Insert Coin semifinalist: Radiator Labs rethinks steam heat, we go hands-on

If you've ever lived in a building that was heated by steam, there's a good chance that you've experienced comfort levels that were less than ideal. Now, Insert Coin semifinalist Radiator Labs is working to bring a solution to market that'll make your living space a lot more tolerable, and as an added bonus, it'll save energy at the same time. We took a moment to catch up with Marshall Cox, co-founder of Radiator Labs, here at Expand, who explained the elegantly simple solution that the company has in store.

At its most fundamental level, what you have is an oven mitt for your radiator that's augmented with a temperature sensor and an exhaust fan. Whenever the ambient heat reaches your set comfort level (which can be controlled from the web or a smartphone app), the fan will shut off and the insulating cover -- described to us as ironing board material -- will prevent additional heat from escaping. From here, steam is redistributed to other apartments that need it, rather than turning your unit into a sauna. Beyond this eco-friendly element, Radiator Labs is integrating a phase change material into its product that can store energy and heat an apartment for up to four hours without assistance from the boiler.

Going deeper down the rabbit hole, Radiator Labs is exploring some nifty technologies such as an Xbee mesh network, which it's using to evaluate the energy-saving benefits at play. While this component won't be integrated into the consumer version, we could see commercial installations that include wireless communications with the boiler itself. Combined with the phase change material, this would allow a boiler to fire much less often -- seems like a great idea, if you ask us. We're told that Radiator Labs will be seeking crowd-funding for its product this fall, which will be available in the $250 price range. For additional peeks at what's to come, be sure to check the gallery.

Jon Fingas contributed to this report.