There’s also a DIY fix you can try if your problem is the temperature, rather than the ruckus. Cold radiators can be caused by a number of problems, including leaks (which should be fairly obvious) and trapped, cool air. The latter problem can be remedied by “bleeding,” or releasing, the chilly air inside the fins. Pick up a radiator key at your local hardware store (or see if a flathead screwdriver will do the trick) and open the bleed valve on top of the radiator. Turn the valve until water drips out, and do so with the rest of the radiators in your apartment. Cold air will now make space for hot air to enter, effectively freeing you from the electric blanket you’ve been sleeping in all winter.
Make sure it’s not an operator error
Before you go dialing 311 about the uninhabitable conditions, make sure the valve on your radiator isn’t shut all the way off. Doing so can make hot steam accumulate, cause leaks, and destroy your radiator. If you didn’t already have water hammer, you’ll definitely have it now. Many renters mistake the knob for a temperature-control valve, but it’s really just open or closed. Having a partially opened valve will ensure you’re woken by a cacophony of clanging.
Cover up your radiator
A steam heat expert, Dan Holohan, told City Lab that radiators only ever reach about 215 degrees, meaning it’s safe to cover them with a sheet, towel, or blanket to keep heat from escaping. Just avoid synthetics (think: polyester) which can melt.
Take care of yourself
If there’s one thing all steam radiators seem to do successfully, it’s dry out your skin and give you regular middle-of-the-night nosebleeds. During heat season, keep a humidifier running. You can pick these up at any home goods store, but we do love this USB-powered bottle humidifier from Urban Outfitters. It’s energy-efficient (shutting off after five hours of consecutive use) and will look decorative on your nightstand. For something a bit easier on the wallet, try covering your radiator with a wet cotton towel, rather than dry one.
Renters may also want to invest in good old-fashioned earplugs. A number of companies (Hush, QuietOn) are working on smart, noise-cancelling earbuds to lull you to sleep even in noisy, street-front apartments with clamorous steam radiators. But in the meantime, a white noise machine -- or app -- and a pair of earplugs will help.
Steam radiators are also known for exacerbating dry, itchy winter skin. Keep your nightstand stocked with vaseline for chapped lips and hands, stock up on moisturizing face masks, and stay hydrated.
You may never be happy with your steam radiator, but we promise -- you’ll survive it. And it helps to know that though renters with central heat may be sleeping soundly in comfortably warm rooms, they’re definitely, absolutely paying for it. Apartments heated by a single boiler often have heat and hot water included, as there’s no way for tenants to individually control the temperature of their units. Central heat is easy to control, but extremely costly. Keeping that in mind can help you survive another winter with your obnoxious (but free!) steam radiator.