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restoring a steam system (along with the rest of the house)

Hello all. Let me start by saying that I have already ordered the three recommended books from the shop, they have not arrived yet and I have a few questions that I hope someone will be kind enough to answer. A little background. My wife and I purchased a very run down 1865ish home. It has three floors, both in the masters and servants quarters (not counting the basement) and a total of 25 rooms. The first floor has 14ft ceilings, the second 12 and the 3rd 8. The boiler is massive, commercial is my guess but I didn't ask the guy who came to give it it's yearly check over. Now that the demolition phase is over and the reconstruction phase is about to begin, it's time to take a good hard look at the heating system. I should add that there is no one around my small town who really understands the system and it's being recommended to me to replace it, but we'd rather restore if possible so it looks like it will fall to me to become the local steam expert! Fortunately I'm handy, somewhat intelligent, and not afraid of a challenge.



I assume the heating system worked completely at some point in it's life, and it mostly does now, Near as I can tell the steam system was put in place in the 20's or 30's. I know the house was turned in apartments in the early 50's, and there is evidence of missing pieces of the system found during the demolition of the apartments. That brings me to question number one.



There are obvious places where radiators have been removed, but the supply and the return lines are still in place, it's a two pipe system. They have just been capped off. Aside from not heating as evenly as originally intended, are there any other problems associated with simply capping those pipes off?



There are other places where the floor indicates that radiators existed, but are no longer in place and no visible piping either. Should these be restored? There is no heat in these rooms now so something needs to be done.



I have two radiators that don't function at all. In one the supply pipe is sloped completely incorrectly, and water gathers in the supply pipe. I assume it was moved as part of the 50's renovation, but the floor has been replaced and I can't see where it would have been. Given the current placement of it I don't see how it could ever be made work correctly if we want to leave it where it is, is there some sort of drain I can add? The other non functioning radiator seems like it should work. The supply line heats up past the supply shut off valve, but only to where it connects to the radiator. Initially I thought it was a malfunctioning trap, but I replaced it and still nothing. Any ideas?



Finally, I have questions about the supply shut off valves at the radiators. I have two types and since a picture is worth a thousand words I've attached them to this post. The first one is just an average everyday shut off that one expects to see on a steam or hot water radiator. The second one is different, and they hiss when the radiators heat up like air escaping but then stop when the steam arrives. Is the hissing because they are old and worn or are they acting as air vents? I'd like to replace them with the other kind, but don't want to muddle where I'm not sure whats really going on.



Thanks for taking the time read this lengthy post.



Scott

Comments

  • shaines
    shaines Member Posts: 7
    ugh, here are the pictures.

    Sorry about that, they should be attached to this post.



    Scott
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 19,966
    Welcome to the wonderful,

    fascinating, exciting and occasionaly exceedingly frustrating world of building renovation!  I won't get into the other parts of it (although I would be glad to share thoughts and questions with you off the wall), but restoring a steam system isn't that hard.  You will have to become an expert, unless you happen to find one nearby, but you will probably be able to inspire a good local plumber to become excited and interested as well.



    On the radiator valves -- do NOT replace those single lever valves, hiss or no hiss.  Until we figure out exactly what your system was originally, it is best to assume that they are equipped with some sort of regulating device -- orifices or other variable opening -- to balance the steam flows to the various radiators.  They may be only handy; they may also be essential to getting the system working right.



    Since it is mostly working right, you are well ahead of the game.  It remains to get the rest of it right.



    On the radiators which were removed and the pipes capped -- no, there is no problem with that so far as the system as a whole goes, although it may affect the needed capacity of the boiler.



    You can restore radiators -- the biggest problem is finding them, although new radiators for steam are still available.  If the rooms are cold, you will want to do that.  Size them according to the heat loss of that specific room, which you will need to calculate (again, not that hard to do).  Piping may be a pain, but is doable.  New traps and valves are not a problem -- they are easily available.



    That radiator which is piped all wrong will have to be repiped correctly.  In the long run, that will be much better than adding a drain.  On the one which gets heat to the radiator, but not beyond, I would look first at the return from it to make sure that it is sized and pitched correctly.



    Just some thoughts for starters...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • gerry gill
    gerry gill Member Posts: 3,045
    If your willing to save a steam system, we are ready to help you.

