Upcycling Flat Panel Radiators

Kirsty Allsop’s upcycling program ‘Fill Your House For Free’ has finally found a use for old, corrugated flat panel radiators. It may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but a coffee table made out of an old flat panel radiator, appeared to be a hit. And anything other than scrapping, must be good…

Max McMurdo is the shows upcycling Designer, he’s made chairs out of old baths and shopping trolleys, so a flat panel radiator coffee table doesn’t exactly stand out. I was struck how simple a lot of the ideas were and could imagine the cynical saying ‘I could do that’, but as we all have seen before – they don’t, do they?

The radiator was leaning against the skip, as he was entering the property that was being ‘upcycled’. But Max didn’t see an old radiator waiting to be scrapped, he saw a substantial piece of kit that could be used and used in an interesting way.

It was painted by hand using paint sourced on Freecycle, given a glass top, which I presume was only cost and the legs were made from recycled copper plumbing pipes. And the person it was for was more than happy. While I did like it and thought the show contained a lot of very good ideas, I was a little concerned about the longevity of the piece and what would happen to people’s shins.

However you can’t fault Kirsty’s creativity and energy, and when you are replacing those old corrugated flat panel radiators don’t throw them in the skip; recycle, upcycle or just think what is possible with old radiators.

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Steel Column Radiators – Can They Replace Cast Iron Radiators?

Cast iron radiators are still extremely popular in older homes all around the UK. Replacing ancient cast iron radiators can be a straight swop with the huge range of new cast iron available. If a change of style is wanted, perhaps a modern steel multi column radiators could be the answer.

Interestingly enough, cast iron does have some advantages for an old piece of kit. It takes a little longer to heat but retains its heat for longer. However a modern steel multi column radiator can provide a higher output than cast iron. It also has the same sectional design, giving huge variations in depth, width and height.  Steel column raditaors start at a height of 220mm going all the way up to 3000mm, with the number of columns in each section ranging from two to six.

As the size of the radiator determines how much heat output is generated, multi column radiators give the option of the size being tall and skinny or short and stout. And by offering domestic and commercial clients both horizontal and vertical versions, multi column radiators are the most flexible design available in the radiator market today.

After finding out what heat output is required for the area and what space is available for the radiator, choosing the correct size is very easy with a multi column radiator. With its simple and sleek lines, it can sit within a traditional design or something much more contemporary.

As with cast iron, they can be wall mounted or have integral feet and can be easily painted any colour available. In addition, these designer radiators can be bought at an affordable price compared to some traditional cast iron radiators.

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Aluminium Radiators – Green, Affordable and very efficient…

Eco-Friendly Aluminium RadiatorsAluminium is the most abundant metal on Earth, it makes up about 8% of the earths solid surface and is remarkable for it’s low density and resistance to corrosion. Although the Greeks and Romans used aluminium salts, it wasn’t until the Hall-Heroult process in the late 1880’s that an effective way to extract aluminium from it’s elemental state became available. Prior to this aluminium cost so much to produce that it was more expensive than gold. As the Hall-Heroult process was improved, in combination with electric power, it became the inexpensive commodity it is today. These improvements and the lowering of price, made it possible to make lots of aluminium products. Prior to the developments above and being aluminium produced on a mass scale, traditional radiators had only been manufactured from cast iron.

One of the key issues with the use of cast iron for radiators is the heavy weight of the metal and the large amount of time it took to heat up and radiate substantial heat. Aluminium on the other hand is a very lightweight material that can be reshaped and manipulated without compromising its considerable strength. Therefore, an Aluminium radiators is much easier to manufacture, transport and install, making it a cheaper option than steel and cast iron from start to finish.

However, the overriding benefit of aluminium is it is an excellent thermal conductor and has the ability to heat up very quickly and requires less energy to heat up. These properties lend themselves perfectly to radiators, meaning you don’t have to switch it on a long time before it has an effect on the temperature of a room. This avoids the wasted energy of heating an unoccupied room and, in turn, results in less expenditure on water, gas and electricity. And the BTU or Wattage output of an aluminium radiator is generally higher than an iron and steel radiator of similar dimensions. Because aluminium radiators are so quick at getting to the desired temperature, it makes them very suitable for areas of a house that are only used occasionally such as an attic or a conservatory.

Aluminium radiators are also considered very environmentally friendly and not only because of the lower heating bills it generates. Aluminium is comparatively cheap and easy to recycle and more and more countries across the world are putting systems in place to get scrap aluminium from the home to recycling plants. Many of the aluminium radiators on the market today are manufactured from recycled aluminium, which spares the Earth’s crust from being plundered for more metal as well as the large financial cost of extracting new aluminium from the ground. Once aluminium radiators have served their purpose, they can easily be melted down and go back into the process to be used for something else at relatively little expense.

