Friday Question of the Day

This a very timely question.  So my house is heated by radiators and it is freaking awesome.  There is very little nicer than putting your clothes on the radiator and then having nice warm clothes to put on after a shower.  At any rate I don’t have many air conditioners. And of course DC summers can be brutal.  So what are your thoughts on Central Air?  Is it worth it to lose your radiators for central air?

28 Comment

  • Where is it written that you have to lose your radiator heat when central air is put in? I have both. It’s fantastic.

  • NOOOOOOO!!!! I’d rather throw in a few window units and pay a little extra in electricity costs than give up radiator heat. Sadly, my place is forced air and currently my skin is a dry as a crackhead’s mouth.

    Don’t give it up. You’ll regret it. Like David said, have both if you have the means.

  • Second the opinions above. Wish we had radiators.

  • I agree. Keep both. I put in Central A/C in my home and kept the radiators?

  • Being a southern girl, I’m all for radiator heat. Forget the AC, I’m perfectly happy with a ceiling fan and some sweet tea.

  • one day when i hit the jackpot i’ll get central air (A/C only – will keep radiators). my plan is to use SpacePak which uses mini tubing (2″) instead of giant ductwork. I have some neighbors who did this (and kept their radiators for heat). The main advantage is that it doesn’t mess up the architectural details of your house, and the outlets for the AC are about the size of small recessed lights. The tubing can run through closets (I have closets in exatly the same place on the 1st and 2nd floors).

    The estimate I got though was for $18,000 so I wont’ be doing it any time soon. But I will definitely do it at some point. I think this is one of those renovations that you get a great return on when it comes time to sell your house… because there are a lot of buyers that won’t even look at a house without central air.

  • I have both also. I love hearing the radiators hissing at night. Besides heat pump heat totally bites.

  • Don’t get rid of your radiators. It makes me cry when I see houses that have had the radiators removed. Hot water radiators are one of the BEST ways to heat a house.

    If you want A/C, get it, but don’t let them talk you into a combined system. It will cost more to run, and your house will not be as comfortable.

  • Echo what others say. I would never dream of losing the radiant heat, and there’s no reason you have to do so to get central air. Just install central air, don’t get a combined system. And it’s cheaper to install AND operate.

  • The owner-architect who designed the renovation next door to mine has a duct running right above the gas fireplace and acress the living room ceiling! And you can hear right through her newly redesigned walls! This neighbor-architect told me that I should put in double-thickness drywall to soundproof our shared wall. However, I already planned to address the sound transmission. And although I have forced air, I ran all of the ducts under the floor and through the attic. Now why is it that an architect wouldn’t be aware of these things?

  • prince,

    keep the radiators! i wish my house had them. i am a fan of the a/c though. the humidity in the summer kills me.

    whats the relation between loving radiators and being southern?

  • I’d echo the others — keep the radiators. Not only are they charming and work just great, but putting in central heat costs a fortune. I should know — the person who owned my house before me tried to renovate and removed all the radiators, leaving me with no heat at all.

    However, I made sure to include the central A/C when I installed the new heating system (even though, as a California girl, I never, ever use A/C) because I know what a big selling point it is. Of course it’s only about $1,000 more when you’re already installing a $13,000 system.

    To the guy above, $18K sounds insane for just central A/C. I guess working around the existing architecture is worth something, but damn, I’d definitely ask around some more.

  • I used Argent Heating and Cooling in Virginia and was very pleased with them. I also kept my radiators. I paid roughly $14K but that was because most of the ceilings were down in my house already. I also had all three floors of my house outfitted with the a/c since I rent out my basement. It included 18 outlets. I have spacepak. If you do use spacepak be prepared to lose some wall space (esp if you are not lucky like the guy who posted above and have closets that sit on top of one another) and closet space for the duct work. Also that price did not include the cost to drywall, the company will not do that so you have to do it yourself or find someone else to do it. The nice thing about Argent is they have a lot of business in DC so they put the compressor on the roof (which saves you from putting it in your front yard and helps keep the top floor nice and cool) and all their trucks are fitted with ladders that reach the roofs.

  • Keep the radiators. Have now installed space-pak AC systems in three DC rowhouses. Used Air Cool & Heating in Northern Virginia all three times and been very pleased with them. Rich Abernathy is the guy to ask for.
    Estimates for a Petworth-sized rowhouse should be around $14-15K for spacepak system. Add another $1000-$1500 for drywall patch work—though spacepak runs mostly through closets, there are usually a couple of places where they need to run the tubing down a corner wall.

  • Anyone have any experience with a zoned system in a 3 level, 100 yr old rowhouse? Was looking at putting in a carrier infinity system (gas furnace + A/C)… 3 thermostats (one on each floor) would control powered dampers that direct the airflow as needed to each floor (e.g. in the summer, the 3rd floor needs more airflow than the 1st floor for A/C since it’s warmer, etc.). My neighbor has spacepak and has complained about difficulty in keeping the 3rd floor cool during the summer (not sure how well insulated his attic is).

