Welcome! Here are the website rules, as well as some tips for using this forum.
Need to contact us? Visit https://heatinghelp.com/contact-us/.
Click here to Find a Contractor in your area.

Steam Radiator Rattling

Jsze Member Posts: 11
Hi there,

I live on the 2nd floor of a 6 floor apartment building in San Francisco that was built around 1920.  The building uses steam heating and whenever the building's heat is on, the radiator (see attached image) in my unit rattles constantly.  It is not a loud 'hammering' that a lot of people experience, but rather a constant rattle that is driving me nuts.  The rattle is present whether or not I have the valve open or closed.  The only difference is if I have it closed, the hissing of air escaping through the vent goes away.  I don't mind the hissing, but the rattling is quite irritating, especially since it is present even when the valve is closed and I'm not using the heat.

My landlord is being quite unhelpful.  First he told me to try to angle the radiator towards the valve so that condensed water can escape.  I've tried that with no luck and now he simply tells me it's 'old' and nothing can be done.  I have friends in other units of the building who's radiators make no noise whatsoever.  So it's time to take matters into my own hands.  Any suggestions on what I could do?

As a last result, I wanted to ask what would happen if I were to disconnect the radiator from the valve and just keep the valve closed?  I live in San Francisco, it's not that cold and I don't see why the heat is on so frequently anyway.  I'd rather live in a chilly apartment for the winter months than lose anymore sleep due to this problem.

Many thanks in advance for any suggestions.  Hope everyone is enjoying the new year.



  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 22,916

    That's a new one!  It rattles whether the valve is open or not?  (Incidentally, a much better approach to turning off a one pipe steam radiator is to turn the vent upside down and leave the valve open -- that way condensate can't build up in the radiator and cause a water hammer problem) (also, incidentally, the hammering that people sometimes have with steam isn't normal either -- it indicates that something is amiss, and the condensate can't get back to the boiler properly, out of the way of the steam).

    Is it a metallic rattle?  If so, the only thing I can think of offhand is that one or more of the tension rods which hold the ends of the radiator together may be broken or loose (I can't see them in your picture, but I've yet to see a radiator which didn't have them).  That might rattle when the system is running, picking up a little vibration from the boiler through the piping.  Granted, it's a pretty far reach, but... So you might take a look-see and see a)if there are rods running the length of the radiator and, if there are b)see if any of them are a little loose (you shouldn't be able to wiggle them at all) and if any of them are, c) being very very brave, seeing if you can tighten them up.  Beware: it's awfully easy to break them if the nuts at the ends are frozen; they twist apart instead of the nut twisting... don't ask how I know).

    Good luck.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Rod
    Rod Posts: 2,067

    Hi - Like Jamie I'm rather perplexed too!  Can you feel any vibration when you touch the radiator when it's rattling?  (Careful! Steam radiators are HOT!- (Use glove or towel to protect your hand- Don't burn yourself!)  Does it stop when you hold the radiator?

    If it is a vibration, you might try putting something under the radiator's feet. I see you already have a book at one end to slope the radiator towards the inlet.

    - Rod
  • Jsze
    Jsze Member Posts: 11
    Steam Radiator Rattling


    Thanks so much for your quick reply. 

    Yes, the rattling is present whether the valve is opened or closed, with

    no discernible difference in sound.  And yes, the rattling seems to be a

    metallic one.  Although I have no experience with steam heating, your

    tension rods theory seems to make sense in that the rattling noise does

    seem to be in line with something that could be loose.  The noise is

    definitely coming from inside the radiator, and has a slight echo to

    it.  I can't really pinpoint where in the radiator it seems

    loudest...sort of sounds the same throughout.  Rod, I feel no vibration

    sensation when touching the radiator.  Definitely seems to be coming

    from within.

    So a new question, how do I actually take a look inside.  If I detach

    the radiator, the only opening is where it meets the valve right?  I

    suppose I just need to look through that hole?  I need to get some tools

    to be able to detach the radiator, so I won't be able to do it for

    another day or two.

