Have you ever lied awake on a winter night, unable to fall asleep due to clanging and banging coming from your heating pipes? Noisy central heating is a problem common to older homes, for two reasons. Firstly, noisy heating pipes are exclusive to steam heating systems that use a boiler to heat hot water that is channeled through pipes as steam. These hot water systems have been phased out by heated air systems. Secondly, older systems are more prone to the wear and tear that results in those obnoxious clanging sounds.
Banging pipes may sound like your house is falling apart, but what’s really going on behind your walls, and what can you do to fix it?
What causes banging heating pipes?
In a steam heating system, steam will sometimes condense back into water inside the pipe. When the system is in good shape, this is not a problem—the system is designed so that condensate can slide back down to the boiler. But as pipes age, their pitch often start to sag, preventing the condensate from draining properly. Condensate droplets collected in these sagging spots can be picked up by passing steam currents and flung at high speed into pipefittings, causing that ominous banging or hammering sound. This phenomenon is known, aptly, as a “steam hammer.”
The quick fix
When it’s late at night and you just want a way to quiet the clanging so you can catch few hours of shut-eye, it’s not exactly the time to undertake a complicated DIY plumbing project. So what can you do to get some peace and quiet in the meantime? The quick fix to clanging heat pipes is to prop your radiator up on one side so that it tips back toward the boiler and won’t allow condensate to collect inside the system.
The long-term solution
A permanent solution to your noisy central heating system will require more extensive plumbing work. The sagging pipes causing condensed steam to settle will need to be either replaced or adjusted. While you’re at it, this is also a good opportunity to check out your boiler and verify that it is functioning properly and has the appropriate amount of water in it. Too much water will fail to heat your home, while too little can weaken the boiler and risk explosion.
Any time a plumbing problem involves work on your boiler or piping, it is safer for both you and your home to call a professional technician, unless you are very confident in your ability to perform the repair. If you hear banging behind your walls and think you may have a problem with your steam heating system, contact Bonfe to set up an inspection.