Origins of Steam

Steam is one of the oldest power sources known to man. The ancient Greeks were perhaps the first civilization to have central heating, with archeaology suggesting they had a crude hot-air heating technology 4000 years ago. They were also the first civilization to create a steam-powered anything, 2000 years ago. Heron’s Aeolipile Around the first century AD, there was a mathematician in Alexandria named Heron. He would write numerous books on geometry and early mechanical technology. His work also includes the first steam engine and therefore as good of a place as any for us to begin the story of steam. The Aeolipile was a water tank placed over a fire, with two pipes coming from the top and running into a sphere. The pipes function as an axle and as a pathway for the flow of steam. There’s two bent pipes on the ball for the steam to come out. When the water boiled, it caused the steam to shoot out of the ball like thrusters, and spin the ball. This was the first mechanical use of steam and the last one for over a thousand years after Heron’s death. Vacuum Power The story of steam picks up again in the 1600s. Giovanni Battista della Porta theorized that the state change of water into steam and back again would alter the pressure of a closed vessel. That is, this would increase or decrease the pressure. This idea if the […]

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Why Steam Heat?

There are a lot of ways to heat your building. Forced air and hot water heat are the most common today, but it’s also possible to use steam.  You might think that steam and water based systems would be almost the same, but they’re actually very different. The Cheap Installation In a traditional hot water system, water flows from radiator to radiator, then back to the furnace to be reheated and recirculated. In a steam system, you don’t need that return pipe. When the steam condenses, it’ll collect at the bottom of the pipe and drip its way back to the furnace the same way it came. The hot steam meanwhile will fill the top of the pipe. This sort of system has traditionally been incredibly popular in tall buildings, such as the skyscrapers in New York city. Being able to use just a handful of stand pipes to provide heat to the entire structure was a massive cost savings. You could essentially build a heating system with half the pipes involved. At the same time, steam heating could be incredibly efficient for a zone-like installation. Many radiators featured shut off valves, allowing a room’s occupant to manually manage the heat. Unused room? Shut off the valve. Too hot? Shut off the valve. It was manual work, but in the right setting, it saved on heating needs. Once one of these radiators became heated, they would also provide heat for […]

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