    Also, back to my initial post, if I were to detach the radiator from the

    valve and close the valve, is there any danger in doing this? 

    Obviously, fixing the radiator would be the ideal scenario, but if worse

    comes to worst, I am wondering if that is a viable solution...or at

    least a safe one.

    Many thanks,

  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,473
    Removing can be a problem

    The problem with removing the radiator is that some old valves don't close and you could end up with live steam coming out of the valve when you disconnect the radiator if the pipe has steam in it.

    Is it possible that noise is coming from someplace else and just being transmitted by the piping? Try usin a screwdriver to put some tension on the connecting rods to see if there is any change in the noise. maybe puling up or pushing on the valve knob would change the noise, that might indicate something loose in the valve. Also try turning that air valve upside down to see if that changes anything.

    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • Jsze
    Jsze Member Posts: 11
    Steam Radiator Rattling

    I attached a short video clip so that you all can hear the noise.  I hope video files are supported here.

    Where exactly would I apply pressure with the screwdriver?  There is only one connection I can see, is that what you mean by the connection rods?

    I will try your suggestions Bob, once the radiator cools down...it is too hot to do much of anything right now.


  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,576
    steam rattle

    while the rattling can be heard rotate the air vent so that it points down. turn it as if to tighten it, and have a towel handy as i suspect it is full of water. it should immediately stop if it is the vent itself.  if it takes a few seconds then the pool of water responsible is elsewhere.

    i hear that frisco is colder in the summer than the winter, so as you say, you can leave it off this way. when you turn it back on, then loosen it half a turn.

    tell the owner that he could save up to 15 % of his gas bill if he corrected a few problems with this system! direct him here so he can start saving by tuesday!--nbc
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 22,916
    Didn't get the video...

    but no matter.  Can you post a picture of the end of the radiator, so I can see what kind of contraption holds the sections together?  I still have the feeling that whatever it is that holds the sections together may be loose, and I know that can make a rattle.  I don't think that that radiator has connection rods as such -- but the way radiators are made, they are cast in sections -- each vertical section by itself -- and then the proper number of sections are assembled to make the radiator, with two ends -- the inlet and, in this case, the one with the vent.  Something has to be holding those sections together.

    There really isn't anything inside a radiator -- unless a chunk of metal has come adrift somehow -- that can rattle.  I honestly wouldn't advise trying to figure out a way to look inside it; the only way in is that inlet, which is mighty small.  Fibre optics maybe, I suppose.  Problem is disconnecting the thing to get at the inlet.  That can be a real can of worms.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • World Plumber
    World Plumber Member Posts: 389

    Is the vent rattling? I have heard vents rattle! Try turning the vent upside down and see if it goes away.
  • Jsze
    Jsze Member Posts: 11
    Steam Radiator Rattling

    Okay so if it helps, here is a link to a video on youtube where you can listen to the sound:


    I am also uploading another picture of the connection between the radiator and pipe.

    I somehow convinced my landlord to at least replace the vent on the end of the radiator, although I'm not convinced that will solve anything.  That should happen in the next day or two.  Will let you know if it helps.

    If there are any more ideas after taking a look at the video and new picture, please let me know.

    Thanks so much!

  • jpf321
    jpf321 Member Posts: 1,568
    edited January 2011
    as mentioned above...

    tighten vent 1/2 turn so that it points upside down. this should turn off the rad and may quiet rattle
    1-pipe Homeowner - Queens, NYC

    NEW: SlantFin Intrepid TR-30 + Tankless + Riello 40-F5 @ 0.85gph | OLD: Fitzgibbons 402 boiler + Beckett "SR" Oil Gun @ 1.75gph

    installed: 0-20oz/si gauge | vaporstat | hour-meter | gortons on all rads | 1pc G#2 + 1pc G#1 on each of 2 mains

    Connected EDR load: 371 sf venting load: 2.95cfm vent capacity: 4.62cfm
    my NEW system pics | my OLD system pics
  • Rod
    Rod Posts: 2,067

    Hi-  I listened to the recording and couldn't determine what exactly it  might be.

