Is steam still a viable heating technology for new installs?

Is steam still a viable heating technology for new installs?

PostBy: NJJoe On: Tue Nov 12, 2013 10:38 am

I'll start off by saying that I happen to love old steam radiators and the large amount of heat they can radiate into a room. I think some of the most comfortable houses I have been in were either heated with a stove or had steam systems. Baseboard hot water is still relatively comfortable and forced hot air would be my last choice.

I can find plumbers that specialize in steam but they seem to be geared towards maintaining and prolonging the life of existing steam systems. One can still purchase steam boilers but I'm assuming that those are a drop in replacement/upgrade in an existing steam system.

Has anyone ever specified a steam heating system in new construction? Is this still done and is there a ballpark figure of how much more expensive it would be than a comparable baseboard hot water system? I understand steam needs to have the mains pitched towards the boiler to allow the condensate water to drain towards that direction, as well as pipe placement specifics which may complicate construction to accomodate the piping. Steam will not tolerate a poor installation while hot water is more forgiving. The pipes are thicker in a steam system and typically insulated which also adds to the costs. I'm waiting for my arrival of "The Lost Art of Steam Heating" by Dan Holohan. This is a subject I'd like to learn more about and would like to know what the expertise here thinks about this. Thanks...

Joe
Last edited by NJJoe on Tue Nov 12, 2013 11:00 am, edited 1 time in total.
NJJoe
 

Re: Is steam still a viable heating technology for new installs?

PostBy: Sting On: Tue Nov 12, 2013 10:52 am

Steam powered energy transfer systems are a lost art
They have been replaced by the inception of the power grid - that made modern wet systems fool proof and economical because pumps could be be used in place of gravity
Sting
 
Other Heating: BurnHAM=NG-gas

Re: Is steam still a viable heating technology for new installs?

PostBy: Rob R. On: Tue Nov 12, 2013 11:38 pm

Rob R.
 
Stoker Coal Boiler: EFM DF520
Hand Fed Coal Stove: Hitzer 50-93
Other Heating: Dad's 1953 EFM Highboy

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Re: Is steam still a viable heating technology for new installs?

PostBy: Freddy On: Wed Nov 13, 2013 6:04 am

( quote from the heating help.com article): " They're quiet. They're efficient. They can't freeze. "

Yaaa, well, I'd argue about all three things. Quiet? Compared to what? Yes, they can be fairly quiet, but they can also scare babies and scatter dogs. A LOT has to do with how careful, and how knowledgeable you are with the installation....and if the house shifts a 1/2" in the next 30 years. Efficient? Compared to an open fireplace, sure. Compared to a hot water baseboard system? Never. Can't freeze? Can't?? Do they have water in them? Case closed.

Personally, In a residential setting, I would never, ever, consider steam for a new installation. For me, three reasons: More expensive, less efficient, and less comfort. Any steam system has a larger "swing" in temperature. By it's nature, it is more difficult to control the over ride. You will be forever a bit chilly then a bit warm.
Freddy
 
Stoker Coal Boiler: Axeman Anderson 130 (pea)
Hot Air Coal Stoker Stove: Reading piece o' junk in the barn (rice)
Coal Size/Type: Pea size, Superior, deep mined

Re: Is steam still a viable heating technology for new installs?

PostBy: Rob R. On: Wed Nov 13, 2013 6:29 am

I would not consider steam for a new home, but if I was restoring an old Victorian that had an old steam system or no central heat at all...sure, why not. Not everyone wants to give up the miles of wallspace in a classic home for baseboard. Do the math and see how many feet of fin/tube it takes to heat a 15x20' room with 10' ceilings and a ton of glass.

Freddy wrote:Quiet? Compared to what? Yes, they can be fairly quiet, but they can also scare babies and scatter dogs.


Quiet compared to a lot of furnaces & staple up pex radiant. My grandmother's home has steam heat and it is not loud at all...just an occasional hiss from the vents.

Freddy wrote:A LOT has to do with how careful, and how knowledgeable you are with the installation


Yep, most people that knew anything about proper steam piping are dead...I can say the same thing about gravity hot water systems. The old systems most of us see today have had decades of neglect and misunderstood adjustments/changes.

Freddy wrote: Efficient? Compared to an open fireplace, sure.


In the spring and fall, steam systems are at a disadvantage because in order to raise the house by 1 degree...you have to make steam! However, during the heating season I think you would be surprised at the overall system efficiency. The only electric required is to run the oil burner or stoker.

As for the water comment, I think their point is that when the system isn't in use the only water is in the boiler.
Rob R.
 
Stoker Coal Boiler: EFM DF520
Hand Fed Coal Stove: Hitzer 50-93
Other Heating: Dad's 1953 EFM Highboy

Re: Is steam still a viable heating technology for new installs?

PostBy: coalkirk On: Wed Nov 13, 2013 7:48 am

I would agree with all of the remarks made so far. Not wise for a new install. I would seriously doubt there has been a new install of steam in the last oh 70-80 years. I see a number of new steam boilers but they are all repalcements. If you need anymore reasons not to consider it, the distribution pipes and radiators get VERY hot. Burn you if you touch them hot. The distribution pipes of a steam system should be fully insulated and not with crappy foam type but with fiberglas type. Adds to the cost of the install.

