Steam radiator question

My roommate, after two years, got a very welcome but surprising offer on his house. He accepted it.

Now, if nothing falls through, we have to be out by November 25.

Unfortunately, he hasn’t been looking because he honestly didn’t think he’d sell the condo.

We have been working very hard over the last few days, to find out info and weed out bad houses (failed title 5, short sales, foreclosure, MOLD!!) and today we’re finally going to see our two main picks (based on a drive by of each, and website listings).

My favorite house (which is also the biggest one we’ve looked at and is actually 20k less than the much smaller second choice) is an 1845 colonial.

This house needs new windows. It has oil/steam heat. Every room has a radiator. My roommate has never lived in a house with radiators before. I haven’t lived in one since I was very little. So, neither of us actually knows how they work.

Here’s my question (finally):

Is it possible to turn OFF the heat in the rooms we’re not using?

It is a 1 zone house.

The house has 5 bedrooms. Unless we have company, we will not likely be using 3 of them over the winter. We’re thinking of just putting plastic on the windows, draft blockers on the doors, and closing up the spare rooms until we have a chance to paint/furnish/decorate them. We’re going to be too busy with the main house and our bedrooms to worry about spare rooms. Oh, this is assuming he decides to buy this. I keep talking like we are definitely getting it.

So, if we turn the heat off to those three extra rooms, could we actually save money? Is it even possible to turn the heat off? Does closing the valve on the radiator turn the heat off? Or, does it cause an increase in steam pressure resulting in BOOM!

Also, I like my room to be cold because I’m a burrower. Is it possible to turn the heat down in my room while keeping his more warm?

Our realtor is waiting for a call from some other agents so we’re still sitting here waiting for the order to go. I’m so excited. I’ll post back with more info when I get back.,1638722,00.html

You can do this. Here is a link to an excellent video from “This Old House”

In short, you can install a thermostat for each room/radiator, and shut back (via the tstat) the rooms you’re not using.

Yes, via a radiator tstat.


Yes, via a stat.

It’s not the advised way.

No, that won’t happen.

Yes, quite possible. If you buy the house, get stats for the radiators you wish to control. You’ll be glad you did.

Working steam radiators, what a relic but cool. Good Luck

Get used to a symphony of rain and train sounds!

As an owner of a house with steam radiators let me correct some misconceptions and give some advice. One of the items you will need to take a look at is the valve on the cold side (opposite where the pipe comes in). These have the important job of letting steam into the radiator by letting air out while not letting steam get out. They eventually clog up from lime deposits, corrosion, and household dirt and should be replaced - just turn them so they screw out and take them to a good hardware store in a part of the city where other people have radiators. For instance almost everyplace on the north side of Chicago stock these valves and almost no place in Naperville. The size of the vent hole determines how easily steam comes in. For a few bucks more you can get ones with adjustable vent holes which will allow you to let the living room (with the thermostat) be warmer than the bedrooms upstairs. Proper vent valves will prevent hissing sounds. As for the banging, this is caused by steam pipes that droop. When the heat is on steam is traveling to the radiators, condensing there, and the water is flowing back to the boiler. If the pipe droops the water pools and steam must force its way through, resulting in a BANG with each bubble that passes. If you have banging get a pipefitter to come in and re-hang the pipes. (Plumbers work on “sanitary” pipes, water supplies and drains; pipefitters work on all other pipes.)

Get a modern programmable thermostat that will allow the temperature to drop at night while you sleep and during the day while you are at work. This can save significant amounts of money.

If your house has radiator covers get rid of them. Once it was the style to cover up radiators as unsightly but the boxes they put them in can reduce the amount of heat being transferred to the room by 20% or more. Think of it as a 20% increase in your gas bill.

Steam heat, when properly working, can be as economical as forced air or circulating water, it requires about the same time in maintenance, and takes up less space since the pipes are much smaller than ductwork.

The major driver for cost will be how well your home is sealed. Windows of course are a big leaker of heat. A house as old as this one you are considering probably needs to be insulated too. Getting a pressure test can tell you a lot. They take a large fan and put it in a door blowing out while otherwise sealing the door opening. This creates a pressure difference between outside and inside and you can go around and find the places where air from outside can get in - which are the places where your heat can leak out.

Welcome to home ownership.

Well, thank you all for your answers. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. The house was beautiful and we both loved it. The location was great. The price was great.

But (and this is a big BUT) the things that hadn’t been updated were big things and would probably have been at least an extra $100k to fix, since the house was so big. Hell, just replacing all the windows would have been heart attack inducingly expensive.
We’ve continued looking. I found a house which is outside the area he wants but the price is better than the last house. It’s a log cabin in a totally normal suburban neighborhood (we both love log cabins). It has .98 acres and the entire perimeter of the lot, except the huge driveway, is surrounded by tall trees - giving near total privacy. The yard is nearly completely flat. The outside of the house is perfect. Tomorrow, we see the inside. The pics look good but we wont know for sure til we get in there. And, it’s an estate sale, all the paperwork is done already, and the house is empty. So, it can close quickly - which is what we need.

IF all goes well, I may be asking for tips on log cabin maintenance. Cross your fingers!!!
Oh, we found one other house so far that we really liked (outside) only to find out that it had sold back in April and they never took it off the website. Needless to say, we never got inside.

Unfortunately, he works just outside of Providence. This means that any convenient and close town is going to be too close to Providence, Worcester, and Boston to be reasonably priced. But, if he moves to a better price zone, he will continue to have a very long commute. The current favorite house has an hour commute - only a 15 minute improvement over his current commute.

So, is the perfect house with a great price worth the commute?

This is where he’s having trouble right now. I can’t push him one way or the other. I’m not the one doing the buying.