Shut up clanking radiators for some winter quiet

While many homes have been updated with forced air or other heating methods, plenty of older homes still have functional steam radiators. Radiators are durable and efficient, so it is often better to retain this heating system instead of upgrading to a new one.

Unfortunately, radiators can also produce quite a racket once the days get colder and they are called into service. When you hear the furnace kick on, it might soon be followed by a cacophony of banging, clanking, or hissing sounds from radiators around the house. This noise can be distracting and irritating, particularly if it starts up while you're trying to sleep.

Several issues can cause radiators to produce this din. In many cases, they can be quieted with a fairly easy repair.

Radiators will always produce at least a little bit of noise. Julie Ryan Evans, writing for the National Association of Realtors, says the metal will expand as it heats up and contract as it cools, causing a ticking sound. You're also likely to hear some gurgling of water in the radiator and occasional hissing from the radiator's air vent.

One common issue with radiators is a loud banging noise caused when steam starts moving through the pipes. This is a result of water condensing and becoming trapped in the radiator. Joseph Truini, writing for Popular Mechanics, says incoming steam produces noise by forcing water through valves or other plumbing fittings.

When a radiator is functioning properly, water should not be collecting inside. Steven Fox, writing for the home improvement professional Bob Vila, says the radiator's intake valve should not only bring steam into the radiator, but also allow water to drain back to the boiler.

Check to see if the radiator is level. Water might be getting trapped inside if the radiator is angled away from the intake valve, or if it is not sufficiently angled toward the valve to allow water to escape.

If the angle of the radiator is off, use wooden shims to prop up the legs farthest away from the valve. The tilt doesn't need to be too pronounced. An angle of five degrees should be sufficient for allowing water to escape.

Make sure the valve is either completely open or completely closed. Maxwell Ryan, writing for the home design site Apartment Therapy, says some homeowners might try to keep a valve only partially open in an effort to control temperature. This can not only contribute to noise but also cause water to leak, damaging the floor and the ceiling of the room below.

If the radiator angle is not an issue, steam might be condensing too early. Fox says one way to prevent this problem is to insulate the pipe that runs from the boiler to the radiators.

Prolonged hissing or whistling is a sign that the radiator's air vent needs to be replaced. Evans says the vent can cause this type of noise if it is stuck in an open position, while it can contribute to banging noises if it is closed.

When replacing an air vent, first turn your thermostat down so the heating system will stay off while you work. Truini says you should use a thick cloth to remove the old vent so you don't burn your hand. Use hand pressure to take off the old vent and install a new one, since you might snap or crack the component if you use pliers.

In some cases, the trouble might stem from calcium deposits that have built up in the vent as a result of hard water. Ryan says you can remove these deposits by soaking the vent overnight in vinegar, or using a stronger deposit remover such as muriatic acid for particularly bad blockages.

You should inspect your heating system annually, and this can also be a good time to alert a professional to any concerns. Evans says most radiator noises are annoying but not a sign of serious trouble. If you are concerned that something might be wrong with the radiator or its plumbing, contact a professional.


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