    Ive customers who have caught the steam bug and now are more learned about things steam than most contractors are..so enjoy the challenge..look around for names on the oldest looking devices..something like Broomell or Veco or some other name that will help us identify the system..there is a good chance i have the documentation of the system if you can come up with an ID on it..I usually go to the third floor radiators to look for names, since they generally are the ones last to get remodeled away..yes you can drain a low laying area of a pipe by cutting in a tee and dripping it to a wet return, however as Jamie said, it would be best to rerun the pipe..
    gwgillplumbingandheating.com
    Serving Cleveland's eastern suburbs from Cleveland Heights down to Cuyahoga Falls.

  • shaines
    shaines Member Posts: 7
    Thanks, answers, and more questions

    Jamie & Gerry, thank you for taking the time to help me out. Restoring an old house can be challenging that's for sure. This is my second old home restoration, and we figured it would take us 20 years to get it back to the jewel it is supposed to be.



    There are lots of names on the various components of the current system. All the traps, and some of the older looking pieces piped to the boiler are labeled "Hoffman Specialty", the traps except the one I replaced are all No. 8. The shut off valves with the handle are labeled "Vapor". The radiators which look original are "National Radiator". I've attached two pictures of the piped side of the current boiler in case that helps at all.



    The radiator where the supply side heats up, but doesn't heat the radiator, I can see a visible pitch to the return, but not sure how to check or what it should be. Can the be pitch be too great? Is it possible in the interest of simplicity to simply raise the far side of the radiator and see if that helps?



    Two things my wife reminded me of last night. We  have a complete family history of the house, and have been able to speak and meet with some older people who lived here before the renovation into apartments. One of them told us the original boiler exploded in the early 1900's, so the system is probably early than I originally suspected. The other thing is that when we first moved in I called a local service technician to check the system out, and he flooded it. That was four years ago, not sure what problems it could/would cause but I'm sure it can be good for it.



    Scott
  • gerry gill
    gerry gill Member Posts: 3,045
    Here is how i check radiators,

    if they don't heat, first i take the trap cover off with an impact wrench,  then turn on the system, if the radiator heats then the problem is either a bad trap, or sagged return pipe..if it still don't heat i disconnect the union at the valve and pry the pipe away enough to look inside the valve with a mirror to see if its open..if not i replace the broken/frozen valve..since you have thermostatic traps any model inlet valve will work..if it is open then there may be a sag in the supply pipe..
    gwgillplumbingandheating.com
    Serving Cleveland's eastern suburbs from Cleveland Heights down to Cuyahoga Falls.

  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 15,657
    Those "Vapor" hand valves

    tell me the system was once a Broomell. It was probably made over into a Hoffman at some point, probably when the old boiler failed ("exploded"? at Vapor pressures? Unlikely.....)
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
  • gerry gill
    gerry gill Member Posts: 3,045
    maybe they mean't

    the original boiler dry fired? maybe then someone added water? that would be ugly..whats your thoughts on the height of the air eliminator Frank? not much room for pressure build up on that boiler system. Hopefully they have a vaporstat..preferably an old one, hehe
    gwgillplumbingandheating.com
    Serving Cleveland's eastern suburbs from Cleveland Heights down to Cuyahoga Falls.

  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 19,966
    One almost wonders...

    quite possibly a Broomell, reequipped for some reason with Hoffman stuff.  If so, it might have had (or have -- the photo isn't clear to me) one of Hoffman's neat contraptions to handle excess pressure -- I don't see a differential loop, but... if there is, it would help tremendously with the height problem.  Is that air eliminator possibly the Hoffman?



    But the nice thing about it is that repair and replacement parts are easily available, where needed!
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • gerry gill
    gerry gill Member Posts: 3,045
    Yup, that looks like a boiler return trap on the left,

    and it appears to be both a float vent in the middle and an air eliminator on the right..if thats the extent of the venting, the system is woefully undervented.
    gwgillplumbingandheating.com
    Serving Cleveland's eastern suburbs from Cleveland Heights down to Cuyahoga Falls.

  • shaines
    shaines Member Posts: 7
    parts & labels

    Most of the parts in the pictures are labeled. I've provided close ups, in order from left to right they are



    Hoffman #30 boiler return trap

    Side view of same. There is never anything in that sight glass.



