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Steam Heat Problems

Jamie Hall
Jamie Hall Member Posts: 22,905
right here on the site -- down below. Well worth the price!
Br. Jamie, osb
Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
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Comments

  • Tiffany
    Tiffany Member Posts: 12
    Steam Heat Problems

    Hello All,
    I have been reading this site and researching steam heat for over a year now. We have an older home with a single pipe steam heat system. The boiler was put in in 1992 before we bought the house. I have had many of the heating and cooling people from around the area come to help us and no on around here knows much about the heat except move the thermostat. Here are a few problems and any advice would be very helpful to me, first one is that 2 of the 4 radiators in our upstairs get exrtememly hot and the other two small ones only get hot to maybe the first pipe not even enough to heat my daughters room(it also whistle everytime the heat kicks on loudly). The upstairs also runs 85 degrees and the downstairs runs 68 to 69 with the thermostat on 74-75 degrees. I want to learn how to fix our problems because I love steam heat; it helps my little girl who has severe allergies(breathing treatments,meds the works)rather than going with forced air. Also 2 of the downstairs radiators don't work unless you crank the heat. I think the were part of an addition in this house. The all have the Hoffman bullet looking steam air valves not adjustable. I will stop for now becuase the list will go on but if anyone could point me in the right direction or advice I would greatly appreciate it.Thanks.:-)
  • Brad White_191
    Brad White_191 Member Posts: 252
    Starting Point

    1. Come to the right place. (Check!)

    2. Tell us your location, geographically speaking. There may be a pro near you who knows what he or she is doing.

    3. Admit that you know what you know, what you do not know and that you are willing to learn. (Check!)

    4. Buy Dan's book "We Got Steam Heat!" as an excellent way to understand your system.

    5. Short term: I do suspect the vents (bullet shaped things you are right). You must get the air out to get the steam in. Vents do that when they work. They do not do that when they do not work. :)


    So, back to question 2...
  • Tiffany
    Tiffany Member Posts: 12


    We live in West Central Illinois. Where can I buy Dan's book, I looked in libraries but no one around here has any. I see that he has many great steam heat books. Thanks.
  • Steamhead (in transit)
    Steamhead (in transit) Member Posts: 6,688
    Steam pro in your area

    is a bit north, in Amboy- Dave "Boilerpro" Bunnell, of Boiler Professionals. But he's been known to travel for steam.

    You wouldn't be in or near Macomb, would you?

    To Learn More About This Professional, Click Here to Visit Their Ad in "Find A Professional"
  • Tiffany
    Tiffany Member Posts: 12
    Steam heat problems

    I am a 30 minutes from Macomb. Thanks.
  • David Nadle
    David Nadle Member Posts: 624
    One more thing...

    Congratulations on not giving up! I would be so frustrated.

    One thing you can do right away is take pictures of the boiler and the near boiler piping and post them here. Also, see if you can find any vents on the mains in the basement, and tell us if the mains are insulated. Pictures will really get the gears turning here...

    Personally I think it would be worth it for you to just go and spend $150 or so on some good adjustable vents and replace every vent in the house. Hoffman makes one (model 1A). I think Heat-Timer Varivents are OK too.

    New vents may not fix all your problems but they should make a big difference. If they don't help at all, that knowledge alone would be worth more than the cost of the vents.
  • Steamhead (in transit)
    Steamhead (in transit) Member Posts: 6,688
    Thought you might be

    I'm in Baltimore, but have relatives there.

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  • Hi Tiffany-
    Your situation sounds very much like mine when I first found this board. Between Dan's books and the help I got on the board from pros like Brad, I soon got my steam system straightened out. As Brad mentioned get Dan's book, "We Got Steam Heat" You can order from the "On Line Store" on this site.(See the top left on this page)

    Dan's books are easy reading, written for the homeowner, and crammed full of facts and explanations of exactly how your steam heating system works. (In a couple of evenings you'll probably know more about steam heat than the heating men that have already looked at your system).

    As Brad mentioned there maybe a steam pro near you that could quickly straighten out you system's problems. However if you are like me and live in the middle of nowhere, the pros on this board will give you the advice you need to get your system working properly.

