How to update old radiator covers

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Our first DIY project in the new house was to replace some old radiator screen covers. The previous screens looked like caning but were made out of metal and were damaged. We originally intended to use punched metal to replace the screens, but we found that we couldn’t purchase large enough sheets. After doing some research, Brian found some decorative MDF that we were able to use to achieve a similar look. Below is an overview of how to update old radiator covers.

Before and after photos of the radiator covers in the living room and on the landing
Before and after photos of the radiator covers in the living room and on the landing

We started this project in December, but the weather turned too cold before we were able to finish it. Specifically, we couldn’t apply the paint until the weather was above 50 degrees- so the radiators had no covers on them for several months.

The Process

The first step was to remove the current cane-like material from the frames. I used a pair of needlenose pliers and removed each nail by hand. We decided to reuse the existing frames rather than attempt to create new ones. They were in pretty good shape and needed only a coat of paint. Because of this, we were able to trace the frames to determine the exact size of MDF needed for each cover.

It was difficult to cut the MDF because it is very flimsy. We determined that the most effective way to cut it was to use a jigsaw. Ultimately, we found that the frames were not square and had to do a bit of trimming. We found it was easiest to use a utility knife to trim down the necessary pieces. Once the MDF was cut to size, we were able to paint and seal each panel using a paint sprayer.

The steps to replacing the radiator covers
Steps to replacing the radiator covers

The paint

After doing some research, I determined that I would need to use an oil-based primer on the MDF to prevent it from absorbing water and becoming uneven. Once I had primed the covers, I used a paint designed to tolerate high temperatures that was recommended by my local Sherwin Williams store. I had it tinted to match the frames and trim throughout the house (Natural Choice SW 7011). Finally, I covered both sides of the panels in a polyurethane spray to seal and protect them. If you are using spray paint, I highly recommend purchasing a spray paint trigger handle for comfort and ease.

We used the original braces to hold the screens into the frames after I removed the nails, so it was pretty simple to use the nail gun to tack the braces and screens into the frames. I still need to repaint the frames, but I think the screens make a big impact.

Tools Used

We needed several tools to complete this project.

  1. Needlenose pliers
  2. Decorative MDF
  3. Jigsaw
  4. Utility knife
  5. Paint sprayer
  6. Oil-based primer
  7. High-heat paint in color of choice
  8. Polyurethane spray
  9. Spray paint trigger handle
  10. Nail gun

For us, just replacing the existing screens in our radiator covers was a quick, easy, and inexpensive fix. It made a huge impact but was much cheaper than tearing our the existing radiator covers and replacing them. What do you think of this DIY project?

For more of our DIY home projects, check out my post on creating storage shelving for your garage or basement from 2x4s or my post on how we made a concrete table top.

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