People like choices. Nowhere is that more evident than the local grocery store, where people can choose from a hundred different cereals or 20 varieties of orange juice. People also like to choose their HVAC systems and accessories, although sometimes they are denied the opportunity.

It is not because of any malice that people often can't choose which HVAC system or accessory they have installed. Usually it's just due to a builder or contractor having already decided which equipment would work best for a particular home or office - especially in new construction.

Customers are learning to speak up, however. They are asking for higher SEER and AFUE ratings, upgraded filtration, and zoning. They are also looking for more options in the world of grilles, registers, and diffusers. Many companies are complying with this request by offering these products in a wide range of materials, sizes, styles, and finishes.

Custom Solutions

Barker Metalcraft, Chicago, saw the trend and began manufacturing custom radiator covers and grilles more than 30 years ago. According to president Ron Ked, "Quite frankly, I didn't envision myself making grilles. We originally did a lot of baseboard heat covers, which is where we thought the company was going to go. When we started with the grilles, though, it pretty much took off in front of us."

In fact, business is booming. Ked credits the Internet with allowing his business to really grow. Before that he had to rely on print advertising. Now he can sell directly to consumers and contractors through his Web site (

Barker Metalcraft makes custom grilles, diffusers, radiator heat covers, baseboard heat covers, convector covers, and convector fronts. The company only does custom work. The lead time ranges from one to four weeks.

"We offer 12 different grille designs, and they go from traditional to contemporary," said Ked. "We're working in the cold-rolled steel line, and we're doing stamped grilles and louvers. We offer these in painted colors, including white, off-white, grays, browns, blacks, and beiges. In the grille field we offer chrome, brass, copper, antique brass, and brushed chrome. Our market covers commercial and residential and just about anything in between."

Barker Metalcraft has fabricated a wide variety of grilles, registers, and diffusers, mostly for the retrofit market. Ked says that on the commercial side, it's all about manufacturing products that are not available anywhere else. To that end, the company has manufactured a 150-foot-long grille for a prestigious Chicago hotel, a 110-foot-long grille for a local gymnasium, and a 48-inch by 10-foot grille for an exterior HVAC unit.

On the residential side, "We want to make something special, something you can't find anywhere else," stated Ked. "We're catering to the needs of an individual who can afford something a little bit better. That being said, we do it at a reasonable price. So, while we're more expensive than a stock grille, the average homeowner can still afford it."

Shown above and below are just some of the many different types of decorative registers Decor Grates offers.

Readily Available

Decor Grates, Toronto, manufactured its first decorative floor register in a distinctive scroll design in 1983. This decorative grille is still popular, and the company now offers a variety of grilles, registers, and diffusers in 12 decorative patterns, 24 assorted sizes, 11 material types (including wood, solid brass, cast aluminum, cast iron, and plastic), and more than 30 different finishes. Its registers are primarily used in residential applications with forced-air furnaces.

Ralph Oosterhuis, chief executive officer of Decor Grates, noted that the bright brass and textured black finishes are very close in volume, but the most popular category is wood, which makes up 40 percent of the company's sales.

"Decorative registers are more popular today because homeowners want to upgrade their environments," said Oosterhuis. "It started in the '90s with what the experts called cocooning and picked up speed after 9/11, when everyone traveled less and started spending those travel dollars on their homes."

Decor Grates does not do any custom work; it makes only the popular sizes to keep the cost of manufacturing down. The company's mandate is to give consumers the best-quality products at a price that is not prohibitive to a multiple purchase.

To that end, the company has a wide variety of price points, everything from the Classic plated and painted product line, which sells for under $10, to the Elite cast brass, cast aluminum, and solid wood product line, which sells in the $20 range.

Decor Grates' products are stocked at local home improvement outlets such as Home Depot. "Most contractors are missing the boat when it comes to decorative registers," said Oosterhuis.

"There is a huge opportunity for them to make this sale because they are the first contact the customer has when working on a project. If the contractor doesn't make it available, then the homeowner will pick it up on their next trip to a DIY or flooring store."

Hart & Cooley offers options including brass, wood, and brass/wood inlaid products.
Hart & Cooley Inc., Holland, Mich., also offers decorative grilles, registers, and diffusers through retail outlets, although product manager, Brad Roth, noted that might be changing.

"There is a growing trend now for HVAC wholesalers and custom home improvement stores to display these items along with flooring options in product showrooms."

Roth stated that decorative registers are not for every application because they can cost three to four times more than a standard register.

"Although this is usually not a concern to someone who has an expensive home and has the desire for products that enhance the home's décor." Hart & Cooley offers an extensive line of decorative products including brass, wood, and brass/wood inlaid products.

Customers like to choose the items going into their homes - these are no exception. Upgraded equipment and decorative grilles go a long way to ensure customer satisfaction while increasing a contractor's bottom line.

Publication date: 02/14/2005