steam heating radiator with a thermostatic radiator valve (TRV) device

Steam radiators have been a heat source in homes and businesses since their inception in 1855. These heating devices are one of the oldest and arguably most effective ways of heating a home, which is why they are still used globally in businesses and residential buildings. 

Even though there are many ways to heat a home or business, steam radiators are relied on because they are simple and can heat a space evenly with very little effort when balanced correctly. 

Unfortunately, steam radiators can experience balancing issues, so it’s an excellent idea to know how to balance them. That’s why Scully’s Plumbing & Heating, a New York steam heating company in Nassau County, has written this article explaining how to balance steam radiators.

What Is A Steam Radiator?—One Pipe Steam Radiators Explained

Before we dive into the process surrounding balancing steam radiators, it’s a good idea to learn more about this device—specifically a one-pipe steam system. 

Radiators heat water by being connected to a boiler, which slowly heats the water until steam is produced. The steam travels to the radiator via vertical piping, where thermal energy is distributed through the steam radiator’s fins. 

When the heat from the steam is lost, it turns back into water and begins the process again until an entire home or business is heated equally. A one-pipe system differs slightly from other radiator systems. 

One pipe connects to each radiator, serving as the supply and return line, getting steam from the boiler to a radiator and draining the condensed water back to the boiler. 

How To Balance Steam Radiators—The Process

Now that you’re aware of how a steam radiator works, we can explain how a steam heating professional would balance the steam radiators in your home or business. 

Our team knows that one of the biggest challenges working with steam radiators is putting them into balance. Much of these systems’ knowledge has been lost to time, but we know enough to help those in need. 

1. Vent The Mains

The first part of balancing a steam radiator system is to have the mains vented. Venting the mains will help the steam get to each radiator in a home or business simultaneously. Since steam is gas, it will continuously seek a way out, and if the mains are not vented, this could cause problems with your piping and boiler, leading to damage and possibly injuries. 

Fortunately, if your mains have big vents, it’s more likely that the steam will head toward them once it leaves the boiler. If you have noticed your steam radiators are heating unevenly, installing a high-capacity main vent would be an excellent idea. This vent should be situated near the end of each main to improve the unequal heating and balance the system better. 

Since this process can be difficult, it’s usually best to let a professional handle it. A professional plumber will ensure the vent pipe is around a foot from the end of a steam radiator’s main. 

2. Add A ‘Y’ Strainer

A ‘Y’ strainer is another key component that can help a steam radiator stay balanced. Since steam radiators are often older systems, they can get dirty. Because steam tends to move at a high velocity, it can pick up particles of sediment and rust. 

If no ‘Y’ strainer exists, this rust, dirt, and other sedimentary materials enter the main vent. This causes the main vent to be unable to close, and it will probably begin seeping water, letting steam pass into the atmosphere. 

Scully's Plumbing and Heating - steam y strainer
“Y” Strainer

When this happens, water level issues can arise at the boiler if no ‘Y’ strainer is installed near the main vent. This strainer stops debris, sediment, and rust from making their way into the main vent, increasing the life of your steam radiator while balancing it by improving the system’s performance. 

Although this filter is almost miraculous at extending the life of a ‘Y’ strainer, it’s important to hire a professional plumber to have it cleaned out safely. 

3. Vent The Radiators

The main vents aren’t the only important part when balancing a steam radiator, and neither is the ‘Y’ strainer. If you want your steam radiator system to be properly balanced, you need to handle air movement in a particular way. 

First, you must vent the mains as quickly as possible to ensure the gas can escape. Second, you need to vent the radiators in relation to their size throughout your home or office building. 

steam air vent
Bell & Gossett Steam Air Vent

When opened correctly, the main vents will allow the steam to pass through each radiator simultaneously, efficiently heating your home. 

The vents opened appropriately will allow you to maintain a warm climate no matter where you are in the building. 

4. Ensure All Steam Lines Are Insulated

Did you know that uninsulated pipes have about five times the heat loss of insulated steam pipes leading to radiators? Insulation is key to ensuring a steam radiator system remains balanced. Without steam line insulation, your building or home will likely experience cold spots and hot spots—leading to an uncomfortable living or working environment. 

This is because when the steam condenses, it returns to its natural state—water. The water stops moving. If your steam lines aren’t insulated to keep the process of condensation to evaporation going, the system will be unbalanced. Proper insulation will condense the steam in the radiators, not the basement piping. 

There are many kinds of pipe insulation, and old piping might still have incredibly toxic asbestos. If you have asbestos insulation, consider removing it and placing fiberglass insulation on your piping instead. Fiberglass is affordable and easy to attain. 

Common Problems With Steam Radiators That Aren’t Balanced

Now that you know how to balance a steam radiator, you might be curious about what signs point toward needing a professional plumber to balance your steam radiators. 

Fortunately, we’re well acquainted with the signs. Below you will learn three common problems that likely signal you need to rebalance your steam radiator. 

Get In Touch With Scully’s Plumbing & Heating To Get Expert Help With Balancing Your Steam Radiators

As you now know, balancing a steam radiator system is not the easiest task. Typically, the services of an expert in steam heating are required to ensure a system is appropriately balanced the first time around. 

If you fear your steam radiators are acting up and need to be balanced to provide warmth throughout your home or business, you can contact us at Scully’s Plumbing & Heating. We have experience with steam radiators and will identify and fix your problem.

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