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Your Place: Soot on Walls Likely from Radiator Burning Dust

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By Alan J. Heavens

electric_heat(MCT)—Question: I have a question about electric heat.

My house was built in 1972, and it has always had electric heat, and the hot water is heated by solar panels on the roof. Each room has its own thermostat.

We like the electric heat. It’s quite affordable, especially when considering that it’s our only utility expense, and it’s easy to manage the expense on a 12-month budget. Plus, we turn a knob, and it comes on. We’re warm in a minute. No ashes to clean, no wood to haul, no oil, no furnace, nothing to repair or replace.

We had the interior of the house painted about 12 years ago. I’m noticing that now we have black, sooty marks on a lot of our walls, worse in some rooms than others. This soot appears to be related to the electric heat.

My husband replaced a few radiators a couple of years ago, but I don’t think that’s the problem. He didn’t replace any in our bedroom, for example, and there are a lot of soot marks in there. They follow the studs on the walls, and also there is soot along the places where the walls and ceilings meet, and around any wall sockets. The soot will clean off, but not easily.

Is this something we should be concerned about? There’s no furnace or anything, so do we maybe need new radiators?

We always keep the furniture clear of the radiators because they can get so hot. Do you think the soot indicates that there is a danger of fire? Is there anything we can do to avoid this problem? Do we need to use anything special to prepare the walls before we repaint? Or any special kind of paint?

Answer: As I recall from the brief period I had electric baseboard heat, the soot is the result of dust settling on the radiators, then burning off when the heaters are turned on, thus causing soot deposits on the walls.

At least that’s what I was told, and it made sense. I’ve done extensive online research since I received your inquiry, and I have found nothing contradicting that explanation.

When we had hot-water heat, we had sooty deposits on the walls behind the radiators, which were ancient. Recalling the baseboard heat soot, I cleaned the radiators regularly and the soot buildup was limited, but never went away.

I assume you’ll have greater control.

©2014 The Philadelphia Inquirer
Distributed by
MCT Information Services

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