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Insulating steam risers

Neild5 Member Posts: 167
I live in a 20 unit condo building in the Chicago suburbs that was built in 1927.  We currently have 3 units being renovated due to a water leak .  While the walls are open is it worth adding insulation to the risers that are accessible?


  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,701
    Are they interior walls or exterior?

    If they are exterior, my answer would be YES

    if they are interior, it's more of a question--the heat is probably going to go into the living spaces anyway
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
  • SteamingatMohawk
    SteamingatMohawk Member Posts: 1,005
    Where in the "living space" the heat would go can affect the decision. If it's into a closet or other "unoccupied" space, it's a waste of heat.

    I have a pantry closet in my kitchen with a nice warm floor...hafta make sure the chocolate kept in it doesn't melt.... an unintended consequence for sure.
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,701
    edited December 2020
    A warm unoccupied space can make the living spaces adjoining it more comfortable and will reduce the heat losses from those spaces, but I agree with what you're saying, it depends.

    But would you agree fully that if it's an exterior wall then it's a no-brainer...insulate it?
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
  • SteamingatMohawk
    SteamingatMohawk Member Posts: 1,005
    Absolutely, I agree. My theory is, when you can, to put the heat where you want it. See Dan's comment below.

    As an aside, I read an article yesterday by Dan from 2014 and in it he states the returns should be insulated. That's the first time since I joined HH and started investigating my steam heat system that I saw such a comment.

    Here's the text from the article:

    "Insulate all the steam lines. When steam condenses and turns into water it stops moving. That's why the Deadmen spent so much time insulating their steam mains. They wanted the steam to condense in the radiators, not in the basement piping. If the asbestos is gone, replace it with fiberglass. This will help you balance the system because the steam won’t condense as quickly in the basement pipes. Uninsulated steam pipes have about five times the heat loss of insulated steam pipes so wrap them well and give the steam a chance to get where you want it to go."

    Here's the URL:


    I traded emails with Dan on this and his ending statement was:

    "If you want the returns to last as long as possible, you'll always benefit by insulating them. "

    Since the returns may not strictly speaking be "steam lines", I thought it important to include his comment to add to the context.

    A downside to insulating the returns is how much colder my 90+ year old basement would be and what effect it would have on the floor of the rooms above. For my house it's only about 60 feet of pipe, but I think I prefer to have the heat in the basement.

    Additionally, my steam heat system has uninsulated risers in the first floor to the second floor radiators. Because of the periodic maintenance to refinish the pipes, I have considered covering them, but haven't gotten there. Besides, that heat isn't wasted since the pipes are visible.