All About the Steam boiler
Steam boilers are a type of boiler that has been in use for hundreds of years around the world. Steam boilers rely on simple mechanics, which makes them so reliable to work with. Still, they aren’t particularly efficient or quiet compared to hot water boilers on the market today.
What is a Steam Boiler?
A steam boiler is a cast iron or steel container that’s designed to convert water into steam for various heating applications or to turn a steam engine.
How Steam Boilers Work
Water is stored in the tank of a steam boiler and it’s heated by natural gas, propane, coal or an electric element. Once the water is converted to steam, it is collected in an empty tank called a dome. Steam continually collects in the dome and pressure levels within climb higher and higher. When the pressure reaches a desired level, the steam is released through a valve to travel up through pipes and around the home. The steam travels through a series of radiators until enough heat energy is finally lost and it turns back to water once again and drains back down to the boiler to be heated once again.
Steam boilers don’t require an electric pump for operation and that means that no electricity is necessary in order for a steam heating system to function. The steam’s pressure is used to generate movement through the system.
More Dangerous than Hot Water Boilers
Unlike the hot water boilers and heating systems most commonly used today, steam systems are kept at much higher pressures and temperatures, making them more dangerous to use. Not only are the systems more of a burn hazard since temperatures are so high, but there is always the risk of an explosion from all the pressure built up. A set of failsafe’s are included in each steam heating system, but if problems arises with one or more of these systems serious problems can occur.
Transfer More Heat
There’s a limit to how high the temperature of hot water systems can go because when you go too high you get steam. Steam systems on the other hand aren’t so limited because steam remains steam no matter how hot you get it. Many steam systems operate at much higher temperatures than hot water systems. The steam can transport more heat from radiator to radiator and achieve a higher temperature output with a smaller radiator overall. Hot water radiators have to be larger in order to get enough heat out into the room effectively.
Changing from Steam to Hot Water
Many people are deciding to move away from a steam heating system in favor of a hot water system. This seems like a good move since there are many benefits of hot water systems, but in most instances it is a waste of money. It’s common to believe that steam systems are less efficient than hot water systems, but that is only mildly true. Optimized steam systems that are carefully maintained are only slightly less efficient than hot water heaters. The price to convert from a steam system to a hot water one is rarely justified by the efficiency improvements, and you would be better served by upgrading the existing steam system with a more efficient boiler and by enhancing insulation.
Noisy Lines Are Common but Not Necessary
Steam boilers are commonly accompanied by loud banging noises and an unpleasant hammering. This is a real problem that makes many homeowners with steam systems consider switching to a new type of heater in the first place. A banging noises usually means that one of the steam lines isn’t angled properly, that the steam pressure is set too high, the steam traps have failed or there is simply a clog in one of the lines. Having the system checked and serviced by a professional is likely all that’s needed to get rid of that noise and improve the system’s efficiency at the same time.
Increased Maintenance Requirements
Steam systems have a series of traps at each of the radiators to help relieve excess pressure. These traps fail every six years or so and they have to be maintained carefully to keep them functioning properly until then. Taking care of steam traps helps keep steam systems clean and functioning, but it is a lot of work. You’ll have to check and top-off water levels periodically and make sure that the main pressure relief valve is in working order. If you aren’t sure how to service a steam system, it’s important to find a qualified technician. Regular maintenance and annual service will help ensure your steam system provides reliable and efficient heat time and time again.