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Steam versus Hot Water

Perry_5 Member Posts: 141
Significant steam leaks are very quickly noticed and rarely cause notable structural problems.

Small drip type leaks can cause rot and other issues.

However, hot water systems can have small drip type leaks as well, and larger water leaks as well.

Most steam piping last 100+ years (and who knows how long the + is). Some portions may need replacing (usually returns); and I'd only address that if needed.

Overall - I'd only replace the piping if it was known to be in bad shape - as evidenced by lots of leaks (you just fix an occasional leak).

Concerning the asbestos: If you can keep it sealed away - leave it for now. If not just do a targeted insulation replacement project. Note that the replacement insulation will be thick (larger in diameter) for the same insulating value. Be sure the new non-asbestos insulation is clearly marked as non-asbestos.



  • Colin_6
    Colin_6 Member Posts: 1
    Steam versus Hot Water

    We currently use steam heat in a relatively old church and have a new boiler ( in uese for the past 2 years) that is capable of both steam and hot water. We have asbestos covering on our piping system that is relatively old. There is a big push to convert to hot water and tear out all of the piping and replace it at a cost of $ 200,000.
    The big driver is a concern that a major steam leak will result in significant foundation damage and or rot without being noticed. The pipe is visible in the basement.

    In the past I have simply covered over asbestos and or insured no un authorized personnel are in the area and all people that might work in the area take necessary precautions and are trained to work with asbestos

    Is a significant leak possible without going noticed ?
    Could we get by with watching and tracking the volume of water being used as a early warning of potential problems?

    Any other advice
  • mark ransley
    mark ransley Member Posts: 155

    Im no pro but have steam. Who is selling this theory, a heating plumbing guy who will do the work. And his new water system is guarnteed 50 years not to leak. Main is exposed, so minimal pipe is hidden right, I would rather have a steam leak than a water leak anyday and ive just had 3 in an old building, the city water about ruined my boiler controls and flooded the basement, the steam leak, well its steam and can wait, I might try epoxy after all its only One lb steam, my water is 60lb now there leaks gush, a water boiler may be 12-20lb presure I am guessing as mine runs 15lb. One - Two pound steam vs 12-20 lb water leak, I think someone is lying to you, Id rather have a steam leak. And what payback is there to justify this 8-11% gain you may never get. Maybe-maybe not it depends, if you go condensing maximum efficency is with below 140f water, as I read it. So if radiators are undersized 140f may never work to give heat to make it 70. I bet payback is to long to make sense and done wrong you might never get what you paid for in efficency gain, then you pay again and waste more. Who is to say the new instal wont leak and cause more damage from day 1 then the old steam ever will.
    Insulation, better windows, are easy to figure payback. I bet I could point out to you good payback on insulation of minimal dollars

  • I emphatically agree with what Perry and Mark have said. When I read your post I immediately thought there must be ignorance or an ulterior economic motive behind the "big push" for doing away with the steam system.

    Physically and economically you're far better off sticking with your steam system. If it's not working right then I would look for a new "heating pro" that understands steam and believe me, among the "heating pros" out there, many don't have a clue about steam. There are some very good steam pros on this board and so you might want to post your location and I'm sure one of them would either contact you or recommend a steam pro in your area.

    As for the concerns about your steam system. A major steam leak is very noticeable (noisey!) Your steam system operates at very low pressure. Water systems operate at far higher pressures than steam systems and generally leaks from them cause far more damage. If an unnoticed steam leak is a concern you can install a water monitoring unit like the one from Hydrolevel


    These units keep track of exactly how much water is added to your boiler so you can keep a log of how much water is normally used and if the consumption suddenly goes up you immediately know you have a leak. (A steam boiler uses very little water so even a small increase is readily apparent.)

    As for the asbestos - If it isn't loose and hanging about, it really isn't a problem other than psychological. As Perry mentioned you put together a plan to replace it over time.
  • Erich_3
    Erich_3 Member Posts: 135
    More Information

    Colin, you are being misinformed and misled. Can you post pictures of your steam boiler and the near boiler piping. Where are you located? A steam leak will almost always do minimal damage while a water leak is almost aways many times worse. It appears that there is someone who has an agenda to waste $200,000 of the church's money. Is it a church member or a person who installs or services boilers? If it is the person who currently services the boiler you may want to look for someone else who knows steam.
  • ttekushan_3
    ttekushan_3 Member Posts: 958
    Uhhh, no one's taking that seriously are they?

    Who's feeding you that line? "A giant yet unnoticed rogue steam leak will destroy your building! EVERYBODY PANIC!"

    Did they invoke the NY steam explosion yet? Nevermind that was a 24" line with 235# pressure at 400 degrees F.

    I'm being sarcastic only to point out the folly of such a claim. Honestly, if anyone buys that line, I've got some swamp land for sale.

    Regarding the asbestos, the best thing is to leave it undisturbed. Encapsulate it with the appropriate warning label on it.

    I just finished a job at a church with 124 year old steam piping. Any questions?


    P.S. I'm a steam heating professional, and I thought I'd heard them all. This is a new one for the books.
  • Steamhead (in transit)
    Steamhead (in transit) Member Posts: 6,688
    Colin, whoever is pushing this

    just wants to take the church's money. Period. We have some words to describe such people........

    Keep the steam. It will outlast all of us put together.

    To Learn More About This Professional, Click Here to Visit Their Ad in "Find A Professional"
  • mark ransley
    mark ransley Member Posts: 155

    As far as that deadly asbestos fear thats probably pushing this and a crooked heat guy, asbestos ahould be left in place, it has a very high R value and is working. But you can protect against future issues by spraying it with a few coats of thick exterior latex and covering it in thick plastic. Any open spots now , spray them to seal it up. I left mine and just added more fiberglass insulation as you realy cant have enough insulation. Your conversion not verified by design by someone else may cost you more to heat over the next 20 years, in leaks, maintenance, fuel and agravation, plus I would not trust the direction the sheep are being led and who is leading them.
  • Erich_3
    Erich_3 Member Posts: 135
    Update Please

    Colin, what is the latest concerning your steam boiler?
  • Charlie from wmass
    Charlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,314

    I must say my own church just did as yours is looking to do. I was very disappointed but they got "great" rebates from the local gas supplier for switching from oil. Teaches me to not go to church every Sunday. The driving force for the change was based on how noisy the old system was. I did not find out until I read the news letter after the job was done.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
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