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Replace steam with central air?

Brad White_9
Brad White_9 Member Posts: 2,440
I wish I had in years past with what I know now. Do it right, well vented, proper near-boiler piping, insulate the piping, listen to Steamhead....all good things to do.

Go with a Unico High-V system if you want AC in close confines.

But the steam heat in a rowhouse? Continues the history as once intended. How priceless is that.


  • Robert_19
    Robert_19 Member Posts: 1
    Replace steam with central air?

    I'm a homeowner getting conflicting advice and would like your input. Last year I bought a 1890-vintage rowhouse, 19 feet wide, 4 stories, with neighbors' houses sharing party walls on either side. It has a one-pipe steam radiator system, plus a hot water loop for baseboard radiators in a sunroom extension. I'm planning a big renovation which definitely will include central air conditioning. The big decision: Should I keep the steam heat and have CAC too? Or have a single central air system for both heating and cooling? Some folks tell me I'm crazy to even consider taking out the steam system. Others tell me I'm nuts not to go with a single system, and that hot air is just as comfortable as steam heat. Any thoughts? Thanks!
  • Steamhead (in transit)
    The people who are trying

    to get you to tear out the steam are most likely unscrupulous contractors who see thousands of dollar signs at the prospect of a tear-out, which is very labor-intensive. Don't listen to them!

    There is no way forced-air will ever be as comfortable or as efficient as a well-operating steam system. The moving air makes you feel cold in the winter, and the typical duct system loses something like 20% of what goes into it. Then there's the issue of mold, mildew and other nasties that grow in ductwork.

    With an up-to-date, efficient steam boiler such as the Burnham Mega-Steam and proper insulation and air venting, that steam system will give you years of efficient comfort.


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  • Norm Harvey
    Norm Harvey Member Posts: 684

    There was an error rendering this rich post.

  • Christian Egli_2
    Christian Egli_2 Member Posts: 812
    Who to listen to? Who will do the complaining.

    It will be no mystery for me to say having the steam heat in the first place is a great opportunity for the most effective and efficient way of heating old draughty buildings. Your radiators are like gold and are fully worth the relatively little cost of proper maintenance as nothing else is.

    Now, to go off on a tangent

    Since you will be installing all new AC, consider perhaps adding a heat pump switch in there, just the switching valve - not the emergency strip heat, the cost is minimal and what it buys you is 1) pea sized heat for shoulder seasons, 2) a little economy on gas or oil usage which aren't currently cheap (but things change) and 3) a little heat redundancy for when things go horribly wrong.

    What you'll soon discover, beyond the marginal shoulder seasons, is how marked the difference is in what sort of heat comes out of either a register or a radiator. You won't regret keeping the steam and you won't regret being cozy is your beautiful home.
  • Dan_29
    Dan_29 Member Posts: 111
    steam /ac

    The problem is a simple as "hot air rises and cold air falls".

    I have been in a number of condo conversions in Boston three-deckers. The usual procedure is the contractor/ converter tears out three functioning steam systems and installs ac and forced hot air ducts in the ceiling of each unit while installing the blower/furnace unit in the former kitchen pantry on each floor.

    The air conditioner works well as the ducts are in the ceiling of each unit and cold air falls into each unit. The heat unit is a problem as hot air rises and the duct openings are on the ceiling. The result is you feel warm from your neck up and cold from the neck down. If you put the ducts in the floor, your ac function will be less efficient.

    After observing this problem elsewhere, I decided to keep (and upgrade) the steam system in my single family residence and install a split system central ac system in my three story house. The first floor ducts are installed in the basement and vented through first floor grill openings. The upper two floors are supplied by an attic air handler and with duct pipes installed in the knee walls and vented from the ceiling grills. The second and third floor are the most efficient due to proper duct location. The first floor is less efficient (due to less efficint duct register location-floor level) because I did not want to tear up my first floor ceilings and the first floor is easier to cool.

    Keep your heating and cooling separate. Get the highest ac SEER (seasonal energy efficieny ratio) you can (SEER 14 or more) and confirm there is a 10 year guaranty on the ac components.

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