Until recently, my girlfriend and I lived in a steam-heated apartment in Manhattan. A creaky former tenement building, it had no radiators, just scalding-hot cast iron pipes that punched through the units like fire poles. The pipes terminated a few inches from our ceiling with valves that hissed and sputtered, leaking rusty orange water. And they weren’t just heaters, but alarms, clanking like pots and pans every morning around 6.45am when the boiler flipped on in the basement.
This 19th-century technology certainly heated our apartment – but far too well. So every wintertime we would have to throw the windows wide open just to cool down. (My girlfriend enjoyed the contrasting sensations, like ice cream on warm pie. “It always felt like a big waste of energy, but it was pleasant in its own old-school New York way,” she says.)
Indeed, steam still heats as many as 80% of New York City’s residential multifamily buildings, according to the non-profit Urban Green Council, as well as millions of homes across the north-east and midwestern United States – what the nonprofit calls the “Steam belt”. That means, in a climate emergency as energy prices spiral, tens of millions of Americans are probably opening their windows all winter to let cold air in because their homes are too well heated.
Why on earth is it this way?
He’s complaining about district heating systems just as the Greens insist we should have more of them.