The clanking radiators in your apartment that throw out too much heat even on the coldest of days may actually be your friend during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Demystifying Steam, a report published last year by the Urban Green Council, estimated that around 80% of residential buildings in NYC are still heated by steam, and after chatting with tenants, it came to the conclusion that 70% are chronically overheated in winter.

But why is that? It all goes back to the early part of the 20th century, when another pandemic was rife.

The Spanish Influenza, which killed more than 20,000 in New York City in 1918 and 1919. The pandemic “changed heating once and for all,” Dan Holohan, a retired writer, consultant, and researcher with extensive knowledge of heating systems and steam heating told Bloomberg.

Just like today, health officials were convinced that fresh air is good for us. And with the rush of steam heating in new buildings of the time, and the Board of Health in New York City ordering that windows should remain open to provide ventilation, even in cold weather, engineers began working on heating systems to fit the bill.

So the next time you’re fanning yourself and complaining that it’s too hot, remember this: steam heating and radiators were designed to heat buildings on the coldest day of the year with all the windows open!

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  1. Thanks for this, Phil. I really enjoy odd slices of NYC history like this.
    Faithful Reader, Kathleen

  2. Thats why my apartment is so hot.
    Good to know this piece of history since I live in a very old tenement. Thank you.

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