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Near Boiler Piping

Bill_110 Member Posts: 52
I just had an unsatisfactory boiler installation done and am looking for advice and a place to vent. To me this is a serious and frustrating matter, though I can't help thinking of an old three stooges skit that is as true today as it was then. After the stooges are called to a plumbing job Curley puts together a contorted mass of pipes that does nothing to solve the first problem, but creates a few new ones. After the mayhem is done one of them says "lets go get payed for the job". I now have the contractors bill in my hand, and a crippled inadequate heating system, planning my next step. Being succinct isn't my srong point so I appreciate your bearing with this HVAC novelette.

I just had a new gas-fired steam boiler installed in a one pipe steam heating system. The old boiler was an oversized unit that heated the house adequately and evenly but at high cost.

I did some research about steam heat after this oversized unit failed at the end of last season. Since I would be getting a smaller capacity unit all the mfg's literature seemed to agree that near boiler piping would be critical in producing dry steam to heat the radiation properly.

The old unit had two supply tappings, one at each end and coming out the top of the boiler. From one tapping the boiler riser pretty much went directly into the system riser which went to the east side of the two story house. The other boiler riser had an elbow, a short horizontal run, and then went directly up into the system riser which went to the west side of the house, which I should mention is the cold(windward) side of the house, and where the thermostat is. There was no noticeable disparity in heating from one side of the house to the other.

Since the old system didn't have a header, nor did it have an equalizer, I emphasized to the contractor I hired that I wanted these things included, with which he agreed. The installation manual also emphasized that the near boiler piping was critical and should be considered part of the installation.

The boiler was installed with near boiler piping included, and after using the system for a few days it became clear that some things had been done radically wrong.

The upshot as far as heating is concerned is that about 80% of the steam or heat is being directed to the east side of the house, whereas the cold side of the house where the thermostat is located is getting radically shortchanged.
All the radiators on the east side up and downstairs get way too hot, whereas most of the radiators on the west side heat very little. For example, by the time the thermostat on the west side of the house had risen two degrees, a thermometer on the east side had risen about 7 degrees.

The room on the east side where the thermostat is located has a 20 fin radiator that used to get anywhere from one third to all of it's fins hot depending on how high the thermostat was set under the old system. Now it seems incapable of heating more than two fins no matter how long the boiler runs! There is a 15 fin radiator at the beginning of the line on this side of the house that is now incapable of heating more than three fins, though half of it would routinely heat up with the old system. This makes it practically impossible to turn the thermostat up and have it turn off by itself, because by the time those 2 hot fins heat up the large room where it is located, the other side of the house is insufferably hot.

I believe that the amount of excess heat being produced on the east side of the house, if transferred to the west side, would prove adequate to keep the whole house cozy. Or in other words, I think the boiler size BTU wise is adequate to heat the total radiation, which was calculated by myself and the contractor before the installation.

The only other changed factor is the near boiler piping, and from what I can glean from the installation manual the installers committed several errors. From one supply tapping coming out of either side of the boiler a pipe rises up vertically to meet a header which connects them. On the left side of the header the boiler riser comes up into a tee which it shares with the equalizer. The right side boiler riser comes up into the header in a downward pointing elbow. There are no system risers from this header. Instead all the steam from the header comes up from the top of the equalizer (in effect there is one shared system riser) into one pipe, which then divides to connect the two system risers, after a lot of tortuous twists and turns, into the system mains which go to the east and west sides of the house.

On the side that is heating overly well the piping is relatively direct, to the other system main there is relatively horizontal piping coming off the shared system riser at a right angle, and then a few more twists and turns, until it finally reaches the old west main and heads off to the radiators.

When I mentioned to the installer that there were not two system risers coming up from the header between the equalizer and the boiler riser nearest the header (as the manual states they should), but rather that there seemed to be only one shared system riser which came out directly above the equalizer, he tried to tell me that this wasn't the header. That the header was really the slightly uptrending run of pipe above this which is I believe properly designated a shared system riser which later diverges. When I asked him what he called the horizontal run of pipe to which the two boiler risers connected, he told me "near boiler piping".

When I went on to tell him about the radiator in the thermostat room not heating, his reply was basically, yeah it'll be different than the old system, but give it a few days. Try turning down some of the other air vents (I have the varivalve adjustable type). This was right after they had done the installation, after which they promptly got out of here as fast as they could without testing anything.

After running the system a few days I became aware of the full extent of the problem. I did turn down all of the opennings on the vari-valves on the overrly warm side of the house, which had no effect on the overheating or on the heating on the underheated side. I didn't really believe this would change anything, but I tried it to be thorough.

I've informed the contractor in writing that I expect him to make this piping right soon, or I will get someone who knows what they are doing and deduct their fee from his bill, which I have no intention of paying until he gets things working in a reasonable fashion.

