Your home’s heating system plays a vital role in your overall comfort, especially during the winter months’ chilly temperatures. Given the importance of a solid and reliable heating system, choosing a suitable option for your home is essential.
One of the biggest differences between the two is the moisture level they create in the air. Steam radiators add humidity to a room, which can be a benefit or a drawback depending on where you live.
If you’re stuck in the steam vs. hot water radiator debate, you’re in the right place. This article outlines their differences to help you decide which is best for your home, so continue reading to learn more.
- Hot water radiators are more energy-efficient, quieter and easier to maintain.
- Steam radiators often have a vintage appearance, adding to your home’s decor.
- Hot water radiators do not add moisture to the room, while steam radiators do.
What’s the Difference Between a Steam and a Hot Water Radiator?
While similar, a few notable differences set a steam and hot water radiator apart. While steam systems are ideal for added moisture, hot water radiators are best for energy efficiency and low operating noise. The chart below outlines a few key differences between the two types to help you decide which is best for your home.
|Steam Radiator||Hot Water Radiator|
|Moisture||Adds humidity||No humidity|
|Sound Level||Noisier||Less noisy|
|Pipe System||One pipe or two pipes||One pipe or two pipes|
How Steam Radiators Work
As the name implies, steam radiators heat your home using hot steam. To produce steam heat, they boil water within the system. The cool water feeds into the system on one side, and once it’s hot, the steam travels through a set of pipes (or a single-pipe system). There’s a radiator at the end of the pipes, which slowly heats due to the produced steam. In turn, the radiator heats the surrounding space via radiation and convection.
If the system operates using one pipe, the steam will condense after filling the radiators, eventually running back down the pipe in liquid form to be recycled. Conversely, a two-pipe system utilizes one pipe to deliver steam to the radiators throughout your home and another to escort the condensed water back to the system.
Pros and Cons of Steam Radiators
- Produces moisture, which can help people with respiratory conditions and skin problems.
- Easy to maintain temperature.
- Vintage appearance
- Can make the air too sticky and hot in humid areas
- Not as energy efficient
- Can be noisy
How Hot Water Radiators Work
The function of a hot water radiator is nearly identical to that of a steam radiator—but instead of releasing steam into the air, hot water radiators use a closed system to keep the steam within. The process mimics that of a steam radiator, heating water to produce warmth, which it transports to the radiators.
The heat fills the radiators, which emanates heat into the surrounding area, effectively raising the room’s temperature. The process repeats as necessary until the temperature in the room reaches the number on the thermostat.
Pros and Cons of Hot Water Radiators
- More energy-efficient
- Quieter operation
- Easier to maintain
- Generic in appearance
- Doesn’t add moisture to the room
- Susceptible to leaks
Steam vs. Hot Water Radiator Maintenance
In general, hot water radiators are much easier to maintain than steam radiators. Hot water radiators don’t usually encounter major issues, whereas steam radiators can produce a crop of problems due to the nature of the system.
The most common issue associated with hot water radiators is trapped air, which is easily fixable by bleeding the system to release the air bubble. Conversely, steam radiators can lead to warped floors, water damage due to condensate from steam, and potential explosions. While explosions are rare, the furnaces that generate the steam are highly pressurized, so it’s entirely possible.
Both systems are manageable with proper maintenance and upkeep. Ideally, you should have your system serviced by a professional at least once yearly to ensure everything is running smoothly. The technician can check for potential issues, addressing them before they become full-blown problems.
Steam vs. Hot Water Radiator Efficiency
Energy efficiency is a key feature to note when considering home heating systems, as most homeowners want the most cost-effective option.
In most cases, hot water radiators are the best fit for homeowners seeking the most energy-efficient option, as they pump the water through the system, which ensures the water moves at a more predictable and even rate.
Conversely, steam radiators are usually regarded as the less-efficient alternative, as the systems take longer to boil water and escort the steam to the radiators.
However, both systems are comparably efficient when considering zoned heating. That being said, a steam radiator might be the better fit if you prefer extra humidity for more comfortable air and use a zoned heating system.
Steam vs. Hot Water Heater: Which Do We Recommend?
Each radiator type is ideal for certain scenarios, so you’ll need to evaluate your preferences to determine the best fit. If you’re looking for the most energy-efficient option, we recommend the hot water radiator, as it’s usually more efficient than steam radiators.
Conversely, if you prefer more moisture in your home’s air for better comfort, then you may want a steam water heater.
Ultimately, the choice is yours. We recommend consulting your local HVAC company for assistance if you’re unsure which to choose. They can offer insight and expertise based on factors specific to your scenario, which can help make the final decision.
FAQs About Steam and Hot Water Radiators
Are radiators more efficient than forced-air heating systems?
For the most part, radiator heating systems are more efficient than their forced-air counterparts. Since radiant heat isn’t susceptible to heat loss via drafts like forced-air heating systems, open doors and drafty windows don’t siphon the same amount of heat as quickly. This aids in the overall efficiency of the system.
However, hot air systems respond much faster to your thermostat adjustments, as they can churn out heat and noticeably increase the temperature of the space faster than a radiator, which supplies radiant heat. Radiator installation prices are generally higher than traditional HVAC system installations.
How long do radiators last?
On average, a residential radiator will last between 15 and 20 years. The unit’s lifespan depends on care and maintenance over the years, as routine upkeep will support the system. When your radiator is getting close to the 15-year mark, it doesn’t hurt to monitor its performance and perform routine maintenance to ensure it’s still working as well as it should be. Cost-wise, new radiators are close to that of furnace replacement prices.
What size radiator do I need for my room?
A certified HVAC contractor can help you determine the proper size radiator you need. But if you want to try to calculate it yourself, you can try out this formula.
The correct radiator size for your room hinges on its cubic footage. To determine this number, multiply the room’s length, width, and height (in feet). For example, if your room is 15 feet long by 10 feet wide and 8 feet high, you’ll multiply 15 x 10 x 8, which equals 1,200 cubic feet.
For a bedroom, you’ll multiply your answer by 4. So, for this example, you’ll get 4,800, which represents the number of British Thermal Units (BTUs) the radiator needs to produce to heat the room.
If the room faces north, add 15%; if it has french doors, add 20%. Conversely, if the room has double-glazed windows, subtract 10 percent from your total. Once you make the proper adjustments, convert the number to watts, as most radiators list their heating capabilities in watts.
Divide the number of BTUs by 3.41 to determine the wattage. In this example, it would look like this: 4,800 / 3.41. Round the answer to the nearest whole number, and we get 1,408, representing the number of watts you’ll need to heat the room adequately.
How do I troubleshoot problems with my radiator?
The process of troubleshooting problems with your radiator depends on the issue. For example, if the radiator isn’t producing heat and feels cold to the touch, it could be the result of an electrical issue or a clogged pump. Some problems are simpler to troubleshoot than others, so we recommend seeking professional assistance if you can’t figure out the issue.