Existing cast-iron steam radiators can be easily reused in modern heating system upgrades. Sometimes richly detailed, these radiators are often part of the original design fabric, and homeowners want to retain them, just as they would for any original historical element in their home. In addition to their historic beauty, their greater mass enables them to hold and radiate heat for a longer time than conventional, modern finned copper pipe, thereby contributing to a steadier mean temperature.
There is a systems issue, which is that these radiators were built for a steam boiler, and must be converted to forced hot water if they have not been already. Steam is a one-way system, whereas hot water is a circulating system. Regardless, it is sometimes necessary to test the seals in the radiators to make sure that they fulfill their function, without leaking. Their condition in this regard will often determine whether their reuse will result in savings or additional costs.
Additionally, after a century or more of service, these historic heating elements may have acquired multiple coats of paint, often containing lead, a toxic element. Depending on the condition and the preferences of the owner, this paint must either be stripped off or encapsulated with additional coats of non-lead, heat-resistant paint. This can be another cost variable.
The end result remains the same – – apart from their unique and historic beauty, original steam radiators can be converted to an efficient element of the most modern heating system, delivering a steady, comforting heat, just as their builders intended, a century or more ago.