One thing that especially bugs and worries me though is how to actually pipe this the right way. The installation guide doesn't actually have a diagram. Furthermore, the orientation of the boiler positions the boiler risers and therefore the header in a position that is actually perpendicular to where it would seem more ideal to meet the system mains in a more direct and vertical fashion.
Also there does not seem to be enough space between the equalizer and the boiler riser nearest the equalizer to fit the two system risers with the recommended spacing. I am really not sure if the boiler orientation could be rotated 90 degrees or not. One possible solution I thought would be to angle the boiler riser nearest the equalizer back towards the middle of the header, thereby creating more space for the system risers between it and the equalizer. This could possibly work with moving the equalizer itself out further from the center of the header, though a beam would get in the way(of the equalizer header connection) after about 8 or 10 inches. But then I wonder whether not being perfectly vertical would diminish the effectiveness of the boiler riser? Is it possible I could send some pictures in a later post to illustrate the setup, if anyone has had the patience to still be reading this post? Thank you for any help in advance.


  • Brad White_203
    Brad White_203 Member Posts: 506
    Too bad

    that picture is so blurry... Dan could use it for his presentation at L'Ecole des Bon Temperatures in Paris...

    What an awful litany of willful ignorance. I believe you when you made the ground rules clear. I hope that was in writing at some level, but at least the manufacturer's literature can support you.

    You have a right to insist on a properly installed system but I am afraid that these guys are not the ones to do it. With the heating season upon you, that does limit your options. I grieve for this industry when I see things like this. On the bright side, the copper is shiny. :) Sorry.
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,578
    a picture is worth 2000 words?

    more pix please.can't believe that the boiler came with no suggested piping daigram,perhaps on their web site?
    points to consider:
    1.copper is not suited to steam but ok for wet returns.threaded pipe always.
    2.pipes appear smaller than should be check the boiler site for recommended pipe sizes.
    3.make sure boiler is skimmed clean and when clean has only pure water in it-if you can't drink it neither should your boiler.
    4.make sure the pressure is LOOW [ounces].
    5 when the piping has been straightened out insulate properly-was that included?
    lastly get dan's book asap from this site so you can show the contractor what should be done.--nbc
  • Yikes!

    ..And I thought the job done on my steam system was screwed up!! Blll- I was recently in the same situation you face. My 82 year`old mother had a new steam boiler put in which was very unsatisfactory. After much BS from the installer she asked me to help her out. Previously my only knowledge of steam is what I learned in a high school physics class. The funny thing was that the class helped me out as certain physics principles I had learned didn't jibe with what the installer was telling me. After looking up steam heating on the internet I found this site.

    As other people have mentioned the first thing you should do is order Dan's books. (See "A Steamy Deal" at the bottom the page) In an evening or two of reading you'll know all about one pipe steam systems.
    You will know enough at that point to figure out for yourself what is wrong and be able to get it straightened out. Whether it is by doing it yourself,or by instructing your installer how you want it done. Depending on where you are located there might even be a pro on here that could do the job correctly for you.

    As some one mentioned please post more pictures so that all connections, ceiling to floor, can be seen.

    1.The first thing I noticed was the copper. That's a big "No-NO" on a steam system especially on the steam side as the soldier joints will soon break due to expansion. It can be used on the return side though most steam pros stick to black pipe.
    2.The headers- the steam pipes coming out of your boiler. -Seems to be a rather a strange configuration here.
    With modern boilers, properly configured headers are very important part of having a good operating steam system. Pay particular`attention to any info on headers!!!

    Another thing I found useful was to look at pictures of differents systems the pros on here have posted. Click on the red lettering some of them have under their posts. This leads you to a site where most post pictures of jobs they have done. You might also want to take a look at Gerry Gill's site http://www.gwgillplumbingandheating.com/
    as he has posted pictures of jobs he has done. With the knowledge from Dan's books and with pictures like those on Gerry's site I soon was able to understand what an optimum one pipe steam system was. Also you might want to read "Dan's archived articles" under the "Resources" Tab at the top of the page - a lot of good info there.
    Luckily you have found the right place to get your steam questions answered. I know without Dan's books and the gracious help of the steam pros on this site I'd have been up the proverbial creek!
  • Mitch_6
    Mitch_6 Member Posts: 549

    photo is blurry and the text made me dizzy. But it does not look right at all.

    Where are you located.

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  • Bill_110
    Bill_110 Member Posts: 52
    Near Boiler Piping

    Thanks for the responses. I knew about the advice on not using copper and was shocked when I saw it was being used. Why do some installers use it, is it cheaper than black iron, easier to work with? The contract doesn't actually state what material will be used for the piping, but the piping that was already there as well as the boiler sections are iron, so I assumed that would be the material used in the replacement.

