What’s That Steam Rising From New York City Sewers?

Oh, New York, New York. The home city of the most famous skyline in the world, Statue of Liberty, Broadway, Central Park, world’s best bars (hello The Dead Rabbit) and… that steam that rises up through the city’s streets.

You know what i mean. Even if you haven’t grew up in Manhattan below the 96th street, you’ve seen it in the movies: steam rising through the manhole covers or blown from those iconic striped orange and white tubes. So, what’s the deal with the steam?

Let’s find out. (the article continues after the ad)

The steams comes from New York’s huge network of pipes which moves steam around the city. Con Edison operates the world’s biggest network of steam pipes that delivers, just like electricity and gas, steam to buildings for a wide variety of purposes, including heating and cooling. New Yorks’ steam system is so huge that if you took the next nine steam systems and added them together, NYC’s is still the largest. The steam you see in the street is mainly caused in two occasions: when water falls onto the hot, underground steam-carrying pipes and heats up to become steam itself and when maintenance operations are being carried out so workers place the white and orange chimneys in order to get the steam away from traffic. Yes, of course sometimes steam can leak from the pipes, but that’s quite rare.

This unique steam system started back in the late 1800s with 350 customers but, by the 1930s, the company had 2,500 customers and was serving more than 100,000 buildings. As of today, the networks runs 105 miles (169 km), connecting the power plants with the end user. A few of the most notable customers of Con Edison are the Empire State Building, the United Nation’s headquarters and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “If it wasn’t for the steam system, the postcard skyline that you see of Manhattan would be totally different. You’d be looking at every one of these high-rises with some type of chimney coming out of it”, Saumil Shukla, vice president of Con Edison told the New York Times.

Now you know!

If you like what you read, then you will definitely love this one: This Is Why New York Is Called The Big Apple 


Photo: RemyMartinHennessy
Photoshop: I’m A Useless Info Junkie
Sources: What’s That Thing? City Steam Edition | A City Shaped by Steam | Living City | The New York Times | Ask CityLab: What’s the Deal with Steam Rising from the NYC Streets?