How Everything Works
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QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
 
Question 687

I have a gas steam heating system and the second floor radiators don't heat well. How does this system work and how can I balance the system so that the upstairs radiators warm at the same rate as the first floor radiators?
In a steam heating system, steam rises upward from a boiler in the basement and condenses in the radiators. As the steam transforms into water, it releases an enormous amount of heat and this heat is transferred to the air in the rooms. The condensed water than descends back to the boiler to be reheated. The beauty of this system is that the rising steam and the descending water can both pass through the same pipes, propelled by gravity alone. The low-density steam is lifted upward by the high-density water.

However, there are a few potential problems with this system. If there is air trapped in the pipes, the steam will have trouble reaching the radiators. Even though steam is lighter than air, it will diffuse slowly through the trapped air. That's why each steam radiator has a small bleeder valve. When the steam pressure exceeds atmospheric pressure, it should push the air in the pipes out the bleeder valves of the radiators. You ought to be able to hear the air leaving and the valves may continue to sputter a bit even when the pipes and radiators are essentially full of steam. I suspect that the bleeder valves on your upstairs radiators aren't functioning well so that steam isn't reaching them.

         

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