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How can I cover a metal radiator?

Q: I want to cover my hot-water radiators so they will look more decorative, but I've received three different contractor opinions on how to proceed.

Q: I want to cover my hot-water radiators so they will look more decorative, but I've received three different contractor opinions on how to proceed.

The first said a cover reduces the heat output by 30 per cent and recommended painting instead of covering. The second recommended the usual metal enclosure and not a wooden one because the wood expands and over time will crack.

The last contractor suggested wooden covers and said the wood will not crack.

I want to make the correct choice, but need the pros and cons for each selection.

A: From the advice you've received, I am confident that the radiator-cover industry is cartel-free.

I had radiators in my first two homes.

At someone's suggestion, I painted the radiators with Rust-Oleum, because they are metal and you need to have the coating adhere properly to the surface and stand up to heat.

The surface of the radiator needs to be prepped, just like anything else, and if there is rust and corrosion, a wire brush is quite useful. Just make sure that the radiator isn't rusted through.

Prime with a metal primer. Let it dry thoroughly, then apply a topcoat, maybe twice.

If there is little room between the radiator and the wall behind, paint as far as is visible and let it be. I was cautioned once by a plumber not to move a radiator because you never know how fragile the pipes are connecting below the surface of the floor or the ceiling above.

He also told my wife to sit on me and call him whenever she saw me get within five feet of any plumbing, so now you know.

That said, it takes a long time for the odour of paint to dissipate, and for 11 years after I painted the radiators, you'd think I'd just finished.

And it was very easy to compromise the paint job by drying towels and wet gloves on the radiators.

In my first house, I had a contractor make me a wooden radiator cover, which doubled as a bookshelf. It had a metal screen (sold at hardware stores). The cover forced the warm air through the screen into the room, rather than letting it rise up the wall to the ceiling. (It's recommended that people with radiators and high ceilings install fans to push the warm air down to where it is needed.)

I don't remember the wood showing any signs of warping. The warm air from radiators tends to be dry - hence the art of putting pans of water under them to try to introduce moisture to a room in the winter.

I imagine, however, that whatever moisture is in the warm air might collect on the inside of the radiator cover and cause some warping over time.

Still, from what I've seen online, there are more manufacturers producing wooden covers than metal ones these days. Metal covers get hot, of course, and one of the reasons for using them is to protect tiny fingers from touching the fins of the radiators.