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LRAN Member Posts: 2
i had a question about the air in my steam heat system.

basically, i have a pretty new furnace, 2005 i think, and a 1 pipe system. The house heats ok but refilling the water level is tedious. Anyway, has anyone ever heard of a steam system causing respitory problems?

i ask because since i moved into my home a year ago, and have had bronchitis 3 times (i am 30 and have had it maybe 1 time before i moved into my home). Every time the system comes on at night, i wake up with a cough. i tried putting alot of cups of water on the radiators because people have told me this helps but so far the same result.

is the steam itself the problem or could it be something in the pipes? i have traditional radiators. do they make radiators with filters in case it is something in the pipes? most of the house has drop ceiling so the pipese are easily accessible if it matters. thanks for any help.


  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,575
    respiratory problems with steam heat?

    our system can make the air dry, and so we put big pots of water on each rad, and it helps. the situation used to be much worse, before installing a new boiler, with a vaporstat, to keep the pressure very low [low pressure= lower surface temperature on the rads=greater comfort=less fuel use].

    one other thing to check, would be the main line vents on your system-are they working, or is most of the air in the system coming out the radiator vents. mainline venting is very important for comfort, and now with your posting, i have discovered another very good reason to have them functioning: so most of the old system air is released in the boiler room, instead of the bedroom!!!

    another thing to check would be the water in the boiler-is it water, or does it contain additives? only plain tap water should be used, in spite of what the salesman may say! the only exception would be if the water comes from a well with strange chemicals in it.

    give us further details about the water filling problems you have. you would find it very usefull to get a copy of some excellent steam books here at the shop--nbc
  • Humidity problems?

    I'm a bit confused so maybe you could provide a bit more information You mentioned you put in a new boiler in 2005 and "the house heats ok  but refilling the water level is tedious". What do you mean by  "tedious"?

    Steam pipes are pretty clean as they are "steam cleaned" every time the steam system is turned on and the high temperature of the boiler water and steam (212 + degrees)  tends to keep things, like mold, from growing in pipes. Steam can dry the air out so the pans of water are a good idea. You're coughing problems are probably from having low humidity. I suggest you get a hygrometer that measures humidity . They are available in most home stores-Target etc.. The pans of water`on the radiators work well though keep them clean as they can develop mold if not cleaned regularly.

    Air conditioners and humidifiers are great sources for mold and should be cleaned regularly. If you have them you might want to check them out and clean them. Also look for drywall or wood (drop ceiling?) that might have been soaked in the past by a water leak as that can cause mold problems. Most hardware stores, Home Depot etc. sell home owner mold test kits so you could consider trying that.

    As to your steam system - this site has some very good books about steam heating.

    I would suggest you get a copy of  "We Got Steam Heat!"


    It's easy reading, humorous, written with the homeowner in mind and in a couple of evenings you know a lot more about your steam system.

    - Rod
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 21,541
    Steam heat

    by itself is very unlikely to cause a respiratory problem, except very rarely new paint on the radiators can -- but that you would smell, for sure, and you don't mention that.

    Low humidity can cause or aggravate some types of respiratory problems; as Nick said, get a good hygrometer and see where you are.  If it's dry, the guys have it -- pans on the radiators or a good humidifier.  And keep it clean.

    If the problems began after you moved into the house, there are so many other things which could be the problem -- and are much more likely to be the problem -- you may have some difficulty finding out what's what.  Good luck!
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 21,541
    I might add

    that if you have to refill the boiler often -- even as much as once a week -- you have a leak somewhere.  That's a separate issue, but you should find it and fix it.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • LRAN
    LRAN Member Posts: 2
    edited October 2009
    more info about my system

    see, i try to put jars of water on the radiators but still have the problem. I fill up a large, glass pickle jar with water before i go to sleep and leave it on the radiator. In the morning, i only find maybe an inch off of it so i assumed it didnt work for whatever is happening because i still have the smae problem. do i need to get a larger, flatter tray or something? the radiator and room are both small. room = 7x12 feet, radiator is maybe 2 feet long. there is one window in there, right above the radiator. the house is like a brownstone, attached on both sides.

    i have drop ceiling (foam tiles) in most of the house (which i really am looking to replace) except the room where where this is occuring. that room has a plaster ceiling.  radiator in the room is silver colored, unpainted. it has that little tea kettle type valve to release air as well as spit out water. the radiator is probably very old.

    as far as the boiler, it was installed before i moved in. the home inspector said date on the machine is 2005 (but he was wrong on a bunch of other things, so i really cant say how accurate he was. it does look like other modern machines i have seen). hot water tank/heater is the gas kind. the boiler water level thing must be refilled at least every 2 days, if not sooner. depends on the temp outside. it has it's own water line but i have to fill it manually.

    when it's really cold, if the system is on adn heating (and thermo is at 68 and left totally untouched), the water will run out in less than 24 hours. oil company tech just came to service machine last monday. did not find any problems.

    thanks for the help so far. this has been real inforamtive!
  • Need to have the Leak fixed

    Having an inch of water evaporate in one night means your humidity is low as that is a fairly fast evaporation rate. What you need is more water surface area and the water surface area of  a jar is pretty small. I would suggest a small baking pan. You can buy the aluminum foil throw away type in most super markets . If those work for you then you can buy a metal baking pan the same size as a permanent "fix".

    As to the constant filling of the steam boiler-  As Jamie said, you have a leak problem somewhere and it needs to be fixed. Constant adding of fresh water is bad for your boiler. Normally you should only have to add water maybe once a month. Oil company techs are notorious for not knowing anything about steam. You need to get a steam man. Try the "Find A Professional" at the top of this page. It may list a steam man near`you.

    The other thing I'd suggest is to get a copy of a book called   "We Got Steam Heat"

    It's available on this site in the "Store" at the top of the page. Here's a direct link: http://www.heatinghelp.com/products/Books/5/61/We-Got-Steam-Heat-A-Homeowners-Guide-to-Peaceful-Coexistence

    It's written for the homeowner with a steam system. It's easy reading, humorous, and in an evening or two you'll know a lot more about steam heating.

    - Rod
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