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Question DetailsAsked on 9/30/2016

Replacing steam radiators with baseboard in an apartment.

I live in an older co-op apartment building, and have steam radiators with covers over them. They are not just incredibly noisy when on, but more importantly the heat is stifling. I try turning the knobs down/off but that appears to have no effect, and I have to open the windows instead. I understand that replacing them with baseboards would mean less heat, but that is certainly a good thing in this case! Does that seem to be a good idea, or do I have better options?

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Voted Best Answer

My experience - generally baseboard heaters don't work well with steam - heavy noise problems, clogging, etc - because they basically are not made for steam to liquid conversion like a steam radiator. Yes a normal baseboard heater will put out less heat than a same-length traditional steam radiator just because it has far less radiative surface area - but I would not recommend it. Also - the steam radiatior were presumably at least somewhat designed to put put the heat needed for the living space you have - put in baseboards, even if longer than the steam radiators, you might end up significantly underheated in really cold weather.

Your problem could be one of two likely reasons:

1) the control valves have worn out and their rubber seats are shot, so they let steam through even when they are truned all the way closed - not a major thing in most cases to replace or rehabilitate those.

2) your thermostat (if system runs off room thermostats) might not be set for steam radiator use - because the radiators continue to turn out heat long after the steam flow continues, if the thermostat turns off the at the desired temperature the heat continues to radiate from the radiators, resulting in commonly a 10 degree or more "overheat" before they cool off to room temp. To compensate for this there is (in most thermostats) an "anticipator" setting which is adjusted for different types of heating - besically no anticipation and turns off at desired setting for forced air system, shuts off some 3-7 degrees below desired temp for baseboard hot water systems, and commonly 5-15 degrees early for steam systems - to account for the fact that the heat willl continue to radiate after the thermostat shuts off the flow.

It is also possible, if using manual control, that you are opening the valves too far in cool but not cold weather, or waiting till it is getting to hot to turn them down. Generally, with steam systems turning the valves on and off to control heat (unless turning it down for an extended period while you are away for instance) is a losing battle - almost easier to just set each radiator's valve to gradually come up to the temperature you want that room at (working from low setting and increasing upwards every hour or so untill where you want to be). Of course, will have variations between day and night so that can be a choice between day or night comfort or a lot of valve resetting every day - one of the main reasons many people do not like steam heat.

You could also talk to neighbors about what they do, and with any who have converted to baseboards and how they liek it and brand they got.

I would suspect to have the thermostats and electric control valves (if you have them), or the manual valves if manually controlled, repaired or replaced as needed would run probably about $50-150/radiator for an entire apartment depending on whether going with repair of manual valves or new/thermostatic valves - probably half or less the cost of changing to baseboard heaters.

Normally, if replacing the valves, one would go with thermostatic control valves - which either run off an existing room thermostat, or if currently manually opened have a built-in thermostat to control each unit individually. Here is a ThisOldHouse article on doing that to update a steam heating system without tearing out piping ro radiators -

Obviously a Heating and A/C contractor is the normal category for this - also Plumbers dealing with steam heat in areas where that is common.

Answered 4 years ago by LCD

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