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Radiator Labs transforms radiators into energy-efficient heaters


May 3, 2012

Radiator Labs heavily insulated housings physically cover radiators like this one, trapping heat in the system, and strictly controlling the amount that is let into the room

Radiator Labs heavily insulated housings physically cover radiators like this one, trapping heat in the system, and strictly controlling the amount that is let into the room

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Its idea may be simple, but that did not stop Radiator Labs winning the MIT Clean Energy Prize with its controllable box that can be retrofitted to radiators to boost the efficiency of hot water and steam heating systems. The heavily insulated housings physically cover the radiator, trapping heat in the system, and strictly controlling the amount that is let into the room. This prevents homes becoming over-heated, and wasteful heat loss as people open windows to compensate.

The controlled heat transfer is activated by a fan, which, thanks to the inclusion of wireless control technology, opens up all kinds of smart-home intelligent, remote and automated control sorcery. Nice, accessible desktop computing and mobile apps are perhaps the most obvious example, perhaps as part of a broader smart-home operating system such as Microsoft's HomeOS, currently in the prototype stage.

"Adopting this cost-effective technology in the millions of existing U.S. housing units with steam radiator systems has the potential to save hundreds of millions of dollars in energy costs per year and reduce carbon emissions by over 6 million tons [5.4 million tonnes] – equivalent to taking 1.25 million automobiles off the road," said Radiator Labs CEO Marshall Cox.

Of course, radiators fitted with valves can be turned down or off when heat isn't desirable, so Radiator Labs' system is arguably surplus to requirements in the majority of cases - provided people actually turn radiators or thermostats down when temperatures become too high rather than opening windows. (Remarkably, some people don't.)

But there are plenty of circumstances under which Radiator Labs' technology would come into its own: any systems which, for whatever reason, do not come with valves; older systems for which the regular adjustment of valves risks damaging the system; or in the homes of less able-bodied persons in which radiator valves are difficult to operate. Radiator Labs seems to have apartment blocks of residential housing in mind judging by their schematics. Even where a heating system is controlled by a thermostat, Radiator Labs could potentially offer savings by effectively breaking the system down into zones, preventing excess heating in rooms that are used less.

Founded by Columbia University students, the system was first field tested at the University over the 2011-12 heating season. Radiator Labs is preparing for a larger scale pilot scheme for the 2012-13 season.

Similar technology exists, however. There are systems available designed to be retroffited to radiators that phsycially open and shut the radiator valves, though it could be argued that it does not directly compete with Radiator Labs whose technology seems to be better-suited to valveless systems.

Hopefully after the larger-scale test Radiator Labs will release more details of the technology involved, and where and how it's best implemented.

Source: Radiator Labs

About the Author
James Holloway James lives in East London where he punctuates endless tea drinking with freelance writing and meteorological angst. Unlocking Every Extend Extra Extreme’s “Master of Extreme” achievement was the fourth proudest moment of his life. All articles by James Holloway

Assuming you can't just install or adjust a thermostat just throw a blanket over the radiator. You do have to make sure the blanket will survive the heat.


simply conect your iphone and such things to your radiator ,? how stupid not to be already using such an every day already in place infrastucture that will go unchanged for many many decades to come ,, energy source.As seen last week with the surival cooker


Sigh, as Slowburn said, get a nice modern thermostat and its way more efficient. Not that NO radiator of that style is in any way energy-efficient. What you need to do is to get floor-heating. That is very very efficient, keep in mind that it needs to be well insulted below the flooring. Ok not all can afford floor-heating, (even if its cheaper for the landlord in the long run.) but a 100$ thermostat!!!? How can the miss that??? How could these guys get a price for this?


Never heard of thermostats?


Right. In our house, a main thermostat in the living room controls the central heater, and every radiator that's not in the living room has a thermostatic valve.

Joris van den Heuvel

This looks useful for those old buildings with antique heating systems (such as our secondary school had) where the pipework won't stand the fitting of thermostatic valves etc.

I have seen public buildings with thermostatic valves which are on "full power". People (Homo Sapiens) are slow learners when faced with thermostats to control heating. If they're cold, they put it on full, if hot they shut it off completely, therefore reducing the technology inside the thermostat to a simple on-off valve.

Only those who appreciate/understand technology (Gizmag readers?) understand how to use a (room or radiator) thermostat.

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