    Hoffman #30 receiver vent

    The vent



    Something labeled Sarco, it has a tag on it with the following information



    WP 15 # 62

    Type 1" ft - 15

    B.M. 50927 G5



    Thanks again to you all for taking the time and giving your advice.



    Scott
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 19,966
    Neat

    I love to see that old Hoffman equipment, still in place!  So often stuff gets ripped out because someone didn't know what it was and got scared...



    Keep it there!  Take a look, too, at figure 56 in Lost Art (page 266), also a great explanation on pgs. 235 -- 242.



    However, as Gerry notes, the system is probably pretty badly undervented.  The original set up almost certainly was for coal, which heated up slowly.  I'd be inclined to use at least 2 Gorton #2s, right where the dry return comes back to the boiler return trap and air eliminator, on a "menorah" arrangement.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • gerry gill
    gerry gill Member Posts: 3,045
    what the heck?

    is that a Sarco f&t trap installed in the wrong position? can we get some better pictures of that..
    gwgillplumbingandheating.com
    Serving Cleveland's eastern suburbs from Cleveland Heights down to Cuyahoga Falls.

  • gerry gill
    gerry gill Member Posts: 3,045
    attached is a pdf with some info

    on your hoffman stuff you may or may not want.
    gwgillplumbingandheating.com
    Serving Cleveland's eastern suburbs from Cleveland Heights down to Cuyahoga Falls.

  • shaines
    shaines Member Posts: 7
    more Sarco

    It does appear to be installed incorrectly. I noticed that earlier, it clearly says to point arrow down, but it's not. Here are some more pictures.



    I'll be waiting on my books to arrive so I can check out the recommended pages, and trying to diagnose the non functioning radiator this coming week. I also think it might be a good idea to map out the system, along with what I know is missing.



    Scott
  • gerry gill
    gerry gill Member Posts: 3,045
    that F&T trap is doing nothing in that position..

    which makes me wonder if it should even be there..can you do a sketch on how the piping goes in and out of it..what the pipes go to..i bet it shouldn't be there at all..
    gwgillplumbingandheating.com
    Serving Cleveland's eastern suburbs from Cleveland Heights down to Cuyahoga Falls.

  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 15,657
    I bet

    the old boiler was in a pit that was filled in when that Burnham was installed. That would explain the apparent lack of "B" dimension.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
  • shaines
    shaines Member Posts: 7
    piping

    Sorry it took so long, work and the holidays... On a positive note, my books by Dan arrived and I have plenty or reading material. Here is a rough not to scale sketch of the piping going to the Sarco. Where can I find information on how to properly draw out the pipes to that direction can be followed and it's easy to tell if piping is supply or return?



    Thanks

    Scott
  • gerry gill
    gerry gill Member Posts: 3,045
    that pipe on the top of the return

    trap going over to that misapplied Sarco, can be made to go directly into the return pipe and the Sarco eliminated..i'd probably use the opportunity to install some tee's with Gorton 2 main vents in the pipe.
    gwgillplumbingandheating.com
    Serving Cleveland's eastern suburbs from Cleveland Heights down to Cuyahoga Falls.

  • shaines
    shaines Member Posts: 7
    Sarco

    Thanks for all your suggestions and hep Gerry, re piping is a little more than I think I can tackle at this stage of my learning, is the useless Sarco a problem, or is it more like a persons appendix, useless but mostly benign? 



    Another positive, I've made it all the way trough "We got steam heat!", and am 1/2 way through "The lost art of steam heating" and I decided that maybe I should check the pressurtrol setting. It was set at both 1 for cut in and 1 for cut out. Now this didn't seem quite right based on what I'd read so back to the books and I came up with a cut in of 1/2 and a cut out of 1 1/2. It's almost like magic, the system seems surprisingly well tuned. Every connected radiator is now heating all the way across and almost at the same time. Eventually I'll figure that one out.



    Scott
  • gerry gill
    gerry gill Member Posts: 3,045
    its an appendix..

    worry about it next time someone is there doing piping work..its probably been that way for eons.
    gwgillplumbingandheating.com
    Serving Cleveland's eastern suburbs from Cleveland Heights down to Cuyahoga Falls.

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