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My First Floor Is Like Iceland And My Second Floor Is Like Bermuda.

SFNJ Member Posts: 2
Hi everyone,

I have a couple of questions and i'm hoping that one of you guys can help me out. We bought our house in Bloomfield, NJ in Aug of 07. We have a steam system. The Boiler was replaced around 1997 and it's located in the basement.

 The main issue is my first floor (living room/ Kitchen/Dining) is always VERY cold and the second floor where the bedrooms are is hot like Bermuda when the heat is running. I think this is because the thermostat is on the first floor and takes a while to heat up due to the lower temps. At first I thought it was the old front entry door that was causing it...I never really did anything about it, but our son was born this past Dec, he was in the NICU for 9 months and came home in Sep. because of a lot of health related issues which requires a nurse in the house for 24hrs.

Last year I was paying $450 a month on average to keep the house warm. This was when it was just me and my wife in the house, so I was able to lower the temp to 65 while we were at work during the day and also at night when we were asleep. I still ended up paying almost $450 a month. I don't want to even imagine what it will be to run the temp constantly at 69-70deg.

So a month ago I replaced the front door myself (did a darn nice job as well) but now with it getting cold I'm back to the same problem. Not as bad since the door was not the only problem but only a contributing factor. So this past weekend I looked at the steam vents and replaced all of them on the ground floor as they looked very old. I did not replace the second floor because I get a lot of heat. Well again problem not solved. the first floor is still cold and I cant afford to pay 450 a month this winter. The second floor radiators which I'm used to seeing the hard metal stuff but the ones on the ground floor i have never seen in my life. They are as someone explained on this site.... like a loaf of bread connected together. They look VERY old. I had a plumber come last fall and check out the boiler, which had a lot of rust. He used something green looking and poured it in. When I drained the boiler this past weekend the glass is not moving and looks very rusty. I'm thinking that the pipe leading to the glass is blocked by rust so I went to HD yesterday and got another cleaner but now I cant figure out how it goes in. So that's my first question. How do i get my first floor to heat up  Do I need to replace the 4 old antique looking radiators? Where can I buy them in the NY/NJ area? and how do I clean out the junk in the boiler myself? I'm sure it will save me some much needed $$.

Now to the second (third) question. I want to finish off the basement with a friend as my house is the size of a hen house like any house in the NY/NJ region. The basement has the most room where my son will eventually be ale to play. I wanted to get a very clean look to the basement but the pipes  are a killer because they drop about 6- 7 inches from where the beams are and the beams on these old colonial basements are only about 72" high. So my question: is it possible for me to move this to a more practical area? if I do it myself what do I risk? If I get a professional to do it, How much should I expect to pay? If me and my wife were together i think I could have been able to afford a plumber to come do this but with a majority of me and my wife's income going to my son I'm doing my best to do things my self. Hoping one of you guys can guide me on this and THANK YOU in advance for taking the time.

One a unrelated note.. with the talk of health care going left and right these days... my definition of rich has literally changed over night... unbelievable what a catastrophic illness can do to a family. As I always tell my wife; the worst part of it is that there are so many other families that are actually a lot worse off than we are....


  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 15,657
    First, let's have some pics

    of those real old first floor radiators. We love the old stuff!

    But more to the point- are the first-floor radiators actually heating up? If not, we need to find out why.

    If they are, they may be too small. Or there may have been more radiators but someone took them out. There are plenty of know-nothing contractors who like to rip out every radiator they see.

    Maybe it's time to call a pro. When that system is properly tuned and balanced you should see your fuel consumption drop. Hard to say how much- but some of our customers' fuel consumption has dropped by a third since we fixed their steam systems.

    Try the Find a Professional page of this site. NJ has plenty of good steam men.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 19,966
    Yes, indeed, some pics!

    Old radiators are in themselves fascinating!

    Steamhead's right -- you will probably need a pro; someone who really does know steam.  Not, unfortunately, just any plumber -- nor, for that matter, just any heating contractor, but someone who knows and likes steam.  They do exist in your area -- perhaps Find a Professional on this site will turn one up.

    You might also, while you're at it, order Dan's three books -- "A Steamy Deal" -- also from this site.  They're well worth the money, and will get you started on learning what you have and what it's capable of.

    That said, a few thoughts.  Obviously the system is badly out of balance.  Unless, as Steamhead noted, someone got creative and tore out some radiators, that should be a fixable problem.  Even if they did, it's fixable, but may take more work.

    If the water level in the sight glass on your boiler doesn't move when you drain or add water, you have a serious problem -- you don't know how much water is in that boiler.  You should find someone -- quickly -- to get that fixed; it really isn't a job for an amateur, and either too much or too little water can cause a lot of damage.  Adding cleaner to the boiler is not recommended, unless you know exactly what you are doing -- and it is almost certainly not going to help the problem with the gauge glass.

    Furthermore, just cleaning the boiler isn't going to fix the balance problem.

    On your remodelling question, I'm afraid that I can't be too optimistic.  Steam systems are a little particular about just where their pipes run, particularly vertically, and raising or lowering them can have a whole host of unintended consequences.  Which is not to say that it can't be done, it can, but you will definetly need a pro for that, unless you are very very handy, take the time to really understand how a steam system works, and are prepared to learn a lot of steam fitting in the process.  I really can't recommend this sort of thing for the do-it-yourself project (yes, I do do my own -- but I've been a building superintendent for better than 20 years now; no pro, but I do have the licenses -- and a lot of practical experience).

    I will say this: if you get a pro. in and get that thing working the way it should be working, you are almost certainly going to save money on the heat.  To give you some idea, the building I'm super for is over 7,000 square feet, museum quality heat, all steam -- and we spend about $700 per month, in northern Connecticut, for fuel and all the associated maintenance.

    Good luck -- and do send us some pictures!
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • You need a Steam Pro!

    I'll second Steamhead and Jamie. You really need a Steam Pro. The learning curve would be too long and in your situation and with winter coming on,  you need to get things addressed right now.  It sounds as though you have some safety issues and these need to be checked and fixed. Even if you know a lot about steam there are somethings better left to the pros as they have the special test  equipment for things like cleaning and checking  the burners. This should be done annually so that your system is running at optimum efficiency and safely.  As was mentioned, take a look at  "Find a Professional" at the top of the page. There are some very good guys who are steam pros, listeded there.

    As Jamie suggested you should get Dan's books and learn about steam. They're easy reading, humorous and packed full of information. Steam heating is actually quite simple once you understand it and learn the rules and Dan's excellent books will teach you all this. In my case the books have paid for themselves a hundred times over and I now have a comfortable and economical heating system.

    Post some pictures of your heating system as it will help us answer your questions.

    - Rod
This discussion has been closed.