towel warmer for steam heat system?

slateberry51October 3, 2011


I always thought than when I remodeled my bathroom, I'd replace the chunky old radiator with a sleek runtal unit that doubles as a towel warmer:

Ooh la la!

Turns out, those runtal units are for hot water systems only. They have a steam division that sells two products, both disappointing compared to the selections available for hot water systems:

Eewww blah blah!

So, anybody know of a mfg of something more attractive?

I _could_ get a runtal electric unit, but I just can't bring myself to rely on electric heat; it's so much less efficient than just grabbing some off my steam boiler. I think I'd rather install something ugly than something that wasteful. Actually, I wouldn't go the ugly route; I'd just replace my old plain steam radiator with a more ornate model. But of course I'd rather gain some floor space.

So, if you know of a mfg of steam towel warmers (or sleek steam radiators that mount on the wall), I'd love to know about it. Thanks!

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I grew up in an house which had steam heat, so I feel compelled to respond.

I looked at the site. That examples on display were not bad looking compared to the old relics I had. Have you thought about putting a towel rack above the radiator to disguise the look? Most of the time the towel would hide the radiator. Perhaps you can find an attractive shelf with towel holder or a free standing towel holder.

Do you have a one pipe or two pipe steam system? If it is a two pipe system, then I don't see why could not use the towel warmer made for a hot water system. It may not produce the same amount of heat, but it may be enough for your bathroom.

If you have a one pipe system, then you could tap into the radiator so you can add a steam valve. This is more involved and risky.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2011 at 11:35AM
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Thanks Mike. I'm on two pipes. But I just don't have the guts to go against the mfg. recommendations; The hydronic radiators probably don't have the same joint/weld strength as the steam ones.

I like your towel idea though.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2011 at 9:05AM
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"I just can't bring myself to rely on electric heat; it's so much less efficient than just grabbing some off my steam boiler."

Steam boilers are inefficient and electric heat is 100% efficent. You might have been thinking "More costly", but considering the efficiencies.....not that much more cost.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2011 at 1:19PM
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I know the one pipe steam system operates at low pressures. I think it is in the 4-6 psi range. I would think the two pipe system would be similar. I think the hydronic radiator would be able to handle this amount of pressure.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2011 at 10:47PM
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Ya know, I'm going to call runtal on this one and find out why they don't recommend their hydronic radiators for steam systems.

Dan, for efficiency, I agree with you that an electric unit converts 100% of the electricity you put into it into heat, while my boiler is only about 85% efficient. I was thinking in terms of how that electricity is generated (burn something, heat water, turn a turbine, generate electricity, have it transport (loss of power over distance), convert back to heat in my bathroom. Again, that last step is 100% efficient, but the ones before it--not so much. I think that if I compared how much coal, gas, or whatever had to be burned at the power station to warm up my bathroom (taking conversion and distance losses into account), vs. how much gas has to be burned by my boiler to heat up my bathroom, my boiler would win.

From a global perspective, I believe less fuel is used, and less greenhouse gases are generated, when I heat with my boiler vs. electric units. And like you said, it's cheaper. Both are important to me.

I live in an area that's at about 15 cents per kwh, fwiw.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2011 at 8:29AM
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No arguement heating with electricity is the most efficient. The question is it more economical. In most parts of the country it is not. You need to take the cost of producing the energy and multiply it by the efficiency in order to get the final cost.

In this case there is an existing steam plant providing heat to the rest of the house. I doubt you will see any difference in your heating costs if you were to remove the one small radiator in the bathroom. Old houses tend to have oversized boilers. Removing one radiator will have little affect on the overall energy consumption.

Let us know how you make out on this.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2011 at 9:05AM
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My dictionary tells me that something that is more costly is less efficient. To use "efficiency" to mean only the percent conversion of the energy source to heat is to use it in the narrowest sense.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2011 at 2:28PM
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I guess I use the term efficient as an engineer and not an economist. I have to be more careful with my terminology.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2011 at 10:28PM
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"My dictionary tells me that something that is more costly is less efficient. "

Not a good definition.

There are many metrics for efficiency, with total cost or end-to-end energy efficiency being simple examples (but not always useful examples).

    Bookmark   October 7, 2011 at 11:00AM
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It is not a good or bad definition. It is the definition:

A. Acting or producing effectively with a minimum of waste, expense, or unnecessary effort.
B. Exhibiting a high ratio of output to input.

