DIY How to Quiet that Radiator!

I've lived in New York City for the past thirteen years and for nearly all of that time have lived in tiny apartments where my one source of heat during the winter was a steam radiator. These beasts can be quite difficult at times - there is no temputure control, just a knob that will turn it either OFF or ON. Heat is in no way regulated and if you happen to live in a place with good windows, you can seriously sweat off half of your body weight overnight. Not to mention the insane noises and crazy hissing that emit from these things.

That said, our new place has two radiators which were unfortunatly defaulty. The downstairs guy's knob broke off leaving us with nothing but having to crouch down into a very small corner, wrench in hand to turn it on/off. When it was on, this process was made quite unpleasant from the excess heat 'radiating' from it.

Upstairs is another situation all together. First there's the incredible noise. It sounds like there are a group of 15 toddlers with metal bats clanging to get out. The banging and clanging coming from it were so loud that I've been sleeping downstairs with earplugs on. Then we have the fact that this guy leaks. A lot.

Now remind you that we just had our floors refinished and the water has been creaping under the floorboards and warping them. So we just decided to turn off the upstairs guy and deal with it.

But now that we are finally entering wintertime, we had to do something and get these things fixed. I called a plumber who came out and replaced the knob downstairs. Hooray - we are no longer burning our fingers and can actually turn it on/off quite easily.

Upstairs he replaced a part - the Air Valve aka silvery thing on the end and I thought we were good to go. Until a few hours later, the water returned and I was one seriously unhappy camper.

So I headed to where all things can make sense, the internet and found a great solution for any of you other New Yorkers out there suffering from the same noisy/leaky problems.

Apparently radiators are supposed to be installed on an angle - one that allows the excess water to go back down the pipes should it not be radiated out. It seems as if our guy upstairs was very incorrectly angled. The experts recommend that you relevel your radiator out with some shims and guess who just happened to have a bunch of shims sitting in her tool kit? Moi!!!

I grabbed my handy little level and checked the state of the radiator upstairs. Just what I suspected, it was ON LEVEL. Good for shelving and hanging pictures but in the case of a radiator, you do not want to see a perfect level.


Apparently, the radiator needs to be placed off of it's level, tilted downwards toward the inlet valve. This allows the unused water to flow back down to your boiler and will keep that dreadful banging and clanging at bay.

To fix it, all you need to do is get a couple of wood shims and place them on the opposite end of the Inlet Valve. Start slowing inserting the shims under the radiator feet, one at a time and use a hammer or mallot to gently move them into place, like so:

The plan is to keep inserting the shims until you get an off level reading. Shortly after I did this all the racket and the leaking stopped. It may take you some time to get the shim into place and in the case of ours, we used a series of shims (4 under each foot) to get the level to finally move into the correct position.

Anyhow, thought it was a pretty easy DIY fix and hope it lets some of you get a restful night sleep.

Happy ZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzz's.

DISCLAIMER:  I am in no way an expert plumber or radiator master so please be sure to use some caution when attempting to work on your own radiators. This solution works for steam radiators but if you happen to have a water-based radiator (you'll know since you will have two pipes - one on either side that looks like an air valve) that this is not the solution for you. In that case, check in with a professional before attempting to fix this on your own. And if you do have a steam radiator, may the force be with you!

Posted on December 23, 2009 and filed under IG Tips, Nesting + Renovation.