Radiator Labs Pairs Data with a Patented ‘Oven Mitt’ for a Winning Solution
Four years ago, while Radiator Labs Founder and CEO Marshall Cox studied for his Ph.D. in electrical engineering at Columbia University, he encountered an all-too-familiar problem: His steam-heat radiator wasn’t heating his apartment effectively.
Or rather, it was heating too effectively, causing Cox’s twin brother—a professional ballet dancer on Broadway, crashing on the couch for six months—to complain.
“He complained so incessantly that I talked to my Ph.D. adviser and we figured out a way to build something to solve the problem,” Cox says.
At first, Cox says, the goal was to solve a comfort issue. But after some initial research, Cox and his colleagues discovered that their product could reduce heating costs and save energy on a much larger scale.
Thus was born Radiator Labs, which recently won the energy category of 1776’s 2015 Challenge Cup. Radiator Labs converts old cast-iron radiators into smartphone-controlled heaters using Cox’s patented technology. Radiator Labs’ solution, called The Cozy, is a drop-on, retrofit cover for radiators, which lets residents control the temperature of their radiator-heated apartments.
“The uniqueness (of The Cozy) is not intuitive,” Cox admits. “So we put a cover on the radiator. It’s like, ‘How does that help?’ Well, it reduces heating costs at the residential-building level by 30 to 40 percent in steam-heated buildings.”
Steam-heated buildings were commonly built in the mid-20th Century, prior to World War II. At the time, steam offered an extremely efficient and balanced way to heat the architectural marvels that towered above street level. Yet, advances in technology—such as retrofitting apartments with doubled-paned, insulating glass—have left something to be desired when it comes to radiator heat.
“Today we have minimum temperatures required in most buildings, so heating systems cater to the worst, coldest rooms in a building,” Cox says. “If your apartment is too hot, the building manager’s only solution is to tell you to open a window.”
Across the country, those open windows—and subsequently wasted heat—cost $7 billion every year, equating to roughly 40 billion pounds of carbon-dioxide emissions.
So how does a product that Cox describes as “an oven mitt for your radiator” tackle a $7 billion industry? With data, of course.
Radiator Labs’ secret sauce isn’t just The Cozy’s patented design; it’s data—and that’s the domain of Meg Sutton, Radiator Labs’ chief data scientist. Sutton, whose background is in climate science, has developed algorithms to help building owners and supervisors manage their buildings’ heat.
“Our target right now is fully installing on the building level,” Sutton says. “With the value proposition of ‘saving energy,’ we can do our best work in full building installations where we have more control.”
At the building level, Radiator Labs can combine information about the temperature in each tenant’s apartment, the boiler itself and overall energy use to help redirect heat to the coldest spaces in the building. Yet, Cox says the big vision is to move into energy storage and demand management.
“There’s huge potential for better control of energy when you decouple production from consumption,” he said.
That vision also caught the eyes of judges at 1776’s Challenge Festival in Washington, D.C. last month. At the competition, Sutton pitched her way into the Global Finals, beating out 19 energy entrepreneurs from around the world.
“I was not expecting to get through to the Finals—only two of 20 companies go through,” Sutton says. “I was listening to the pitches backstage, and I was very impressed with everybody.”
Yet, Sutton’s pitch was a winning one. At the Global Finals, judges named Radiator Labs the Challenge Cup Global Winner in the energy category. Radiator Labs now becomes a 1776 portfolio company and receives a $100,000 investment from the 1776 seed fund.
“A lot of inefficiency is in people’s homes, and you have to have a strong value proposition to make that effort worthwhile,” Cox says. “We think we have that. We’re addressing the single-largest line item expense for U.S. buildings, if you do the math.”