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Missing main vents?

lutorm
lutorm Member Posts: 78
Hi all,



I just moved into an apartment that has steam heat. Since I'd never heard of it before, I was quite intrigued and tried to figure out how the .... that thing works. From reading lots of resources (including "You've got steam heat" which was very helpful.) I've gathered that banging noises and loudly hissing radiator vents are not normal. We've got both.



I traced the piping and realized that there seems to be no main vent. There are two other apartments in the house, with separate systems, and they all have these things which I assume are vents on the return lines. But not our system. That can't be right, can it?



I've taken some pictures that you can see at <a href="http://www.familjenjonsson.org/photo_album/folder/1653487648">http://www.familjenjonsson.org/photo_album/folder/1653487648</a>. The first two show the boiler piping. The third the end of the main pipes, where I also looked for vents, and the fourth what I assume is the vent on the system for the upstairs apartment.



From what I've learned, it seems it would really be an improvement to install a main vent. I'm reasonably handy so I'd consider doing it myself, but I'm not sure what location would be the best/easiest to put it. Is it possible to just drill a hole in the pipe and install the vent (with a proper extension pipe)? The vents on the other systems are clearly installed as part of building it, given the T-fittings. That seems like a more invasive procedure though.



The other obvious thing is that none of the pipes are insulated, which seems like a no-brainer.



Any ideas or thought would be appreciated. Thanks!



/Patrik

Comments

  • STEAM DOCTOR
    STEAM DOCTOR Member Posts: 1,540
    bad piping

    good evening. i am far from being a steam expert but i am almost certain that the boiler is not piped properly. the header(that's the first horizontal pipe on top of the boiler) is not supposed to connect directly to that vertical pipe(the vertical pipe is called the equaliser and the connection method that's being used is called a bullhead T). this can result in banging in the pipes (aka water hammer).
  • STEAM DOCTOR
    STEAM DOCTOR Member Posts: 1,540
    bad piping

    i just looked at the pics again and i think that the main(thats the higher horizontal pipe) is sloped the wrong way. it is supposed to slope  away from the boiler. this can lead to water hammer and poor heat
  • Apartment Vents

     The lack of insulation is the probable reason for the "banging" since the pipes are now acting as one huge radiator and steam is condensing in them far more than it normally would with insulation.This is producing large amounts of condensate and what you are hearing is the sound of the steam collapsing when it contacts the cooler condensate.  While obviously a main vent might help with the "hissing" it's not likely to do much for the banging,

     Bn is correct, the header isn't up to modern standards though it's quite typical I recently found, of factory recommended piping 40 years ago and while not ideal, should work.

    I would be a bit cautious of working on the apartment's steam system. The lack of insulation says the apartment owner knows zero about steam and if you touch it you'll get blamed for any thing that comes up down the line.
  • lutorm
    lutorm Member Posts: 78
    edited November 2009
    Re: owner

    Yeah, the owner is a friend of mine and he does indeed know nothing about steam. I'm going to educate him, though... ;-)At least the insulation should be a low-risk endeavor.



    Mostly the reason I care about the main vent is that now it seems to take a long time for the steam to reach the radiators, which seems like it should waste energy.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 19,966
    A main vent

    will probably help a lot in getting heat to you more quickly, although it won't do much for the banging.  Curiously, though, insulating everything you can find will probably help at least as much as a main vent will, and will help the banging, too.



    The last of your four pictures is a vent, and reasonably well installed, too.  Too small, to be sure, but well installed.  Where is it in relation to the boiler?  I can't quite make out.  It would be possible to add additional venting right there (look around this site for "menorah" (really) -- an arrangement of Ts and nipples and elbows to put as many as half a dozen big vents where you have that one).  Depending on exactly how the piping is arranged, that might do it.  Also, there are a variety of ways to add a vent to a main or return; there are saddle fittings which weld on and include the threads in the fitting, for instance (still have to drill a hole!) etc.  Drilling and tapping a hole in the pipe itself, though, is a bit chancy.  It may well be, as you trace the pipes some more, that you can find a place where you can disassemble some pipe and put in a T.  Is there a union somewhere in that mildly amazing assortment of pipe in the third image?  If there is, that might be a useful point of attack.



    By the way -- the 40D is a nice camera, isn't it?
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • lutorm
    lutorm Member Posts: 78
    Vent on different system

    Hi Jamie,



    Thanks for the detailed response. I'll start with insulation and see how that works, since the vent seems to be a more complicated project.



