Steam chimneys

Releasing steam before the blast

camini vapo


Temporary steam chimney placed over steam vaults. 


Orange and white cylinders, with flared base; roosting for only a limited time due to preside of external water boiling off creating steam flowing to the top of the chimney. 


Generally found on the street overtop steam manholes.


Manhattan steam district, from Battery Park to 96th Street uptown on the West side, and 89th Street on the East side of Manhattan.

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Manhattan has the largest commercial steam district in America, beginning in 1882 and now maintained and operated by ConEd. Steam is provided to not only heat and chill buildings, but also provide hot water and other services to building customers. There are miles of steam pipes under the street, of varying ages, and the New York Times reported in 2007 that the average age was 54, with some pipes as old as 100 years.

Steam Chimneys appear generally in the wet and winter times when ground water gets near the steam pipe distribution venues (which are unsurprisingly hot) and the steam in the pipes turns the surrounding water to steam. On good days the chimneys safely pipe the steam above our heads. ConEd monitors it so it doesn’t get explode-y. On bad days things are more kinetic, like on July 18, 2007 when a 83-year-old, 24-inch steam pipe exploded near Grand Central. I lived in NYC at the time, and the city was certainly on edge after this explosion. It doesn’t help that this has happened at least 12 times since 1987.

Steam service is a great way to use the excess steam created during electrical generation, and the steam is created at both purpose-built generating plants and at cogeneration plants.

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