Steam and Boiler Heating Systems

By HomeAdvisor

Updated October 6, 2017

Boiler Heating Systems

Boilers and radiators are not often installed in new homes, but many older residences still feature this type of heating system. Furthermore, because this type of heating works well in multi-residence situations and larger buildings, steam heating and hot-water heating are still common in many apartment buildings, multi-family dwellings, and older business buildings.

Steam Heating Systems: Pros

Steam and hot-water heating systems have several benefits that aren’t often discussed. They have few moving parts, making them more reliable and durable if maintained than newer, more complicated heating systems. They also provide clean and dust-free heat, a huge plus for homeowners who react negatively to the dust and other allergens that can be stirred up by forced air and other modern heating systems.

Finally, they fit the bill when it comes to staying true to older structures and historic homes, making it easy to see why some homeowners choose to overlook, and put up with, some of the quirks that have made steam heating systems lose popularity as a residential heating option over the years.

Boiler Systems Operation

In steam heating systems, a boiler furnace heats water by means of a gas or oil-fired burner and turns it into steam. The steam travels through pipes to radiators or convectors, which give off heat and warm the room. As the steam cools, it condenses back into water, and returns to the boiler to be heated again. Hot water heating systems operate on the same principle, using hot water instead of steam to heat the radiators.

Steam Heating Systems Maintenance

While one of the advantages of boiler systems is their long life, they should still be serviced annually to ensure trouble-free operation. You can easily learn to check the safety valve, pressure level gauge, and water level gauge yourself, but for safety reasons more substantial heating system maintenance should be done by qualified service professional. Routine annual service should include checking the controls and gauges and inspecting and adjusting the burner. In addition, the chimney and flues from the boiler should be inspected for blockages or leaks, as well. If you have steam heating, the air valves on the radiators should also be checked and adjusted to regulate the heat.

Steam Heating Systems: Cons

There is a reason gas steam boilers aren’t on the radar for most homeowners when it comes to updating their home heating system. In general steam heating isn’t as efficient, provides less even heating, and presents a greater safety risk than other heating options. Add to that the fact that steam heating requires diligent regular maintenance if you expect your system to last, and it’s easy to see why many homeowners choose to replace steam heating systems with more conventional heating options. In fact, if you have a system that is struggling or not working properly, you’re probably wise to invest in a forced air furnace instead. The energy savings you experience, along with the convenience of maintenance free operation, make replacing steam heating systems a smart decision for any homeowner.

Talk to an HVAC Professional

Whether you choose to replace your boiler systems with forced air or other heating systems, or choose to maintain them and keep things running, it’s a good move to call in an experienced technician to perform the work. Either way you’ll be able to sleep easy knowing your home heating system has been installed and maintained correctly, and will keep you and yours warm when the winter sets in.

How much does the average homeowner spend on replacing their boiler and radiator? Use our guide to calculate replacement radiator costs.

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  1. je zizza, November 30:

    i have a one-pipe steam system, gas fired. i replaced my boiler about three years ago. i have one radiator, which is the furthest from the boiler, which is very noisy. it sounds like water is rushing through the radiator. it heats up just fine. i shimmed the two feet of the radiator on the valve side, to give the radiator some pitch, but it still makes that rushing sound. the pipes in the cellar are pitched toward the boiler. i don’t remember having this problem with the old boiler. any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

  2. Pat, January 12:

    Is boiler heat dirty? I live in a apartment complex that uses this type heat. I’m constantly cleaning up a white dust. I have a hard time breathing. I leave my place and I can breathe. Just wondering if I’m breathing in this dust.

  3. Diane, January 19:

    How do I get rid of the soot that I get on my walls from the Heat

  4. Diane, January 19:

    Been in this house for almost 6 years and I just noticed above the baseboard that I’m getting black soot from the heat is there any way to prevent that

  5. Robert Clay, June 27:

    I have an old steam boiler with a tankless domestic hot water system built in. I cannot find a new boiler with this feature. Do they still make them?

  6. Anne Ferreira, November 6:

    Our boiler kept turning on even though we didn’t need any heat at that time. Also,
    some of our radiators are no longer working and the rooms they used to heat are now
    cold. Does anyone out there repair this old system which is quite old?

  7. Gabe, January 16:


    The soot is coming from the combustion source, whether from the boiler or other fuel burning systems in your home. The heat from the baseboards and/or radiators causes convection, or movement of the air, and the soot builds up there. The soot isn’t actually coming out of the baseboards or radiators, but from the air flowing through the baseboard or radiator due to that convection. And, again, the soot that is in the air is coming from one or more of the fuel burning sources in your home, which could be your boiler, your water heater, or even your stove or oven if they aren’t burning cleanly.

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