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.
In addition, a heating system upgrade can be a very complicated and expensive process. If you own a building that counts on a steam heating system and you don’t plan on upgrading, you simply need to understand how it operates and how to fix any problems.
Fundamentals of a Steam Heat System
There are four components of a steam heating system – a burner, a water boiler, pipes and radiators/convectors. The system works in a pretty straightforward manner. The boiler turns the water into steam by applying heat to it. 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.
Heating the Boiler
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. On the other hand, convectors are heating devices in a setup where heat-moving pipes are partly shielded. 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.
Maintaining a Steam Heating System
Although steam heat systems are relatively easy to maintain, they do require regular maintenance to remain in good condition. A qualified service professional should come to check the system at least once every twelve months.
The daily care needs of the system can be handled by the user. For example, the boiler’s pressure and water gauges must be monitored. 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. With a very high pressure reading, the boiler could actually explode. 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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