Steam pressure gets a disproportionate amount of attention. That’s partially due to the common, but not necessarily true idea that higher pressure equals more fuel use. Remember, it’s not the steam’s pressure that heats the building; it’s the steam’s heat energy. In fact, you can heat a building with 0 psig steam. You can even heat a building with a boiler that’s too small and never builds positive pressure. You can’t do it well, but you can do it.
Thanks to the law of conservation of energy, we know that energy cannot be created or destroyed — it can only be altered from one form to another. In a steam heating system, the flow of energy goes like this:
- The boiler transfers Btus from the fuel to the steam (energy input).
- The steam transfers those Btus to the rooms.
- The rooms transfer those Btus to the outdoors (heat loss, aka the load).
Too much heat at any pressure
It’s important to keep this energy flow in mind because they are linked and self-equalizing. If the energy input exceeds the heat loss, the building temperature will increase, which, in turn, increases the heat loss. And, a building’s heat loss depends on the temperature difference between inside and outside and the amount of air transfer occurring. So, the best way to keep the heat loss down is to keep the indoor temperatures as low as possible, and keep the windows closed. Furthermore, in an apartment building, the coldest room drives the load in any steam-heated building and the Super needs to send enough heat around to satisfy the hardest-to-heat apartment.