  • Tiffany
    Tiffany Member Posts: 12
    Here are pics of boiler etc

    Here is photos of the boiler and some of the piping in the basement. Also do any of you know what this radiators are in the brick area.We started taking out the brick and seen they were they from the air grade in the floor above. It looks like it use to have 2 pipes coming out of the brickand one going up. They are more in brick on the other side of the house also. I assume they were some kind of recovery or that is what they used to heat the downstairs since there are vents above both chambers.Thanks.
  • Tiffany
    Tiffany Member Posts: 12


    Hi Rod,
    Yep I live in the middle of nowhere in a town of 900 people and nearest towns are Galesburg 30 min or Macomb 30 minutes and they still don't have much. I have had probably 4-5 heating and cooling people in my home and everyone just says uhh move the thermostat will are gas bills are already go from 500-800 a month I don't need higher bills either. So I have devoted my time to learning on fixing it myself the right way. Hey thanks for your reply I will have to get that book as soon as I can!
  • Tiffany
    Tiffany Member Posts: 12
    another thing

    Also it may be helpful my house is about 2450 sq ft partial basement full 2 story. There are 4 rooms upstairs and an entrance so there are 4 radiators and for some reason the spare room has no radiator it has been removed and pipe in basement cut. And we have 6 radiators down stairs. Also when my heat kicks on most of all the radiators have water hammer but they are sloped down, I think I read 1"/10ft but unsure how much slope. Thanks everyone for helping and replying I have looked for help for sooo long.
    Thanks,
    Tiffany
  • Tiffany
    Tiffany Member Posts: 12


    Steamhead,
    Yep not to far small world. Macomb is a big college town I don't go there much because of that:-) some cool shops though.
  • Tiffany
    Tiffany Member Posts: 12
    sorry guys one more thing

    Sorry I'm trying to give you all all the information to better see the problems. The boiler also never stays on very long. It seems like it heats up and runs a few minutes if that and then quickly turns off and instantly almost the radiators are cold again. Right now the one in my daughters room is just blowing and blowing air and I hear all the other ones around the downstairs clanging and banging. Sorry for the mind overload I just thought if you have all the info it could help out more. Thanks again!
  • World Plumber
    World Plumber Member Posts: 389
    pigtail

    Tiffney:
    Your last post sounds like you may have a blocked pigtail. That would be a good starting point. Check for a blocked pigtail. A check the pressure setting on the pressuretrole.
  • Tiffany
    Tiffany Member Posts: 12


    More info I timed it, the burner kicked on and it ran for 5 minutes then it stopped and then 8 minutes later it kicked on again. It's 15* outside, my thermostat says 69*(in the niddle of the house) and it set at 74*.
  • Tiffany
    Tiffany Member Posts: 12


    Worldplumber,
    Sorry but what it the pigtail? and where what could that be located for me to check? Sorry learning as I go. I read the basics of steam heating by Dan Holohan on http://www.masterplumbers.com/plumbviews/2002/BasicSteam2.asp
    and it talks about it.
    Thanks for your advice.
  • Tiffany
    Tiffany Member Posts: 12


    Worldplumber,
    Duh, sorry I see now I went down and looked and I bet it's the pipe the goes to my honeywell cutoff and into the boiler that is shaped like a pigs tail. The cut off is set at 3 and I noticed the PSI gauge doesn't read anthing really not even on first line unsure if that means anything or suppose to be like that. Thanks.
  • David Nadle
    David Nadle Member Posts: 624
    Couple more pics

    Some pics of the "wet" pipes that go around and into the lower part of the boiler would be helpful.

    You have a bullheaded tee, i.e. the one takeoff to the mains branching in two directions. I know that's not good but I don't have enough experience to tell you if it's the cause of all your troubles. Someone else here surely can.

    If you can find a competent local steam expert that would be best. But if you can't...you can proceed systematically with minimal risk and without wasting money.

    First, see how clean your boiler's water is. Check the waterline when the boiler is off; you should halfway up the glass or a little more. Next, replace the vents. No harm in that. See which symptoms remain afterward.
  • Tiffany
    Tiffany Member Posts: 12


    David here more pics let me know if I didn't get the right ones.


