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Open House | Is Steam Heat a Dealbreaker?

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Ask This Old House plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey weighs the pros and cons of steam heat.

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1. Houses with steam heat can be identified by looking for radiators that are connected to only one pipe, not two.
2. There can only be one zone (or one thermostat) controlling the heat for the entire house if it’s heated by steam heat, meaning some rooms can be hotter than others. This can be a disadvantage for some homeowners.
3. Oftentimes, houses with steam heat will not have air conditioning, and that can be expensive to retrofit.
4. Steam radiators can also sometimes have very loud, clanking water pipes. This does not mean there is anything wrong with the system; it’s just annoying. You can test this during an open house by asking the realtor to turn the heat up in the house and listening to the pipes during the tour.
5. Steam boilers can last a very long time, so if the installation date on the boiler itself seems old, that does not necessarily mean it needs to be replaced.
6. Overall, deciding whether or not steam heat will work for you boils down to comfort. If you don’t care too much about having air conditioning and you just want steady heat, there’s nothing wrong with steam heat.

Ask This Old House TV
Homeowners have a virtual truckload of questions for us on smaller projects, and we're ready to answer. Ask This Old House solves the steady stream of home improvement problems faced by our viewers—and we make house calls! Ask This Old House features some familiar faces from This Old House, including Kevin O'Connor, general contractor Tom Silva, plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey, and landscape contractor Roger Cook.

This Old House releases new segments every Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Keywords: This Old House, How-to, home improvement, DIY, steam heat, buying, real estate, plumbing, richard tretheway, open house, home inspection

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