I like steam the best.
First of all I had to learn how steam heat worked, so with the help of tutorials from the guys at Pioneer Oil company, and what I learned online, I was on my way to getting as much as I could from the system. The first thing I did was to replace all the old valves on the radiators. These valves are the little thermos shaped things that stick out of the sides of the old iron radiators that allow the steam coming in to displace the air in the radiator. Once I replaced them and set them for most efficient setting, I sat back and tweaked them for a month or so. The radiators that didn't heat well, or not at all began to heat up really well.
Next was figuring out how to eliminate the banging in the pipes, they sounded like a steel drum band on some nights. The thing with steam is once the steam is delivered to the radiators it will heat very well, but as the steam cools it turns back to water and hangs about in the pipes unless it drains fully. The radiators need to tilted a bit toward the pipe that brings in the steam to drain the water effectively, and about once a month I drain the entire system of all this extra water from the pipes, and the sound of steam banging against water disappears.
Took a while to figure that out.
All in all, the radiant steam heat is great. It is a lingering heat, not like forced hot air that heats the air, and once it is shut off, the house soon cools off again. The iron radiators radiate the heat for sometime after the thermostat shuts things down.
When we first moved in and had the system inspected, one thing that was strongly advised for us to do was to replace the ancient oil tank. It must have been at least 50 years old, and showed signs of rust. It would have been a disaster if it begun to leak. The guys from Pioneer Oil came over, disconnected the the tank, pumped out the oil from inside of it, then cut the old tank in half in order to remove it from the cellar. Then, the new tank was put in place, and the oil pumped inside.
Amazing job in my eyes. It was all in a days work to them.
Last fall I had a insulation company come over and give us an estimate for blown in cellulose insulation. We opted to replace 19 windows in the house instead in December 0f 2007, and saved (as of March) 36% compared to the year before.
On thing I did this fall, that I had planned on doing for some time, was to place 1/2 inch sheets of rigid foam insulation with the aluminum reflective/radiant coating behind each of the old iron radiators. These will prevent the walls behind the radiators from heating up and and the warmth seeping outside. I think it is working. The furnace seems to shut down sooner now with the heat being reflected back into the house.
We'll see just how effective that was in the spring.