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Bleeding Radiators

Managing your heating system and keeping it at maximum efficiency requires a simple but effective process… You just need to bleed your radiators on a regular basis. This is far easier than it sounds, all you require is a radiator key and a small container for water.

Sometimes the bottom portion of your radiator is warm while the top portion is cold or circulation around system is inconsistent. One likely explanation is air trapped inside one of your radiators and this prevents it from working properly. It could have a knock on effect and disrupt the whole system. Primarily the trapped air, whether partial or complete, stops the radiator heating up and doesn’t produce the required output.

To start with the central heating system must be turned off. You’ll need to have a bleed key to bleed a radiator (these can be obtained from Simply Radiators). Generally the bleed valve or vent is positioned at the top of the radiator and has a little square screw. Insert the bleed key into the bleed valve and turn it counter clockwise. Don’t turn it too much; a half a turn is usually enough.

As you turn the radiator key, the valve will open and you will hear a hissing sound. This is completely normal and is simply caused by the air escaping. Once water begins to leak out of the radiator, it is time to close the valve. To do so, turn the bleed key clockwise for half a turn. You can then move on to the next radiator that needs to be bled before turning your central heating radiator system back on.

When you bleed a radiator, keep a container and rag handy to catch the water that drips down. If you have a sealed heating system, be sure to do a pressure check and add water if needed. Once you’ve done so, you are finished and may turn your heating system back on. Store your bleed key until the next time you need it.

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Cast Iron Radiators – Are They as Efficient as Modern Radiators?

They work on exactly the same principle as modern radiators. The only difference is that cast iron radiators usually have a larger internal volume, so they take a few more minutes to warm up. This also means that they stay warm well after the boiler has been turned off.

While a cast iron radiator takes longer to heat up than a flat panel radiator, it also takes longer to cool down. The efficiencies of both types of radiator are approximately equivalent.

The best efficiency savings are not to be made through the type of radiator, rather through a highly efficient boiler, thermostatic radiator valves, clever use of insulation and by turning off radiators in rooms that are not used.

Water has a high specific heat capacity, and that is one of the reasons why island nations such as Britain enjoy milder winters than continental countries – oceans are better at holding heat than land.

All the energy spent heating the cast iron radiator in the first place is now dissipated slowly as the radiator cools down; no energy is destroyed, it’s just dissipated slowly with a radiator that continues to heat the room well after the boiler has been turned off.

By localising temperature control to the environment of each radiator, thermostatic radiator valves help to eliminate wasteful heating and can help regulate the temperature throughout a house by allowing cool rooms to heat for longer than a well-insulated room or one where there are other heat sources contributing to the ambient temperature other than the radiator.

So in conclusion, the best efficiency savings are not to be made through the type of radiator, rather through a highly efficient boiler, thermostatic radiator valves (TRV), clever use of insulation and by turning off radiators in rooms that are not used.

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Hudevad Radiators


The current Hudevad Radiator Factory was established in 1936 , but its history goes back even further, to 1872 and Hudevad Smithy, which has now been converted into a museum. The driving force behind Hudevad was Hans Rasmussen, an industrious metalworker who had spent the previous few years designing central heating boilers and radiators. Persistent inventiveness, initiative and flexibility were therefore a few of the core values on which Hans Rasmussen built HUDEVAD.

From functionality to elegant design
Production of cast iron radiators declined in the 1930s due to increased duties on cast iron. Instead, cheaper production of pressed steel radiators gradually took over. The first craftsman-made radiators from 1929 were thus quickly replaced by column radiators, welded from pressed steel sheet.

HUDEVAD began its production of PLAN radiators in 1938.  And thanks to its simple, elegant design, this pressed steel radiator quickly became popular and by the 1960s PLAN was HUDEVAD’s main product.

Customised craftsmanship
Up through the 70s, 80s and 90s, HUDEVAD became known for its customised radiator solutions and high-quality products. It was no longer necessary to hide radiators behind screens. Instead, they became an architectonic part of the room.

During the 1970s, HUDEVAD Radiatorfabrik A/S had more than 300 employees, branches in Rudkøbing and Struer, and sales companies in Germany, the UK, Belgium, France and Canada. The Rasmussen family led HUDEVAD faithfully and proudly through four generations – transforming it from a craftsman’s workshop into an industrial enterprise and taking the world by storm.

Today, HUDEVAD radiators can be seen all over the world, for example in the Eiffel Tower Restaurant and the Copenhagen Opera House. And despite the developments and upheavals of history, the HUDEVAD brand has been retained, along with its strong values and proud traditions.

Short facts

  • 140 employees
  • Head quarters and production facilities in Denmark’s oldest town, Ribe
  • Branch (Hudevad Britain) in Coventry, England
  • Main core business area – supply of designer radiators in close cooperation with building owners, architects and consulting engineers
  • Customer support and after sales service teams available for each market
  • Primary markets – Denmark, Norway, Sweden, England, Germany, France, Holland and Belgium

Hudevad is one of Europe’s leading brands when it comes to the development and production of innovative radiators that integrate with any architectural style.  Hudevad is owned by Ribe Jernindustri A/S. Ribe Jernindustri A/S was founded in 1848 as an iron foundry.  Since 1973 the company has manufactured pressed steel radiators, convectors and other accessories under the RIOpanel brand.  Due to innovative thinking and stringent quality control Ribe Jernindustri A/S is now at the forefront of heat emitter design.



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The Flat Panel Radiator

If we put to one side designer radiators and towel warmers that come in all sorts of varying shapes and sizes, we are left with a few standard radiators. However generally the most common type of radiator, whether in a domestic or commercial setting, is the typical flat paneled one; white with a corrugated or flat front.

Within this style there are a number of variants – single panel radiators/double panel radiators/triple panel radiators and equal variations with convector fins. The panel is also known as a ‘tank’. When these tanks that are filled with water and the water is heated, they emit heat which in turn warms your room. The more surface area there is for the radiator, the greater the output. Therefore, a  central heating radiator with a double panel of the same dimensions as a single panel radiator will give off more heat, as the total surface area is greater. (Heat output is measured in British Thermal Units – BTUs – or Watts)

Before we understood the basics of radiation and convection, you probably ended up with under performing radiators. It was then discovered that more surface area would increase heat output and so the multiple panel radiator was born. Since then radiator design has seen the introduction of a new radiator component called ‘convector fins.’

Convector fins are the folded metal strips that you may have seen at the back of panel radiators. The convector fins are connected to the panel or panels and are heated up by the water inside, thus increasing convection.

Within this framework, flat panel radiators can give a huge variety of sizes and outputs. Add to this the relative cost of production, storage and transportation; should it be a surprise that they are so ubiquitous?

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Why are Radiators not called Convectors

Admittedly the question of derivation of a term like ‘Radiator’ might not arise outside our industry, but it is still incorrect. They do not radiate much, but convect quite a lot. The vast majority of radiators, irrespective of design, material or production, produce around 80% of their heat via convection and only 20% is emitted through radiation.

Radiators are heated by hot water and they in turn heat the air around the radiator, that movement of heat creates circulation, which in turn heats the area involved; this is the process of convection not radiation. And in brief ‘radiation’ is the emission of energy by one body, transmitted through an intervening medium and absorbed by another body.

They could be called anything really but the use of the term radiators is fairly specific, if incorrect. In the states they call them heaters, which is accurate if not specific. Clearly this is a moot point but to a physicist this is wrong nonetheless.

We use the terms like horizontal and vertical radiators, as opposed to calling them portrait or landscape. Why ‘Cast Iron radiators’ not called the ‘Victorian Design’ or ‘The Galli’ after one of its originators, I don’t know?  Multi column radiators or trench heaters are accurate descriptions of their design, yet we are left with the core product of our business being called something pretty illogical.

Maybe we can think again, maybe we could call them ‘Heat Distributors’. Or maybe I’ll stick to ‘Radiator’ and forget about some nineteenth century inaccuracy.

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Radiators – A Potted History

One hundred and fifty years old and there is still some debate as to who actually invented the radiator. On the other side of the pond the American William Baldwin probably gets the credit, where as the Italian Born German Franz San Galli who built the first cast iron radiators in Russia around 1855 then patented the design in Germany, is seen as the inventor in Europe.

If the question of its origin is still open – its growth is not… In the early Twentieth Century, with the aid of mass production, it would provide central heating for American homes and certain well to do homes in this country. But the technology took considerably longer to filter down to the average home over here, nonetheless it was used extensively in civic and commercial buildings around the UK.

With the advent of affordable gas boilers in the 1970s, radiator sales grew steadily in the UK; becoming a basic requirement for most homes by the early 1980s. The UK’s the last comprehensive survey stated that only 7% of this countries homes have no central heating.

Of course, there have been vast improvements in the use of material’s and production along the way; with designer’s constantly trying to find a new perspective.  Most people buying radiators today would also have access to a huge range of finishe’s and colours, a company like ours has constant request’s for new colours; quite often with very curious names. Enormous amounts of radiators are available today and with endless variants,  valves and vents.

And yet even today, it’s still essentially the same piece of Victorian technology, with it’s basic principles pretty much unchanged and doing the same old job. Perhaps you could point out that most look very different from those knocked by William and Franz. However when anyone walks into our showroom, whether they are interested  vertical designer radiator or a double panel, single convector; they are generally drawn at some point to the ‘cast iron’ radiators…

So William and/or Franz did something right, perhaps we should seek adjudication from Harry Hill.

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