How to Beautify a Radiator With a Wood or Metal Radiator Cover

A painted wooden radiator cover

Gary Ombler / Getty Images

If you have a cast-iron radiator, you are in luck—from an efficiency standpoint. Radiators, either steam or hot-water, provide your house with zone-able, soft, humidified warmth.

From the standpoint of looks, not so much. With their multiple fins, radiators tend to attract dust, cobwebs, and unmentionable matter. Old cast-iron radiators can be positively ugly when they begin to rust.

The absolute best way to ensure maximum heat flow is to leave your radiator unpainted and uncovered. However, many homeowners understandably dislike the look of radiators and wish to cover them.

Radiator covers range from utilitarian, powder-coated metal enclosures with cloverleaf-style grilles to fancy wood enclosures that double as bookshelves.

  • 01 of 04

    Wood Radiator Covers: Costly But Beautiful

    Solid wood radiator covers tend to cost at least twice the number of metal covers. These covers act more like pieces of furniture since the wood tops provide enough insulation against heat so that you can place some curios on them.

    Even though wood does insulate to some degree, you should still avoid putting anything on them that could be affected by heat on them. The main concern about the functionality of wood covers is that wood and water do not mix. Whether yours are steam or hot-water radiators, the chances are good that at least one of them leaks—or will leak in the future. Even without water hitting the wood, the constant on/off heat cycles will eventually cause the wood to expand and contract, leading to warping and cracking.

  • 02 of 04

    Sources for Radiator Covers

    1. Beautiful Radiators: These utilitarian metal radiator covers are unspectacular but attractive enough to pass muster. Custom sizing is available.
    2. Fichman: Fichman is a furniture supplier based in Rochester, NY. They have several radiator covers, starting at $175, constructed of MDF that comes flat-packed and you assemble it.
    3. Custom Radiator Enclosures: Many of Custom's covers are of the bare-bones, powder-coated metal variety. But they have several "bookcase-style" covers that are quite handsome, one even with a deco flair.
    4. Shutter Shack: Offers a selection of six solid wood radiator covers, starting at $385.
    5. White's Plumbing Supplies: Available on Amazon, these very basic slabs of gray metal need to be assembled and painted. But this can be a good thing because you can paint your radiator any number of snazzy colors. It makes the radiator a design element rather than something to be ignored.
  • 03 of 04

    Do Radiator Covers Impede Heat Flow?

    This is a debatable point, and it has been debated to great length.

    Powder-coated metal radiator covers do an excellent job of transmitting most of the radiator's heat back into the house. As heat flows upward, it hits the closed top and begins to flow sideways from the grilles (the top itself, being metal, captures heat and transmits it to the room).

    Additionally, the metal on the cover itself becomes hot, and that heat is transferred to the room.

    Because wood is a good insulator, wood radiator enclosures will not transmit heat to the degree that metal covers will. So, if your house is so cold that it needs to take advantage of every BTU that your radiators can offer, you may not want to choose wood covers.

    One benefit is that some covers are fitted with pans that can be filled with distilled water to provide humidified air to the room. Putting water pans atop radiators is an age-old practice. But covers allow you to better hide the pans.

  • 04 of 04

    Do They Keep the Radiator Cleaner?

    Radiator covers do help you keep your radiator cleaner. Radiators' narrow spaces and floor-hugging profiles are sheer dust magnets.

    While diligent cleaning with vacuum nozzle attachments can mitigate the dust, avoiding the dust in the first place is the best route.

    Covers keep radiators cleaner in two areas:

    1. Top: Dust and dirt settle on the flat, closed wipeable top surface of the radiator cover, rather than settle into the baffles. When the cover has cooled down, you can easily wipe it down with a wet cloth.
    2. Sides: Dust can work its way through the open side grills. But because access is limited, you only get about half of the amount of dust. Dust that clings to the grille itself can be vacuumed off. Or, in the spring, remove the cover entirely and hose off outside.