  • Tiffany - This diagram might be of help.
    Edit: Added two more
  • ttekushan_3
    ttekushan_3 Member Posts: 958
    those radiators in the bricked areas

    are indirect radiators and undoubtedly were for heating the first floor. Do the first floor radiators look different from those upstairs? If so, its possible that they were added after the fact. Usually, indirect radiators were installed to be able to pull some if not all their air from outdoors. This way they provided fresh air to protect the family from all manner of poor air quality from gas lighting to pestilence. Perhaps they were disabled for this reason, having determined that a little pestilence was nothing compared to the cost of heating all that fresh air! Fascinating to unearth those.

    If this is how the system was originally devised and the first floor radiators were added, I'd be inclined to determine if there are also some flaws in the piping layout. On the other hand, If the first floor radiators appear original, then perhaps they are sized on the small side, intended to be augmented by the big indirects in the basement. Obviously I'm thinking out loud and none of these things may apply and its simply a clogged vent issue. Its just that I can't get past the sight of large disconnected indirect radiators without also seeing a red flag.

    We may want to do some forensics to determine the original design concept, and how changes over the years affected it. This should be fun. Seriously.

    -Terry

    EDIT. I just notice in 0582 that there is a check valve and a couple feet away is a green handled plug valve. It certainly appears that those drop into the return line near the floor and go around the boiler to meet the boiler's return piping. I can't imagine why this little green handled valve would be closed if its returning "something" to the boiler.
    terry
  • rich pickering
    rich pickering Member Posts: 277


    Terry,
    I agree they are very interesting to find. I remeber when we first moved into the house looking down the air grades in the living room and dining room and thinking what in the world is underneath that I am looking at. Still very curoius. The house is odd but cool to bad I didn't understand it many people have come in looked at pipes or heat etc and just like wow. We have a sistern/well? in are actually basement and a well outside that has a pipe coming in from outside to the werll in our basement. We have pipes clusters of pipes that go upstairs and have no idea where or what for and then of course the 2 bricked areas with the radiators. When I look in there they are short and don't look like in of the others in the house. I wish I could figure out how to put the house back to how it was intentially built or find out what it was all for. Thanks so much Terry.
  • rich pickering
    rich pickering Member Posts: 277


    Thank you soo much that helps!
  • rich pickering
    rich pickering Member Posts: 277


    Terry,
    I actually know what that is. It is how I put water into the boiler when it is low. There is now automatic fill anywhere or maybe was and takin off put when it is low I turn the handle to put water into the boiler. Thanks.
  • David Nadle
    David Nadle Member Posts: 624
    OK

    Your Hartford loop looks kinda low to me, and the pitch on the mains at the left side of the boiler is wrong. I don't know if these are causes. There's an awful lot of uninsulated pipe. That can cause some of your symptoms. All the pipe above the waterline should be insulated. It must be pretty warm in your basement. I didn't see any main vents. Your radiators have to vent themseselves and all that pipe.

    Can you make a schematic diagram of the whole system? Just draw a line across a page and put the boiler in the center. Trace the leftward mains and put a dot on the line for each takeoff, then write the name of the room and the symptoms observed in that radiator. Do the same for the rightward mains. Then find a way to post that. It could tell us a lot.

    For example, If it's the last radiators on the mains that stay cold, you could be literally "running out of steam." If the last radiator gets hot but others do not, it's more likely a venting problem.

    Regarding the short cycling. It could be the boiler is oversized--but you said you have a lot of house. It could be there's too much backpressure from inadequate venting--which is how the pressuretrol ended up set so high.

    If you can find an online chart for radiator EDR, you can measure all the connected radiators and find out if your boiler is over or under sized.

    Even if you're looking for a steam expert, I'd put a rush on the books "We've Got Steam Heat," or if you're ambitious, "The Lost Art of Steam Heating," sold on this site. All of this will make a lot more sense if you have them at hand. In fact, I would get the Lost Art book and let--no, make--the service techs borrow it while they work on your stuff.
  • ttekushan_3
    ttekushan_3 Member Posts: 958
    Du'oh!

