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Vintage Cast Iron Radiators: Classic, Efficient and Beautiful

10/8/2013 11:02:00 AM

Tags: radiant hydronic heating, Steve Maxwell, Ontario, Canada

cast iron radiatorUntil the early 1950’s, hot water heating was considered the best way to keep warm in winter.  Although people forgot this for a while as forced air systems took over after WWII, good ideas always rise to the top again.  That’s why hot water heating is gaining popularity as a heat delivery option. What you might not realize is that there’s more to choose from than just radiant in-floor hydronic heating. 

I’ve always loved the look of classic, ornate, cast-iron radiators, but what I didn’t understand until a few years ago was how efficient they are. Efficient and green. That’s why I installed 11 reclaimed and refurbished cast iron rads in my home last fall, and I’m delighted with how well they work.

Today, you have the option of buying new, reproduction iron radiators, but in my opinion, the old models are the best.  What’s to improve? Rarely does internal rust pose a problem, and the metal used is thick, durable, and quite pleasing to the eye. I consider cast iron rads as art that also delivers comfort and warmth.

Heat transfer numbers show how efficiently cast iron rads transmit energy to a room, and rads get the job done with minimal input of resources.  As you can imagine, there are no shortage of old rads to be refurbished in the world. The metal is already mined, smelted, cast, and ready to use.  The problem is a lack of people that know how to refurbish rads properly, and my quest eventually led me to a man named Pierre Lemieux. testing pressure

Lemieux is a stickler for detail, and he refurbished and installed his first set of iron rads in 1978 in his own mechanical shop.  Since then he’s assembled a small crew (www.ecorad.ca) that refurbishes antique rads in existing installations, and also intercepts rads headed for the scrap furnace from demolition sites in Montreal, Quebec, New York, Detroit, and other cities.  Lemieux has refined the art of refurbishing rads well beyond the somewhat destructive process of sand blasting, and the results are visually and technically stunning. 

The main innovation is his use of a gentle water blast is used to remove old paint.  This method doesn’t degrade the patina and textures of the metal like sandblasting does. The rads in my home are connected to my outdoor wood boiler, and the combination works exceptionally well.   See for yourself by checking out the video tour of my iron radiators.

Steve Maxwell lives in a stone and timber home he built on Manitoulin Island, Canada. Strange as it sounds, he’s looking forward to colder days, a fire in the boiler and some nice warm radiators.


Contributing Editor Steve Maxwell has been helping people renovate, build and maintain their homes for more than two decades. “Canada’s Handiest Man” is an award-winning home improvement authority and woodworking expert. Contact him by visiting his website and the blog, Maxwell’s House. You also can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook and find him on . 



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