Published onJune 28th, 2021
Sanitary Plumbing – Steam Heat Radiators Banging? Causes and Solutions to Eliminate Noise
Steam Heat Radiators Banging? Causes and Solutions to Eliminate Noise
Many properties in New York City, especially large apartment buildings, still use steam radiators for heat. This is because this type of heating has remained efficient over the decades, with a few tweaks here and there to improve its delivery. However, one problem that has persisted since the inception of steam heat is noisy radiators. In this post, the experts at Sanitary Plumbing offer advice about steam heat radiators banging so you can eliminate noise and make your tenants happier.
How Do Radiators Work?
Understanding steam heat
Before you can fix a noisy radiator, it helps to have a solid grasp of how steam radiators function to provide heat. Most folks who are new to steam heat don’t know exactly how they work. Included in this group are new property owners and management or superintendent staff who are still learning the ropes.
The concept of steam heat is pretty simple. Water is heated in a central boiler. Water is heated so hot that it evaporates and forms steam (water in liquid form becomes a gas). The steam is then sent to the radiators in the property, which provide radiant heat for tenants.
Once the steam has been inside a radiator for a while, it naturally starts to cool again and condenses to water (gas becomes liquid). In most properties, that condensate is collected and returned to the boiler room for the process to start all over again. This way, the same water can be recycled multiple times, which is energy efficient–quite remarkable for a process that has been around since the early 20th century!
What Causes That Awful Banging Noise?
Rapidly cooling steam
The cycle described above works perfectly…in theory. But in real life, there can be issues that prevent the system from functioning as effectively (and quietly!) as it should. If you’ve lived in New York long enough, you’ve probably heard that terrible noise that sounds like a hammer banging on your radiator. You may have also had tenants complaining about it, especially since radiators are typically most active in the early morning hours, when residents may still be sleeping.
The noise they hear is usually caused by water hitting the metal interior of the pipe or the radiator at very high speeds. Water that should be exiting the radiator in the form of condensate is instead remaining in the steam system and mixing with the incoming steam. The steam hurls the water around, resulting in the banging sound.
Trapped water can also make steam cool and condense more rapidly than normal. This creates a vacuum inside the radiator that pulls water into empty spaces, which can cause a great amount of equally undesirable noise.
How Can You Prevent Steam Heat Radiators from Banging?
A few solutions to try
There are a couple of things you can try to get rid of the banging sound steam heat radiators make. The first is to tilt the radiator toward the intake valve. Many radiators are placed in a level position, but this contributes to water being trapped inside. When you shift the angle of the radiator slightly, you encourage the condensate to flow out more easily with a little help from the force of gravity.
A wooden shim or a few paint stirrers from the hardware store under the opposite end of the radiator should do the trick. Use a level and aim for a tilt of about five degrees.
Also, make sure all your radiator steam valves are functioning properly. It is imperative to ensure that the radiator valve is fully open — to allow steam and subsequent condensate to enter and exit fully. Or, it is fully closed to eliminate the possibility of steam entering the radiator altogether.
When Is It Time to Call in the Pros?
If you can’t fix it yourself
If you try all of the solutions mentioned above and your radiators are still making too much noise, it’s time to schedule a visit from the pros at Sanitary Plumbing. Together with our Omnia Mechanical Group partners at Calray Boilers and Antler Pumps, we can see if there is something else going on with your steam radiator system that is causing a disturbance.
Why Is Summer the Ideal Time to Tend to Heat Problems?
Time to tinker with all your heating issues
It might sound counterintuitive to tackle your radiator heat system in summer, but it’s actually the perfect time. You won’t be trying to get an appointment with your plumber during the busy heat season, which is more convenient for you. You can iron out difficulties with your radiators before tenants need them at a leisurely pace, and if parts are needed, your residents won’t be inconvenienced if there’s a bit of a wait.
Whether you’ve had banging radiators, noisy pipes, or malfunctioning steam valves, Sanitary Plumbing is here to help. Call us at 212-734-5000 to schedule an appointment, or reach out online to let us know what we can do for you. Don’t wait until the heating season puts you in a bind. Get in touch today.