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Please help me with my steam heat system for a 3-story building!


  • Two Suggestions

    Hi Dave- In your situation I  would suggest that :

    1. You go to "Find a Professional " at the top of this page and see if there is a steam pro near you who could look at  your system.

    2, Go to the Store at the top of this page  and purchase the books: "We Got Steam Heat" and the "The Lost Art of Steam Heating"  They're available in a package called "A Steamy Deal"


    They are easy reading, full of pictures and illustrations and crammed full of information on steam heating.

    - Rod
  • needsteamheatinghelp
    needsteamheatinghelp Member Posts: 4
    edited June 2014

  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 21,541
    Can't think why

    no one turns up in the New York area -- I know there are guys in that area.

    That being said the first thing I would suspect is a venting problem.  When the books come, figure out what kind of steam system you have (not that hard -- the books guide you) and then see what is called for in terms of vents and traps and the like.  Then post as much information as you can here on the Wall -- even though we may not be able to get on site, you'll be happily surprised at how much can be done with questions and the help here, and a good plumber and the books!
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Robbie
    Robbie Member Posts: 41

    These are WAGs on my part, but based on reading Dan's "Lost Art of Steam Heating", I'd say first look at the vents on the radiators, and make sure they are in good, operable shape. If the vernts are not properly alloving the air to be pushed out of them, then the steam can't come in well, and has to heat the air, rather than push it out through the vent. So maybe try swapping in a couple new vents.

    Also, according to the book, steam pressure should be around 2psi max. There may be two pressuretrols because there are two systems in your building, but I don't know... If they are cranked up, then there may be too much pressure in the system. The steam will force the condensate to stay up in the radiator, and this does not allow for proper steam entry. The higher the pressure, the faster the steam is moving, and the more it resists the flow of the condensate back down(this is in a single pipe system...) But the basic of the pressureconcept is lower is better, so be sure they aren't cranked up- you want around 2psi.

    Water level in the boiler should be about midway up the sight glass on the boiler. If it keeps going below, then it might be getting starved because condensate is not getting back properly, or the automatic water hookup is not doing its job... Again, if the pressure is high, might be keeping the condensate away.

    I am not an expert, but I have read the book, and feel good about what I learned... Get the book- but see if these answers help.

  • needsteamheatinghelp
    needsteamheatinghelp Member Posts: 4
    edited June 2014
    Could this be an issue?

  • JN
    JN Member Posts: 28

    That could be part of the problem. When steam cools it turns to water. That un-insulated pipe will radiate a bunch of heat into your basement and kill your steam as it passes through it.

    Get some fiberglass insulation for that pipe asap!

    I would also check your venting on the radiators the further away form the boiler to larger the vent needs to be.
  • Jean-David Beyer
    Jean-David Beyer Member Posts: 2,666
    Search is very fussy.

    Try using just the City and the state abbreviation. E.g., NY

    not N.Y. or New York.
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,575
    3-stories of steam problems

    is this 1-pipe or 2-pipe?

    the 2nd pressuretrol is there as a safety in case the regular pressuretrol makes a mistake [which they often do]. the 2nd one has a reset button which has to be pushed if things get of hand pressure-wise [usually set to 10 PSI].

    definitely get at least an inch of insulation on those steam pipes, as soon as possible, if only by wrapping them with fiberglass batts as a temporary fix.

    i believe that the pressure in steam systems should be below 1PSI-much lower, and regulated with a vaporstat,and checked with an accurate low-pressure gauge,[gaugestore.com 0-PSI], all on the same pigtail. this ideal low pressure should be combined with extremely ample main line [not rad] vents. i suspect that your main vents are inoperative. when the vents are working as they once did, and your pressure is low as it once was, the steam will rise up into each radiator almost simultaneously, and temperatures throughout the building will be much more even, as when the building was first built.

    try to get the system working properly before removing radiators. make sure the thermostat is protected from cold air from the front door.

    i think if you get the pressure down and the venting up, you will be amazed at the difference, and will probably pay for this deferred maintainance very quickly.

    this person has posted here many times, as johnny, and seems very knowlegeable, and from nyc.

    John A. Cataneo, Jr.

    Gateway Plumbing and Heating


  • needsteamheatinghelp
    needsteamheatinghelp Member Posts: 4
    edited June 2014

  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 21,541
    As they say locally


    First off, your pressure is too high.  Try setting the lower pressuretrol to around 1.5, which is as low as it will go reliably, with a differential of about 1.  The way it's set now, it's possible that it will never turn back on, once it's turned off.  The one with the reset button can be left alone for the moment; it's there for safety.  You can veryify that the pressuretrol is working the way you want by turning the system on with a high setting on the thermostat; unless you have a really bad leak somewhere (or the boiler is badly undersized) eventually the pressure will begin to rise and you will see the mercury switch begin to tilt.  It should tilt over, and the burner should stop.  Then gradually it should tilt back, and the burner start again (I love the old p'trols where you can see what's happening!).  You shouldn't see the round dial (pressure gauge) move much, if any.  If you see the gauge move beyond 2, or the boiler is shut off by the other p'trol, the one you're playing with isn't working, and that will need to be fixed -- the sooner the better.  Let us know.

    The various comments on insulation are right on the money -- that 45 foot uninsulated main could well be what's killing you, particularly it it is the one that feeds part or all of the third floor (you didn't menton).  1 inch of insulation is enough, though.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
This discussion has been closed.