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How Does a Steam Heat System Work?

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, it is undeniable that steam heating systems are more dependable and easier to maintain compared to any other modern heating system used nowadays.

In addition, a heating system upgrade can be a very complicated and expensive process. 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 water boiler, a burner, radiators/convectors and pipes are the major components of a steam heating system. The system works in a pretty straightforward manner. The boiler applies heat to the water and converts it to steam. This steam then goes down the pipes and into the radiators and/or convectors in every room. This is the way stem heat is distributed all over a 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 several ways the boiler can be heated by the burner. Natural gas, electricity or oil is often used. Electrically heated boilers are generally pricier to run than those compared to those which are oil or gas-heated. 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 or Convectors?

In a steam heating system, radiators work to transfer heat via completely exposed pipes. 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, extreme care is necessary when handling either.

Steam Heating System Maintenance

Although steam heat systems are relatively easy to maintain, they do require regular maintenance to remain in good condition. Every part of the system should be checked by a qualified service professional at least once a year.

The daily care needs of the system can be handled by the user. For instance, this includes checking the boiler’s pressure and water level gauges from time to time. A water level too low means the boiler will just keep increasing its temperature, but the building won’t actually be heated. Water should be added at the soonest possible time. With a very high pressure reading, the boiler could actually explode. By loosening the air valves temporarily, the pressure can return to normal. Finally, air valves should as well be oiled on a regular basis.

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Writen by Bradford Todd