Cast iron radiators are hot but beware of duds and cheap copies. Sharon Dale reports.
Career paths are often diverted but clients are surprised when Andrew Whittingham reveals his former profession as a helicopter pilot.
The switch from flying to cast iron radiator specialist happened gradually after Andrew restored a batch of beautiful vintage radiators for his own home.
“Friends asked me to do some for them and it went from there. I’ve always been very practical and I don’t mind getting my hands dirty, which helps,” he says.
Andrew is now one of the UK’s most respected suppliers of original cast iron radiators thanks to his meticulous renovations.
His Halifax-based business, Radiator Renovator, specialises in sourcing then restoring second-hand radiators, which can be fraught with issues.
“Some of them have 100 years’ worth of paint on them and that can be what is holding them together,” says Andrew.
The pipes that fed them were much bigger than those used in modern-day central heating systems, so modifications need to be made to the fittings. They also need to be properly tested for leaks.
“We pressure test with water to a strength of five bars, which is more than double the normal testing pressure of two bars to see if they leak.
“If they do, there is no sticky plastic solution, you need to take the radiator apart to fix it,” says Andrew.
As for repainting, he strips down to bare metal before priming and repainting. “Powder coating is quicker and easier but I would never do it. It involves baking the product and that can break seals and cause leaks.”
The benefits of buying original, refurbished cast iron radiators are multiple. They are both attractive and energy efficient.
While it may take 15 to 20 minutes for them to warm up, they throw out a lot of heat and retain it for up to an hour after being switched off.
Costs range from £395 to £2,000 each for refurbished originals. Andrew sources his vintage versions from Britain, Europe and America.
He also sells reproductions from Europe, which start at £130, and warns buyers to be careful of cheap Chinese copies, which are prone to leaks.
Andrew lost much of his stock after his premises in Luddendenfoot were wrecked by last year’s Boxing Day floods. He has since moved the workshop in an old mill in Halifax.
“The floods were devastating,” he says. “But we love the new premises and we have created a showroom and furnished it with some vintage accessories, which has been fun.”
*Decorative Heat: Cast iron radiators are a decorative feature that work well in both traditional and contemporary interiors.
“We can paint them in any colour and we do get some unusual requests. One customer who has pubs and bars wanted them luminous green, which we weren’t sure about but they looked fantastic against a red brick wall,” says Radiator Renovator’s Andrew Whittingham. “Cast iron radiators are a functional piece of equipment but they are also a beautiful piece of furniture.”