Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.
Homes with radiators are more common than most people think. While many think of radiators as outdated, they are still a very efficient way to heat a building – sometimes, too efficient. This may have you wondering if your radiator has gotten too hot.
Radiators operate at an optimal temperature slightly greater than a temperature comfortable to touch. However, it should not scald your skin with a light and very brief touch.
In this article, I’ll discuss how hot a radiator should get when functioning normally. I’ll also share some information about how hot is too hot to touch with bare skin. Finally, I’ll share some safety precautions for a radiator that is too hot and when it is time to call a professional.
What Temperature Should the Boiler Be Set To?
A radiator is relatively small for the space it is intended to heat; it produces heat by passing boiling water through the coils, emitting heat upward and outward. Knowing how this works, you may still wonder how hot a radiator should get.
According to water heater manufacturer Vaillant, you should set the boiler heating the water for your radiator to 140 °F-158 °F (60 ℃-70 ℃) for optimal heating. Even so, the surface temperature of the radiator can reach 158 °F-176 °F (70 ℃-80 ℃).
Interestingly, the surface temperature of the radiator can vary depending on location. Touching a radiator near the boiler intake will be noticeably hotter than touching the radiator near the return pipe, which sends water back to the boiler.
This is an important detail because if you think your radiator may be too hot, be mindful of where you’re testing the temperature. You could be closest to where the steam enters and the radiator surface is the hottest.
How Hot Is Too Hot to Touch?
It may seem like this question is subjective. People have different pain thresholds or sensitivities. But the reality is that regardless of feeling, there is a temperature at which, objectively, it is not safe for humans to touch an item.
Engineering manufacturer Boyd provides a helpful table that breaks down the maximum temperature for humans to touch briefly or for an extended time. Another determining factor is whether the object is metal or not.
In the case of a radiator, which is a metal object, the maximum temperature humans should touch briefly is 131 °F (55 ℃). This is slightly lower than the temperature most boilers are set to and substantially lower than a radiator’s surface temperature.
It’s perfectly normal if your radiator feels too hot to touch or gives off so much heat that you aren’t comfortable touching it.
However, you could wonder if your hot radiator is too hot, and you wouldn’t even consider touching it because of its heat. This next section will discuss when it could be too hot and specific safety considerations to remember.
Safety Precautions for an Overheated Radiator
While it isn’t common, a radiator can become too hot and overheat. If left unaddressed, the radiator can become a safety hazard.
Similar to when the radiator in a car overheats, the customarily closed system must eventually allow pressure to escape to bring the temperature down. This typically occurs at a joint or a juncture between fittings, and you see the steam escape from under a car’s hood in the case of an automotive radiator.
Similarly, an indoor radiator valve can burst under too much heat and pressure. Steam escapes when this happens, but hot water also sprays from the unit. This can undoubtedly damage your home and furnishings but is an even greater risk to any people nearby.
If your home begins to feel warmer than usual, it is worth noticing, but being warmer than comfortable doesn’t mean it is unsafe.
However, you may have a problem if the indoor temperature steadily climbs and doesn’t level off or subside. If you have an indoor thermometer or thermostat, monitor your temperature to see if it is climbing or levels off.
Be mindful of other factors, such as warmer outdoor temperatures during the day or overnight. It can take the heating system in a large building a bit to adjust to temperature fluctuations.
Also, if you’re in an apartment building, consider that heat may be rising from other units and isn’t entirely the result of your radiator.
However, if your radiator continues to increase in temperature, it is time to call a heating system professional. An overheated radiator is a safety risk, and if the temperature continues to climb without interruption or leveling off, it is not worth the risk. Have a professional check it out.
How To Cool Down When a Radiator Is Too Hot
When the radiator isn’t overheating but simply putting out a lot of heat, you can do a few things to cool your home down. First, it is crucial to understand why the radiator is emitting too much heat for your comfort.
Interestingly, a prior pandemic, the Spanish flu in the early 1900s, influenced steam heating system design and created more heat for a space than needed, forcing people to open their windows to allow fresh air in.
If your home feels too warm, open a window as the original designers intended. Most of the time, even a barely opened window is enough to help regulate air temperature due to a hot radiator.
Other options include using a fabric or untreated wood radiator cover to help block some of the heat from entering your space. The fabric should always be natural fibers such as cotton or wool; never synthetic fibers because they can melt.
If you are somewhat handy and a little brave, you can follow HomeServe instructions on turning down your radiator. This article walks you through turning a radiator down or off without a thermostatic valve or a knob.
If you’re unsure or uncomfortable doing this yourself, it’s always best to call a heating professional to look at your radiator and see if they can adjust it.
A radiator that is hot when touched is standard and not something that should cause concern. However, relentless heat could be a concern and a reason to investigate ways to turn down your radiator or to call a heating professional for a consultation.
- Vaillant: What Temperature Should My Combi Boiler Be Set To?
- Boyd: How Hot Is Too Hot? The Real Maximum Temperature of Your Product
- Bloomberg: Our Indispensable Guide For Cooling Your Overheated Apartment
- New York Times: Does My Apartment Have to Be So Hot in the Winter?
- HomeServe: How to Turn Down a Radiator
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