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Why Old Radiators Overheat and What to Do About It

by Tod Althoff | Dec 19, 2018 | Property Manager, Facility Manager, Boiler Room, Radiator | 0 Comments

why your radiator may overheat

Have you noticed hot and cold areas in your apartment complex? Most older radiators contain valves that only have two settings, including open and closed. Thankfully, there are ways to improve your steam boiler's efficiency and the comfort of your Chicago multi-family building.

Understanding Old Steam Radiators and Why They Overheat

When the steam or hot water radiators are turned on in the winter, they either heat water to a certain temperature, or they turn that water into steam. Then, they pump the hot water or steam throughout the building via pipes. When the hot water or steam reaches the radiator, it warms the metal, which then warms the surrounding air. Unfortunately, old radiators are either on or off. Adjusting the dial doesn't control the heat level. This can often result in individual units being too hot, especially if the valve is stuck in the open position and cannot be closed.

When this happens, unit owners often open windows to control the temperature. When gas, electric and heating oil prices were low, this made sense. In fact, old boiler system designs anticipated that residents would open their windows if the rooms in their apartments became too hot.  However, heating gas, oil and especially electric prices have increased over the last several decades, making this option extremely expensive.

Short-Term Solutions to Control Radiator Heat

For units that are too hot, immediate actions may need to be taken in order to lower indoor temperature. While these tips aren’t energy efficient, they will work well enough to keep your residents comfortable while you make plans to implement a long-term solution.

Turn on the Ceiling Fan

If the unit is equipped with a ceiling fan, tenants can turn the fan on so that the air circulates upward. This will pull the hot air toward the ceiling at a faster rate than simply letting the hot air rise.

Open Windows Slightly

If the unit has double-hung windows, open the top part of the window a couple inches. Since hot air rises, having the upper half of the window open can control heating levels. If the unit does not have double-hung windows, opening the window an inch or two can help vent excess heat while allowing cool outdoor air into the space.

Turn Off the Radiator Valve

If the unit is extremely hot, try turning on the radiator valve for a short amount of time. This will stop the flow of steam or hot water to the radiator. If the radiator valve is stuck, it’s best to call maintenance or an HVAC technician to replace the valve.

Cover the Radiator

If none of the above solutions work, covering the radiator with a sheet or blanket can help control the indoor temperature. However, it is very important to only use blankets and sheets made from natural fibers, preferably wool or cotton. Synthetic fibers, like polyester and fleece, can melt.

Long-Term Boiler Overheating Solutions

The above suggestions are great as a short-term solution, but the long-term effects are higher heating bills and units that are not entirely comfortable. Here at Althoff, we can help improve the efficiency and lower your energy costs with boiler and radiator retrofits. Our boiler retrofits include installing wireless radiator zone valves that can increase or decrease the rate of steam or hot water flowing through the building’s pipes. These valves work by sensing the temperatures in the individual zones and adjusting flow-rates automatically. Next, we can install an adjustable radiator valve on each radiator that displays the indoor temperature and allows for automatic steam or hot water adjustment once the desired temperature has been reached.

In some instances, you may decide that replacing your building’s radiator is a better option than implementing upgrades. If you do wish to install a new boiler in your apartment complex, condo building or co-op, we can evaluate your current boilers, calculate your heating needs and provide you with estimates to replace your current boiler.

To learn more about our Chicago boiler retrofits, upgrades and replacements, call us at 800-225-2443.

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