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The Basics of a Steam Heat Systems

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 was once widespread, many other newer systems have cropped up over the years. Still, it cannot be denied that steam heating systems are more reliable and easier to maintain than any of the more heating systems prevalent today.

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.

Fundamentals of a Steam Heat System

A steam heating system has four key components, including a water boiler and heater, along with pipes and convectors/radiators. The way the system works is rather straightforward. The boiler applies heat to the water and converts it to steam. Then the steam travels down the pipes and enters the radiators and/or convectors in each room. This is how the steam heat is spread throughout a building. With energy spreading, the temperature of the steam goes down, converting it back to water, which will now be heated by the boiler all over again.

How the Boiler Is Heated

There are several ways the boiler can be heated by the burner. In most cases, electricity, oil or natural gas will be 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 can be seen in larger buildings, while boilers that run on gas or heat are more common in homes and smaller buildings.

Radiators versus 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. Convectors and radiators are made in different shapes and sizes, and convectors are generally safer to touch because they are cooler than radiators. Still, they should be both handled with care.

How to Maintain a Steam Heat 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 has to be added the soonest. If the pressure level becomes too high, the boiler may just end up exploding. This can be avoided by loosing the air valves temporarily until the pressure normalizes. Finally, the air valves must also be oiled regularly.

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