A good dictionary is always the source for a definition that is not jargon. Jargon is fine in writing or other intercourse between people who always use that specialized definition. In general writing or conversation, you restrict the meaning with the kind of qualifiers that you listed or confusion erupts.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2011 at 6:00PM
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As mike_home suggests, is probably your best option.
I installed one of their units during my recent kitchen reno.
It looks and works great.
Although it's a little pricey.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2011 at 12:13AM
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No argument heating with electricity is the most efficient? I can't let that statement stand. Let me quote:

The efficiency of any system depends on the definition of the boundaries of the system. For an electrical energy customer the efficiency of electric space heating can be 100% because all purchased energy is converted to building heat. However, if the power plant supplying electricity is included, the overall efficiency drops. For example, a fossil-fuelled power plant may only deliver 4 units of electrical energy for every 10 units of fuel energy released. (That's only 40% efficient.) Even with a 100% efficient electric heater, the amount of fuel needed for a given amount of heat is more than if the fuel was burned in a furnace or boiler at the building being heated. If the same fuel could be used for space heating by a consumer, ***it would be more efficient overall to burn the fuel at the end user's building.***

So if your goal, at the end of the day, is to produce the most heat with the least fuel, burning natural gas in a boiler at your house will win over the natural gas-steam turbine plant-electricity-back to heat at your house every time. And I'm reiterating this because there seems to be some sort of disagreement. Also, because for example on the bathrooms forum, I'm surprised at how many people I see installing radiant electric heat systems in their bathroom floors. "Don't they get it," I wonder, "how wasteful it is to heat the space this way". But if there are authoritative voices (like engineers) throwing around terms like "electric heat is 100% efficient", then I can see why they'd make such choices.

It's like saying the garbage goes to zero mass after you put it out on your curb for collection and it crosses your property line. Sure, maybe it weighs zero to you once it's gone, but you have to take into account the whole cycle. Same for the electricity you use. If you're only looking at what happens inside your property line, you're not seeing the whole picture.

Let's end this thread. I've fallen into one of those gardenweb black holes that I want to avoid. Future comments are welcome of course, but I may not respond, except to those pertaining to the original topic, which was steam towel warmers.

Willtv, thank you for your encouraging comment.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2011 at 8:40AM
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A quote is not a quote unless the quoted source is given. I think that you are comparing apples to oranges, coal in the power plant and gas in the home.

Your 40% figure applies to better coal-fired electricity generators. Gas-fired generation has more favorable numbers approaching 60%. Hydro is difficult to compare. If you weight the efficiency of generation by fossil fuel, you are probably up to at least 50%, but how do you add in the renewables? I will give you an additional 6% for transmission and distribution losses which you don't seem to consider so we are back to 44%, but still have to add in renewable somehow.

Central power production in large plants is likely to be less polluting which is also something that needs to be kept in mind.

Given all that, it is pretty clear that the least polluting, least expensive way to heat your bathroom will be to tap into the existing boiler if that is practical.

Good luck with the towel-warmer.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2011 at 4:04PM
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"I know the one pipe steam system operates at low pressures. I think it is in the 4-6 psi range."

If a home steam heating system is operating in that range, there's BIG problems with the people who maintain it.

Home steam heat systems are more precisely called vapor steam heat systems. That differentiates them from steam systems that produce steam at pressures that will do work, like move a locomotive.

A home steam heat system can very nicely heat just about any home on the planet on as little as 4 OUNCES of pressure.

To do so requires a vaportrol, thought, and compared to the common pressuretrol, a vaportrol is QUITE expensive, so it's rare to see them.

The result is that most home steam systems were designed to, and set to, run at between 1 and 1.5 pounds of steam pressure.

That produces more than enough steam to heat the home, and does so without wasting fuel. The higher you set the pressuretrol, the more fuel you're wasting because you're creating steam pressure that you don't need and your system can't use.

And, if it's set too high (3 to 5 pounds) you can actually destroy the air vents on a one-pipe system, or the steam traps on a two-pipe system.

I, too, grew up in a house heated by steam. A huge old boiler (converted to oil from coal) with 14 large cast iron radiators.

One of my jobs was to keep the system balanced and running efficiently.

I got into one hell of a fight with the guy who came out to clean our boiler when I was about 16. He wanted to jack the pressuretrol up to an ungodly high number because "this is a big house, and you need to get heat up to the third floor." We had a third floor, but it wasn't heated. Sigh.

He also said that we didn't need to replace the one mains vent (which had failed and which I couldn't get loose) because the radiators had vents.

The end result was that I kicked him out of the house and went to see the owner of the company. After I explained my case, he offered me a summer job assisting the guys who were working on steam systems. Frightening thing about it was that I knew more than a couple of them, compliments of my Grandfather, a mechanical engineer who was in charge of the boiler plant at the company where he worked.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2011 at 10:57PM
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When you are worried about pennies you lose track of the main focus. An electric towel warmer is going to cost X pennies a day more than another type of towel warmer.

The same question arises when people think of in-floor heat. Subtract the fact that its heat is real and adds to the whole house heat, and you really don't have a lot of money (differential) in the equation. But people sometimes spend years hesitating because of their never ending cost analysis that they can't determine with finality.

People also spend a lot of time spinning their wheels in analysis comparing induction cooktop costs to gas cooking costs. It's another never ending saga. Noone leaves their cooktop on for more than X hours per year, so they have to stop pining for definitive answers. Or, seen another way, it would be fun for Fifth Grade students who need to be given something to do now that they know how to multiply and divide.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2011 at 7:05AM
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Induction probably saves me more in AC costs than in raw energy cost for cooking. When simmering stocks or stews, I have to run an exhaust blower with the gas on.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2011 at 2:17PM
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