Published onDecember 10th, 2020
The Nuances of NYC Steam Radiators: Everything You Should Know as a Landlord
With the winter season upon us in New York City, landlords and property managers may have replaced summer air conditioning headaches with radiator heat problems. Here are six common questions about NYC steam radiators from the pros at Sanitary Plumbing, New York City’s hyper-local, blue-chip plumbers for nearly 100 years.
What Is the Best Type of Radiator?
Three basic types
There are three general types of steam radiators, but no particular model is best for everyone. Depending on your property, one of these three may be better for your unique scenario:
- Cast-iron free-standing radiator: this model is still the most widely used in New York City, and it’s been around for the longest amount of time. These old-fashioned radiators take up more space and take longer to warm up, but they hold heat the longest.
- Baseboard radiator: this is a scaled-down version of the radiator described above, meant to fit in the space of a baseboard heater. These are ideal for small spaces or when you want radiators to be more unobtrusive.
- Ceramic heating system: this is also a form of steam radiator, but it is very efficient. It doesn’t get hot to the touch like the other two versions, so it’s great for homes with small children, seniors, and pets.
What Causes Radiators to Bang?
Water trapped in the radiator
The sound of a radiator banging is familiar to many residents of New York City. But they don’t have to suffer from this nuisance. It’s caused by steam condensing into liquid form in the radiator before it is returned to be reheated in the boiler. The water gets trapped along with steam in the radiator, and its movement inside can sound like a hammer banging.
Water banging can usually be fixed relatively easily by tipping the radiator about five degrees toward the intake valve, which is located near the floor between the steam supply pipe and the radiator. Simply elevate the far end of the radiator with a couple of wooden door shims to accomplish this.
Are There Solutions for Radiators Overheating?
Steam radiators in New York City were installed at a time when people used to throw open their windows if the air inside got too hot. Now, we know that’s a waste of energy, and it allows pollution indoors. Also, some modern windows may not even open.
Try these solutions if your tenants’ radiators are overheating:
- Turn off some of the radiators in rooms with multiple units.
- Cool the air with moisture from a humidifier.
- Distribute the heat better with ceiling fans.
- Use radiator covers to diminish the heat.
- Have a plumber install radiator zone valves (AKA thermostatic valves) to adjust the flow of radiator hot water.
- Check that the boiler is not firing too frequently due to a malfunction or improper thermostat setting.
- Resize the radiators by installing smaller models.
What if There Is Little or No Heat?
Check insulation, pipes, and boilers
If you’ve checked that the thermostat is set correctly, there are usually three other causes for this.
- Your pipes may need insulation. You may be heating water to the right temperature in the boiler to create steam, but you could be losing heat to the environment via uninsulated pipes. This is particularly likely if the pipes run along poorly insulated walls in cold locations, such as those that don’t receive sun or are subject to a lot of wind. If you see condensation or frost on a pipe, it’s a sure sign it needs insulation.
- The pipes leading to your radiators may be leaking or clogged. A licensed plumber can check this for you. Leaks obviously need to be repaired before they turn into major water damage problems. Sometimes, old galvanized pipes have buildup inside that limits the flow of water and steam. These should be replaced.
- You may have a problem with your boiler. To keep your boiler functioning optimally and to pass your annual boiler inspection, we recommend routine maintenance at least once per year. Some signs of boiler problems include:
- No hot water or inadequate hot water in the taps
- Difficulty starting or shutting off intermittently
- Loud or unusual noises
- Gauges not functioning properly
- Leaking water in the boiler area
- Expansion tank not working
- Buildup of soot around the boiler ignition
- Boiler flame burning yellow, not blue
- Carbon monoxide detector in boiler room triggered
How Can You Lower Fuel Bills?
Multiple ways to save
If you feel that your property’s fuel bills are too high, there are multiple ways you can lower them:
- Make sure steam is reaching radiators and pipes aren’t clogged or leaking.
- Ask tenants not to open their windows if their units are overheated, and follow the steps above to deal with overheating.
- Insulate pipes properly.
- Ensure you’re not losing heat to the outdoors by sealing around doors and windows, as well as by insulating walls and ceilings properly.
- Make sure you have the right size boilers and radiators for your property.
- Use programmable thermostats where appropriate, so tenants can lower the heat when they are not at home or while sleeping.
- Maintain your boiler for the most efficient steam heat.
Do you have a problem not addressed here? Are these solutions not solving the problem for you? Sanitary Plumbing is happy to help. Give us a call at 212-734-5000 or use our online form to schedule an appointment.