Do It Yourself: Home Radiator Yearly Maintenance

If you have a radiator heat system there are some very simple things that you should do once a year to maintain it.

Your home is probably equipped with one of two main types of home heating. You either have forced air or radiant heat. There are benefits and drawbacks to each type of system. If your home is older and has not been updated then you more than likely have radiant heat.

If you are one of the people with radiant heat than you will be happy to know that you have the more energy efficient and easier to maintain system. Your system runs on a boiler in which water is heated up and then sent through the piping where it runs into the radiators located throughout your house. The hot water runs through the radiator causing it to heat up. This generates warm air surrounding the radiator that in turn creates a very small air flow in which air is moved by a constant heating cycle. Even when the furnace turns off, the water is still warm and continues to heat the house for quite awhile, which creates a residual effect of heating the home.

The main drawback to your system is that if you are cold right now, you will not be able to turn on the furnace and instantly have hot air like you would with a forced air system. However, once your system starts to run and the radiators start to heat up, you can stand beside one to warm up from the cold, winter days. This is something that you can't do with forced air unless you want to sit on top of the air vent. Be careful if you do that though, because obviously you could get hurt if you don't use caution and that goes for radiators too.

As I said before, the maintenance on a boiler system is easier than the forced air system. There is a list of things that need to be done on a forced air system annually and monthly and so on. With your radiant heat, you need do very little.

First of all, do not shut down your furnace, ever. That is unless there is a safety reason for doing so or you are going to be gone for a six-month trip. Since your system is a simple water boiler with a pump, there is not much that moves or breaks. If you let it run all year, you will use a little extra gas for the pilot light during the course of the summer when the system doesn't normally run anyway. I suggest you leave the furnace on even during the summer because, if you shut it down you put unnecessary stress on the heating coupler. If you have to replace this part you will spend a lot more than the cost of a pilot light's worth of gas usage.

Next, you should examine the piping. You should do this at least once a year. Simply look at the radiators and the piping around the furnace and check for leaks. Your system works on pressure, which can sometimes cause leaks in the pipes. You will need to replace any leaking areas immediately upon discovery, because your system will not function if you do not maintain a constant pressure of 12-20 PSI depending on the system.

Finally, after checking for leaks you should annually bleed the radiators. The best way to do this is to have a helper posted at the furnace while you are bleeding the radiators. You can bleed your radiators more than once a year if you need to but once should be enough. All you need to do is find the pressure gauge on your furnace. The furnace's manual will show what the recommended system pressure is and you will want to make sure that you are within that range before you start anything. Once you have established your current system pressure, find the water fill valve. Again the manual is the best place to find these features on your furnace.

Now take one of those handy square shaped keys for bleeding the radiators and go to the radiator in the house that is the furthest away from the furnace. For example if your furnace is in the basement in the back of the house, then you would want to start with a radiator on the top floor in the front of the house. You take your square key and place it on the bleeding valve usually located on the top of the radiator. Once your key is in place you will need to turn it counter-clockwise until air or water comes out. Once nothing but water comes out, you can turn the key back and make sure the valve is closed. If you open the valve and nothing but air comes out and the system pressure gets too low, just close the valve and have your helper add water to the system via the fill valve located at the furnace. Once the system pressure is back to within the needed range, you can go back to bleeding the first radiator. It is very important that you continue this process until nothing but water comes out of the valve. There will not be a lot of water coming out, just a tiny squirt for as long as you leave the valve open. After you finish with the first radiator you will need to continue the process with the rest of the radiators moving closer to the furnace each time. You will more than likely need to add pressure to the system several times during this process of bleeding the radiators but it is well worth it. Be careful not to overfill the system. Too much pressure can be down right dangerous to you and your house, but if you do over pressure the system, there is an emergency release valve on your system that will automatically open and de-pressurize your system. This is not something that you want to have to depend on and you should try to avoid needing this valve in the first place. If you do over pressurize the system, there are several way to safely remedy it, so long as the emergency valve hasn't activated yet. Again, go to your manual because some systems have different options to adjust the pressure.

Now that you have checked your system's pipes and you have bled the radiators, you are done. Some companies do annual inspections on your furnace and I think that if you want to spend the money then it isn't a bad idea, but it is not necessary if there is no indication of anything wrong. Some people will tell you that they can do a radiator system flush and recommend it every year because it cleans out the "gunk" floating around inside the radiators. But in fact, if you were to completely drain your system and refill it with fresh water, than you would do unnecessary damage to your furnace. The hot water boiler is not designed to get that much fresh water every year. The water that is currently in your system has been conditioned by the action of being constantly reheated during the year. Any unnecessary fresh water added to the system puts strain on the working parts of the water pump and boiler and promotes corrosion on the internal parts.

Just check the piping to make sure that there are no leaks, bleed the radiators, and let your furnace run all year and your system will run for a long time. You have an energy efficient system that has less moving parts and simpler heating delivery, so take heart in knowing that your system will probably out-last every forced air heating system you know.

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