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January 20, 2018

A Hissing Radiator and Sleepless Nights

As printed in the “Ask Real Estate” section of The New York Times, January 20, 2018

A Hissing Radiator and Sleepless NightsQ. I recently moved into a renovated apartment in Hell’s Kitchen that is heated with steam. The valve on the radiator wakes me up most nights, intermittently making one of the loudest hissing sounds I have ever heard. Think of a teakettle whistling so loud that the noise interrupts conversations in the living room when my bedroom door is closed. I contacted my landlord, who sent a plumber, but the plumber said there were no solutions. Is there any way to fix this? And, if not, what are my options? I am desperate for a good night’s sleep.

A. Radiators can be noisy things that clang and hiss as steam heats a room. But one that functions properly should not sound like a wailing teakettle. Your radiator may have a problem with an air valve. Air valves, also known as air vents, open and close as steam flows through the radiator. (Unlike a control valve, you cannot turn an air valve on or off.)

These valves come in different sizes and are easily replaceable. “You could probably put a different type of air valve on the radiator that expels the air a little slower,” said Philip Kraus, the president of Fred Smith Plumbing and Heating in Manhattan. “It’s not complicated at all. You just unscrew it and put another one on.”

Assuming this is the problem, your landlord should address it. “The landlord is shirking his or her legal obligations here,” said Lucas A. Ferrara, a Manhattan real estate lawyer. Because the condition violates the warranty of habitability, a state law that protects tenants, you are entitled to a rent abatement and if the problem cannot be fixed, may be allowed to terminate your lease, Mr. Ferrara said.

You could write the landlord a letter, including these points, sent by certified mail, demanding that the problem be addressed. You could also call 311 to report the matter.

Your fastest route to a good night’s sleep, however, may be through your superintendent. Ask the super to replace the valve, something that Mr. Kraus said a handyman could do. While you should not have to pay for such work, offering a tip may get the job done faster.


When you call Fred Smith Plumbing you get an expert on the phone who can solve your problem fast. Most days, that expert will probaby be owner Philip Kraus.

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