     You can try turning off the radiator. As others have mentioned it is better to leave the inlet valve fully open (so any steam that might leak in and condense the water, will then be able to drain out.) and turn the radiator vent  upside down so that the vent is pointing down . Gravity will cause the vent to shut when in this position. Be careful as a bit of  hot water may come out of the valve when you turn it over.  The noise may continue for short period as the radiator doesn't shut off immediately until the next boiler cycle. When the boiler shuts off, air will re enter the radiator and when the boiler turns on again, since the upside down radiator vent is now closed, the air is trapped in the radiator and therefore steam can't enter the radiator.

    You might also increase the slope of the radiator a bit more. Add more height at the end you have the book under.

    - Rod
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,576
    sounds like money up the chimney!

    have you tried the vent turning yet?

    ask your landlord if he would rather keep a larger portion of the rent for himself, or whether he wants to donate it to the gas company. a bit of maintainance would cure this problem as well as some others i suspect are lurking there.

    great video! i wonder if it will go viral.--nbc
  • numberforty1
    numberforty1 Member Posts: 97
    I Have Same Problem

    Hi, this is exactly what I have!  Except I have these very strange looking radiators that are connected by two pipes at the bottom.  Whether I have the valves open or closed, I have this same annoying click.  Please tell me you found out what it was!!!
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,723
    The rattle

    might not be in the radiator itself, but in the piping below it.

    Looks like the shutoff valve was replaced recently. Maybe something fell down the pipe?
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
  • numberforty1
    numberforty1 Member Posts: 97
    Could be...

    Actually yes, I was listening to it and I thought it did almost sound as if the rattle was coming from right beneath the floor.  With these strange radiators I have though, there isn't even one of the typical screw valves to pull off and look under.  I should attach a picture, but does anyone know what these odd rectangular radiators are that have two pipes connected at the bottom?  They are not the standard kind you see with separate sections - it is just one solid rectangular block.  I don't even see how it is possible to adjust the pitch, because neither side can be raised.  In my last apartment I was able to get the noise to practically nothing by installing new vents, valves, and pitching it strongly.

    I turned the vent upside down, but it still leaked air and I had the same problem.  Any help is appreciated.
  • Steam_Starter
    Steam_Starter Member Posts: 109
    Rattle but no hum...

    I hate when rads make those noises!

    In my house I replaced the main rad valves on 4 radiators.  However, in my race to get done before football started (after all it WAS a Sunday!) I didn't check to ensure that the screw that holds the gasket for the seal seat in place was tight. 

    Well, it worked loose and was sitting in the elbow below the last 12" riser to the rad.  Guess what?  Whenever  it made steam it rattled around in the pipe, just like this one!  I opened the valve again, went in with an extension claw (the one with a flexible shaft and a cyclops extension) and got that little brass screw out!  (The seat gasket was wedged into the side of the valve.) 

    Viola!  it stopped.  Maybe that (or something like it) happened here?  As mentioned in a previous post, that valve looks pretty new.....if the screw (or something else metal) is located before the valve seat with the rush of steam and air it still "could" be rattling...

    Stranger things have happened!

    "Hey, it looks good on you though..."
  • JStar
    JStar Member Posts: 2,752

    I've had this same scenario happen. Th disc in the valve fell off and was flopping around inside whenever the steam came up.
  • numberforty1
    numberforty1 Member Posts: 97
    Hmm, 1 of 2 things...

    This is from the person who started the post and added the Youtube link:

    "It turns out that my issue was that the pipes leading up to my radiator

    were vibrating, and this vibration was echoing up into my radiator

    unit. Was very frustrating. It was difficult convincing my landlord to

    fix the problem, but he eventually did. Good luck!"

    So, its either vibrating pipes, or something stuck in the pipe itself.  Ugh, two incredibly difficult problems to fix.

    Anyone have idea how you fix "vibrating pipes"?
This discussion has been closed.