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Never heard of convectors before and assumed they were radiators - how to assess and update

IsaacT Member Posts: 9
Hi all,
Long story short, bought a 1890s Philly home with my partner. 2300 square feet and has a ton of convector units throughout. I have never previously heard of them and during the pre-purchase process, everyone including the inspector, as far as I recall, referred to them as radiators. I assumed they were radiators with covers.

I am hoping you can direct me to a 101 guide on convectors or give me a simple intro on them. I have researched a bit and read around and understand the fundamental difference between them and radiators, but how can I judge mine? How efficient are they? How safe are they? How can I update them? For some context, I am removing carpet throughout the house immediately, as well as fixing cracked walls and ceilings, redoing the kitchen and bathroom mostly by myself, etc. I am happy to get my hands dirty, do research, but I have few tools. In short, I'd love to consider updating these or minimally, learning to understand these heating units and how the system works before I settle into the home. If they were radiators, as I thought they would be, I was planning on removing and disposing of the ugly, old covers and cleaning and finishing (painting) the radiators. Curious to learn if this is a blessing in disguise or possibly bad news? Either way, will embrace the learning opportunity and make the best of it.

Also noteworthy, the boiler is very outdated (from the 80s) and I plan on updating it in the next year but it still functions perfectly at the moment, so hopefully can hold off on that until next year. Also, the house still runs on only 60amp so will be updating that to 200amp shortly when we move in.

I will reach out to a local professional or two (or three) at some point, and maybe the electrician I use to upgrade the panel from 60 to 200 will have some insight but prefer to speak with and have some input from an unbiased party without any potential conflict of interest.

I will add photos at a later date but not sure how much this may help. Not sure if this Is the best category, so please advise or move if needed.

Thank you in advance. Really appreciate any advice you can give.


  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,518
    Is this system steam or hot water? Pictures of the convectors and boiler and piping around it are important.
  • IsaacT
    IsaacT Member Posts: 9
    edited December 2018
    Thanks, Fred. I will add photos tomorrow or this weekend.
    Also, I plan on buying a cheap temperature gun. Would this be a reasonably effective way to measure if they are all functioning equally, and to what success?

    There are possibly 20 in the house, or maybe even more. 2 in each bedroom, even a couple in hallways, and one in the laundry room. It was quite warm during the open house so it definitely works but I'd love a more streamlined, less obtrusive system.

    They look fairly similar to this one:
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,518
    A temp gun will tell you if they are heating but they all won't read the same and shouldn't. Waiting to see the boiler and piping.
  • mikeg2015
    mikeg2015 Member Posts: 1,184
    Need to see what's under the covers. I didn't think convectors became common until 1930's. Could have been retrofitted.

    Curious if it's steam or hot water.

    if it's hot water you can definitely install modern radiators. If it's steam, it's a little harder. But there are nicer looking radiators. Those don't look victorian at all. Must have been a retrofit.

    Typuically convectors are copper or steel tubing with steel or aluminum fins to increase heat transfer. They are cheaper ot produce than cast iron and easier to install as the main advantages. they also work better with lower water temps generally, but have less mass, which means more temperature swings.

    Biggest advantage is you can open or close to louver to allow heat output control on each one. I assume those are convective only, and don;t have powered fans.

    IF some are not heating, if hot water, they might need to be bled. if steam, the traps (2 pipe system) or vents (1 pipe) are not working or the radiators valve is closed.

    Take some pictures under the cover please