Will a (Steam) Radiator Ruin My Rattan Couch?
August 16, 2007 6:52 PM   Subscribe

I found a relative bargain on a super comfortable rattan couch. It's still real expensive, but, at half price, it's conceivably within my splurge budget. And I love the couch. The problem is it's going in a room with a steam-powered radiator, and will sit quite close to that radiator. And someone knowledgable tells me that the moist heat of a radiator will ruin (or at least hasten the demise of) the rattan. I'd hate to see that happen, particularly at this price!

This is, fwiw, steam-bent rattan, wrapped over a mahogany frame. There's a light protective finish on the ratan. Rooms with radiators, in my experience, tend to be downright dry. So I'm hoping this warning is hogwash, and that if the valve on the radiator is well-functioning (i.e. little geysers of hot water don't shoot out), I'll be ok. But if not, I suppose I could 1. turn off radiator in that room and buy an electric heater (it's a tiny room I won't use that often...and, again, I really want this couch!) or 2. Put some sort of block between radiator and couch, or 3. Somehow further coat/treat the ratan, or 4. ??????
posted by jimmyjimjim to Home & Garden (11 answers total)
Response by poster: Woops...I didn't explicitly say...I didn't actually buy the couch yet. Info offered here will help me make that decision (thanks!).
posted by jimmyjimjim at 6:54 PM on August 16, 2007

unless the radiator is leaking, I see no reason to suspect that it would add humidity to the air.

You're the one living there, is the room humid?

If you question this, get a humidity meter to determine if it is a problem.
posted by HuronBob at 6:57 PM on August 16, 2007

My experience growing up in a house with steam heat matches yours. Radiators are generally the opposite of moist heat. The steam that makes them hot stays inside them except in rare cases where there is some steam coming out of the escape valve. I am concerned about your "knowledgeable" informant, and I think the couch will be fine.
posted by jessamyn at 7:00 PM on August 16, 2007

The house is so dry in the winter that any added humidity from the steam radiator shouldn't matter.
posted by Gungho at 7:44 PM on August 16, 2007

I have a radiator, and my room is so dry in the winter that I regularly put a dish of water on it to increase the humidity. However, there is a type of steam radiator that does have a vent (called a "one-pipe" radiator, should be self-explanatory; it uses the same pipe to deliver steam and return the condensed water), and may release meaningful amounts of water vapor. I've never seen one in action, though.
Also, be aware than many steam-heat systems have been converted to hot water, so be sure you're actually heating with steam, as they say.
posted by pullayup at 8:56 PM on August 16, 2007

Here's the relevant wikipedia page.
posted by pullayup at 8:57 PM on August 16, 2007

I've always found the risk with something like rattan near a radiator to be overdrying, not moisture. I wouldn't worry about the rattan rotting away, but I'd be very concerned that it would get dry, brittle and starting cracking into spiky points in that nasty way rattan does very quickly.
posted by LairBob at 4:20 AM on August 17, 2007

Unless the radiator leaks or "spits" (which happens when there is too much condensation in the system and it shoots out of the release valve), you're fine.

But if the radiator leaks or spits, you've got bigger problems than just the rattan couch.

The amount of humidity released into the air via the pressure release valve isn't large enough to change the humidity in your room in a very noticeable way. I've seen a leaking steam radiator change the humidity after a radiator has been taken out of the room and the pipe isn't capped properly, but that is pretty extreme.
posted by jeanmari at 6:36 AM on August 17, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks, all, great info as usual.

Jeanmari, again, the couch will be right near the radiator, so it will likely be adversely affected in the event of spitting.

I'm new to this house (I'm renting), and so I"ve never had the heat on. Say I turn it on as an experiment and it does spit....then what?
posted by jimmyjimjim at 9:17 AM on August 17, 2007

Well, spitting is rare unless the landlord doesn't maintain the radiator. Here are some common reasons why a steam radiator air vent would spit.

If it spits, you'll know right away. In fact, if you examine any woodwork, carpeting, or other surfaces in the vicinity around the air vent, you might be able to see evidence of previous spitting incidents. That's because a spitting air vent will most likely spit rusty, brown condensate (water). This rusty condensate stains things over time if the spitting problem isn't corrected.

In the case of spitting, shut off your radiator and call your landlord. They need to draw down the boiler until the water runs clear and they might need to clean the boiler. They'll also check the air vent on that radiator, try to clean it or replace it because it has become clogged with debris. In any case, it isn't anything that you should have to mess around with...your landlord or maintenance person should be fixing it because steam radiators are so tempermental.

Ask your neighbors if they experience any problems with the steam heat in the building. Most likely they will report water hammer (a loud knocking or banging sound) which plagues steam radiators. More rarely, they will report spitting. Since steam heat is such an interconnected system, many people are likely to experience problems at the same time.
posted by jeanmari at 10:22 AM on August 17, 2007

Sorry, I didn't catch that you are renting a house, not an apartment. Do you have access to the boiler in the basement all winter then? If so, you might want to get a reference guide on steam heating. If the entire system is within your living space (no other tenants share radiators within the system), it can't hurt to have a working knowledge of steam heat so you can recognize potential problems at least.
posted by jeanmari at 10:28 AM on August 17, 2007

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