Selecting the Right Thermostat for Your Steam Heating System

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Choosing the right thermostat for your steam boiler heating system will significantly affect how efficient and effective your heating system is. Not every thermostat will work well with a steam heater. Your thermostat needs to be compatible and set up correctly to get the most out of your radiator heating system.

smart thermostat

First, we will look at a few differences between steam heating and forced air heating, and then we’ll discuss the different types of thermostats available for boiler systems.

Steam Boiler Heating Systems vs. Forced Air Systems

Boiler systems heat water, and the resulting steam is run through radiators to heat the room. It takes time for the water to heat up. The steam heats the radiators, and they radiate heat over a period of time.

Forced air systems run air over a flame to heat it, and that air is distributed through the house with the ductwork system. The house heats up relatively quickly, and the moisture gets burned out from the flames. There is little to no heat retention.

Pros & Cons of Forced Air Heating Systems

Forced air heating systems are great at heating your home fairly quickly and typically take up less space in a room. This also means the heating system is less visible.

Other advantages of forced air heating systems include:

  • The temperature can be easily adjusted.
  • The system can be easily integrated with a cooling system.
  • The system can be turned on and off quickly.
  • Vents can be opened or closed for some level of zone control

However, there are some disadvantages to forced air heating systems that you’ll also want to consider. Unfortunately, the air produced from this type of system can be relatively dry, and the radiant heat itself doesn’t last as long in your home. The system can also be noisy and usually requires more frequent cleaning and filter changes. If not properly cleaned, dust can easily collect and be distributed through the venting in your home

Pros & Cons of Steam Boiler Heating Systems

On the other hand, steam boiler heating systems offer their own advantages and disadvantages. The pros of steam heating systems include:

  • The air is comparatively more humid.
  • Zone control is easier by switching radiators on or off.
  • The system is generally much quieter than forced air, as there are no fans, motors, or moving air.
  • Some individual pieces are easier to fix or replace than forced air units.
  • The system is less affected by drafts or poor insulation, so air arrives warmer than forced air.
  • The radiant heat provided by the system continues to heat, typically for about an hour.

There are also disadvantages to steam boiler heating systems:

  • Radiators can be large and bulky in rooms.
  • Elements can be difficult to clean.
  • You may lose heat without routine use and maintenance.
  • The system can occasionally be loud with hissing, clanking, or bumping noises.
  • Exposed pipework can be unappealing.
  • The system is slower to react to thermostat changes, so it takes longer to heat the house.

Steam Boiler Heating Cycles

When determining the best thermostat for steam heaters, it is important to understand their typical cycle pattern. An adequately set and sized boiler should cycle once or twice every hour for around eight to 15 minutes.

Some thermostats are designed only for forced air systems and do not recognize that running the heating system four to ten times an hour is excessive and short-cycling the system.

Steam heaters take longer to get the house up to temperature, as it takes time to boil the water. The thermostat needs to take into account the start-up time to warm a house up. Additionally, the radiant heat from the steam takes much longer to dissipate than forced air systems, so they do not need to be turned on as often.

Is a Programmable or Manual Thermostat Best for Steam Boilers?

While a programmable thermostat is usually a good choice, most are designed for forced air systems and are not cost-effective with boiler systems. If household members spend time in the house on a daily basis, a simple manual thermostat is just as effective.

A programmable thermostat can make sense if you spend more time outside the home than in it. If set up correctly, a programmable thermostat with settings for steam heaters can save you money.

Smart, Performance-Tracking Thermostats

Nest thermostatThe best thermostat for a steam-based heating system is a performance-tracking thermostat. Because steam-based heating systems take several hours to warm environments up after complete setbacks, it can be ineffective to turn them off entirely.

Performance tracking thermostats help identify crucial heating periods throughout the day and where the efficiency is lost. These tracking thermostats monitor how fast the system can output heat and how quickly it warms the home. This process can be done manually, but having the computerized thermostat track it is much easier.

Several smart thermostats work well with steam heating systems, such as Nest or Ecobee. These smart thermostats can track your boiler’s performance and determine the best times to run the heat. Not all smart thermostats will work with all boiler systems, especially those not controlled by an electronic board.

How to Optimize Your Steam Heating System Performance

Whichever thermostat you choose, keeping temperature swings to a minimum is essential. A gap of no more than four to six degrees should be used for setbacks whenever possible, as this provides the best efficiency level for most boiler systems.

Additionally, it is important to keep your system well-maintained and in good working order to ensure your system and thermostat work well together. If you live in or near Cincinnati and aren’t sure how to set up your steam heating thermostat or have other concerns, contact Apollo Home Heating, Cooling and Plumbing for expert help and advice.

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