27 January, 2008

So That's What It's Called

I'm a child of the suburbs. Although born in Chicago, I grew up in the Northwest Suburbs, in a home built in 1977. Forced air heating was all I knew, and my first encounter with a radiator was in my college dorm. I had steam radiators in a few apartments as well, but never concerned myself with how they actually worked. That was the landlord's job.

Now I live in an 80-year-old brick two flat with hot water radiators--and I have no idea, really, what we should do to maintain them in proper working order. Our home inspector gave a brief demonstration on how to bleed the air out of the radiators and, armed with that knowledge, I rather smugly went from radiator to radiator this week, turning the key and listening contendedly to the little hiss of air escaping. However, only one radiator spat water out of the valve after expelling the air. That's when I realized that whoever painted the radiators in the past had painted the valves shut, and the air was coming out the key hole.

I knew we were going to need some kind of radiator upkeep manual to learn more about the system.

I work as an editor, so I do pride myself on my Google research skills. Yet I am embarrassed to say it took me two days before I stumbled upon the proper name for the type of heating system we have at The Box House--hydronic, which simply means that water is used as the heat-transfer medium. (When I told Ted the proper term, he gives me a look and says, "Yeah, I know." *Sigh* Nobody told me.)

Armed with this new tidbit of information, I quickly found a Web site called Heatinghelp.com. There is a forum for questions and information on the mechanics of various heating systems. They have one book for sale that I might get: How Come? Hydronic heating questions we've been asking for 100 years (with straight answers!). It's $25.00, and not available any cheaper on Amazon, so I may wait a bit before making the purchase.

My question for you all is this: What other resources have you come across for learning about hydronic systems? Later this year, when the weather is warmer and we can open the windows, I want to paint some of the rooms and we will need to move the (friggin' heavy) cast iron radiators to paint behind them. I'd like to do so without destroying the system.


Rae said...

This advice comes from the handiest person I know, my mother, who had a house with hydronic heating for more than ten years: do not under any circumstances try to dismantle a functional radiator. It is extremely difficult and expensive to get replacement parts. Painting will be a pain, but will need to be done with the radiator in place. She would cover a metre stick (yard in your case *g*) with fabric, dip it in a bit of paint, and rub it up and down the wall behind the radiator.

I'm enjoying your renovation blog; your floors look great!

Anonymous said...

Old House Web has an article on moving radiators and one on how to paint a radiator. Good luck with your projects!