I was really struck this morning by this super cool project featured on This Old House: a hot buffet, made with an existing radiator. The hot buffet project is part of a roundup of fifty tips to upgrade your house for under $100, but this is one of the most strikingly practical, especially with the holiday season coming up.
Here's how you do it: you build an enclosure for a radiator from pierced metal (for the sides, to allow heat to easily flow out and warm the room) and a wooden top (for use as the buffet surface). When the radiator is on, the heat will keep the wood warm (but not dangerously so, because your enclosure will be tall enough to give the radiator plenty of clearance), and you can keep food, dishes, and silverware on top.
Check with your Chicago HVAC technician if you have questions about safe clearance and materials. It's important to avoid obstructing the radiator as this can interfere with heating, and it may also increase the risk of fire.
Not only will your hot buffet keep food warm, it also creates a great spot for serving and storage of supplies for the meal, without disrupting the footprint of the room. Since people already have to steer clear of the radiator to avoid injuries, the buffet isn't taking up more space, and it can conceal an ugly older radiator that doesn't add much visual interest or benefit to the room.
The folks at This Old House peg the price for this project at about $75, using materials from home supply centers. You may be able to lower the price by using salvaged materials, including free material from your community as well as architectural salvage from a company that specializes in rescuing old wood and other materials. Architectural salvage can be a great source for interesting pierced metal, as you may be able to find a visually compelling antique pattern to use.
Make sure your box slides out to provide access to the radiator for service, so you can easily bleed the radiator, inspect it for signs of problems, and identify leaks early. If you aren't comfortable building this project yourself, contact a handyman to discuss your options; this will add to the cost slightly, but handymen have all the tools needed as well as the experience required to make sure the buffet is square, load-bearing, and safely constructed.
You can also purchase products designed to work in much the same way as this DIY project, but you might get more satisfaction by making your own hot buffet. It can also increase the value of your home, as a piece of furniture that can act as a built-in or be easily removed if prospective buyers are not interested.
Katie Marks writes for Networx.com.