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Understanding the Steam Heat System

As the term suggests, a steam heat system is a house or building heating system that relies on steam to provide heat. Although steam heating used to be very popular, many newer systems have surfaced lately. Still, there are two things about steam heating that make it advantageous compared to modern heating systems – it is more reliable and it is so much easier to maintain.

Additionally, upgrading a heating system can be a very complex and pricey endeavor. If you own a building that uses a steam heating system and you have no plans to upgrade, you just have to understand its basic operations and how to fix it.

Understanding the Steam Heat System

A water boiler, a burner, radiators/convectors and pipes are the major components of a steam heating system. The way the system works is rather straightforward. By applying heat to the water, the boiler turns it into steam. The steam then makes its way through the pipes and into the radiators and/or convectors in each room. This is the manner in which steam heat is distributed around the building. As the energy spreads, the steam reduces its temperature and converts back into water, which is then reheated by the boiler.

How the Boiler Is Heated

There are different ways the burner can heat the boiler. Usually, oil, electricity or natural gas is used. Boilers heated by electricity are generally more expensive to operate than those that are heated by gas or oil. However, they are also way easier to maintain and don’t become as damaged as the other two when they actually break. Electrically heated boilers are usually found in bigger buildings, while gas and oil-heated boilers are more commonly used in smaller buildings and residential properties.

Radiators or Convectors?

In a steam heat system, radiators serve as heat-transferring devices where pipes that distribute heat are fully exposed. Convectors, on the other hand, are heating devices in a set up where there is partial shielding of the pipes that move heat. Radiators and convectors come in various shapes and sizes, and convectors are generally safer to touch as they are cooler than radiators. Still, they should be both handled with care.

Maintaining a Steam Heating System

Steam heating systems may be low maintenance compared to the others, but this still require periodic maintenance to stay in good condition. A qualified service professional should come to check the system at least once every twelve months.

As for the everyday care needs of the system, users can attend to them easily. For instance, this includes checking the boiler’s pressure and water level gauges from time to time. If the water level dips too low, the boiler will only keep getting hotter and hotter without actually heating the building. Water must be added as soon as possible. If the pressure level is too higher, the danger could explode. To make the pressure drop back to normal, the air valves can be temporarily loosened. Lastly, the air valves should also be oiled every now and then.

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