Furnishing

A new look for ugly radiators

Sira Huwiler-Flamm

Radiators often look unsightly, especially the older models. You can hide the metal boxes behind cladding – or replace them with designer models. An expert provides tips.

An old radiator is hidden behind cladding with a pattern of holes on it.
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In this article

Function versus appearance

Yellowed cast-iron dust traps still hang in many Swiss homes today – yet there are numerous ways to give old radiators a makeover: you can either hide them behind cladding or replace them with modern alternatives. “The attractiveness of radiators is a concern for many homeowners,” explains Robert Diana, head of the heating division at the Swiss-Liechtenstein building services association suisstec. But there are a few things to keep in mind in order to ensure energy efficiency.

Radiator cladding: the important points

Radiator cladding is a popular method for hiding a radiator. Skilled amateur handymen can use wood or metal, wickerwork or expanded metal mesh to create a covering for an unsightly radiator in a room. Everything is possible, from whitewashed models in a romantic country house style to rough metal or patina finish versions with an industrial look.

An old radiator is concealed behind a wooden wall with grooves in it. A table can be seen in front of it, with a heavy curtain next to it.

Whether wood or metal – both materials are suitable for radiator cladding. It’s important to have holes or grooves so that air can circulate.

But watch out: “The casing must always have holes or grooves in it, and certain minimum distances must be maintained at the bottom, top and sides to ensure air circulation,” says the heating expert. An air supply must also be guaranteed around the thermostatic valve so that trapped heat doesn’t accumulate and the temperature measurement remains accurate. He advises consulting the technical documentation provided by the radiator manufacturer: “Most manufacturers offer specific information on minimum distances and heat loss when applying cladding – often even including illustrations.”

In new buildings, casings should be planned directly as part of the interior finishings. According to the expert, retrofitting is possible in existing buildings, but somewhat more difficult: “Not all radiators are equally suitable for cladding. Convectors need even more space for air to circulate, for instance,” says Robert Diana. “If in doubt, it’s best to obtain advice from heating specialists – they know what is particularly important for each type of radiator and can take charge of the planning and cladding.”

Whether you cover an ugly radiator with metal or wood: “A certain loss in efficiency is bound to occur,” explains the expert. Therefore, suisstec recommends considering new radiator alternatives instead: “In the long term, a new purchase may actually be less expensive.”

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Invisible heating: what the market has to offer

Underfloor heating systems have become more and more popular in recent years, especially in new buildings. “They have the advantages of being invisible and saving space,” Diana says. “Plus they’re extremely energy efficient because they distribute heat evenly throughout the room.” But construction costs are high for conversion projects that involve tearing up entire floors and installing hot water pipes.

Thermal walls are an almost equally invisible alternative. And just like a rustic tiled stove from the olden days, this type of flat heater mounted on the wall emits pleasant long-wave heat radiation into the room. If you want to warm yourself up in the cold season, you can snuggle up close to it – and remember the warmth from grandmother’s tiled stove in your childhood.

Modern design radiators: anything is possible

“Anyone who doesn’t have to be overly careful about their budget can find almost limitless options these days,” the expert indicates. From heaters concealed in stair railings to designer radiators that set the visual tone of the room like artistic sculptures.

Aesthetics enthusiasts, design lovers and hip architects are increasingly opting for versatile options that no-one could possibly refer to as ugly dust collectors anymore. Opulent wall mirrors, large murals and free-standing columns suddenly become hidden sources of heat – and extravagant eye-catching features.

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Conclusion: possibilities for every wallet

A comfortable feeling of warmth is especially important in the cold season. But old radiators are not always visually appealing. The good news is that ugly radiators no longer have to be tolerated. With skill and expertise, they can be either individually clad or replaced with new alternatives – there are many different possibilities that offer something to suit every style of interior design.

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