Picture of Energy-Efficient Radiator Cover
Originally, I wanted to build a radiator cover that would protect my daughters from our cast-iron, steam radiators. Steam radiators get much hotter than hot water radiators, and I was concerned that they would get burned. As I researched different designs, I found a lot of discussion about whether you are increasing or decreasing the energy efficiency of your radiators by covering them.

Both sides made valid arguments, but I needed to cover my radiators to protect my children. I decided to incorporate all of the best ideas I had found and a few of my own into one design.
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Step 1: Efficiency and Insulation

Picture of Efficiency and Insulation

Some people say you are preventing a radiator from transmitting heat to the air and surrounding area when you cover it. Other people say that because the hot air coming off the radiator goes straight up, a bare radiator is an ineffective way to heat your house.

Radiators do circulate some hot air around the room, but the majority of the heat is transmitted via radiation. Because most radiators are on the outside walls of a house, a lot of the energy is wasted warming an exterior wall. Many sites suggest insulating the backside of the radiator with a foil insulation to reflect the radiant heat back into the room. This is a smart thing to do even if you are not going to cover your radiators. If you plan to use your radiator cover as a shelf, some people suggest lining the underside of the cover's top with this insulation to keep it cool.

Radiator cover efficiency
Improved Air-Flow
Benefits of covers


There are many different types of foil insulation, but ideally you just want something with a foil coating and a thin insulation backing. I actually got my insulation at Lowes, but I really like the selection at

Excellent selection of insulation types
Foil bubble Insulation

vlad101010 days ago
This is a lot better looking then the covers with the metal mesh. I like the style. How did you connect the two side to the front?
SWV17874 years ago
This is a very nice build. You have a good to the point Instructable, but I don't know of too many people in my area who still have radiators in their home.
clrcopy SWV17872 years ago
Seriously? I live in a town of 3200 and I bet a 1/4 do, go out into the county and probably equal that many or more and this is just one rural area. Houses that were built in the early 1900's are common to have them. Ours are water vs. steam, and actually very efficient heat for our area. NE Iowa gets cold, in fact watching This Old House, you see them very frequently on that show, again a very cold area. If you live in a warmer region, not as practical, but for us, 0 degree days for months, great way to heat our house.

I'm sure they are more common in older cities too and maybe those with colder climates because having central air isn't as big a deal. I live in an urban area full of turn of the century homes (Minneapolis/St. Paul). My house was built in 1913 and that is by no means unusual. A lot of the old homes and other buildings still have radiators, including ours. Always on the lookout for covers because, while I love my radiators, I also need a place to set a lamp!

ProfMuggs (author)  caitlin.walbrun3 months ago

Thanks for the comment. I recently moved and had to leave this cover behind in my old house but I will be making and modifying a few for my new house soon. We looked at a lot of houses in this town and the whole town is filled with steam heated houses and most of them have the original radiators. I think steam and hot water cast-iron radiators are most common in the North-central and Northeast US.

JulieB16 months ago

This looks great - but how do you access the radiator knobs? Do you just move the whole cover? Maybe a little door could be built into the side that has a latch to keep kid's fingers out of harm's way?

PaulM28 months ago

Nice job! Though I read someplace that the reason most radiators are placed in front of windows is to reverse the "cold" convection that the cold air coming off the windows produces... and so I'd think it would be important to allow the hot air to rise unimpeded. You could always cut out some holes in the top and add that metal grating.. or perhaps adding a slight pitch to the underside of the lid would enable the heat to more readily exit the top-front. Although, maybe this is not as big a deal with today's better insulated windows.

justjordy332 years ago
Great job on the post. The insulation looks pretty well done.
TomMontana4 years ago
Great job. I really like the look of this cover. The lack of a metal grill and straight lines really make this a sharp and contemporary looking piece.

1) Did you anchor it snug against the wall so nothing falls into the back or just let the weight of the cover keep itself in place?

2) How is the cover working now that it is winter? Any noticeable difference?
ProfMuggs (author)  TomMontana4 years ago
Thanks a lot.

I didn't anchor the cover against the wall. The 1/4" plywood fits flush up against the wall and there is very little space between the back of the radiator and the wall, so it wasn't necessary for me.

I am very happy with how the cover works. It definitely helps warm the room and it protects my kids from the radiator. Its also nice that it can be used as a little display shelf for my daughter's stuffed animals.

My only complaint with this project is that the wood expands and contracts unevenly because of the extra heat. I noticed that some of the slats had small gaps at the ends where they med with the rails. I have some painter's acrylic latex caulk that I plan to fill those gaps with and touch up the paint.

On my next cover I plan to use mortise and tenon joints at the end of the slats. These will replace the dowels and hopefully give me a tighter fit.
EDNA KEENAN4 years ago
Your design is reall nice and good looking... Well done!
EDNA KEENAN4 years ago
Steam heat is the best hot water raditors not true that people don't have heating systems..... Long Island, New York Housing Buildings and New Jersey & alot of Apartment still have HOT WATER HEAT......
anita0184 years ago
This design is ridiculously amazing. I wish they were mass produced by the amish so I could buy 12.
davon4 years ago
Every Radiator Cover isn't efficient...the insulation behind it is a good idea, but the cover maintain the hot inside the radiator, only insulation in back of the radiator is better.
ProfMuggs (author)  davon4 years ago
True, most radiator covers limit the amount of heat that reaches the rest of the room, but I left plenty of space for the radiant heat to escape. The added feature of using the natural convection of hot air around the radiator to push the heat out into the room makes this a more efficient way to heat the room. This type of design would be especially helpful to get heat up and over an obstacle like a couch that wouldn't fit elsewhere in the room.
a good looking radiator cover you got there, nice touch with the insulation but you mention the effectiveness a few times, as to how much hot air gets trapped and so forth.
If you got the spare parts laying around you can put some 80mm fans or bigger right at the skirt of it so it blows air up, 12v tranformers 'should' be cheap for this purpose, frankly i don't know. Just a thought
ProfMuggs (author)  improprietary4 years ago
That would be cool, but I also like the simplicity of a convection only design. It really is surprising how much hot air is directed out into the room by the top vent.
pnwheel44 years ago
I have not been on the site recently and was pleased to find your instructable. I have steam radiators in my home and have been brainstorming what to cover them with. The flimsy metal ones are actually pretty expensive-so this is great. Thanks for your help. And the graphics are pretty cool--how did you get them?
CICCI4 years ago
Does radiator cover presents a fire risk?
ProfMuggs (author)  CICCI4 years ago
For a steam or hot water radiator, I would say there is no risk of fire. Hot water radiators are always below water's boiling temperature of 212 degrees F (depending on your elevation). Steam, under normal pressure at sea level will not be much hotter than that because as soon as it boils in the boiler, it travels up the pipes to the radiators. Because wood will combust at 450 degrees F, I don't think there is any risk of fire.
ProfMuggs (author)  ProfMuggs4 years ago
Electric radiators may be a different story. I know they can get a lot hotter and can burn fabric if couches or curtains are too close to them.
bicygirl4 years ago
You did a great job with this instructable. Although I don't have a radiator in my home, I still benefited by learning a little more about furniture construction and tools that I didn't know about. In the future I may have the courage to try a simple furniture project. You are a very clear and thorough in your explanations. Thanks!
Can you post a link to the Harbor Freight item? I am intrigued.
ProfMuggs (author)  Cat on my Lap4 years ago
You mean this one?
I meant the one seen in step 9.
ProfMuggs (author)  Cat on my Lap4 years ago
Ok, here it is...