A Nest For Clunky Old Apartment Radiators?

Radlabs wants to do for apartment dwellers what Nest has done for homeowners, but with a decidedly DIY bent.

With a smart thermostat, Tony Fadell’s company Nest Labs was the first big splash in the smart home category. Just by replacing your existing thermostat, the Nest allowed you to save money and intelligently control your home’s temperature, all through your smartphone. Nest is great. But what if you’re one of the millions of apartment-dwelling Americans who doesn’t have control over his heat? Who deals with thermostats that are either blazing hot in the winter, or not turned on at all?


Enter Heat Flow. Designed by Radlabs—a group of three MFA students out of the School of Visual Art’s Products of Design program—the Heat Flow is an attempt to improve the quality of apartment heating similar to the way the Nest thermostat improves heating your home. Unlike the Nest, you have to bring your own smarts, but it’s a lot cheaper than the $249 Nest. The Heat Flow only costs $10.

“Radlabs was inspired by Nest,” says Radlabs’ Brandon Washington. “The brief we received [for our class assignment] was to either build upon Nest’s platform or disrupt it. We chose the latter. Nest only works if you can control your central heating system. But that’s just not a reality for renters in the Northeast who live in older buildings.”

In both design and execution, the Heat Flow is simple. A series of three fans held together in simple cardboard housing, the Heat Flow gently circulates stagnate air in the room toward a heated radiator nearby. This makes the room heat faster, as well as feel more comfortable, because it the heat is more evenly distributed. It’s not “smart” like the Nest, in that there’s no computer involved here at all, but it’s cheap ($10), simple, and, Radlabs claims, effective.

According to Washington, he and his two co-founders—designers Andrés Inglesias and Lucy Knops—hope to turn Radlabs into an online platform, where the apartment-dwellers that companies like Nest are ignoring can share tips, tricks, and ideas with one another to lifehack their apartments. They’ll also crowd source new ideas, and give royalties to designers who come up with new Radlabs products.

Of course, as a student project, Radlabs has a long way to go. They aren’t ready to launch the Heat Flow just yet: Washington says that they are looking for a fire-resistant variety of cardboard to house the fans in before they sell the Heat Flow as a retail kit–sensible. There’s also the question of what Radlabs will do next. Window-unit air conditioners?


“We did think of an intricate fan vortex that creates a wind tunnel in your home,” Washington laughs. “But that idea was abandoned pretty quickly.”

Read more about Radlabs here.