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The Pros and Cons of a Steam Heating System

Considering steam heat? We help you weigh the pros and cons so you can decide if it is right for you.

Ask This Old House plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey walks you through the pros and cons of choosing a home with steam heat.

Many buyers overlook the mechanical systems when buying a new home. Behind a mortgage, heating and cooling energy costs are the second-largest expense homeowners typically have. So, it’s important to know what type of cooling and heating system exists in a house you’re looking to buy.

In the video above, Ask This Old House plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey, walks you through a house with a steam heating system.

What is Steam Heat?

Steam heat is created by converting water from a boiler into steam. Houses with steam heat can be identified by looking for radiators that are connected to only one pipe, not two.

Should You Use a Steam Heating System?

Here’s what to what to consider when weighing your options with steam heat.

Pros

  • A common question is, is steam heating efficient? A well maintained steam system can be comfortable and efficient.
  • Steam boilers can last a very long time, so if the installation date on the boiler itself seems old, that does not necessarily mean it needs to be replaced. When checking out a home remember to also check the condition of the boiler. Boiler’s usually last a very long time, but it’s worth it to make sure everything is working, and that there aren’t any leaks, before you buy.

Cons

  • There can only be one zone (or one thermostat) controlling the heat for the entire house if it’s heated by steam heat, meaning some rooms can be hotter than others. This can be a disadvantage for some homeowners.
  • Oftentimes, houses with steam heat will not have air conditioning, and that can be expensive to retrofit. Factor in if you need or want to add air conditioning into your costs.
  • Steam radiators can also sometimes have very loud, clanking water pipes. This does not mean there is anything wrong with the system; it’s just annoying. You can test this during an open house by asking the realtor to turn the heat up in the house and listening to the pipes during the tour.

Overall, deciding whether or not steam heat will work for you boils down to comfort. If you don’t care too much about having air conditioning and you just want steady heat, there’s nothing wrong with steam heat.