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Steam Heater that won't turn off

I live in San Franciisco in a 1920's 12 unit building. Each of us has a steam radiator. Some of them turn off when the clock turns them off. Then some of us still have a hot heater after they have turned off. Usually, this is not a big deal. On an 80 degree day it is a huge problem. I have the knob twisted off as far as it can go, even used a wrench! It is still hot to the touch. My neighbor's is cold!



They have to shut down the entire building to give us all relief. Then the next day it is foggy and cold and the heat is off for all of us! Not good~



Why is this? What can I do? I am meeting with the owner today but she really does not know about these things so I am trying to find out how to fix this!



Thanks~

Comments

  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 14,417
    edited August 2009
    "Clock"?

    Is that the only control for this building? Maybe what you see is a thermostat with a clock built into it for night setback?



    The basic solution here would be some sort of warm weather shutdown, which would sense outdoor temp and turn off the boiler when it gets to 60 degrees or so outside. Then on an 80-degree day the heat would definitely not come on.



    If your landlady lives in the building, she probably has the thermostat in her apartment. If not, most cities require that it be in a common area so that one tenant doesn't control the heat. A very good alternative would be an outdoor-reset control such as a Tekmar 279, which would cycle the boiler according to outdoor temperature, and turn it off completely in warm weather. This control would be located in the boiler room where people could not tamper with it. Outdoor controls aren't cheap, but are worth it.



    As to why some radiators continue to heat after the boiler shuts off- this is likely a balance problem. A radiator that's full of steam will continue to draw steam from the system even after the boiler has turned off, especially if it has a valve that doesn't shut completely.



    Do your radiators have two pipes connected to each of them, or just one? Can you take a picture of a radiator and the "clock" if you can get to it, and post them here so we can see them?
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
  • Lavendergirl
    Lavendergirl Member Posts: 4
    Re: Heater that won't turn off

    Hi:



    Thanks for the info. It has one pipe connection on the left where you turn it on and off and the metal steam releaser on the right side. There are three floors in the building and I am on the top. However, my two neighbors, one across the hall outside my front door and the other is connected to me by our back doors, all have their heater cold when the timer goes off. Mine is on 24/7. Not full blast but hot enough to keep the room warm plus I get all day sun so it adds to the problem.



    My other neighbor is on the first floor in the back of the building and hers is also on all the time. No rhyme or reason... I can't download a picture because that computer is in the shop and that has my digital camera program on it. Can you tell me anything more by the description? The entire building is still shut down because it was so hot yesterday they came and shut it down. Now it is cold and foggy out and the radiator is ice cold! They have to come and turn the buikding on again..what a pain!
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 14,417
    edited August 2009
    That's a "one-pipe" system

    The "releaser" on the end should not release steam- only air. It's called an "air vent", and its job is to let the air out so the steam can get in, but close when steam reaches it.



    But I'll bet that air vent is an old "vacuum" type- one that will let air out but not in. So as the steam condenses after the boiler has shut off, the vacuum caused by the condensing steam pulls more steam from the system piping. These were popular in the coal-boiler era but as you've seen, don't work well with oil or gas firing. Can you see the make and model of the vent?



    A good replacement air vent is the Vent-Rite #1, which has a dial you can adjust without tools. This gives you control over how quickly the air vents, thereby regulating the amount of entering steam.



    The shutoff valve should stay all the way open, otherwise the water may not be able to leave the radiator. This can cause banging.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,455
    overheating steam systemm

    this would be a good application for thermostatic radiator VENTS, which would keep the steam from entering the radiator if the room were already too hot, and save money as well.

    has the system been serviced on a regular basis? it could reduce  fuel consumption by as much as 1/3rd, if it were functioning as well as it once did when first installed, all those years ago. the owners then would not have tolerated overheating at that time. the difference is that there are fewer "steam professionals"  around to keep things in order. luckily you have arrived at this site where there is a good stock of professional steam advice, and answers.

    why not order a copy of "the lost art of steam heating" fro the shop here, and it will explain many things about steam heat in a simple, easy to understand way. you will then be able to diagnose some problems, so that the professional can then know where to start with repairs or adjustments.

    as steamhead has wisely said, pictures are worth a thousand words.--nbc
  • Lavendergirl
    Lavendergirl Member Posts: 4
    Releaser

    Hi:



    It is hard to read, It looks like Hoffman #40 something. I can't move the heater to see the rest of it. 



