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What killed off steam heating?

Joye Chizek
Joye Chizek Member Posts: 18
I am doing research and understand the golden age of steam heating but what killed it? Was it the advent of air conditioning system that were incompatable with it, sourched air furnances or something else? How did hot water heating fit into the picture? If anyone knows...it is the folks here, when did steam heating die in the US, what killed it and why? thank you. Joye


  • Mad Dog
    Mad Dog Member Posts: 2,595
    Steam heat is alive and well....................................

    The systems were made to last....and that is why Long Island and many older areas are still heated in more than 60% of houses and apartments. As far as being installed in new construction, steam gave way to pump-driven hot water in the 1940s. It was cheaper to install, didn't require as much skill, and gave the user greater control over room temperatures. If you are doiung research, you have come to the right man, Dan Holohan and the right place....i.e., you have arrived in OZ....there's no place like home....Mad Dog

    To Learn More About This Professional, Click Here to Visit Their Ad in "Find A Professional"
  • Joye Chizek
    Joye Chizek Member Posts: 18
    Thanks mad dog!

    I've been an admirer of Dan for many years and know he has all the answers plus I love his writing skills. I've been in this industry myself since 1980 when I started as a drafter in the engineering department of Dunham-Bush Steam Heating Division then located in Marshalltown, IA. During a 10 week strike I was put out in the factory assembling and testing steam traps. I'm one of the few old time steam lovers in the world and now work in the industry as a marketing consultant for several companies, that's why I'm looking for a little more detail about exactly what happened and when push steam aside for hot water and/or forced air? Thank you for your response...Joye
  • gerry gill
    gerry gill Member Posts: 3,078
    hi mad dog- do you think

    lawyers or fear of lawyers had anything to do with steam heat installs giving way?
    Serving Cleveland's eastern suburbs from Cleveland Heights down to Cuyahoga Falls.

  • clammy
    clammy Member Posts: 3,092
    some thoughts

    How about smaller pipes less labor and time to install them the use of small recessed rads and cast iron base board and those one of a kind copper and steel radiant systems plus the fact that not every plumber had the knowledge to install a complete 1 or 2 pipe steam system plus no more trap maintance and smaller boilers peace clammy
    R.A. Calmbacher L.L.C. HVAC
    NJ Master HVAC Lic.
    Mahwah, NJ
    Specializing in steam and hydronic heating
  • Robert O'Connor_7
    Robert O'Connor_7 Member Posts: 688

    Pitch, and space needed to install, material type and the extra labor needed then. Flexibility of design professionals to create spaces less encumbered by chases, sofits ,headroom & ceiling height constraints ect.thus providing more space available to sell$$$..most architects then and now get paid by usable square footage. This is all just shootin from the hip but would be some of my first thoughts as to why there are no new heat installs. I can tell you that steam is alive and very well in the industrial sector but most of the skilled craftsmen have all but disapeared...pity...Robert O'Connor/NJ
  • Joye Chizek
    Joye Chizek Member Posts: 18

    but who came up with the other systems and pushed them into popularity? My answer was always the advent of air conditioning and its basic incompatibility with steam system did it....but who? how? when? Joye
  • Christian Egli
    Christian Egli Member Posts: 277
    Steam still banging long way into future

    Steam is not dead, by no means. You'll need a wooden stake and a crucifix to fix that.

    Steam will still be around long long long after hot air and hot water systems will have come and gone.

    Steam is used in nearly all power plants, in manufacturing, in food processing, in chemical plants, in restaurants, in district heating.

    Installations are generally so simple and durable that they last very long too.

    Steam can be scaled to very large systems and small residential ones too where they become very deluxe installations. But, there are cheaper alternatives: if you're installing AC with air ducts anyway, it is a very small leap to add a hot air furnace.

    Since most new constructions come with AC and there is not many other ways to do AC without air ducts, the whole home industry has lowered its expectations of comfort from heating systems in exchange for the low additional cost of tying a furnace into the ducts.

    It is odd that deluxe homes are built with that concept in mind. I think it is changing with more and more people realizing what they are getting into when building new homes. I also think people who are fortunate enough to live in an old steam heated home are realizing more and more the value of their wonderful system.

    Think of it, a home with a 100 year old system that still works, often while having had a neglected maintenance, is not a bad deal.

    That's another problem. Hot air systems come with the built-in obsolescence that keeps manufacturers busy and happy. So, these people might have a bias against everlasting steam deals.

    Lastly, since steam is used is large plants and for many other purposes and pressures besides home heating, it has attracted the attention of government regulatory agencies. This idea, home owners may find distasteful even if it does not apply to them.

    Some insurance companies often conclude they should wash their hands of home heating systems. Currently, boilers may be a nice excuse for them to raise premiums. I am guessing, it won't be long until furnaces are made the scapegoat as well.

    Many large buildings are still being built with steam. Applications may change a little, and if you think you only see steam in the rear-view mirror, it may be because your car is going in reverse.

    What can I say, steam fills my heart with warm and fuzzy thoughts. You've just got to love sitting in the company of a glowing steam radiator to know a hot air grille just doesn't fill the gap.

