Published onDecember 21st, 2022
Steam vs. Hydronic Heating: How Each Works with New York City Radiators
Radiators have been a fixture in New York City apartments, condos, co-ops, and brownstones for over a century. While most were equipped with steam radiators, hydronic heating became more mainstream after the advent of electricity. Which one is best for your property? Learn the pros and cons of steam vs. hydronic heating in this post and why hydronic heating lagged behind steam initially. We’ll also discuss considerations for converting from steam to hydronic heating.
Steam vs. Hydronic Heating: What’s the Difference?
The basics of the two heating types
Steam heat uses water raised above the boiling point as a source of warmth. When water reaches its boiling point of 212 degrees Fahrenheit, it undergoes a phase change and transitions from liquid to gas (evaporation). After the steam cools, it passes through a reverse phase change, becoming liquid again. The condensate (slightly cooled steam) is returned to the boiler to be reheated.
Hydronic heating, on the other hand, uses hot water as a heat source. The water never quite reaches the boiling point, so it doesn’t ever turn into steam. Hydronic heating systems use water that’s about 180 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
Which Is Better: Steam or Hydronic Heating?
Pros and cons of each
Steam heat came before hydronic heating because it relies on physics, rather than mechanical systems powered by electricity, to send steam to radiators in the system. Although some buildings today may assist the natural rise of steam with pumps for more even heat and faster distribution, early steam heat systems around the turn of the 20th century didn’t necessarily need this. Instead, boilers were set to create massive amounts of steam – more heat than most residences needed, but they wanted to leave windows open for better ventilation during the Spanish flu pandemic.
Hydronic systems don’t have the benefit of rising steam to move the heat source into various radiators. So, hydronic heating systems require more pumps to operate, as well as these parts, usually:
- Backflow preventer or check valve so water doesn’t remigrate to the boiler
- Water pressure regulator
- Temperature-pressure relief valve to stay within limits
- Expansion tank due to expansion and contraction of water
- Air bleeders because the system isn’t perfectly sealed
This can make hydronic systems somewhat more complex to maintain, as there are more moving pieces. And if a key circulator pump fails, an entire area of a multi-unit residence could be without heat.
There are benefits to using hydronic heat, however:
- Because the water isn’t heated to as high a degree as with a steam system, the boiler doesn’t have to run as hot with hydronic heating, which can save money.
- You can use hydronic heat in other ways – for example, in baseboard heaters and radiant floor heating.
- It’s easier to control the flow of heat with hydronic heating, so you wind up with more even heating throughout a property than with steam heat, where you can have cold spots.
- You can create zoned heating with hydronic heating more easily with steam, making some areas cooler and some areas warmer, depending on their use.
- Boilers heating water for hydronic systems still need regular maintenance, but they tend not to be as fussy as steam boilers, which require blowdown and more precise water treatment to stay clean.
Call Calray Boilers to Update or Maintain Your Heating System
New York City’s boiler experts
Are you thinking about converting from steam to hydronic heating in your building? Or, you may have a switch on the far horizon and want to get a few more years out of your existing boiler. Calray Boilers can help. Call us at 212-722-5506 today to schedule a consultation or a maintenance check.