Learn how to create heat zones in your home. Find out why a steam heating system can't be zoned for separate thermostats.
Heating is on the mind of Wendy in chilly New York City listening on WABC. What can we help?
WENDY: Yes, I have a question about putting zones in my home . I spoke to my (inaudible) company once and they said I could put separate zones in and separate thermostats like on the first and second floor. But then I spoke to a plumbing company and they said because I have a glass vial on the side of my boiler that that isn’t possible.
TOM: Yeah, your plumber is correct. That glass vial tells me exactly what kind of system you have. You have a steam system. And so, because you have a steam system, you can’t zone a steam system; at least not very easily. If you have a hydronic system  that was hot water, then you could zone it. And you can’t really convert from a steam system to a hot water system because steam radiators are much smaller than hot water radiators because they get much hotter as you probably know. So with a steam system, you can’t really zone it.
The things that you could do to make sure that the steam system is working as efficiently as possible is, first of all, to look at the pipes in the basement area. Do you have insulation on those pipes ?
TOM: Because very often the insulation is removed; especially if it was asbestos. And I have found many times the asbestos was removed  – which is a good thing – but it was never replaced with, say, a fiberglass insulation so you waste a lot of heat. But if you can keep those steam pipes insulated so that the steam gets up to the radiators quicker, that’s about all you can really do; aside from, of course, just making sure the flame is adjusted properly, the burner’s adjusted properly and the control circuit is working correctly.
But no, you can’t add zones to a steam system. One of the things that you could do is contact your local utility company and ask them to do an energy audit of your home. It’s usually free or very inexpensive and can often point out a lot of areas you’re unaware of, Wendy, where perhaps you’re wasting some energy and could really reduce that loss somewhat.
LESLIE: And then you know exactly what to target when you go to make your home more energy efficient . You know exactly what to add and where.
TOM: Good luck, Wendy. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.