Pipes and Cast Iron and Burly Men, Oh My!

Today, nobody looks at a radiator with abject wonder. Nobody thinks, with an awestruck awareness: Wow! Radiators! They are so cool! So hip! So amazing!

No, we think of radiators as being charmingly old-fashioned.

But in 1894, when the Cross House was completed, radiators were a revolutionary advance. Since the beginning of time people used FIRE as a way to heat a home. Suddenly though, a home could be heated with…hot water. Wow! Geez! Zounds!

In the last century most technological advances have been superseded, and what was once A Wonder eventually became Passé. For example, in 1980 I vividly recall the miracle of using an IBM Selectric typewriter. The machine was a quantum advance over ALL previous typewriters, and priced accordingly.

Today? You can find these at yard sales. For $5. NOBODY wants or needs one.

The same cannot be said of radiators. While thought of as old-fashion, radiators are, if anything, more relevant today than they were a century ago. Why? because they are a highly energy-efficient way to heat a big old house, particularly with modern boilers.

The Cross House had a full radiator system when it was built in 1894. It still does today. Thank God. Even better, the previous owner, Bob Rodak, installed four new high-efficiency pulse boilers. Thank you, Bob!!!!

But the system has not been fully operational for a long time. Some radiators developed leaks and were disconnected decades ago. Some where disconnected for other reasons. Some were disconnected by me.

But now I have begun the process of having the radiator system FULLY restored.

If somebody had told me two years ago that I would get excited about radiators I would have thought: What?

Today? WHOEE!

To resurrect the Cross House radiator system, Modern Air has been brought in. Their main radiator guy is Travis, and it is a pleasure working with him. Travis LOVES pipes and cast-iron, and as he talks about esoteric/arcane aspects of the Cross House radiator system, I smile because, while I kinda sorta somewhat know what he is talking about, it does not really matter WHAT Travis is saying for it is simply an honor and joy to be around a true professional. There is no way that I, by myself, could restore the radiator system but there is not the slightest doubt that Travis and his cohorts can.

To watch these burley guys and their HUGE pipe wrenches and magical devices (to cut and thread cast-iron pipe) while they cut out corroded pipe, install new pipe, manhandle breathtakingly heavy radiators down two flights (that took FOUR men), is to watch Miracle Men at work.

Truly, my admiration is great. As the guys go about their work, I feel, well, all tingly inside. After they leave for the day I walk around the house and reverently admire their work.




My current house has forced-air heating/cooling. This is pretty much the standard today.

But as I get older, forced-air has proved a problem.

My eyes. The Very Dry Air, a by-product of forced-air, dries my eyes. My ever-older eyes. And this proves painful, ever more every year.

As such, moving into the Cross House, and its radiator system, is increasingly alluring.



You are looking at about $30,000 worth of pulse boilers and installation. I adore the boilers and look upon them as objects of great beauty.



Because the Cross House has a round tower, there are also radiators curved to fit. I LOVE THIS!!!!!



All the radiators in the house were originally topped with Tennessee marble tops. Most of these tops are extant; those lost over time will be recreated. On the radiators which are not tall, these marble tops are delicious-beyond-imagining to sit your butt upon in the cold winter.



In the basement, there are also radiators. They sit just below the ceiling, which seems REALLY an odd place for radiators. It took a lot of research to ascertain the WHY of this: in the 1890s radiator systems were gravity fed, meaning that the radiators had to be ABOVE the boilers. Today, the hot water in the system in PUMPED so I no longer need ceiling-mounted radiators in the basement. However, these radiators are so curious/interesting that I would not dream of hauling them down the floor level.



The radiator pipes in the Cross House are 120-years-old. This should be terrifying but the pipes were tested and all seem in excellent condition. There was, however, one small section which was alarmingly rusted. Would it last another century? Or would it explode next winter, filling the basement with water? Well, I dared not take a chance, so the section was removed and replaced with new pipes and fittings. And I am happy. Very happy.



  1. Denali Dragonfly "Grace" on March 23, 2015 at 9:21 pm

    YOU ARE SO LUCKY! I love radiant heat. It’s the best heat source in Alaska. Now I’m stuck with forced air, ugh. But it’s been meticulously well maintained via Modern Air’s annual service contract since it was installed in the 1990s. Just last summer was the first major repair I know of. They had to install a new mother board.

  2. Del on June 12, 2015 at 11:32 am

    Perhaps they were mounted in the basement like is as the 1890’s Version of under floor heating? So steampunked 🙂

  3. Tracy P. on January 14, 2018 at 5:51 pm

    The radiators are beautiful!

    I’d think the ceiling radiators in your basement would make for a cozy warm floor upstairs

  4. Mike C on February 4, 2020 at 2:22 pm

    I know that I am YEARS late, but I am reading as fast as I can!

    My house, far from the Cross House in style and proximity, was built in 1902. After purchasing in 2015, my wife and I have undertook a whole-house restoration. While we have made sacrifices, we have not touched our original, gravity-fed hot-water radiator system. The original expansion tank remains in our attic. It is a thing of beauty, so I can relate to your excitement!

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