Rental Rookie

Rental Rookie: In which we spend a few days wondering whether our radiators are going to explode

By Michelle Castillo  | November 3, 2010 - 6:31AM

While apartments are supposed to have heat in New York City, what no one tells you is that it’s not always the well-regulated thermostat that you may be used to if you moved here from somewhere like L.A. These old radiators shake, rattle, bang and blast heat in only one temperature. So even though I had thought one of my biggest problems moving here from California would be freezing during the winter, I found that I was wearing my summer skimpiest indoors rather than bundling up.

Lucky for us, we had bought screens for all our windows. Not only did it help keep the bugs out during the summer, it also provided my roommate and I with a natural antidote to the blistering manufactured heat that was slowly roasting us alive. It’s worth keeping a few of those portable screens handy all year round, just in case you want to prop open a window and not invite all the neighborhood creatures.

Also, it would have been nice to know in advance that these radiators make noise: No one warned us, so we spent a few days wondering whether or not our radiators were going to explode.

We didn’t know that we could ask the super to “bleed” our radiator of any trapped air in the coils that could be making things noisier. Instead we bought earplugs. (If you really can’t stand the noise, you can always shut off the radiator and get a space heater, like our friends did. She estimated it cost about $150 extra in the colder months to heat her one bedroom apartment—but it might be your only option if you’re sensitive to audible disturbance.)

We did ask the super how to turn the radiators on and off. He told us that the only way to operate New York City radiators was with a wrench (we didn’t know, and he didn’t tell us, that most radiators have knobs) so it was best if we had him turn it on once and just leave it for the whole year.

(Instructive corollary: The city mandates the date by which the heat must be turned on in apartments. If it hits late October and your apartment is still chilly, someone might have turned off your radiator.)

Ultimately, having two heaters at full blast was killing everyone who lived in and visited our apartment. Instead of having summer-themed dinner parties, we finally begged the super to turn off one of our two radiators. We chose the one in the kitchen because since we used the oven, the room was getting hot anyway. Also, we realized that the pipes that supplied heat throughout the apartment building stayed hot within our walls, giving off their own warmth, so it was really unnecessary to have two radiators at all times.

It cooled things down quite considerably, and though we had to start wearing a thin sweater indoors, at least we were no longer sweating through our shorts and tank tops like we were in a sauna.

Next Rental Rookie: How to host friends who visit when you don’t have a lot of space


Michelle Castillo moved to Manhattan last fall to attend Columbia University's Journalism School. She has covered arts and entertainment for The Los Angeles Times,, Hollywood Reporter, and, and she currently writes about geek culture for's TechlandRental Rookie is a twice-monthly column chronicling her first year as a renter in NYC.

See all Rental Rookie columns here. 

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