Fraunhofer CSE Evaluates Radiator Labs’ Radiator Retrofit Technology

If you’ve ever lived in a building heated by steam radiators, you may be familiar with their shortcomings.

Traditional steam radiators – found in buildings throughout the Northeast – can be a major source of discomfort and energy waste. The core problem is that tenants of steam-heated buildings may have little or no control over their heating systems. When radiators are on, rooms can overheat. When they are off, rooms quickly become too cold. Many tenants do not pay for heating directly, so radiators may be left on all the time and windows opened or closed to keep the rooms comfortable. This wastes energy and can lead to drafty, uncomfortable rooms.

Engineers at Columbia University-based start-up Radiator Labs have devised a retrofit solution to address these problems, designed with the intent of saving energy while improving occupant comfort. Their solution is built around an insulating sleeve that covers the steam radiator and a temperature-controlled fan that delivers heat only when the room is too cold.

Radiator Labs’ enclosure covers existing radiator units, making it easier to manage their heat output.

Radiator Labs’ enclosure covers existing radiator units, making it easier to manage their heat output.

Last week, Radiator Labs publicly unveiled an ongoing pilot-scale demonstration project currently being carried out in conjunction with Fraunhofer CSE at a Columbia University residence hall. This steam-heated brick building, located just north of New York City, houses about 100 students. The project’s goals are to assess energy savings, thermal comfort, and user acceptance associated with the radiator modifications.

Air temperature sensors were installed in each room to monitor indoor conditions throughout the heating season. For the first half of the pilot, which ran from September to December 2012, the building operated with all radiators in their original conditions. During the second half of the pilot, which began this month and will continue until April, the radiators will operate with the new systems. This arrangement allows us to observe changes to the temperature and energy consumption patterns before and after the retrofit. We also track building electricity and gas usage to assess changes in energy consumption.

As with any technology affecting living conditions, it is essential to collect occupant feedback. Online surveys will provide insights into user acceptance and thermal comfort, both before and after the retrofit. Once the monitoring period is completed, Fraunhofer CSE’s technical team will analyze the data to estimate the potential energy savings and impact on occupant comfort.

This evaluation project was funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Small Business and Clean Energy Alliance Partnership as a result of Radiator Lab’s finalist position in the DOE National Business Plan Competition. The company previously received a 2012 MIT Clean Energy Prize.

Fraunhofer CSE regularly works with early-stage companies like Radiator Labs through our TechBridge program, which offers funded services for the testing and evaluation of early stage technologies through a range of competitive solicitations. To date, TechBridge’s portfolio companies have received more than $28M in follow-on funding. Fraunhofer TechBridge also leads a DOE Innovation Ecosystem Grant Award which has funded over 15 projects to date, including recent awardees NBD Nanotechnologies and Coincident.

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