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Make up your damn mind

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.

8 thoughts on “Make up your damn mind”

  1. If only there were some obvious way of stopping the heat getting out of the pipes and into the room without opening a window… we could perhaps give it a fancy name like insulation.

  2. I’ll confine myself to noting that those communist block countries that loved district heating also only supplied radio over cable, to stop people from listening to unapproved opinions. Funny that 😉

  3. Bloke in the Fourth Reich

    I use a district heating system, and heat my house mostly with incinerated domestic waste. Greener it does not get.

    Each radiator is controlled with a return valve limiting the return temperature, and a second valve to which you attach a little thermostat/timer device. Each room is warm exactly when I want it, and if it isn’t, I can easily turn it on, or off.

    Of course, setting this up requires some effort, occasionally changing out dead batteries in the timer/thermostat thingummies, and the small (very rapidly, as in, within weeks, amortised) investment of around €50 per radiator for timer/thermostat controller thingummies. And replacing on average one deceased timer/thermostat thingummy per year.

    This effort and “cost”, and need to get to grips with some technical thing that doesn’t come with an app (actually, I am sure more modern systems do), means most people just heat their houses 24/7. Some of them without even having thermostats on the radiators, just the return valves.

    Compare to my apartment in Italy, which had the abovementioned control system of opening windows when it (as it always did) get too hot.

    Guess where I am paying much less for heating a much larger space.

  4. You’ll obviously be amused to hear that Bath’s MP has a house in the newish development on the old Stothert and Pitt site with a district heating set up, powered originally by now ruinously expensive and sanctioned Russian biomass. Quite why she bothers when her husband is apparently an old Etonian and a scion of the Hobhouse family that owns most of Monkton Farleigh is beyond me but politics, eh?

  5. Knew Wera was a hypocrite – she’s a Lib Dem. Didn’t know she’d married into local money though. So, two houses within what, 10 miles? Plus a London place?

    Was she a post-commie bride?

  6. Manhattan apartments are notorious for terrible upkeep – something to do with the miracle known as “rent control”.

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