    Of course. Yes, obviously the water feed valve. Yet, for inconvenience sake its on the side opposite the sight glass. Do you have a giant mirror down there or do you just run back and forth? Nasty sense of humor, that installer!
    terry


  • Tiffany -

    If you haven't done so already you need to explore your boiling piping. The Mains -Labeled "A" and "B" should be each an individual loop and have risers going off the main to each radiator. Normally on each main, after the last radiator riser is attached, there should be a vent or multiple vents. These look either like round flat can standing on edge or like a large bullet pointed up. See if you can locate these and post a picture for us. Continuing along the pipe after the vents, the mains should drop down and return to the boiler (this part of the piping is referred to as the "Dry Return" and after it reaches the level of the boiler's water line (See Diagram "C") while it is the same actual pipe this section is now referred to as the "Wet Return"
  • rich pickering
    rich pickering Member Posts: 277
    piping pics no vents

    Here is all I can find. We do not have any vents. Here some pics of the piping. Sorry our basement looks awful we are waiting to clean it because I found out it has lots of mold. Anyway pic 0597 and 0598 run to the radiator in our kitchen. Pic 0602 goes to the computer which use to be a sunporch I believe but doesn't really work.. 0600 goes upstairs. 0604 & 0605 go upstairs some do other there no idea. 0609 bends and goes to laundry which doesn't work most time. Sorry I my pics are clustered as bad as are pipes.
  • rich pickering
    rich pickering Member Posts: 277


    Yah it's not much fun adding water turn it off check go back turn it on turn it off check a few many times. ;-)
  • rich pickering
    rich pickering Member Posts: 277


    David,
    Ok I can try but I'll post tomorrow ohyah sorry I guess later because that will take time. The basement is 80* on my thermometer warmest spot in the house:-), the radiator for example all the to the right end of house both of them never get hot. But for example in the pics I just uploaded of piping the one I said use to a sunporch is closer than the bathroom and it never heats. It's all very frustrating but I won't give up until I can get this darn system to work properly. Been trying for more than a year and still going;-).
  • David Nadle
    David Nadle Member Posts: 624
    Spaghetti

    I don't like what I see in a lot of those pics. Horizontal takeoffs could be filling with condensate and preventing steam from reaching those radiators. On some sections it looks like the pitch keeps changing up and down, so you have local low spots that fill with water that hammers around and blocks steam.

    I hate to be the bearer of bad news but I think maybe you've got bigger problems than you can handle yourself.
    But maybe I'm overreacting. I don't do this for a living.
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,576
    steam revival

    you have come to the right place! there are several hundred man-years of steam knowlege at your disposal on this site! most contributors are professional steam pros, and rest of us have acquired our knowlege simply to stay warm! that latter group of us have started with systems exhibiting all the faults yours has, and because of knowlege and encouragement from here, now have the sweetest heating we could ever ask for.

    in the event that you are not able to find a real steam pro in town, an old plumber could still be of great use to you, especially at the start. however by the time you are through, you also will be able to do much of the maintainance on your system.

    here is my suggested list of priorities, which others may modify:

    get the system pressure down as low as you can-a vaporstat would be a good initial modification. these systems run on ounces, sometimes as low as 2 oz. a good low pressure gauge will help also.

    identify and correct the main vents [usually close to the boiler]. in my opinion they are the most important and usually neglected parts of the 1-pipe system!!!!!

    make sure the water in the boiler is as clean as possible. this is done by "skimming" any oily residue off the top of the boiler waterline, and can be done by you [assuming the piping is in place].

    later rectifications should be pipe insulation, radiator vents, installation of a spring-loaded water valve, and thermostat inspection.good luck on the start of your exciting and fulfilling journey into the world of STEAM!!--nbc



  • Brad White_203
    Brad White_203 Member Posts: 506
    What I love about this site....

    Posting comes in before 9 PM EST and over 30 postings from concerned and knowledgeable citizens less than 15 hours later.

    Tiffany, your house seems like a "find"- having an indirect radiator was high-end in it's day. Post some outside pics if you can. You are great with the camera, right on top of things.

