What is Steam Heating, or Steam Heating Systems

What is Steam Heating, or Steam Heating Systems?

What is steam heating? This is a question you are most likely to ask if you are buying an old home or if you are sick and tired of struggling to raise and maintain a constant temperature in your home without a high energy cost.

A steam heat system is a type of central heating system that is designed to warm up homes or buildings.

The steam heating system isn’t as common in modern buildings, but these steam piping solutions can be a great way to warm up your home without increasing your energy bill.

If you want to learn more about these heating systems then you have come to the right place because we are now going to show you how these systems work and how they can help you reduce electric power usage in your home. 

What is Steam Heating?

Steam heat is produced when water is converted into high-pressure steam inside a boiler. In buildings with steam heat, a large boiler is usually fitted in one of the rooms (typically the basement). A pipeline is fitted to the boiler and runs through the house and back into the boiler. Rooms that need to be heated are then equipped with a radiator.

When the boiler is heated, it converts water into steam. The buildup of steam then travels through the pipes to radiators. The steam radiators are designed to emit heat into rooms to warm up these spaces. All the steam circulates in a continuous loop through the house and returns back to the boiler where it is once again heated and pressurized. 

These forced-air systems are often considered energy efficient and the heating medium can help reduce your carbon footprint if you have the correct boiler type in place. 

You can identify a house with steam heat by looking out for radiators in rooms that are all connected to a one-pipe system. If the radiator is connected to a two-pipe system then the house likely doesn’t have a  steam boiler. 

The History of Steam Heating

This type of heating technology is quite ancient and has been used to warm up interior spaces since 1784 when James Watt warmed up his office space with steam that ran through pipes. Scottish inventor, James Watt, then built the central boiler system in his home and expanded it. 

His system used excessive pressure steam that traveled through pipes through his home and sourced back to the central boiler. Watt’s boiler system was later used in an industrial building in Manchester. 

The radiator, a critical part of the steam system, was developed by Russian inventor Franz San Galli in the 1850s. This steam radiator revolutionized steam heating systems since they allowed people to concentrate heat in specific areas in homes instead of having the warmth distributed all the way throughout the building walls. People were now able to warm up specific rooms inside the building. 

Steam heating systems only became popular in households during the 19th century, and in these times the boilers were fueled by coal fire boilers. They became popular in most of Europe, the United States, and other regions. 

The boilers gradually improved and were later fueled by gas or even electricity to produce the first electric heating systems. 

In electric heating systems, the boiler is warmed up with electricity to convert water into steam and the steam then travels through the pipeline to the steam radiator to warm interior spaces. 

Some electric heating steam boilers are now even run on solar energy and since the water is captured inside the boiler and pipeline, the steam heater becomes completely energy efficient. 

Should You Use or Get a Steam Heating System?

Steam heating systems are not as common in modern homes as they used to be in traditional homes. This is mostly because they can be tough to install and temperature regulation isn’t always the easiest. But they also offer numerous benefits. 

The best way to see if this type of heating system is a good fit for your home is by considering all of the pros and cons of this type of heating system. 

The Pros and Cons of Steam Heating Systems

As with all home heating systems, this one does have quite a few benefits. But for many people, the cons or drawbacks outweigh the benefits. Let’s take a look at the top pros and cons of these unique heating systems.


  • Steam heating systems can be very comfortable to use and even energy-efficient if they are well maintained.
  • The boilers of these systems can be very durable. When you purchase an old home with a steam heating system, the boiler is very likely to still be in good condition, but you will have to keep an eye out for leaks.
  • The heating system will offer steady heat throughout the day or night while the boiler is running. 
  • Boilers can be powered by solar systems to create continuous warmth without costing you anything extra at all. 
  • Even electric steam heating systems are remarkably affordable to run compared to air conditioning systems. 


  • Only one thermostat can be used in the heating system, and it is responsible for controlling the temperature of the entire house. This may result in some rooms being warmer than others. The rooms close to the boiler outlet will be warmer while other rooms will be cooler and the size of the room can also affect the temperature.
  • Homes with these heating systems often don’t come with air conditioning systems.
  • Steam radiators can sometimes be loud with sounds of clanking water pipes. Even well-functioning systems can be loud. 
  • Steam heating systems won’t do much for you in the summertime since they can’t cool down your home. 
  • The installation of these systems can be extremely expensive and challenging. 

How to Upgrade to a Steam Heating System?

If your home doesn’t have any steam heating system or boiler at all, then the conversion is going to be pricey.

First, you will need to buy and install a steam boiler. There are currently many different types of boilers that you can get for your home of which a solar boiler is the easiest to use and most eco-friendly. The boiler prices do vary quite a lot and solar boilers are the most expensive since they will require a solar system to function. 

Next, you will need to invest in lots of copper or PVC piping and their fittings. Other types of pipes, like galvanized steel, won’t be sufficient since steel tends to rust especially if it is constantly exposed to steam. The pipelines also need to be able to handle extreme heat.

You will also need to invest in several steam radiators and a thermostat that will help regulate and control the temperature in your home. 

Once you have acquired these items, an extensive installation process will begin. The pipelines need to be fitted outside of your home or inside the wall for them to look tidy. This could mean cutting up all of your walls to fit the pipelines. 

How to Update a Steam Heating System?

When you buy an old home with a heating system, you might want to upgrade or install more radiators to accommodate some of the new rooms you might want to add to your home. 

It is possible to add a steam radiator or two to the old heating system, but it isn’t very easy to do this. The existing mains might not be able to handle the new load and tieing into the old pipeline is going to be tricky. 

New radiators might not be compatible with old systems and it could be hard to find the same sized fittings and pipes so you can properly connect the new radiators.

It is often recommended to simply add a new steam heating zone or even a hot-water heating system along with hot water radiators to your home and have that new system run on its own thermostat. A new system will be easier to install and you will get the advantage of being able to adjust the new zones to a different temperature as the rest of the building. 

If something does go wrong with the old system in the future, the faults will be easier to detect and repair and your new warm zone will keep functioning while you get the repairs done. 

Final Thoughts

We do hope that this informational steam heating guide helped you learn more about these energy-efficient home warming systems.

If you want to learn even more about steam heating systems, different types of thermostats, or other home warming systems then you should have a look at some of the other guides we have on ClimeSense

With our great website, you can choose the best thermostat to connect to your steam heating system at home.