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Just learning about steam


Thanks for your reply. I feel somewhat better having read that the copper pipes have less to do with corrosion than longevity and learning that insulated pipe cuts down heat loss to 1/6! That's incredible!

I live in Worcester, Mass. Have lived in the area most of my life with some stints in Virginia and Michigan. I grew up in the vernon Hill area (3-decker ville) but lived in a single-family house built in the 1840s that had one of the "marshmallow" or "snowman" boliers from the 1880s/1890s. The thing was so heavy and large (and covered in abestos that was not broken), but my father had a guy come in and check it out when my parents bought it in '78.

Do you live in Mass.? if so, where?


  • Jonathan_17
    Jonathan_17 Member Posts: 5
    Just learning about steam heating systems

    Hello! I bought my house in 2007. It was built in 1952 with a steam heating system, however the previous owner had the boiler replaced three years earlier. I grew up with a steam system when I was very young (I live in Mass.), however after moving several times to homes with hot water systems, my memories of those "hissing" radiators were faint.

    Not so true anymore. Now that I am living in my own house with radiators again, many of the memories I had surpressed are coming back. Since I know very little about steam systems, I bought Dan's book "We Got Steam Heat" and found the information in it to be not only helpful, but eye-opening. To be honest, I think I am a victim of having "knuckleheads" do work for me, as well as being a knucklehead myself.

    After reading the book, I am now pretty concerned about some of the work I have had done. I have a six room ranch house (3 bedrooms, kitchen, bath, and living/dining room combo) with five radiators and two convectors. I have had all of the supply valves replaced in either 2007 or 2008. I had the supply valves replaced because they had leaked at some time prior to my owning the house and when I had my hardwood floors repaired and refinished, the radiators needed to be disconnected and that is when I discovered that the supply valves didn't work properly (I had a plumber do this work and so far all is working properly here). I also had all of the air vents replaced with adjustable 1-9 settings as I was told that this would help create "zoned" heating within the house.

    What concerns me the most is the work I had done on the header and loop to and from the boiler. When I bought the house, the boiler had a steel pipe coming out of the top that ran directly into the supply main without a header. I knew this was incorrectly piped and the radiators used to make loud bangs when the heat was turned on. I had my plumber install a header and return pipes, however he did this using copper pipes. I will say that after the work was done there has been little to no banging in the pipes, however after reading Dan's book, I am wondering if I should have all of this copper piping replaced with steel piping? Does it make that much more of a difference? Also, should these pipes be insulated and if so, would that help keep more of the the heat inside and the copper from expanding too much? Part of me is resistant to do so after paying $750 to do this work, but then I think I should because wouldn't that help prevent corrosion in the boiler and then having to replace a boiler less than 5 years old?

    Thanks for your help!
  • Brad White_191
    Brad White_191 Member Posts: 252
    So this is what keeps you up at night.... :)

    So glad to hear that you enjoy steam and that it invokes memories.

    The use of copper piping has less to do with corrosion than with the longevity of the piping itself. The stress on the joints eventually will loosen which will get you into a different set of issues. (OK, then you get your corrosion!).

    All steam piping should be insulated- to leave it bare invites collapse of the steam before it becomes useful to you. Banging often but not always results, not to mention heating uncontrolled spaces. Eventually you will heat your radiators, but why wait? Insulating will cut the bare pipe losses down to 1/6th of what they would be.

    I will go out on a limb and suggest that insulated copper piping would last a bit longer than if bare because the stresses would not be quite so extreme. Marginal and academic point with nothing to back it up but that the temperature swings would be less.

    Personally, sometimes a re-piping job is needed and the results can be dramatic. Now, you do not have the banging or other more dramatic aspects, so the perception of faster steam and longevity are a bit more elusive.

    Where in MA are you? We have a stable of enthusiastic steam practitioners here.
  • Mad Dog_2
    Mad Dog_2 Member Posts: 6,719
    you need a genuine steam pro in there

    I would suggest going to Find a Professional at this site and "GRAB" the nearest Steam Pro...even if it is just for consultation. Mad Dog

    To Learn More About This Professional, Click Here to Visit Their Ad in "Find A Professional"
  • Jonathan_17
    Jonathan_17 Member Posts: 5

    Mad Dog,

    Thanks for your advice. After reading the book and looking over some older parts of my system this morning, I think having a steam pro come in and check everything out is a great idea. I discovered that some of my pipes are not insulated (particularly those in the old recreation room - probably removed for aesthetics by the previous owner) and the pipes that are insulated I'm pretty sure are covered with abestos insulation.

    I'll check out the 'Find a Professional" site. Thanks again.
  • Brad White_191
    Brad White_191 Member Posts: 252
    Auburndale (Newton)

    right by the intersection of the Pike, 128/95.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 22,922

    If the insulation is older, it probably is asbestos. This is not the disaster it might seem! If it is in decent shape (that is, still wrapped on nicely, with the bands in place, and the joints solid (not powdery), your best be may be to wrap it, rather than removing it. This can be done fairly easily with plaster cloth (that is a sort of gauze --well, heavier than that -- impregnated with plaster which is used by doctors to make casts on broken legs). It isn't that expensive, and although it is a little messy to put up, it isn't that hard to do either (but do use a very good respirator while you're doing it, and vacuum with a HEPA filter afterwards!). Most place that's legal. Although Mass. can be funny about that sort of thing...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
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