    Let's hope we can follow along as you get your system back into shape. I wish more of us lived close-by. Take Steamhead's advice- I hope Boilerpro gets on the case.
  • im in west surburb

    Im in west suburbs of Chicago and Bolierpro is much closer to you.
    From looking at all the great pictures you taken, there's much needs to be done. Main steam pipes venting, correcting the runoff to radiators,etc. Seeing the glav pipings was an add on to the system. Bullheaded tee at of boiler needs to be corrected. Weil Mclain is a good boiler, however, you stated about adding water to it every so often may say another problem with it.
  • rich pickering
    rich pickering Member Posts: 277
    pics of home & radiator

    Here are some pics of inside my home and some of the radiators. I love the home but it is been a pain in my butt. I found it and it was a bank repo and I finally talked my hubby into buying it because I new all the potential. It is a craftsmen style home. When we got it it was gutted. We have redone everything top to bottom and lots more to do. We had to match all the trim on the wall and baseboards back up because some took it all off and put it in a pile in the middle of the floor. The house is all hardwoods floors and beatiful unique trim throughout.
    My problem is I don't have much money that is why I am trying to do it on my own. I am no longer working because I have to stay home with out 3 1/2 year old because she can't be back in school,etc until her body get used to medications for allergies. Last fall she got very sick for 3 months in and out of the ER and found out she had severe allergies. She was on 2 breathing treatments and about 4-5 other medications. Now it is less but the steriods lower her immune system being around other that are sick. Also I wondered about was I was getting sick also and found mold in the basement and got a home inspector out here to to air test and found black mold and many others in our basement. The mold count in the basement was over 18,000 so that is why I am determined to fix this heat because besides the fact we have to get the mold out of our basement somehow if I were to put in any other heat like forced air it would but more mold in the air on the other floors. I had read steam is great for allergies and sinusis. Even if I could get someone here to guide me in the right direction or something. I really don't know anymore even though this house has me against a brick wall in more ways then one I can't give up. I would like to put it back to how it was built and use some of the great things around this home but trying to find info on the house is also impossible. Even the court house doesn't have much. Anyway I truly deeply thank everyone for posting and helping but I am a little unsure where to start;-). Thanks sooooo much!!!
  • Brad White_203
    Brad White_203 Member Posts: 506
    Tiffany

    That is one fine looking house you got there. Craftsman style is my dream home... how cool. Glad you all landed it! You have done quite a bit of work so you must have had it (and been heating it) for a while.

    Now, I am not an allergist (former EMT, ok enough to be dangerous), but steam is not a means of humidification, I think you know that. You can at least put pans of water out there and get some evaporative effect. Those indirect pin radiators can move air hence dust. Not saying get rid of them but clean them at least.

    Understand the financial constraints. Let's see what can be done with any local energy grants and how to improve your envelope especially. Nothing is cheap but everything you do will have lasting value.

    I think amongst all of us, we could come up with a ten-point plan, a priority list of what is a must-do, what a pro must do versus your inner DIY person. Not limiting it to ten points but you know, a list on which we basically agree has the right things to do in the right order and what things are also nice to do.
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,576
    where to start

    see my post above for where to start, since like many of us, you do not have unlimited resources, you will actually have more fun with this revival, because you will learn how to do more yourself!--nbc
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,576
    everything that is good

    one very good thing, i can see is that you have A SKIMMING PORT!! some other pilgrims at the WALL were not so lucky, and had to have one setup after the fact at considerable expence.

    this means the boiler was installed by

    A.someone who knew what he was doing [very good].

    B.someone who could read the boiler mfg's manual [almost as good].

    therefore i think once you get into this, that you will find the system is basically sound, just in need of tweeking.
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,576
    mold

    when we had a mold problem, in a crawlspace, we got a pump up sprayer and filled it with diluted household bleach. we sprayed the affected area a couple of times [after fixing the moisture problem]. maybe that will work for you, but use plenty of ventilation! and of course try to correct any water ingress.--nbc
  • Steamhead (in transit)
    Steamhead (in transit) Member Posts: 6,688
    The radiators in pics 618 and 620

    are "pipe radiators", so called because because they consist of pipes pressed or threaded into a cast-iron base. These things date back to the late 1800s. I think yours might have been made by Crane.

    The newer ones look like they were installed in the 1940s or 1950s. That "small-tube" type is still made today. But the air vents on those radiators are in the wrong place- fortunately that's pretty easy to fix.

    I'll have to look you up next year when I come out that way.

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