The dead of winter is no time for a radiator malfunction. But steam heating systems do not always comply with man's wishes, and sometimes you find yourself with a malfunctioning or broken radiator at the worst time. If your house isn't heating properly, or if you hear banging in the pipes, it's time for action. Fortunately, there are a few tips you can try yourself to fix the problem before you have to call in an expert.

For Your Hot Water Radiator

If your heating system circulates hot water, you can run into problems when air gets stuck inside your radiator. That can cause either the top of the radiator or the whole thing to remain cool even when the heat is on. The solution is to open the bleed valve near the top of the radiator -- make sure you put a bucket underneath first! Most valves use square-head keys, although some work with a flathead screwdriver. Turn off your heat and wait for the system to cool down; then open the valve and let the air and water drain out until there's no air left, just water. Be sure to close the valve up tightly afterward. Note that if all the radiators in your house are cool at the same time you probably have bigger problems to deal with than a little air in the system.

Small valve leaks in your radiator are another problem you might be able to tackle yourself. If you notice a small puddle of water on the floor, turn the heat off, then tighten the inlet valve where water enters the radiator. If that doesn't do the job, you probably need professional help.

Letting Off a Little Steam

If your steam radiators aren't heating up, there may be a very simple solution. Look for an air vent on the side of the radiator. If it is clogged with debris or painted over, try to clear it out using a needle. If you're lucky, that will fix the problem. If you can't unplug it you might need to purchase a new valve.

When the radiator starts banging and clanging, you know you've got issues. It could be because steam is condensing and pooling in the inlet pipe. There may be a simple fix: try putting some shivs under the radiator so it is set at a slight angle to the pipe, allowing the steam to flow freely through the system.

Pick Up the Phone

If you can't resolve the issue with your radiator, it might be something beyond your ability, or it could even have to do with your thermostat or the furnace itself. If you aren't sure what the problem is, or you don't feel comfortable fiddling with your radiators, don't hesitate to call a professional to inspect your system. He or she can repair and fine-tune your equipment and give you pointers on how to keep it working in peak condition so you stay warm all winter long.

The expert technicians at local One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning are always here to help. Contact us for heating and cooling repairs or advice.