Maintaining a radiator heating system

Old 02-10-17, 06:08 PM
Thread Starter
Join Date: Oct 2001
Location: USA
Posts: 278
Upvotes: 0
Received 0 Upvotes on 0 Posts
Question Maintaining a radiator heating system

My daughter is considering buying a 1920s house that has a boiler system and radiators. I do not know if it is steam or hot water (we go to view the house tomorrow). It is a foreclosure so there is not a lot of information available. I am concerned the radiator heating system is going to be a constant headache. We live in the midwest and our winters are unpredictable. I have never seen anyone keep the cast iron radiators very long. Most homeowners in our area install forced air gas, but I have to say I hate the noise, dust you get with forced air.

I'm hoping some of you from the North/Northeast may have first hand experience with radiator systems and can tell me what you think of these systems.
Old 02-10-17, 06:29 PM
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: USA
Posts: 2,604
Received 28 Upvotes on 27 Posts
First, I would find somebody with experience servicing such systems, and pay them to inspect it and give you a recommendation.

I have never seen anyone keep the cast iron radiators very long.
Your experience may be limited. Mine are 60 years old.
Old 02-10-17, 07:04 PM
Join Date: Oct 2013
Location: United States
Posts: 2,768
Received 141 Upvotes on 133 Posts
I think it depends on what you plan to do with the heat. Steam is usually all 1 zone. If you think you will want to break the house up into zones then you're probably not going to want steam.

That being said the first thing to do as Gil mentioned is to find somebody competent in servicing steam heat. Steam is a lost art and it can be difficult to find someone that knows what they are doing.

Aside from that if set up properly I think it is one of the best forms of heat. A balanced steam system delivers heat you will not find in any other system and since there is no water in the pipes you never have to worry about frozen pipes in the winter if the power goes out or the boiler goes down. You will never get a better heat.

Just my opinion, hope this helps a little.
Old 02-10-17, 09:38 PM
PJmax's Avatar
Group Moderator
Join Date: Oct 2012
Location: Jersey
Posts: 64,663
Received 3,899 Upvotes on 3,495 Posts
An additional consideration here is what are your plans for A/C ?

If you are considering central air.... that could weigh heavily in your choice of heat.
Old 02-12-17, 01:24 PM
Join Date: Feb 2017
Location: US
Posts: 1
Upvotes: 0
Received 0 Upvotes on 0 Posts
Radiant heat is the best you can have. I agree with having the system inspected by someone who knows these systems. A house in foreclosure is concerning if the heat was not kept on and pipes were allowed to freeze.

Our hot water radiant system of 10 radiators and cast iron pipes was installed in the 1930's. The house has been in our family since the 1960's. Annual boiler service is all thats ever been needed.
We just replaced the oil fired boiler with a natural gas modcon boiler recently when natural gas became available. High mass radiant systems and modcon boilers are a perfect match.

I cringe when I read someone wants to replace their radiators with forced air.

Post photos of the radiators and boiler if you can
Old 02-12-17, 03:44 PM
ray2047's Avatar
Join Date: Mar 2006
Location: USA
Posts: 29,711
Upvotes: 0
Received 15 Upvotes on 13 Posts
Not having lived in an area that used boilers for heat since I was seven years old I cringe at the thought of something so complicated as boilers. Though while I have always lived in houses that used gas space heaters (okay and one house with a floor furnace) i've been in plenty of houses with forced air heat and never noticed any dust or noise. Maybe when the O/P heard noise it was a retrofit using high pressure and small tube like ducts. Those are sometimes used from what I see on TV when standard size ducts aren't practical and do make some noise.

Last edited by ray2047; 02-12-17 at 04:02 PM.
Old 02-12-17, 05:26 PM
Join Date: Mar 2006
Location: Wet side of Washington state.
Posts: 16,321
Received 38 Upvotes on 30 Posts
Ray, it is poorly designed and poorly installed forced air systems that give the entire lot of them a bad name. Properly designed AND INSTALLED forced air systems are just as comfortable as any hydronic system. Unfortunately, in residential construction poorly installed forced air systems, often with no design at all, are the norm.
Old 02-22-17, 06:29 AM
Join Date: Jan 2017
Location: USA
Posts: 447
Upvotes: 0
Received 14 Upvotes on 11 Posts
heating systems

I worked on and installed hot water and steam boilers fired with coal, oil, natural gas, propane and even a few burning sewer gas. I have also installed and serviced forced air systems fired with gas and oil. All work great if the installing company is good at what they do. They won't be cheap and will not cut corners. (most are not and should not be in business) Ask around and try to find a company that every one likes and solves all their problems. Hot water and steam are limited to heating only, while forced air systems can utilize heat and A/C, Electronic air cleaners and air filters, humidifiers and will not freeze as hot water can. Myself I like the versatility of forced air however some people prefer the extreme quiet of steam or water. If the system that is in the house you are looking at is hot water I would look closely for broken pipes due to freezing if you live in a colder climate.

Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Ask a Question
Question Title:
Your question will be posted in: