efficient modulating condensing gas boiler (I’m a viessmann fan). Check out the Viessmann F-222, for an very cool integrated tank design. Your going to be burning frack gas, it’s a bargain, but do you should do your part to limit it’s use by investing in good clean burning equipment. Central Hudson will reward you with $700 for this decision (available through a CH trade ally)

    -Constant circulation and Outdoor reset. Circulating water is kept just as hot as it needs to be (based on an outdoor sensor) so it flows through the radiators nearly continuously (when its cold) , The radiator valves provide room by room zoning and balancing, but heat is almost always some heat coming from the radiators, they don’t turn on and off like a conventional system. This control strategy can be applied to other heating systems, it even helps lowly baseboard, make less noise and deliver heat more evenly.

    -You can always hook CI radiators with traditional thermostats and fixed temperature boilers and they work well provide they are piped intelligently, but when you size old CI generously and pair this with the controls found on a modern condensing boiler, then add TRV valves….this is a truly amazing heating system.

    • Wow, thank you, Scott! I’m really interested in the thermal radiator valves. I only just learned that they even existed! Do you have a particular type that you recommend? The radiators I’m buying will likely all need to be re-fitted with new valves, so I’m intrigued by the option of installing these. It does seem smart and like a good way to improve upon radiator heating…

      I’ll keep those points in mind, although I’ll admit some of this is more technical than I really understand! I will ask my plumber about all of it, though. I appreciate your expertise! Thank you!

  67. Looks like you’re going local on the radiators (good call!), but if you get stuck and/or if you’re ever in VA, Richmond has several mind-blowing architectural salvage places you may want to check out…Caravati’s http://www.caravatis.com/ and Governor’s Antiques http://governorsantiques.com/ Good luck on the radiator hunt!

  68. Hot water radiators are a great choice. I’ve had all the various systems you mention above and hot water radiators are my favorite (radiant floor heat is also great, but not appropriate for wood floors because they don’t conduct). Also electric heat can be really expensive, at least in the U.S., and baseboard heaters can be inefficient.

  69. Ugh. Just…ugh. That sounds way too much like problems from a math class. The only thing I can say is, I’m glad it’s you and not me!

  70. Hokay, So… check this out.
    I really think that this is a possibility for the cottage since you have everything open and you have points of the house where there is not a basement under.

  71. I never heard of baseboard radiators before, but after googling them I agree that they look horrendous! I can see why you’d want to go for old cast-iron radiators, it would be my choice as well (well, only if underfloor heating isn’t an option, which would be my first choice if the floor has been replaced, which I don’t think you did, did you?).

    We’ll be keeping our cast iron radiators too, just need to still figure out how to paint them when time comes…

  72. So? What’s up the radiators? We’re dying out here!

  73. Just in case anyone who has participated in this conversation is looking I have 9 Ornate Victorian radiators for sale in Toronto for an exceptional price !! As well as a cast iron fireplace insert and wood mantel.
    Just thought I would throw that on the blog bc I’d like to see them go to a place where their history will be appreciated.
    Doing demolition of the house in the next two weeks….please contact me for pictures or info.
    jordanaricketts@hotmail.com

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