Real Estate

These Steam Radiator Tricks Will Prevent Your Apartment from Becoming an Inferno

published Jan 27, 2020
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‘Tis the season for dry skin, and for those of us who live in old buildings, even drier skin. Many steam radiators in apartment buildings stay on full blast all winter long, thanks to a hard-working boiler in the basement. While having heat is a wonderful thing, having to open your windows in the dead of January is not. 

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Don’t sweat it, though—your century-old apartment doesn’t have to be a blazing inferno in colder months. There are a few simple tricks to bring down the temp, meaning you can pack away your summer PJs away for a while.

Get a cover

Radiators are powered by a boiler in the basement, which sends steam up into a radiator’s pipes. The hot pipes (don’t touch ‘em!) then radiate heat into your room. One of the simplest solutions to prevent that heat from radiating is by covering the hardware with a cabinet. Radiator covers come in all shapes and sizes, from custom-made wooden covers to plain white units from Walmart. They do a solid job of keeping the heat contained inside the cover, and add a handy little surface to your space. (Be careful, though, as it gets pretty warm.)

If you’d rather not drop money on a solid cover, I suggest keeping your eyes peeled for free ones on the street. I picked up a wooden cover on the sidewalk last month, gave it a quick coat of paint, and voila. A cooler room in more ways than one.

Credit: Madeline Bilis
My freshly painted radiator cover.

Make your own cover

In the theme of not spending money on a cover, you can also drape your radiator in fabric to keep the heat contained. Since radiators only heat up to about 215 degrees, there’s no risk of your cover catching on fire—unless you opt for a synthetic fabric, like polyester. Your best bet is to go with a wool blanket or 100-percent cotton sheets. 

Tape over the steam valve

When steam is sent into the pipes of your radiator, it works to push out the cold air in the pipes. This air is forced through the small valve on the side of the unit, which is what makes that funny hissing sound. But if you place a piece of tape over the valve, the cool air can’t escape, meaning there won’t be space for more hot steam to enter the pipes. This, in turn, keeps the air in the radiator at a much lower temperature. 

A word to the wise: Don’t touch the steam valve directly when placing tape on the small hole, as it’s quite hot. And if regular tape isn’t doing the trick, the folks at CityLab have found that first-aid waterproof tape works wonderfully.

Install a thermostatic radiator valve

The thing about radiators is that they’re either on or they’re off—there’s no in between and there’s no way to adjust the temperature. Enter the thermostatic radiator valve, an add-on that can control the amount of heat emitted from a unit. These valves go for as low as $20. The only catch? It’s important to have them professionally installed, which can cost a pretty penny.

Buy The Cozy

A product called The Cozy bills itself as a “smart” radiator cover and lets users control the heat of their radiators via smartphone. Users can easily install the covers on their own, then download a smartphone app to adjust the heater’s temperature. The device works by automatically turning on fans when a room is growing too cold, and turning them off when it reaches the desired temperature.