    It was replaced 5 years ago along with the stem to the opener knob that turns it on. That piece is copper and made by Legend. I used to manage a warehouse and know all the pipe fitting terms...escapes me right now.



    I never see anything come out of the releaser. In my old apartment I used to see the air come out of it sometimes.
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 14,417
    The #40

    is not a vacuum vent. Is your apartment closer to the boiler room than the others? 
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
  • Lavendergirl
    Lavendergirl Member Posts: 4
    Steam Heater that won't turn off

    No, I am on the top floor in the front. The boiler room is in the back on the ground floor in the garage.
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 14,417
    edited August 2009
    It may be

    that the slower radiators have even smaller vents (in terms of throughput) and the ones with the newer vents get most of the steam. This can be cured by upgrading the vents on the radiators and also on the steam mains.



    This would be a win-win since the tenants' comfort would be much better and the system's fuel consumption would go down. Here's a link to those Vent-Rite #1 vents I mentioned- note the dial under the body of the vent:



    [url=http://www.fwwebb.com/pdf/htgcat03/2003htgcat_p36.pdf]http://www.fwwebb.com/pdf/htgcat03/2003htgcat_p36.pdf
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
  • Lavendergirl

    I'm in Berkeley if you want to give me a ring.  Call me anytime.



    Alan Forbes

    Forbes Plumbing

    (510)773-9870 cell
    Often wrong, never in doubt.
  • Unknown
    edited August 2009
    Outdoor Reset and Vents

    Hi -

    I just got back from San Fransisco so I know what you mean by hot and cold days. Even in the summer, when the fog rolls in, it can get very chilly!



    Sounds like you have two problems. One being your building's steam system needs some work done on it and the other being what can be done to the radiator in your apartment.



    BTW- Do you have only one radiator in your apartment?



    As Steamhead mentioned, it sounds as though the building's steam system needs an outdoor reset control.  Heating the building when it doesn't need it is a waste of fuel. An outdoor reset prevents this and as Steamhead recommended the Tekmar 279 and I looked up the local California Tekmar rep. who is located in Oakland.



    JTG /Muir    

    4723 Tidewater Avenue

    Oakland, CA, USA  94601

    Phone: 510-434-3144

    Fax: 510-434-3142



     Their website is:    http://www.jtgmuir.com/



    Your land lady might want to contact them and see if they can recommend someone who is experienced with steam systems and also with the Tekmar 279 controls.



    Steamhead, who is a expert on steam systems,  recommended an adjustable vent ("steam release")  the Vent-Rite # 1 Vent .  You can find them available on the internet. Also you might ask the Tekmar rep.(JTG above) who stocks them locally in the San Fransico area. they may or should be able to direct you to someone who does. Edit- I see someone in the San Francisco area has responded. They should be able to help you out.

    - Rod
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,455
    overheating

    i forgot to mention in my previous post that you can turn off the radiators by turning the hoffman #40 upside down [as a temporary solution only]. be careful to turn it only 180 deg, so as not to loosen the threads.

    an achieveable  goal for your landlady would be: get the system functioning as it originally did. that would mean making sure that the steam arrives at all the radiators on a given floor at almost the same time, once the control has determined a need for heat. in addition the control should react properly with steam, and not "run over" beyond the set-point, causing everyone to boil in some areas or freeze in others. this may cost the equivalent of a few  months worth of fuel, but would save a LOT of  money, especially in your climate!

    the person who has responded to you in your area is one of the most knowlegeable, and thoughtful contributors here on the subject of steam heat. it seems to me that whoever up to now has been maintaining this system has not kept it working as it should: quiet, even, comfortable, and economical.--nbc
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