In praise of radiators

Aestus Versailles radiator

Just try to tell me you wouldn’t want this beautiful radiator in your home! And while it looks old, it’s actually brand new; it’s made by a British company called Aestus (aestus.co.uk).

I’ve been thinking about home heating a lot lately. I suppose it’s something you do when you live in a house built in 1888 and insulated (well, sort of) with – wait for it – sawdust. And when the temperature outside is -27C when you get up in the morning (or more precisely, when your early-rising husband does). And when the accompanying wind can be felt coming in under and around the front door. And when you realize how cold the stuff that you’ve parked against an exterior wall is.

And most especially when you look at the cost of getting the tank for your oil-fired furnace filled up. All too frequently.

Now, one fairly quick fix for all this is to get a wood-burning stove to heat the most-lived-in sections of the Manse. That’s something I’ve written about in previous posts, like here, where I rambled on about whether an old-fashioned style or a sleek modern Euopean stove would be right for this house. Well over a year after I wrote that post I still haven’t decided, and it’s an academic question anyway because Raymond and I really can’t think about putting in a wood stove until we have a sense of what we want the final layout of the house to be, and hence where the wood stove should go. Given the building-code and fire-code and insurance requirements for installation of a wood-burning stove, you really want to put it in the right place the first time. Moving chimneys is no small matter.

radiator

One of the radiators in our Montreal home. I never knew how much I appreciated radiator heating until I moved to a house without it. That would be the Manse.

But in the meantime, as I sit here in my rather drafty Manse, I have come to appreciate the beauty and efficiency of radiators. Yes, I do mean those old iron things – though these days they can be in much lighter metals. Why have I become such a fan of radiators? Well, several reasons; but first among them is the fact that they give off a constant gentle heat. Our Montreal home had a natural-gas-powered furnace that heats water that in turn heats the building through a series of radiators that must be original to the building. It’s old-fashioned technology that works absolutely perfectly in 2013. And I just took it for granted – until we acquired the Manse, which gets quite toasty when the oil-fired furnace kicks in, but then gets drafty again when the furnace kicks out. That constant gentle heat from a series of radiators is looking pretty good on this particular winter night in Queensborough.

Now, I don’t know too many people who’ve included installation of radiators as part of their home renovation, but I think it would be a cool thing to do. We could go for the old-fashioned look; see the photo of the Versailles model made by a U.K. company called Aestus at the top of this post – and here’s another view of that gorgeous model:

But that company also makes very modern radiators. Take a look at this one, called the Squeeze, artist-designed in stainless steel:

And then there’s something in-between, a radiator that looks not unlike the c. 1920 ones we had in Montreal but that is brand new:

So yeah, radiators: I think they’re the berries, to use a funky old phrase that I heard (for the first time in decades) the other day. The way I see it there’s only one down side to them: any wall space taken up with radiators is wall space that can’t be used for bookshelves. And have I mentioned that Raymond and I have (ahem) quite a few books?

5 thoughts on “In praise of radiators

  1. Katherine, we should talk. I’ve been doing quite a bit of research on radiator installation for our new (old) farmhouse renovation next door. I’d like an old cookstove in the kitchen, but couldn’t decide how to heat the rest of the house. I had radiators in my downtown studio, many years ago, and loved them. This past Spring, I finally found a company in Quebec that restores old radiators. They will restore your radiators if you already have them, or you can buy from their inventory. They can modify them to run like a base-board heater if you don’t want the ‘boiler in the basement’ option. We’re still trying to decide which version we want. Installation of the electric versions would cost less, but the monthly electric bill could be crippling. The installation cost for a new boiler is steep, and you still need a fuel source, wood/oil/propane. Email me, I’ll dig up the links to the videos and website if you are interested. ~ Jenn

    • Jenn, that is fantastic! So my idea of installing old-fashioned radiators is not so far-fetched after all, it seems – yay! I will email you right away, and would love to see those links. Thank you so much for the encouragement and information!

  2. Radiators are the third best home heating solution.
    Don’t roll your eyes.
    Number one is a wood burning fireplace or wood stove but in most cases they are only good for supplemental heating.
    Number two is hydronic in floor heating, which basically turns your floors into a radiator – not a realistic option for you.
    Old style radiators are great because there is no moving air. Moving air makes you feel cooler so you bump up the thermostat to compensate. Not having duct work is a huge benefit in an old house retrofit. I know running plumbing upstairs is causing you conniptions and duct work is way more challenging. Rads use flexible tubing that causes minimal installation issues. Newer systems can run off of oil or propane/natural gas.
    They can be “hidden” baseboard rads which free up bookshelf space or old school cast iron monsters or a combination.
    Still doesn’t solve your insulation issues.

    • Brad, that is awesome! We will very definitely be picking your brain about this. Maybe we could pop over to Harrowsmith to see your setup in the new year? It would be lovely to see the work that you and Christina have done on your own heritage-house project. And it is just so encouraging to think that this radiator idea has real potential!

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