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Community and Q&A

Replace radiator with one that takes up less space?

bostondan | Posted in General Questions on

Hi all,

I’ve read a lot of really helpful threads on this site, some of which had to do with replacing radiators. We’re hoping to replace our weird cylindrical cast iron radiator with something that takes up less floor space. 

We would settle for a more typical rectangular radiator, like the other ones in our home, but wasn’t sure if there is a better solution for this space.

We currently have steam radiators throughout our first and second floor and the system seems to work reasonably well. However, this radiator is a bit of an eye sore and we’d like it to blend in a bit more. I’ve seen some stuff about cast iron baseboard, or low-profile cast iron radiators, but wasn’t sure what would be the right choice here.

Please excuse the mess. We just had some work done in that area, including redoing the walls which were old wainscoting that was falling apart.

Thanks in advance!

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  1. walta100 | | #1

    In my opinion changing this radiator for another of a similar sizes but a different shape would not be problem just costs money.

    Changing to different type of radiator like a base board could be a problem. That would depend on your system.

    In my opinion try to find the steam guy that has been maintaining this system and tell him your goals and ask his advice. Avoid changing technicians if at all possible.

    Understand every steam system is a bomb that could explode and you are putting your life in the hands of the persons you allow to work on a steam system. If you’re lucky the steam guy is a gray old fart that learned his lessons long ago.

    In my opinion steam systems are not a good place for do it yourself learning.


  2. bostondan | | #2

    Hi Walta! (is that a Boston accent Walter?) Thanks for your reply.

    We just moved in last year. As far as I know, there is no "steam guy" that maintains the system. They hadn't had the boiler or anything maintained in at least 4-5 years. We signed up with a new oil company that had good reviews and they are now doing annual maintenance for the boiler. They've done it once and said the boiler was okay.

    Should we have a "steam guy" to do maintenance? The heat seems to work reasonably well and doesn't make much noise.

    Do you have any recommendations for someone who could help with a project like replacing the radiator that services the Boston area?

  3. walta100 | | #3

    Look around the boiler you are likely to find a stick on label from the last people that install and or worked on your unit.

    If you have steam it is likely your neighbors have steam and ask around.

    The radiator looks to be steam but could be hot water. A new building with a steam system after 1950 would be an oddity where I have lived but maybe not in Boston.

    If you are new to steam I think it would be wise to have the system inspected each fall for at least a few years. Make sure they show you sight glass and fill valve, a dry boiler is a very bad thing. It should be automatic but it is good to know.

    I visited Boston once in 1970 something. The more I think about it the more Walta does sound like Boston.


  4. ssnellings | | #4

    Are you sure it's steam heat? It probably is, just worth checking because sometimes hot water systems get confused for steam systems because both have boilers and radiators. If you have any doubts there are a few ways to check, easiest is to take a look at the nameplate of the boiler. That sure does look like a steam radiator though!

    The tips and tricks with steam come into play when you are looking to make modifications to the system - so in this case where you are looking to change the radiator I would hire someone with steam experience. New England Steamworks specializes in this stuff, but I've never used them, they're just in my plumbing file as a resource. Unfortunately the last two steam projects I had the owner just ripped the whole thing out.

    I think you'll want a historic radiator, LT Design in Somerville, MA can help you locate one if needed. Their website is and, again, I haven't used them they're just in my plumbing file as a resource. They may be able to point you towards a more local steam plumbing as well, I believe NE Steamworks may be based in Rhode Island.

    One possible complication is the location of the steam service for that radiator, looks like it might come out of the floor? It may need to be relocated requiring some floor repairs if you are moving the radiator location.

    If you want to really dig into steam heat, Dan Holohan's is a good resource and they have a contractor locator.

  5. bostondan | | #5

    Thanks for the replies! It is definitely a steam radiator. We have two boilers. One boiler for water heat that goes to our basement supplying some wall radiators and under-floor radiant heat, and then another boiler that has a "steam" label and supplies our first floor and the second floor neighbor above us.

