How to Make Steam Heat Efficient


Steam heat is one of the oldest home heating methods and can produce a very efficient and comfortable heat. Unlike forced air furnaces, which blow dry, heated air into living spaces, steam heating systems heat water until it turns to steam, which travels through coils and radiates heat into the air. Condensation from cooled air is returned to the boiler to be heated again. According to Directgov, 80 percent of the energy used in the typical home is used for heating. Make the best use of that energy by taking steps to ensure your steam heating system is as efficient as possible.

Things You'll Need

  • Fiberglass pipe insulation
  • Water
  • Vinegar
  • Shims
  • Cardboard or insulating foam
  • Foil
  • Insulate pipes in areas of the home you do not want heated, such as unfinished rooms. Use fiberglass pipe insulation that can withstand high temperatures of steam moving through the pipes.

  • Check for clogged air vents on the radiator. A clogged air vent can keep a steam radiator from heating up. Vents can be cleaned by boiling in water and vinegar, or they can simply be replaced.

  • Check the radiator for a tilt. The floor under a radiator can warp over time or the radiator can dig ruts into the floor. If a radiator is tilted, water condensation may not properly drain when it cools. A radiator not draining properly will make a banging sound when heating up. Level the radiator by putting shims underneath.

  • Make a heat reflector for radiators on exterior walls. Steam radiators located near exterior walls can radiate heat outdoors through the wall. Reflect that heat into the room by cutting a piece of cardboard or insulating foam board the same size or slightly larger than the radiator. Cover with foil and place between radiator and the wall, with foil facing away from the wall. Clean heat reflectors periodically.

  • Consider replacing the boiler, especially if your home is equipped with one made before 1970. According to Dan Holohan of Old House Journal, older radiators are sized for a time when open air ventilation was popular and insulation was uncommon, and can therefore be too large for a living space that may have updated, energy-efficient windows and insulation. A new, smaller boiler will use less energy to heat the space.

  • Add insulation in the walls and attic. According to Directgov, more than half the heat loss in a typical home is lost through the walls or the roof.

  • Turn down the thermostat. Turning down the thermostat just one degree can save up to 10 percent on heating bills.

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