Steam radiators take water from either a gas or electric furnace, heat it up and push the steam through a pipe to the radiator. When the steam reaches the radiator, it warms the radiator allowing heat to disperse throughout the room. As the air in the room heats up, it draws the cool air into the underside of the radiator forming condensation. The condensation that forms flows back down the pipe to be heated again.
Types of Steam Radiator Systems
Steam radiators are most commonly found in homes that were built before the 1950s. There are two types of steam radiator systems out there: a one-pipe and a two-pipe system. For the one-pipe system, there is one main pipe that runs from the furnace to each radiator. The same pipe carries the steam up to the radiator as well as the condensation back down to the furnace to be heated again. A two-pipe system has two pipes; one pipe carries the steam from the furnace to each radiator and the other pipe carries the condensation back to the furnace.
Getting the Most out of Your Radiator
Steam radiators are very economical. Long after the furnace finishes its heating cycle the radiator will still give off heat in the room. Even the delivery pipes can be considered heat sources as they also give off heat. To be sure that the radiator is operating efficiently, air must be able to move freely around it. If you have your radiator enclosed, be sure you have ample ventilation at the top and bottom of the radiator. This will allow the maximum heat to be dispersed throughout your room. If inadequate ventilation is present, the room will likely be cold as the heat from the radiator won’t be able to spread throughout the room.
Although steam radiators can be economical, they also have their share of drawbacks. Many times you will find that your floors are warped around the radiator area. This is caused by the steam in the system. They are not a quiet heating system, thought. As the radiator heats up, you may hear pipes clanking together. You may also hear a hissing noise as the steam is pushing all the cold air out of the pipes. Steam radiators can be dangerous; the steam is generated under pressure and can cause the furnace to explode. Unless you have a ceramic radiator, you can be burned if you touch a radiator while it is hot. Be sure to exercise extreme caution if you have small children and your radiator is exposed.
Simple Checks for Problematic Radiators
There may be times when a radiator is not performing at its maximum capacity. If this happens, there are a few things that you can check yourself before calling a licensed technician. All steam radiators have a valve on them, appropriately called a “steam valve.” This valve is used to “bleed” any cold air out of the system. If the radiator is not getting hot, try opening the valve a little more. Opening the valve hole larger will allow more heat to reach the radiator. You can also try turning your thermostat up a few degrees to see if that eliminates the problem.