How To: Replacing a 1950s steel radiator cover

September 14, 2011

Q. How can I replace a steel radiator cover that my contractor accidentally threw out when my kitchen was being remodeled? I think it was installed in the 1950s. I am trying to find a replacement, as it matches all the others in the house.

New York

A. Your best bet is to call around to companies that specialize in architectural salvage and used building materials. In the Washington area, the Habitat for Humanity ReStore outlets don’t typically carry radiator covers, but Community Forklift in Edmonston usually has five to 10 in stock. Last month, Ruthie Mundell, the outreach and education director, found two in stock that are similar to yours. The cost is $30 to $70, depending on size and condition. To find similar stores, check the state-by-state listings at the Web site of the Building Materials Reuse Association (www.bmra.org).

Mundell also suggests asking plumbers who work on older houses. They sometimes keep discarded covers to use on future jobs. If you have a neighborhood association or a neighborhood newsletter, you might also ask through that. If surrounding houses were built about the same time, others may be getting rid of identical radiator covers as part of a renovation.

If you can’t snare a genuine 1950s radiator cover, you might be able to get a new one that looks similar, or at least sort of similar. Arsco Manufacturing Co. in Cincinnati makes metal radiator covers that are similar, though not identical, to yours. Beautiful Radiators (800-543-7040; www.beautifulradiators.com) is its consumer division. Brookland True Value Hardware in Washington (202-635-3200; ww2.truevalue.com/brookland) is a dealer for Rand Manufacturing of Schenectady, N.Y., which also makes metal covers, but they have a grill over the entire front, so the style is different. The price is right, though: $50 to $200, a small fraction of what you might pay if you resort to going to a sheet-metal fabricator to have a true custom cover made, Brookland owner Howard Politzer said.


A New York reader is looking for a replacement for this 1950s radiator cover. (Reader photo/READER PHOTO)

Yet another possibility is to duplicate the look of a metal radiator in wood with metal mesh for an insert. It would be fairly easy to adapt a project featured in This Old House magazine, which you can find at www.thisoldhouse.com. Type “radiator cover” into the search box. If you’re not a woodworker, that contractor should be happy to help out.

Q. I am renovating an old house and need to get rid of some old cast iron radiators. Is there a marketplace that can reuse or resell these? I don’t really need to get money for them but I don’t want to just see them cast into a landfill. The best I can find on the Web is some place in Massachusetts—not an option for me in D.C.!

Washington, D.C.

A: You can donate them to Community Forklift (301-985-5180; www.communityforklift.com), which specializes in salvaged building materials. Because it’s a non-profit, you’ll get a form that allows you to claim your donation as a tax-deductible contribution. The store resells the radiators for $45 to “up into the hundreds,” a spokesman said. So if you have many to donate, the total value of your donation could add up to a significant tax savings. The organization’s Web site even includes a form that you can fill out to arrange for free pickup at your house.

If you want a more immediate pay-off, try calling Saul Navidad (202-276-3276), who is gearing up for an October opening of a store specializing in cast-iron radiators. He’s still working on a name, but it will be at 4550 Rhode Island Ave. in Hyattsville. He said he will pay $15 to $50 for decorative radiators if you deliver them, or $25 if he picks them up. He’ll also take plain radiators, but the only reward for that is free pickup. Navidad used to work at the Brass Knob, an architectural antiques store in the District that recently phased out dealing with radiators. He saw a need and decided to respond to it.

Have a problem in your home? Send questions to localliving@washpost.com. Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.

The Checklist: Read Jeanne Huber’s roundup of home-improvement tasks you should tackle in September, such as replacing weatherstripping.

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