One-Pipe Steam Systems

Simple measures for one-pipe steam systems to enhance efficiency and comfort.

Tech Overview

Applicable Buildings Types hotels, multifamily, commercial
When to Implement anytime

*Be sure to consult a qualified service provider to determine the right measures for your building.

What is a One-Pipe Steam System?

One-pipe steam systems distribute steam through a building’s pipes to radiators that heat occupant spaces usually in buildings up to six stories tall. Although one-pipe steam is commonly associated with overheating and energy waste, optimizing these systems with a few high-efficiency upgrades can reduce energy bills, improve resident comfort, and provide efficient, reliable, and balanced heat for years to come.

Fig 1. An optimized one-pipe steam system, retrofitted with properly sized vents and smart thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs), provides efficient and balanced heat.

How to Implement

A one-pipe steam retrofit requires not only tuning and upgrading boilers, but comprehensively improving each radiator, enhancing the distribution, and optimizing controls. High performance is only achieved when the system is addressed as a whole. Download the full tech primer to learn more about each of the following steps:
A. Implementing Master Venting helps flush trapped air quickly and ensures that steam reaches all apartments evenly through high-capacity air vents at the ends of steam mains and on the tops of riser lines
B. Installing Radiant Barrier Insulation between the radiator and the wall can help block heat from being absorbed into the wall
C. Upgrading Controls makes a steam system more responsive to actual heating needs with the help of multi-sensor controls that monitor both outdoor and indoor temperatures

Cost and Benefits

Cost and benefits of a one-pipe steam system retrofit will vary depending on your building’s baseline systems and conditions. Typically, buildings can expect to see the following results:
Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Savings
A comprehensive one-pipe steam upgrade can moderately reduce heating related GHG emissions.
Tenant Experience Improvement
One-pipe steam retrofits greatly improve tenant satisfaction by offering temperature control and delivering balanced, even heating throughout the building.
Utility Savings
Moderate utility cost savings can be expected from a one-pipe steam retrofit.
Capital Cost
One-pipe steam upgrades require a moderate upfront capital investment.
Maintenance Requirement
One-pipe steam systems require a moderate level of maintenance including burner tuning and boiler cleaning to ensure optimal operating efficiency and can easily be done by knowledgeable staff.

Take Action

This information is part of more than a dozen High Performance Technology Primers prepared by the Building Energy Exchange and the Retrofit Accelerator to introduce decision-makers to solutions that can help them save energy and improve comfort in their buildings. Curious about other retrofitting possibilities? Explore our complete library of Tech Primers here.
The NYC Retrofit Accelerator’s team of Efficiency Advisors offers free, personalized advisory services to help streamline the process of making energy efficient improvements to your buildings.
Get in touch with the NYC Retrofit Accelerator today!
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Available For You


  • Retrofit
  • System Upgrade
  • Commercial
  • Multi-Family
  • Hotel

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