He radiates warmth for a nest egg cast in iron

SATURDAY'S HERO

October 24, 1998|By Rob Kasper

I HAD THESE two old hot-water radiators sitting in an upstairs hallway. They were leftovers from this summer's bathroom- renovation project. They had been replaced by new baseboard-style radiators. I was faced with a question. Should I toss the cast-iron radiators out, or keep them?

As I often do when faced with a big decision, I waffled. One day I was ready to trash them. The next, I was ready to preserve them as some sort of hot-water heirloom.

In the end I kept them because the last person I talked to -- I think it was the mother of one of my sons' friends -- told me I might need the radiators some day. I kept them for backup.

To support my decision, I reminded myself that I am a big `D believer in household backup systems. For example, I buy extra light bulbs so that I will be prepared for unexpected darkness.

I also buy extra dish-washing soap to guard against that household horror of having a surplus of dirty dishes and a shortage of suds.

And I seem to have about 16 extra doors down in the basement, just in case one day one door might come in handy.

Nevertheless, keeping extra radiators around the house was a new experience for me.

They were hard to move. They were only about 2 feet long and 3 feet high, but because they were made of cast iron they seemed to weigh a ton. To carry them out of the upstairs hallway and down to basement I had to get help from my 17-year-old son and one of his large, football-playing friends. As the three of us lugged the radiators down three flights of steps, I quickly realized why neither the contractor nor the plumber on the bathroom-renovation job had jumped at the chance to acquire these old beauties.

Once we reached the basement, we placed the radiators up against a wall that was close to a set of barbells that my two teen-age sons use. From time to time, the kids have complained that our barbells aren't big enough, that we need to buy more weights so they can pump more iron and get bigger muscles.

Now that the old radiators were in the basement, I knew I had a quick response to this complaint. If the guys want to pump more iron, I could tell them they should lift the cast-iron radiators.

Besides becoming part of the household's weight-training program, the old radiators added an artistic tone to the basement. If, like me, you find yourself spending a lot ot time staring at radiators, you begin to appreciate their lines and the craftsmanship that went into their creation. Old radiators make good art, in a basement kind of way.

Moreover, these old cast-iron radiators might be worth something. I found that out yesterday when I spoke with Tim Kilken, who cleans and repairs old radiators for A. J. Michaels, a Baltimore heating contractor.

"Nobody makes them anymore, and there is nothing as efficient as a cast-iron radiator," Kilken said. "That cast iron holds the heat."

From time to time, customers call looking for old radiators, he said. The requests usually come from folks who have added a room to an old house or want to replace a leaky radiator with a sound one of the same vintage. Smaller radiators are usually more sought after than large ones, he said, because most folks seem to have "a tiny, little corner" set aside for the radiator.

Kilken told me that cast-iron radiators that were 24 inches to 36 inches long and in good condition could fetch as much as $400.

When I heard that I suddenly had a new respect for the old radiators sitting in my basement. I began to regard them as vintage collectibles. Some guys have wine cellars, I have a radiator collection.

And if Kilken is right, these radiators could be appreciating in value. If one of them is worth $400 today, I figure that 10 years from now it might be worth as much as $450. These big payday plans are dependent, of course, on the chance that someday someone would actually want to buy my old radiators. But to me the message is clear: Forget the stock market; old radiators will finance my golden years.

Now when I walk into the basement, I find myself going over to the old radiators and patting them. I am so proud of them. I am counting on them to come through with a big payoff. And I am so pleased that I did not toss them out.

Pub Date: 10/24/98

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