    Sorry the pictures aren't clear but the lighting there isn't good and my digital camera seems to create sort of a double image with the flash. I'll have to wait for a sunny day when natural light filters in. If you reduce the size of the pic to about 50% with your browser though you can get a fairly clear idea I think of the header riser setup. The supply pipes on right and left rise to the header, the horizontal pipe going over the boiler. On the left where the boiler riser goes into the header, a tee joins it to the equalizer (the pipe slightly to the left of and parallel with the boiler riser). from here a single pipe diverges into the two system risers, the far system riser (closer to the chimney) has a short run of pipe to it, the near system riser has a long slightly off horizontal pipe run, then some twists and turns up to the system main. That is the one which is heating poorly. Only about 1/2 the radiation off that main heats up at the end of a full cycle.

    I know from the written directions in the Lennox manual that this arrangement is wrong, I know from the crippled operation of the system that this configuration is screwed up, but what I need to know is the right or best way to pipe it, so that I know the next guy I hire to correct it is actually doing the job right.

    The boiler is a Lennox model and although there is verbal guidance on piping they don't include a picture. Actually in their installation manual, they are supposed to have a picture of how to pipe using one or two supply tappings. But in the two supply tapping pic they mistakenly put the picture of how to pipe with one supply tapping again. My installation uses both supply tappings. An odd oversight considering how critical they say the near boiler piping is. I called them to see if I could get this diagram but I just got a run-around, I also sent them a letter.

    In fact, when I asked the installer how he decided between one or two tappings he told me the Lennox rep had advised dealers to use two tappings, because they were having trouble with one tapping installations. Makes it even more inexcusable they don't provide a diagram of the two supply tapping. At some point I'll enlist the aid of the NY State Attorney Generals office if they don't give me the information that I am entitled to as a consumer. Maybe there are a lot of other Lennox customers out there having the same problem.
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,578
    bad install

    this lennox boiler is probably a rebadged unit from some other mfg. who will have a real installation manual.look on it for a plate giving some clue about this,or post some pix [especially the burner]and one of the pros here will surely recognize it.


    lennox used to have a good tech support dept. which was helpful to me several times to find the cause of a mysterious lock-out problem on a roof-top furnace, so have a look on their web-site.i am sure they want everyone to be happy with their equiptment-especially in these troubled times.
    you could also find a real steam pro in your area using the "find a pro" here and get a more expert diagnosis.to bad the date is not 2 months ago.good luck--nbc

  • One of the first things I did (before I found this site)when trying to figure out my own steam system was to download as many steam boiler installation instructions I could find from different manufacturers. From what I've observed most installation instructions are very minimal and greatly assume that the installer has a competent understanding of steam systems. They also tend to specify the bare minimum required to do the job rather than the optimum.I figure that this is to enable the installer put together the minimum bid and therefore it will sell their boiler rather than some another manufacturers. While I think one needs keep your boiler manufacturer's instructions in mind, there are a lot of improvements one can make.

    One of the most important things I think I learned was the need for swing joints on the risers as without them I can now see that the expansion/contraction would put tremendous strain on the joined boiler modules and over time, cause cracks/leaking.. Most boiler installation instructions skip this. I can only guess because it adds (cost) a couple more elbows to the installation.

    Again I can't over`emphasize the need to read Dan's books-especially the "Lost Art of Steam Heating". It is easy reading (not just a tech manual) and gives you all the answers/formulas and explanations you need to either:
    1.Competently interview a "steam heating" man.
    2.and/or design your own steam system.

  • rich on heat
    rich on heat Member Posts: 47
    Swing Headers

    Bill- I looked over notes on steam that I have saved and this one by Dan maybe of help to you.

    You also might want to take a look at a new post on the board:
    "Burnham Mega Steam ..complete.. almost".
    It has pictures of swing headers. As you can see, due to the elbows, the pipe or the boiler can expand /contract independently with out putting strain on each other. Also note the increase in pipe size after`coming out of the boiler. This slows down the velocity of the steam and helps dry it out. Billy also posted a nice cad drawing of his system.
  • Indysteamer
    Indysteamer Member Posts: 12
    Piping diagrams

    Bill: If the installation manual you have doesn't have piping diagrams in it I believe you may be missing some pages. Lennox boilers are really Dunkirk boilers from my experience. You can go to Dunkirks web site and get a copy of the installation manual. I believe your boiler is in the "Plymouth series." Anyway there is pipe sizing minimums ect.

    Lastly the problems your having is definitely in the piping. I have installed several of these boilers with black pipe and with recommended piping and never had any problems.
  • Paul Pollets
    Paul Pollets Member Posts: 3,656
    Incorrect Piping

    This boiler is piped incorrectly, and will give you nothing but headaches untill corrected.

    The NB piping should be sch. 40 black steel pipe, NEVER copper!! The header sizing needs to be per the manufacturer's instructions. Correct piping methods can also be found in Dan's book, "The Lost Art of Steam Heating". I would suggest you buy a copy for yourself and the heating contractor.

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