Steam heating systems may be old fashioned but they are not extinct. Developed about 150 years ago, these systems were the upgrade to wood and coal heating used up until the late 1800s. In a simplistic form, steam heat systems utilize boilers – usually with a gas or oil-fired burners- to heat water, which turns into steam. The steam then travels through pipes to radiators or convectors to distribute heat to individual rooms.
Although steam heat dates back more than a century- and is usually found in homes that are more than 50 years old- the age of the technology does not necessarily mean it needs to be replaced. In fact, steam heat is incredibly efficient and millions of homes and commercial buildings in the U.S. are comfortably steam heated today. However, there are some things that come along with an aging or poorly-operating steam system that need to be addressed to ensure that it works- and sounds- as good as it should!
Here are a few signs that your steam heat system might need some help:
NOISE – Let’s face it, a lot of people equate steam heat with noise. Many folks with steam heating systems actually believe they have to live with a certain amount of ruckus. That’s not necessarily true. The noise that comes from steam heat systems is called “water hammer.” Water hammer is a banging or thumping sound that occurs in the steam piping due to improper pipe design or improper piping pitch.
Water hammer does not have to be a way of life for steam heat users. In some cases, steam system controls can alleviate some of the internal pressure of the pipes causing the noise. In other cases, pipes near the boiler may not necessarily fit as well as they once did from the initial installation (pipes are often older than the boilers).
An upgrade or modification to the plumbing can make a big difference. Insulating pipes does wonders in some homes. Nearly 25% of the heat generated from the boiler is lost to the basement due to a lack of insulation. Or, the quality of the steam might be bad due to high pH content or dirty water. Cleaning it up can quiet things down. These are just a few of issues and solutions surrounding water hammer and noise. Working with an expert to identify the problem is the first step in alleviating the noise.
INCONSISTENT HEAT – If you have areas in the home that are lacking heat- because a radiator or convector isn’t working properly- that is a sign that your system needs some tweaking. Sometimes it’s the radiator itself, or sometimes it’s an issue behind the scenes happening downstream from the radiator. Was the steam system sized correctly? Where is the radiator relative to the boiler? What’s the quality of the steam being produced at the boiler? Whatever the cause, an expert can help you get to the bottom of the issue and get your home heated well in every room. Don’t feel stuck because you have steam heat — There is a solution to every problem.
BOILER LIFESPAN – Most boilers should last decades, provided they are properly installed and well maintained. Once they’ve gone past their lifespan, you may begin to see recurring problems and there’s no doubt a boiler loses efficiency over its useful life. Replacing a boiler can have a big impact on the heating bills. It’s also not something you want to deal with during the coldest time of the year. Be proactive and replace your decades-old boiler before winter comes. And, make sure the pipes near the replaced boiler fit well so you don’t increase chances of water hammer.
FREQUENT REFILLS – If your boiler seems a little too thirsty and is requiring frequent refills, it’s a good sign that your system needs a checkup. Fresh water is a boiler’s kryptonite. Introducing fresh water will inevitably lead to premature failure. Leaks should be addressed and repaired immediately.
Steam heat has incredible advantages for warming a home in an efficient and inexpensive way. Just because something is older doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the potential to work well. Call the experts at Unique Heating and Cooling- with more than 50 years experience – and get your steam heat system working and sounding like new!