Which is better? Steam or Hot Water Heat?
There are many different ways to heat your home. We typically focus on the most wide-spread in our day and age: forced air heating through a duct system. Today we're talking about another form of heating and how to maintain those systems: steam and hot water boilers. A lot of the bigger, older homes in the Akron/Canton area were built with steam technology because that's where it all started. It's important to be educated on the type of heating your home has and the maintenance required for that heat source.
Here we have a steam boiler [pictured right]. The boilers that were installed in these older homes came equipped with a sight glass so you can see the water level, and a low-water sensing device to maintain the water level. These steam boilers use the water to send steam up through the radiation, and then thats what is used to heat the home.
Hot Water Heating
After heating with steam, then came hot water heating, or what we call hydronic heating. Hydronics is still a radiant type heat, baseboard type heat, but instead of steam we're flooding the system with water. The water is heated up to 180 degrees. The house is heated by the water that runs through the radiation and piping system.
Steam vs. Hot Water: Which is more efficient?
Hot water heating is more efficient because it's easier to control. Steam will take the path of least resistance and sometimes you'll find in older steam applications that there are a lot of hot and cold spots. It's hard to balance steam. Whereas with hot water, we're able to direct the water flow pretty easily to the areas where we want the heat and hot water. Hydronics is the way of the future.
Steam vs. Hot Water: Which is more desirable?
Hot water heating started to use in floor loops, which has allowed HVAC companies to turn your floor into your heat source. This makes it so there are not cold spots in the room.
When you approach hot water heating from this angle, you're able to put zone valves on it and it zone your home. You can run cooler bedrooms and warmer living rooms and split the house up into multiple thermostats. Hydronics give you more control for the comfort level.
The unfortunate thing is that both of these boilers require maintenance. When it comes to hot water boilers there are multiple levels of maintenance: fire-side maintenance, clean burners, clean pilots, clean chambers - all of which are very important. Anytime you're mixing water and heat maintenance will be required on the pump and the valves.
If you have a steam system with the old mechanical controls, those require weekly maintenance from the customer. They have to blow them down so they don't build up mud and sediment in areas. Other than that weekly maintenance for the most part, here again I would recommend yearly maintenance on your boiler to keep it in the best condition that it should be in. If we end up and a job-site and find the homeowner is using a steam system, and they didn't know, we'll take the time to educate them on how to maintain their system.
If you have a boiler or radiator heating system in your home think about doing a hydronics system with hot water or a floor loop. Those are very desirable options. If you're in an older home with a steamer, Forquer Heating can help you out and educate you to make sure you're giving that the right maintenance and getting the most value out of it.