Does your heating system rely heavily on old steam radiators? You're not the only one. Across the U.S., this type of heating is common, with some systems boasting radiators that are decades and sometimes almost a century old. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is an old eco-adage, but no one said anything about upgrading — which is precisely what you can do to get your radiators working more efficiently for the duration of their lives.

Adjusting individual temperatures usually requires fiddling with hard-to-reach knobs and futzing about. The fact is that radiators aren't easy to use, nor are they programmable, like smart thermostats should be.

You can change all that by switching out that old valve with a thermostatic one, allowing for much better temperature control. Better yet, you don't need to be a wildly experienced handyman to do it, although you can (of course) hire one if you're feeling a little shaky.

Old radiator with new thermostat

An old radiator with a new thermostat. (Photo: Suzanne Tucker/Shutterstock)

Here's what you need to do:

Start by draining your radiators. This can get messy, so be sure to spread plastic over the floor to contain spills and wear your grubby clothes. Next, you're going to remove the old valve and spud (the part that connects the radiator itself to the valve). You'll need a specialized tool to remove the spud, so be sure to pick that up when you buy your replacement spud and thermostatic valve at the hardware store so you avoid a "d'oh!" moment.

Once you've taken the valve and spud apart, you'll basically be doing the same thing in reverse with the new valve and spud, with the assistance of some pipe sealant, single-strand wicking, and pipe dope to make sure it's well sealed. You definitely don't want any leaks when you're done, as these can damage flooring and cause other problems.

When you're done, attach the sensor to the side of the radiator cover, connect the sensor to the valve, and put the cover back in place.

Your finished project will greatly increase energy efficiency on a room by room level. Your boiler won't have to work as hard to heat empty, unused rooms or to keep the house hot at night when people are sleeping, and you'll have a much lower energy bill as a result! 

Katie Marks originally wrote this story for It is reprinted with permission here.

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