    I do know about the the glass valve that we have to keep water at the middle level (there's a line that we're supposed to keep it at). Our oil company that does our servicing said we could install some automatic thing to keep it at the right level if we wanted, but that they didn't recommend it unless it became an issue. We had to fill it one time this past winter, but it seemed to mostly stay close to the right level.

    Should we be installing the device that keeps the water in the glass valve at the right level?

    There is pretty easy access to under the floor because luckily that part of the basement has a ceiling that is basically open. Hopefully that should make moving any pipes a bit easier.

  6. DanHolohan | | #6

    Good morning. That's either a Bundy or a Nason radiator. Both are among the first steam radiators ever made. The difference was that Bundy threaded the tubes into the base. Joseph Nason, pressed the tubes into the base, which made the manufacturing process simpler and less expensive. Nason put Bundy out of business.

    Nason, along with his brother-in-law, Mr. Walworth, formed Walworth and Nason, America's first heating contractor. Your radiator is a true antique and sits there waiting to tell your visitors a fine story. Speaking of which, here's a chat I had with Ara Marcus Daniels about these radiators:

    You have one-pipe steam. If you use cast-iron baseboard, you have to limit its length or you'll get water hammer and water squirting from the air vent. Both will make you regret getting rid of your antique. There is a way to route the condensate back from the end of the baseboard through a separate pipe but how that gets done depends a lot on the geometry of your house. It's sometimes simple, other times not.

    I hope that helps. And yes, there's a lot more at

    Dan Holohan

    1. Patrick_OSullivan | | #11

      Dan Holohan is a GBA reader? Did someone send up the bat signal for Dan to chime in on this thread?

      Dan, I just want to say thank you for all the valuable information in your books. The Lost Art of Steam Heating helped me understand my system when I moved into my 100 year old house. When I had my boiler replaced and had all sorts of issues, I was the one who correctly diagnosed these issues back to the fact that the boiler was never skimmed. Couldn't have done that without understanding how the system was supposed to work in the first place.

      Also, I read Pumping Away almost for fun when I was considering designing/building a hydronic system. Another awesome book.

      GBA readers: buy Dan's books if you have any desire to learn about steam and/or hydronic systems. They are the best and written in a way that's enjoyable to read.

      1. DanHolohan | | #12

        Thanks, Patrick! I sure appreciate you.

  7. bostondan | | #7

    Hi DanHolohan,

    Thanks for your reply. I absolutely appreciate that it is an antique, and that's part of the reason we didn't immediately do something about it. However, we are in need of a little more floor space in that area and our kids also love to try climbing on top of the radiator despite all our attempts to stop them, so I think we're still interested in finding a way to modify it.

    I posted on as well per your recommendation.


  8. DanHolohan | | #8

    Happy to help. Thanks!

  9. Jon_R | | #9

    Consider removing the radiator and installing a mini-split. Lower operating cost and better for the environment.

    1. bostondan | | #10

      We actually did strongly consider installing mini-splits and started the process of getting a quote. The issue is that our building only has 300A service for 3 units, of which ours is 2800 sqft and only gets 100A. Also, our oven is electric.

      We were told that it would not be sufficient electric service to install mini-splits. Given the age of our building, and that trenching would involve digging up a city sidewalk, the price was relatively high (>$20k). We were okay with that price, but the other unit owners were not terribly interested in upgrading building service because they don't have issues with 100A in their smaller units.

      We also were told we might be able to get away with converting just the oven to gas, but then we just got overwhelmed with how many steps in would take just to install mini-splits and gave up and put in some window AC units.

      Also, removing radiators completely would involve making changes to a system that is also shared by the condo unit upstairs and they don't have a problem with the current setup. They actually already have a mini-split because they only needed one and their unit is small. So we're kind of in a tough spot.

      I've tried consulting with a couple people to help figure out what the right thing is to do to really improve our heating and cooling situation, but most people just suggest whatever they sell and can't speak to how it fits into the bigger picture.

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