Friday, November 11, 2011

An Antique Perspective On Baseboard Heat Registers

Baseboard heat registers are, without a doubt, a success! So proclaims William Snow in his 1915 book Furnace Heating: A Practical And Comprehensive Treatise On Warming Buildings With Hot Air. The book is 276 pages of technical information primarily concerning furnaces and ventilation. It is a comprehensive study (as its title suggests) and no thorough examination of furnace heating would be complete without mention of heat registers. In particular, Mr. Snow discusses baseboard heat registers of which he says; "possess the advantages of the floor register and common wall register without having their disadvantages". Today, we take a look at baseboard heat registers from the perspective of this book.

At the time the book was written, the baseboard heat register was a rather new concept. In fact, Mr. Snow refers to baseboard registers as "modern types" of registers. Nearly a century later, we now frequently call them "antique style registers" or "vintage style registers". The book also refers to baseboard registers as "side wall registers". We don't often here that term today. Instead, baseboard registers are frequently called "gravity baseboard registers" because they were initially used with gravity furnaces.

Because the baseboard heat register was relatively new when his book was written, Mr. Snow describes them for his readers. The author states that "the face of the register near the floor projects some distance in front of the baseboard, which is cut away to make room for the register body". The register box (or stackhead) behind antique baseboard registers was usually made of tin or galvanized iron. The register box was "set partly in the wall and partly on the floor". While this was innovative at the time, it does make antique baseboard registers difficult to replace with anything but a reproduction such as the authentic reproduction baseboard heat registers from Mission Metalworks.

Mr. Snow attributes the popularity of baseboard heat registers to their efficient use of ductwork. For example, two baseboard registers placed back-to-back in a single register box could be "utilized to heat adjoining rooms on the same floor". Better yet, baseboard registers allowed a single flue to be used to heat two rooms, one above the other, without being obstructed by the register. The damper on the baseboard register "serves as a deflector, insuring the proper discharge of air". "Otherwise," the author continues, "the upper floor is apt to 'rob' the lower one".

In addition to moderating air flow through the baseboard register, the damper "throws air away from walls thereby avoiding discoloring them". Recall that the book was written in 1915. At the time, heat was provided by a wood burning or coal burning furnace and not the cleaner gas or electric variety found in most homes today. Although we call it a damper, it is called a "deflector plate" or "shutter back" in Mr. Snow's book.

Baseboard registers have two other important advantages over floor registers according to Mr. Snow; baseboard heat registers required no carpet cutting and they allow for more freedom in arranging furniture. However, the author does admit that floor registers have one benefit not provided by baseboard registers. According to Mr. Snow, "old people of the house will be quick to appreciate the advantage of being able to warm the feet over the floor register."

When it comes to furnace heating, William Snow literally wrote the book. When it comes to vintage baseboard heat registers, visit Shop 4 Classics for Mission Metalworks' genuine antique reproduction baseboard heat registers.

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