Published onOctober 16th, 2023
Steam Heat in NYC: Why a 100-Year-Old Method Is Still Going Strong
According to most estimates, New York City is home to roughly 1 million buildings; of these buildings, about 430,000 are residential, including owner-occupied dwellings and rental units. Within these thousands of structures, nearly 70% of large buildings, you can find steam boiler systems, demonstrating the continued importance of steam heat in NYC.
How did steam boilers become so critical to NYC’s infrastructure, and why are the systems still in use? What makes a steam boiler a good option for property owners concerned with energy consumption and efficiency?
Steam Heat in NYC: The History and Evolution of the Steam Boiler
The concept of boilers is ancient — some argue the first boiler existed as early as the 1st century. However, the earliest boiler models were toys, not feasible manufacturing and industrious machines.
The first genuine boiler did not develop until the 17th century, when inventors and engineers realized the potential practical uses of steam. In 1679, Denis Papin of France created and manufactured the first steam boiler with a safety valve.
The 18th century saw the propagation of steam boilers in manufacturing and various industries. These early systems were of wrought iron construction. The transition to steel alloy occurred later in the century as manufacturers realized the benefits of high pressures and temperatures.
The 19th century saw the steam boiler brought to the United States. George Babcock and Steven Wilcox of the New York-based company Babcock & Wilcox Company were the first-ever steam boiler manufacturers in the USA. The duo invented the firebrick-walled structure that relied on coal and was fired by hand.
Steam heat in NYC during the early 20th century made another leap forward. Bent-tube boilers of 1916 allowed for more compact systems that could handle cold water feeds. However, while bent-tube and steel systems could deliver high-pressure steam, they could not provide low-pressure steam, preferable for heating purposes.
These systems therefore evolved into cast iron systems. Sturdy iron boilers solved the issue of low pressure. Still, the systems were heavy and challenging to repair.
During World Wars I and II, marine steam boilers took center stage. The systems were essential to merchant ships and combat boats.
After the wars, conventional steam boilers became the focus, primarily tube and copper tube systems. While copper tube boilers were widespread following the wars, they presented unique and costly challenges that often required replacements.
During the late 20th century, the country experienced an oil crisis (1973) and growing environmental concerns during the 1980s. Condensing boilers evolved out of the trouble and concerns, offering a system with lower radiant heat, minimal energy waste, and lower standby losses.
Steam boilers still play a pivotal role in heating NYC buildings. The systems offer reliable and efficient heat, especially with condensate returns. Talk to a representative with Calray Boilers to learn more about steam heat in NYC and how to maintain your current boiler.
Steam Boilers in NYC: Advantages Over Other Systems
Natural Energy Flow
Steam boilers do not require external energy sources to boost the flow rate or to reach taller sections of your property. Other heating systems may require costly regulators and pumps.
Steam is a product of an inexpensive resource (water) with little waste when appropriately managed. It holds five to six times the energy of an equivalent water mass. The system efficiently directs steam through pipes to radiators under the simple principle that heat rises; therefore, it is self-propelled.
As steam heat in NYC condenses within the system, converting to a liquid state, it recollects in the boiler. By collecting warm condensate, the boiler does not have to work as hard to reheat the water in the system, which reduces energy consumption and costs.
Long Working Life
A standard commercial boiler can last around 15 years before replacement is necessary, but a genuine steam boiler can last longer. On average, a steam boiler can last between 20 and 30 years, depending on care and maintenance.
Boiler owners must work with a licensed boiler technician to inspect the system at least once annually. Routine maintenance and cleanings also need to occur at regular intervals. Calray Boilers can help you develop a proper maintenance schedule.
You can also sign an annual service contract to ensure all essential maintenance occurs on time throughout the year. With a contract, Calray offers preferential scheduling, priority emergency services, and routine inspections.
The systems require little fuel to produce adequate steam to heat a property to a consistent temperature. Also, boiler systems help reduce energy waste by collecting and reusing condensate.
Despite the system’s efficiency, many property owners have concerns about existing steam boilers that use natural gas as a fuel source. In 2019, NYC introduced regulatory changes with Local Law 97 and made an addendum later with No. 2317-A. The changes explain that new construction and significant renovations cannot allow space and water heating with fossil fuels.
In New York’s 2024 fiscal year budget, the state clarified that the ban on fossil fuel equipment and natural gas does not apply to existing properties. Those buildings established before the effective dates of the ordinance can still make alterations, additions, repairs, and installations of fossil fuel equipment.
If you currently own a steam boiler that relies on fossil fuel combustion and wish to improve efficiency and reduce your property’s carbon footprint, consider an electric steam boiler. Electric boilers are more efficient because they require less energy than fuel-based systems when operating at capacity. They also lose less heat when heating water and generating steam.
Steam Heat NYC: Keep Your Steam Boiler Going Strong
Get High-Quality Annual Service With Calray Boilers
Steam heat in NYC is a staple. Many properties depend on steam boilers, especially older residential properties. Contact Calray Boilers at 212-722-5506 to discuss an annual service contract and schedule an inspection. Depending on the age of your system, it might be time for an upgrade. A boiler technician can help walk you through any concerns about regulatory changes or system efficiencies.