HVAC professionals, plumbers or experienced handy people can repair malfunctioning radiators. Radiators have been used for over 150 years to warm homes and buildings using radiant heat and convection. There are two types of radiators: steam and hot water. Steam radiators are not as common nowadays, says Greg Zarris of G & R Heating and Repair in Gilberts, Illinois. More frequently, hot water radiators are used in homes—although a lot of newer construction homes are installing forced-air heating and cooling systems as a way to save money.
Radiators are positioned in the rooms throughout a house or building that require heating. The radiators are connected by pipes to a boiler, which is typically found in the basement or garage of a home. The boiler is powered by electricity, gas, solar energy or wood, and when heat is desired, the thermostat is turned up and the boiler heats water to a boiling point. The water is then pushed through the pipes and into the radiators in each room. A radiator has a hollow design of connected tubes and is typically made of cast iron. As the hot water flows through the radiator’s empty tubes, it radiates heat outward. The outward flow of radiant heat creates an inward pull of cool air—a process known as "convection," which spreads waves of heated air through a room. Some baseboard heaters also operate from the same principle using fins instead of tubes. Several factors affect the cost of repairing a radiator when problems arise.
Many professionals charge a base service fee to investigate radiator issues to cover their diagnosis time, travel time, labor and business overhead. Pros can help with leaking radiators, funky noises, radiators that aren’t heating or radiators that are getting too hot. Here are two examples of services fees:
Wallin Heating and Cooling in Chicago, Illinois: $85 to cover travel, the site visit and the first hour of labor
G & R Heating and Repair: $95 to cover travel, diagnosis and the first half hour of labor
Many radiator repair specialists charge an hourly rate when more work is required beyond diagnosis and the preliminary labor accounted for by the service fee. Some pros will quote a set rate for the expected repair based on their hourly rate. This quote should include details about what work will be done and what outcome can be expected. G & R Heating and Repair, for example, charges $85 per hour after the initial $95 service fee.
Bleeding the lines
The two most common repair calls that G & R Heating and Repair receives are for noise coming from the radiator and the radiator not producing enough heat. A noisy radiator is typically caused by air trapped in the line, says Zarris of G & R Heating and Repair, although it can also be caused by a leak. Knowledgeable Homeowners can bleed the lines themselves, or they can get a qualified service company to handle the task. The time required to bleed the plumbing lines varies from house to house and system to system. In a three-story house, it can take hours to move an air bubble through a system—or it may only take a few minutes.
Moving the radiator
During a remodel, HVAC contractors or plumbers can move radiators to more convenient locations in the home. When it’s time to upgrade a radiator to improve heating, professionals can remove and replace an old system. Pros can also remove a radiator is to change its paint color. "Radiators can last over 100 years," says Zarris of G & R Heating and Repair, “so many of them have layers and layers of paint from over the years. Clients may have them removed and sandblasted to start with a fresh base before repainting. There can be up to 20 coats of paint on there, including drips and unwanted texture. Pros can safely disconnect the radiator and then reinstall it once the client has painted it.” It takes about two days of labor for a contractor to remove a radiator for sandblasting.
Installing a new radiator
Sometimes it makes more sense to replace a radiator than to repair it. If a radiator is cracked because of rot or internal rust, it’s a good idea to replace it entirely, says Zarris of G & R Heating and Repair. HVAC companies such as his can heat and patch the cast iron of a radiator, but there is no guarantee that this will resolve the problem in the long run. Installing a new radiator can take two to four hours, which affects the cost of services, along with the cost of the new radiator itself. Labor costs from G & R Heating and Repair could run $190–$380. Many companies don’t charge a service fee for installation jobs because there is no diagnosis needed. Depending on the brand and model, a new radiator can cost anywhere from $200 to $1,400.
Heat that lasts
Cast iron radiators are not as common as they once were. Homeowners in states that have hot, humid summers and winters that drop below freezing want both heating and cooling in their homes. As a cost-saving strategy, says Zarris of G & R Heating and Repair, many of his customers opt solely for forced-air heating and cooling, although for those who can afford it, radiators and boilers are the best way to heat a house for total comfort. Zarris likens the radiator heating system to the heart and the body. He says that a person’s feet—the basement or ground floor of a home—are the coldest part of your body. So maintaining a heating system that radiates from the ground up keeps the core of the home the warmest.