A radiator uses steam or hot water to warm your home through a series of pipes rather than forcing heated air through a system of ducts like a conventional furnace. Although radiators were invented in the mid-1800s, there are many older homes that still have them. Radiators are starting to make a comeback in some areas because they are cost-effective and energy-efficient. There are even portable electric radiators that use a special diathermic oil to radiate heat into just one room.
Because radiators can develop problems that range from simple to complex, radiators need to be regularly maintained, like any heating system.
Basic maintenance tips
Steam radiators typically require the most maintenance. Flush the low-water cutoff in the boiler once a week. Check the safety valve to ensure that steam can freely escape (Once a month), with the system on and hot. Be careful, as the escaping steam will be extremely hot.
Open the valves on both sides of the water level gauge during your monthly check. Turn off the system, let it cool and then add water if the level is low—or invest in an automatic water valve that will slowly add water as needed. Take a frequent peek at the steam gauge; turn the system off and call a professional immediately if it falls outside the normal range
Hot water radiator heat is not quite as complex to maintain, but it’s important not to forget about it. The biggest maintenance issue is purging the system (unless your system has an automatic purge) besides occasionally lubricating the circulating pump motor with lightweight oil. To do this, open the valves until water comes out and then close them again, which lets out any air in the system. Then drain the boiler according to the manufacturer’s instruction. We advise you to do this in the fall, shortly before the heating season, and periodically throughout the season.
Have an HVAC professional check both steam and hot water radiators once a year.
Electric oil-filled radiators don’t require regular maintenance. Keep an eye on them, though, as they can develop electrical problems like any other heater, or even spring a leak. Problems with these radiators typically require professional assistance.
No heat/radiator feels cold to the touch: This common problem may have an electrical cause. Make sure the thermostat is operating normally and that you haven’t blown a fuse or tripped on a circuit breaker. clean the pump according to the manufacturer’s instructions and release any excess air that may have gotten trapped inside if the electricity is functional. Contact an HVAC professional if none of these solutions work.
Cold top, warm bottom: the radiator may need to be “bled” if it feels cold at the top but warm at the bottom Turn off the pump, put a bucket down to catch water and open the valve with a radiator key. Close the valve when water starts flowing into the bucket.
Leaking: When the source isn’t obvious, a radiator leak can be tricky to DIY. It’s generally best to call a professional unless you’re extremely handy.
Consider investing in a radiator heat cover if you have a radiator that works well but is showing its age. Heat covers are a great way to give aging radiators a makeover. Choose from simple wooden cabinets, ornate metal patterns or even custom entertainment centers.