An Overview of Heat Distribution Systems in Boilers

An Overview of Heat Distribution Systems in Boilers

Every heating system needs a way to transfer the heat it generates to different parts of the house. The heat distribution method affects various aspects of the system, including efficiency and maintenance. Below are the major heat distribution systems for boilers.


A steam radiator consists of a boiler with a tube submerged in water, which forms the boiler’s heat exchange system. The tube receives fuel, which heats the water surrounding it to its boiling point. The steam blows through a series of pipes into upright metal radiators positioned along the walls.

Once in the radiators, the stem loses its heat to the room via radiation. As the steam’s temperature decreases, it condenses back to water. A recirculation system allows the condensate to flow back to the boiler for further heating.

Some advantages of steam boilers include:

  • They provide consistent temperatures.
  • They are water-efficient since they incorporate water recirculation.
  • They don’t need blowers since heat exchange is via radiation.

As with other heating systems, you need to maintain your steam boiler. Below are some required maintenances:

  • Ensure adequate water treatment.
  • Drain the system to remove sediments.
  • Clean the heat exchanger.

Steam heating is a relatively old technology, but some houses still have them.

Hot Water

Hot water radiators work more or less like steam radiators, with a few differences. For example:

  • Hot water, and not steam, heats the house.
  • Hot water stems can have upright radiators or radiators positioned along the house’s baseboard.

Precise control and zonal heating are crucial advantages of hot water radiators. You can determine the precise temperature of each house’s zone by using individual thermostats. You set each thermostat at its desired temperature, and it ensures the boiler heats the water to the desired temperature.

Other advantages include that they are low-maintenance, have quiet operations, and are energy-efficient.

Maintenance for hot water radiators include:

  • Balancing the system to ensure optimal hot water speed, which determines how much heat the hot water gives off before it recirculates back to the boiler
  • Cleaning relevant parts, such as the heat exchanger
  • Testing pressure-relief valve and high-limit control

Hot water systems are more common in newer homes than steam systems.

Hydronic Radiant

Hydronic radiant heating also uses hot water instead of steam. The main difference with hot water radiators is the location of the radiant system.

Hydronic radiant systems consist of a system of tubing under the flooring. The boiler heats hot water and circulates it under the flooring. The hot water gives up it heat via radiation and heats the flooring material. The flooring material (and any object on the floor) then heats the air above it. You can use the same system to heat the whole house or specific rooms.

Some advantages of hydronic radiant heating include:

  • It doesn’t interfere with your house’s aesthetics since it sits under the floor out of view.
  • It is energy and heating efficient.
  • It allows zonal heating.

Hydronic radiant systems are more popular than the other two forms of boiler heating.

Note, however, that installing a hydronic radiant system is easier in newer houses than existing houses. To install this system in an existing house, you would have to remove the flowing material to install the radiant tubing. These systems also work best in houses without thick carpets that might insulate the flooring.

Discuss these and other aspects of your heating system with your contractor to help you make an informed decision. You can rely on the experience of Steele Brothers Heating, Inc., which has operated since 1993, to help you install the best heating system for your house. Contact us for a consultation to begin the design and installation process of your boiler.

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