  • Unlike the previous commentators, we got rid of our radiators when we put in a/c. We could have kept them but forced heat is much more energy efficient (ours is gas not electric) and we are also much happier with all of the extra wall space. In the summer, it is a great feeling to walk in from the heat to a nicely cooled home without the drone of window units.

  • A well designed radiator (hot water, not steam) system w/ a high efficiency furnace is more efficient than forced air heat. The electric version of latter, per my recent research, is supposedly one of the less efficient systems out there. That said, radiator heat is not nearly as immediate as forced air. You need to wait for those babies to heat up (ours has a timer so it cranks down during the day while we’re at work).

    In theory, the most efficient combined system would have separate ductwork for the heat and cooling anyway, since the cooling ducts should be on/near the ceiling and more heavily concentrated on the second floor, while the heating ducts should be on/near the floor w/ more on the first floor. Like other posts here, we opted to install CAC but kept our old radiator system, just updating to a modern, high efficiency boiler. It’s perfect!

  • PoP, I put central AC in my place last summer, though I had existing ducts for heat. HUGE difference over the window units, but HUGE increase in my electric bill.

    If you are interested, there are some great options for installing central AC in houses without existing duct work that are cost effective>

    That said, I have some window units I can sell you for cheap! Let me know.

  • To annonymous,
    The dude who renovated my house before I bought it had the wisdom to put in two AC systems – one for the basement and main floor, then a second for the second floor/bedrooms. The convector is in the attic for the latter unit, the other is in the basement near the boiler for the radiator heat. It works very well. I keep the ac off all day upstairs when I’m out at work, then keep the ac off downstairs when I’m going to bed at night. Only problem is when I have someone living in my basement, bills go up. But I get some income to offset that. Can’t imagine 3 separate zone systems. This works great. I’ve been told by an electrician that the make of my system is the cheapest but so far – 4 years in – no big problems.


  • Our house is old and hasn’t been remodeled. No dishwasher, garbage disposal, radiator heat (I feel it now) and of course no central air. We use wall units in the summer, one downstairs in the living one and several upstairs in the bedrooms. An upgraded electrical system should support the window units. In the summer, we keep all the bedroom doors open and the air from the indivudual units both upstairs and downstairs cool the house. It’s not central air, but it’s acceptable. But one day, when we hit our lucky number, we’ll put in central a/c and keep the radiators.

  • I second the recommendation for Rich Abernathy at Air Cool and Heating – a class act. There is a fourth option in addition to window units, forced air and space-pak: a ductless system. Also known as mini-splits, ductless systems don’t require the big wall openings of forced air and can be easier to install and cheaper than space-pak, depending on the configuration of your house. They also allow for zoned cooling (and heating if you get heat pump units).

    Air Cool installed several heat-pump models in my rowhouse in April and they worked fantastic during the summer and now I’m using them as heaters, allowing me keep the radiators off (saving the shock of the $250 – $400 monthy gas bills I had last winter running the radiators). My electric bills running the units during the summer and so far this winter have been under $100/month.

    If you go to Air Cool, book now, as they fill up quickly for spring/summer installations.

  • I will jump on the pile about keeping radiators. When the renovation was done on our house, they smartly kept the radiators and ran an AC system through the closets. When we were looking that the house, I asked the realtor (who has a lot of HVAC knowledge) if we could also run heat through those same ducts and dump the radiators. He replied “Why would you want too?” He added that besides its inherient qualities, most people like radiator heat in homes when looking to buy and that getting rid of them would have no improvement on my home value.

  • Well, the first thing I did when I bought my house was rip out the radiators and install HVAC. While I love the old look of radiators, I bought this house with the ultimate goal of creating a net zero energy consuming house, and radiators use A LOT of gas to run.

    My heat pump works great until it hits 20 degrees. Then I have to fire up the fire place and put on a few sweat shirts (at least it doesn’t happen all that often, asside from this week)

    The thing that makes me mad, though, is about 1 year ago Bosch introduced a solar water heater that can be hooked up to radiators. It is getting great reviews, and costs almost nothing to run.

    Personally, I could do without the AC. Its only hot enough to really use it in July and August and these houses were made for getting cross breezes and remaining drafty but for resale purposes central adds too much value to skip out on.

  • Hi everyone,

    My next door neighbor is in his 80’s, and his wife says their radiators do NOT heat their 900 sf house sufficiently. What kind of problem do you think might be causing this? I did put insulation under their first floor (Crawl space) although I’m no expert…


  • Bogfrog, they may have too much air in their system. Has anyone tried bleeding their radiators?

  • I’m thinking of retrofitting to hydro radiant heating/cooling using a geothermal heat pump. Anyone have any experience with this type of system? I think it would be super energy efficient and have all the benefits of radiator heat. i do wonder how i would dehumidify the air in the summer — i suppose a compressor and some ducks may still be necessary??

  • No!!!! Not worth it at all. Just get a ceiling fan for each room and you’re set. They take a lot less electricity to run than AC, the curse of the ages.

  • All, I didn’t read all the entries, but we recently did SpacePak. It was just as expensive as central, but much less intrusive. It’s nice to no longer have all the air conditioners blocking the light.

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