Cozy Up


It’s as if “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” went horribly awry: Away to the window you fly like a flash, tear open the shutters and throw up the sash – because it’s so bleeping hot in your apartment in the dead of winter that you need to open a window or even turn on the air-conditioner. Meanwhile, other apartments in the building are too cold.

It’s called “heat-distribution imbalance,” a perennial problem in many buildings with old-fashioned, cast-iron steam radiators. But one Brooklyn co-op has found an innovative solution. The Radiator Cozy, from the Brooklyn-based Radiator Labs, is a “smart radiator cover” – technically a “thermostatic radiator enclosure” – that uses insulation, a small fan, and computer-regulated temperature controls to keep too much steam out of hot apartments and to send more steam to cold ones.

It’s not inexpensive, even with government incentives, since each Cozy has to be custom-manufactured and installed. And the payback in terms of lower energy bills can take five to seven years. But for Clinton Hill, a 12-building complex of 1,200 apartments near the Brooklyn Navy Yard, there has been an immediate payoff.

“Our complex had been experiencing incredible overheating and underheating for decades,” says Timo Lipping, a financial planner who heads the co-op board. “Some people were kind of pooh-poohing [the payback time] as not fast enough, but payback is not the only payoff. It’s also people being comfortable in their apartments – and that we can advertise we have this new technology that other co-ops don’t.”

George Switzer, an architect and board member, adds: “The overheating was for many years the No. 1 issue people had. Less so people who were underheated. Some people were extremely overheated – like 90-plus degrees in their apartments. Resident comfort is a real issue.”

Getting Steamed

How does a Radiator Cozy work? Without getting into the thermodynamic particulars, each of these insulated sheet-metal covers contains a thermostat, accessible via both a mobile app and a controller on the Cozy itself, so that each resident can set a desired temperature for that apartment. If the apartment is too cold, a built-in fan turns on and pushes heat into the room. If an apartment is at the set temperature, the fan turns off, and steam that otherwise would have overheated the room gets directed to colder apartments in that steam-pipe line.

“Rather than have a heating system with a single control that controls the heat for the whole building, it allows every radiator to have its own control,” explains David Sachs, director of audits, design and implementation for Bright Power, the energy consultant on the Clinton Hill project. “So every apartment and every room is able to control its own heat.”

Read the full article on Habitat’s website.