Maintain the Radiators on Your Home Heating System

Thermostat and radiator
  • 1-2 hours
  • Beginner
  • 10-15
What You'll Need
Wooden wedges
What You'll Need
Wooden wedges

Giving you peace of mind, as well as keeping your family safe, proper furnace maintenance is important and will help shave some money off your utility bills. Whether you heat your home with a forced-air system, a hot-water system or a steam heating system, it's important to have your heating unit inspected and maintained once a year by a qualified, licensed professional. Better maintained and operating equipment means that your system will work easier, use less power and heat your home more efficiently.

While it's a good idea to have a professional come out once a year, there are also a few things that you can do to keep your radiators working well. Proper maintenance will not only save you time and money, but will also alert you to any potential problems and let you handle them before they turn into larger, more costly problems.

Step 1 - Adjust the Slope

You should check your system and ensure that every radiator has a gentle slope towards the steam inlet pipe (this is the pipe that comes up from the floor or out of the wall). If there is no slope to your radiator, you can add a 1/4-inch wedge of wood under the feet at the vent's end. This will provide a slight gradient and will prevent your furnace from making irritating clanging or knock noises.

Step 2 - Check for Vent Blocks

Paint, rust and general corrosion can block your vents and prevent them from letting air escape properly. The air trapped in the radiator keeps steam from entering, preventing your unit from heating and running correctly. If the vent is blocked, it is very simple to replace it, and the part is usually carried at most local hardware stores. Once the system has cooled down somewhat, simply unscrew the vent and replace it with the new one.

Step 3 - Check Inlet Valves

Check the positioning on your inlet valves. A partially open or shut valve will not help to regulate the heat and simply knocks or clangs. Ensure that your valves are either all the way open or all the way shut. This is accomplished simply by turning them to open or closed positions.

Step 4 - Watch Out for Leaky Valves

Does it appear that you have an inlet valve leaking? More often than not, it's usually the cap nuts that are leaking, rather than the valve itself. These are the big nuts located at the vertical and horizontal connections and, fortunately, can usually be easily fixed, simply by retightening the nuts. Using one wrench to hold the valve and a second to tighten the cap nut, you can easily complete this task in seconds. Should the leak appear to come from somewhere under the valve handle, try removing the valve head and tightening the uppermost nut there, known as the gland nut.

Should all of the above solutions fail to stop the problem, try checking the double-ended and double-threaded brass piece that connects the valve to the radiator. Using two wrenches, once again, remove the valve and the adaptor, and then install a replacement. Replace the adaptor and valve, refill the system and then examine it for further leaks, tightening everything else.

These are very simple methods of looking after your radiators in between service calls, but remember, this is no replacement for having a licensed inspector come out and check things over. Following these simple tips is sure to help extend the life of your system, as well as keep your family warm, toasty and safe this cold-weather season. Stay safe and cozy with a little prevention.