They can be very quiet as Freddy said. But let the return line get alittle clogged with sediment and boom pow bam. They get noisy.
coalkirk
 
Stoker Coal Boiler: Harman VF3000
Coal Size/Type: antrhcite/rice coal

Re: Is steam still a viable heating technology for new installs?

PostBy: Sting On: Wed Nov 13, 2013 9:49 am

Nothing better than Hi pressure Steam if you have a central boiler house and heating an entire Army base in Fairbanks Alaska!
Sting
 
Other Heating: BurnHAM=NG-gas

Re: Is steam still a viable heating technology for new installs?

PostBy: mozz On: Wed Nov 13, 2013 7:39 pm

I don't think it's viable (as in economically) in today's world but it does have less moving parts, which to me means less down time and cheaper to repair or maintain (as long as you do PM). Insulation on the install should not be a factor, used asbestos is cheap! Mine is quiet, keeps the house well within a few degrees of where the thermostat is set. It's nice to place a towel over a hot radiator in the bathroom or stick your wet boots under a radiator to dry. Coal likes to burn hot and that comes in handy with steam. Probably cheaper to run black pipe than copper, if you knew how to properly install a system. If i had to take the AA130 out of here, due to lack of coal or old age, i would probably take out the steam system with it.
mozz
 
Stoker Coal Boiler: Axeman Anderson 1982 AA-130 Steam

Re: Is steam still a viable heating technology for new installs?

PostBy: DePippo79 On: Wed Nov 13, 2013 9:47 pm

Grew up in houses with steam heat. Never had any noise issues in my grandmothers house and my parents house only time we got noise was after the new gas boiler was installed in place of the original coal boiler converted to oil. Never beat the heat output of radiators. Convection and radiant heat. I hear in floor radiant heat is the best, but where's the art/character in that. One of my house projects (hot water system not steam) is ripping out the copper baseboard in the breezeway (never had heat till 2003) and replacing with a radiator. Hopefully I can find a under window one that somewhat matches the victorian ones in the main house. Even a small radiator throws more heat than what I have in the breezeway. They make reproduction radiators in Europe, but the shipping probably kills going that route. Haven't researched it yet. To bad everyone wants to go yuppie modern in this country. If I ever build my new old victorian house it will have radiators. One more thing my hot water system was converted from two pipe steam and I have no problems. Turn the thermostat up and this drafty old victorian house will be up to 90 in no time if I want it to be. Only downside I see is the volume of water in the system, who cares if fuel (coal) is cheap. More on topic anything is possible if you have the know how or enough money. Ok rant over. Long live radiators. Matt

My neighbor kept her radiators when she had her new addition built. She has my respect.
DePippo79
 
Baseburners & Antiques: Glenwood Oak 40, Stanley Argand No. 30, Stanley Argand No. 20 missing parts.
Coal Size/Type: Anthracite. Stove and nut size.
Other Heating: Oil hot water.

Re: Is steam still a viable heating technology for new installs?

PostBy: Wood'nCoal On: Wed Nov 13, 2013 11:42 pm

Love steam heat!
Wood'nCoal
 
Stoker Coal Boiler: 1959 EFM 350
Hand Fed Coal Stove: Harman Magnafire Mark I
Coal Size/Type: Rice and Chestnut
Other Heating: Fisher Fireplace Insert

Re: Is steam still a viable heating technology for new installs?

PostBy: imcloud1 On: Thu Nov 14, 2013 8:40 pm

I have owned my HVAC-r company for a while and been in the field for 20 years, I have NEVER installed a "new" steam system start to finish, sure I have done a ton of boiler replacements, added radiators to existing systems and more maintenance than I care to remember, but never a new system in a new house...

There are some guys that love steam and you can do a lot with it, BUT, its a dying art, when I am hiring techs I give them a test I wrote asking questions about heating and cooling, includes having them draw a std FHW/indirect DHW system, multi zone FWA/heat-cool system, Geothermal water to air system, plus a few more and the last one is a basic steam/tankless fhw zone system which is pretty basic, just a supply, return, hartford loop, fresh water inlet, LWCO, gauges (glass and psi), pop safety, and pres. trol, with a circualtor, pres reducing valve, loop of base board, aquastat, prv, switching relay, ect wired and piped into the tankless coil side.... And to this day, I have NEVER had a tech do it correctly!!! That and the geothermal usually end up with a big ? mark which I would rather see than a untaught attempt, not the type of business to try it if you aren't sure...


Anyway, there are much better options out there, I personally like Natural Gas fired mod con boiler properly sized with hydro air units for each zone and a separate Tankless water heater for the DHW load... I would never build a house without duct work, to me the best bang for your buck is hydro air systems and if you can afford radiant floor tubing install it, even if you just stub it out in a wall, its easier to do when building than want it later...]
imcloud1
 

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