  • gerry gill
    gerry gill Member Posts: 3,078
    see if you can find

    someone who was around for the post world war 2 building boom..it was probably just economics..they were building whole tracks of houses at a shot..if they could heat the places with scorched air for say 500.00 less PER HOUSE, and it was probably much more, thats big bucks by the time they get to the other end..just a thought..i remember my dad telling me houses were built like crazy after the war for returning g.i's. and displaced european immigrants..
    Serving Cleveland's eastern suburbs from Cleveland Heights down to Cuyahoga Falls.

  • kevin_5
    kevin_5 Member Posts: 308
    Joye you're correct

    I read somewhere in one of Dan's books, that in the building boom after WWII people got to thinking quick and cheap. (Levittown notwithstanding where I believe 40,000 homes were built with hydronic radiant systems; and you can't do tubing in the floor with steam, yet another reason steam declined) Quick and cheap turned people to furnaces over both steam and hot water systems. Air Conditioning was the icing on the cake as you could use the same ductwork. Of course with a combo system, your ducts are in the wrong place at least half of the year. AC ducts should be in the ceiling since cold air drops, and heater ducts should be in the floor since hot air rises. In places where AC is not needed much, (and there are more older homes), there is a lot more hot water heat than there is in the hotter parts of the country.

    It's our job to inform the customer that Radiant heat can be up to 40% more efficient than a "furnasty", is light years more comfortable, quieter, cleaner, and furniture can be placed where you want it without worry about covering up duct outlets. I think I read some of that in "Hydronic radiant heating, or Just add H2Oh!" by Dan. Kevin

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  • Boiler Guy
    Boiler Guy Member Posts: 585
    Ceap & Simple

    Isn't the the "death knell" of a lot of good inventions. We are our own worst enemies sometimes. JMHO
  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 16,490
    It was

    the Eisenhower Interstate Highway Law, which led to the development of suburbs and tract housing. Furnaces will always be cheaper than boilers.
    Retired and loving it.
  • Joye Chizek
    Joye Chizek Member Posts: 18
    Okay, I've got the reasoning for residential....but what about..

    ...institutional & commercial. What event, person or happening made hospitals, schools and office buildings change technologies from steam to hydronic systems? When did this happen and why?

    I always thought it was chilled water for air conditioning and hot water for heating could be run through the same delivery systems? Was that the culpret? Thank you...Joye
  • jeff_51
    jeff_51 Member Posts: 545
    you are on the mark

    In commercial applications where you are using both hot and chilled water, you can modulate temp through coils with water. We have done systems where we are heating and cooling at the same time. Many outer spaces need to be heated where at the same time, inner spaces need to be cooled. Also when you may need to heat in the early am and cool in the afternoon, water is by far the more efficent system to install, also it is very easy to temper that water for very accurate control when you run it through a fan coil. You will see this application alot in malls and other very large covered spaces. This is also very common through fin tubes and convectors. You can also do alot of heat recovery with water where you are pulling heat out of overheated spaces and putting it into underheated spaces.
    I think we also have to look at the advent of elctricity. Before electricity, how are you going to get hot water up a 20 story bldg? Steam was the answerer, but with elctricity and pumps, you could now install a hot water system and pretty much walk away from it, especially when coal gave way to natural gas. No water lines to maintain, no skimming, no chemicals, fill it, bleed it and walk away till next fall. Just a few more reasons.
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,719
    Steam is not dead

    One of the reasons you still find a lot of these systems out there is because it's almost impossible to kill them. Steam pipes (except for wet returns in the basement) drain dry when the system is off, so they won't freeze if the boiler quits or the power fails.

    This built-in freeze protection will become more important with the uncertain energy future we face, and the ever-tightening environmental regulations which will eventually outlaw the use of antifreeze in hot-water systems.

    There are several of us, including Mad Dog, Noel, Dan Foley and myself who have installed steam systems from scratch. Who will be next?

    To Learn More About This Professional, Click Here to Visit Their Ad in "Find A Professional"
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
  • Constantin
    Constantin Member Posts: 3,796
    Allow me to quibble...

    I agree with you that a steam system by default is simpler, requires less command and control, and that it is virtually freeze-proof. They are also pretty much bomb-proof, at least with the old-style castings that were beefier and more "wrap-around" than they are generally today.

    I disagree though that environmental regs are going to have a huge impact on the hot water heat systems. After all, most of them run on non-glycolized water since they're not expected to ever freeze. Plus, you don't have to use propylene glycol, alcohol will work also... Etc.

    The day that our energy supply becomes so precarious that we have to expect freezing houses, is the day that we have much bigger issues at hand than steam vs. regular heat. Furthermore, having non-bursting steam pipes is no protection against potable pipes going poof under those circumstances. So there is going to be pain for everyone, steam or no steam heat.

    This is not to say that steam heat is not desireable. They are great systems, particularly when someone like you or any other luminaries here install them properly.

    However, when you start speaking of regulations, there may come the day that the DoE outlaws steam systems simply by raising the AFUE requirements to a level where only a condensing gas appliance will do. This is already the case in the EU from what I have heard here. Perhaps one could build a condensing gas system that produces steam...
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,719
    I've read somewhere

    that some places have or will soon limit or outlaw the use of antifreeze in heating systems since they don't want the glycol mixture dumped into the sewer. It seems the usual treatment plant can't digest glycol. Can't remember where I read it or where this is happening though- as always, if I find it I'll post it.

    To Learn More About This Professional, Click Here to Visit Their Ad in "Find A Professional"
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
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