Steam Radiator heat? Keep or replace?

9 Replies | Worcester, Massachusetts

@Jack Moran we would need more information to give you a good answer. This is a common issue in my area, and the building I just purchased in Berwyn used to have a steam boiler. The previous owners converted to gas forced air, which was one of the reasons I liked it. 

 Is the boiler working well still? Are the pipes all rusted out, or are they in good repair still? If you replace them, how much  money will it cost? You most likely would go with either gas forced air heat, or with electric baseboard if the area is a little lower end. The electric is way cheaper to install, but is not as nice long term. 

Thanks John.  I'm in New England where oil heat is the go to.   

I think forced hot water baseboards or forced hot air are the main configuraions.

I'm looking at a home that needs renovation, has steam radiators.  New construction would never be done with a steam radiator system today, I'm just trying to sort out if it just makes sense to assume that replacing them will be necessary as part of the initial renovation or if the steam radiator systems can still be considered a viable way to heat your home today?

I own a duplex in Marlborough which has a unit that still utilizes a steam radiator heating system. The system can be a bit noisy at times, but it generally functions well and for me it was not worth changing to an alternate. If you decide to stick with steam make sure any exposed piping is adequately insulated with fiberglass - we had a problem with higher-than-average heating costs which we discovered was due to inefficient heat transfer through exposed pipes. Another problem with my system is that the boiler needs to be refilled with water every ~2 weeks or so, which the tenant takes care of.

Thanks Damian, I grew up in a house with steam radiators, I remember the "refill with water" procedure.   Good that you got the tennant to deal with it.   Is your tennant doing just that or do you have them do general maintenance too?   Shovel snow and do grass ant little stuff like the boiler for a discount?   I've thought about that approach instead of paying someone else, just wondering how that's working for you if you've been using it.

My primary residence has steam heat.  It is definitely a good form of heat as you tend not to have the severe dryness that you can get in the winter with hot air heat.

     However, for rentals, you do need to have someone monitor and add water to the system.

   Also, I find it difficult to find plumbers or heating guys that really understand steam, if there is an issue.  It is somewhat if a lost art.

@Jack Moran I am curious. Did you ever end up replaced the steam radiator heating system? If so, did you think it was worth it? I under agreement on a Worcester triple-decker where one of the unit has radiators and wonder if it is worth replacing with forced air? 

@Charles Situ . You can sometimes convert a steam boiler system into a hydronic or water system. A boiler has a long lifespan and is a more comfortable heat. I would speak to a plumber in your area who is knowledgeable about this subject and have him give you some options. We have boilers in my area that are 75+ years old still functioning.

@Jack Moran if the system is functioning or you can get it functional for cheap $$ do so then call mass save for a free energy assessment. They should be able to issue a nice tax credit + finance a new system and low or no interest to replace it with a more efficient system. It’s a fantastic program in MA that you’re paying for in your utility bills whether you  use it or not but the system has to be functional and property in habitable condition at the time of the energy consultation. 
Best of luck,