This playbook provides an overview of steam heating system basics, solutions for better steam system performance, and resources for building decision-makers interested in upgrading their systems.

Executive Summary

The majority of New York City residents rely on steam heating systems to keep them warm, with nearly 80% of all large multi-family buildings heated by steam distribution systems. Many of these systems are decades old and perform unpredictably, making tenants uncomfortable and wasting expensive heating fuel. Fortunately, with common upgrades, building owners can improve comfort and reduce annual heating costs by an average of 15%, collectively saving over $145 million each year.

Getting to Know Your Steam Heating System

In New York City, most steam used for heat is generated on-site by boilers that burn fuel such as oil or natural gas, while a small portion is sourced from the Con Edison district steam grid. Steam is distributed through a building’s pipes to radiators that heat occupant spaces. Buildings with on-site steam generation can have either a ‘one-pipe’ or ‘two-pipe’ steam distribution system.

Solutions for Better Steam System Performance

There are a number tried-and-true solutions for improving performance in both one- and two-pipe steam systems. It is important to note that no single measure is likely to maximize a steam system’s efficiency – performance is typically only optimized when the system is addressed as a whole.

  • Boiler Tune-Up and Burner Modulation – to improve boiler operation and efficiency
  • Master Venting – to help heat reach all apartment units quickly and evenly
  • Multi-Sensor Controls – to make the system more responsive to changing heating needs
  • Thermostatic Radiator Valves (and Orifice Plates) – to provide the right amount of heat to all apartments and give residents greater control over their temperature settings.

These four measures yield the greatest results when completed together as a comprehensive suite of work. The first step of any upgrade should be to work with a qualified service provider to develop a scope of work appropriate for your building. The NYC Retrofit Accelerator, a free program provided by the City of New York, can help you find a qualified contractor and determine the right measures for your building.

Read the full BEEx Better Steam Heat playbook to learn more about these steam system solutions.  Visit BE-Ex’s resource library to learn more about how these measures were successfully implemented in both one-pipe and two-pipe residential buildings.

Available For You


  • Retrofit
  • System Upgrade
  • Multi-Family

Related Resources

  • Case Studies
  • Event Recaps