Many homes are equipped with a forced-air furnace, other homes, such as older, vintage and historic homes, may be using a radiator and boiler combination to heat. That’s not to say newer homes aren’t also taking advantage of energy efficient radiator systems, because they are. Regardless of whether or not you’re dealing with an older radiator or a new model, repairing a leaking radiator and/or installing a new boiler is a big project that requires the expertise of a professional contractor.
Pros and Cons of Radiators
If your home is fitted with old or antiquated radiators that are unsightly and detract from the décor of your home’s interior, they can be replaced with a stylish wall or conventional model. This way you’ll retain the efficiency of a radiator with a more modern style.
Most radiators have the option of being in the “on” or “off” position. An added benefit is the use of a TRV valve that is designed to allow the homeowner to set and regulate a specific temperature.
If your goal is to maintain the authentic look of your home while enjoying energy efficiency, it is also recommended that you install a modern and efficient boiler along with new lines and piping to pair up with the original radiator. Prior to buying a new boiler, you should have the current boiler unit inspected to find out if it will accommodate the pressures of a new radiator system. An upgrade may be necessary so you don’t run into slow or low water pressure that won’t be able to adequately “fire up” the heating process of the radiator.
On the down side, if you’re contemplating removing a non-functioning radiator versus repairing it and installing a forced-air furnace, keep in mind your home will have to be updated to switch over from one type of heating to another. The upgrades include, but are not limited to, installing dropped ceilings throughout the home for the required ductwork necessary in each room or area to be heated. This can add significantly to what could have been a minimal radiator repair project.
The main purpose for a boiler is to heat water that will then be dispersed to the radiator unit where the hot water will then be pumped to the radiators located in each room. At this point, the hot water emits heat, or steam, to warm the designated area. The process of the water traveling from the boiler, to the radiator, and back again to the boiler through the pipe system allows the water to reheat again. The recirculation of water is a repetitive process that provides continuous heat.
There is no set rule about what state or region is recommended for a boiler and radiator combo but for the most part, they are found, most often, in the northern states as well as other countries like the United Kingdom.
Three popular types of boilers to consider when repairing a radiator system are condensing boilers, combi boilers, and open-vented boilers.
- Combi boilers heat water as soon as someone in the household turns on a faucet or water tap. This type of boiler alternates between heating to warm the house and heating water for regular household needs. It can only do one process at any given time. It does not require storage tanks and requires less pipework resulting in lower installation costs.
- Open-vented or system boilers use a storage tank to store hot water. This system is easier to install than the others. System boilers are also a good choice for supporters of the environment since this style works well with solar water heating systems and it is economical.
- Traditional boilers are a good option in homes equipped with an older radiator system. This boiler is a better choice in homes experiencing low water pressure.
One of the main reasons for installing a new boiler system is that the current radiator is running fine but the boiler isn’t as efficient compared to newer models. It can also be that the boiler itself is leaking and not repairable or the repair cost outweighs the cost of a new boiler.
Keep in mind that boilers that have seen better days or are oversized for the home can be replaced with a more efficient model that will ultimately save on fuel or energy costs. You can also have your boiler upgraded by retrofitting gas and oil-fired burners.
How Radiators Work
The process is relatively simple; steam or circulating hot water are what prompt a radiator to generate heat. As the water is heated, the radiator(s) gives off heat which in turn warms the air in each room(s) either by convection or radiation.
- Radiation – once the hot water has made its way to the radiator, it will “radiate” heat into the area. Radiation is a small percentage of the overall heat produced by a radiator.
- Convection – with this process, heated air from the radiator rises. As it does so, cool air is drawn into the underpart of the radiator. This rising and drawing in motion of the air creates vertical currents that evenly disperse heat into the room.
In order for a radiator, old or new, to function properly, it requires clear and unobstructed air flow. This means the radiator must have ample access for air to travel under, over, and around the unit. Never place curtains, drapes, sheers, or shades in front of the unit. It is also recommended not to block a radiator with large, solid pieces of furniture. If you have a table or other piece of non-solid furniture equipped with legs, the airflow won’t be hindered as much. You should still leave several inches between the radiator unit and the non-solid piece of furniture if you choose this option.
When Radiators Need Repairing
If the radiator is at fault, it can be due to a couple of problems.
This doesn’t mean the system has sprung a leak and is bleeding water into your home. It is a natural process that occurs if your radiator system isn’t working as it should. If you find your radiators aren’t warming up a room like they should, the chances are there is trapped air inside the radiator that needs to be “bled” from the system. It’s an easy enough repair for a professional contractor.
This is the real deal type of leak that can range from minor to severe. Where the leak is happening also plays a role in how easy or difficult the repair will be. Between steam radiators and hot water radiators, the steam model is easier to repair. In order to make repairs, the leak must first be located.
Next, the radiator must be drained and the leak area cleaned, and then repaired, if possible, by a contractor. There is no magic product you can pour into the radiator that will patch, and hold, a leak. Your contractor will advise you of the best approach to repairing or replacing the radiator.
Information for Installing a Radiator
Installing a radiator requires the services of a licensed contractor. His or her expertise covers everything from disconnecting wiring and pipes, removing the old radiator, installing the new unit, to reconnecting the wires, pipes, and gas or oil lines, if applicable.
If replacement of existing wiring, pipes, or valves is needed, the contractor should have the credentials to address the installation process from beginning to end including any unforeseen problems.
It is recommended that if a new radiator is being installed that the existing boiler be inspected to ensure it is up to the task of handling a newer and possibly more efficient radiator system.
Selecting a Contractor
- It is recommended that you request at least three estimates for a repair or installation of a radiator system.
- Ensure each has the proper license, insurance, and certification necessary to handle all areas.
- Verify the contractor’s license is current and if there are any complaints or pending legal issues with the Better Business Bureau.
- Be sure before you sign any estimate or contract that the entire form is filled out – no blank spaces – with the cost of labor, parts, materials, and removal of old equipment, dated, and signed by an authorized person, and that you understand the warranty and after-service agreement.
Maintaining a Radiator and Boiler System
Keep your radiator and boiler system in good working order with periodic visual checks for leaks or malfunctions of the unit such as crimped or clogged lines.
For a more in-depth maintenance check, hire a professional and certified contractor to run an annual check on the entire system. This will include inspecting for leaks, corrosion on lines, faulty valves, thermostat check, gas or oil lines, lubricating specific parts, if needed, and checking the electrical wiring.
Homeowners have many options when it comes to heating and if your choice is to keep your radiator maintained, repaired, and in good working order, you can expect energy efficiency and cost effectiveness to offset potential repair and installation costs. The cost of radiator repair and installation is paid back many times over with a properly running radiator that will provide ample warmth for years to come as long as it is serviced and maintained annually.