    Maybe I was unclear, but the vent in the picture is on the system for one the upstairs apartments. There are no such vents on my system. (I can't for the life of me figure out why they would install two system with vents and one without...) It's located right before the return line drops down to the wet return part.



    The reason there is such a number of pipes in picture 3 is that there are 3 systems that go pretty much parallel. The other two (to the second and third story apartments) must have super-long risers to the radiators. My pipe is the one closest to the camera.



    It would probably be possible to replace the 90deg turn that's on top in the center of the 3rd picture (that goes to a radiator) with a T and use the back part for a vent. That part is close to the ceiling though, so you couldn't get much of a rise to the vent.



    It might be possible to replace the 90deg that drops down to the wet return (on the left in the first picture) with a T and put some vents on a riser there. Are there problems putting the vent at a point where the condensate also changes direction? It seems that might increase the chance of dragging condensate out the vent, but by the time you have condensate, the vent should be closed anyway, right?



    And yeah, I love the 40D. :-)
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 19,966
    Well now...

    a vent on the top of a T, with the return coming in the leg and the drip going down the other way (your last paragraph suggestion) isn't ideal -- as I'm sure someone will note, there is always the possibility of a slug of condensate coming along and going up instead of down and smashing into the vent.  Bad.  However, having said that, if you went up and reduced as you might be thinking, then went 90 to a horizontal, then 90 again to the vent or vents, most of that danger is gone.  And in terms of practicality, there's a lot to be said for it!  The other location for a vent you suggest is OK, though, too.  Depends a lot on the available head room -- as you note, you might not have enough to put anything useful in there (you need at least 6 inches, and preferably more like 10).  The thing to do is to think to yourself something like "OK, I'm air, and I need to get out of Dodge when that boiler starts.  Where am I going to go, and how am I going to get there?"



    Do do the insulation.  You will all be happier!
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • lutorm
    lutorm Member Posts: 78
    Insulation suggestions?

    Does anyone have tips on where to get insulation? I tried to search the Wall but didn't find anything. By googling I found a place called expressinsulation.com that sells "Knauf" fiberglass jackets.



    What thickness? 2" thick is a lot more expensive that 1", is there any consensus on how thick is "good enough"? (Clearly 1" is going to be a lot better than 0" that we have now, so I suspect going from 1->2 will be diminishing returns...)
  • Brian_74
    Brian_74 Member Posts: 237
    Got mine at Ferguson

    I bought my insulation locally at a place called Ferguson Enterprises. http://www.ferguson.com/index.shtml



    Maybe they have a location near you.



    One bonus in buying stuff locally that hadn't occurred to me until I was in the store is that you'll often get free advice, if not from the folks behind the counter then from the pros buying stuff.
    1929 Ideal Heating vapor system.
  • lutorm
    lutorm Member Posts: 78
    Pipe pitch

    One additional piece of info: I finally went through and checked the pitch of the pipes, and the result is:



    For the 2" main, the first 2 sections is counter-flow and the pitch is 1"/ft and 1/5"/ft, roughly. The final 2 sections are parallel flow and the pitch is 1/4"/ft and ... flat.



    The return line is sloped 2/5"/ft most of the way, and 1/5"/ft on the final section.



    The 1" pipe that goes out to the troublesome banging radiator is also... flat, for part of the way, and something like 1/10"/ft for the rest.



    It's not hard to infer that flat is too small of a pitch... But in general the pitches seem small, right? The flat main seems to be hanging on a radiator pipe, at least that radiator sits on the floor like a rock far exceeding its weight. I don't know how to fix that barring taking it apart and putting in a longer riser, which seems like a pain.



    By the way, those vents on the upstairs system that I photographed don't work. I had the opportunity to watch that system in action now when I was in the basement measuring my pipes, and no air came out of them as the pressure gauge rose all the way up to 23 psi (!), with no sign of the boiler turning off. The pressuretrol is set to 2 psi, so it seems pretty obvious it's not working, right? I guess I should notify my neighbor before one of their radiators blow up...
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 19,966
    Goodness...

    First off, it would certainly seem that the pressuretrol isn't working -- but it may not be the pressuretrol.  It might be a clogged pigtail.  That happens.  Unclog it, or put in a new (preferably brass) one.  Then try the pressure thing again.



    Did you really say 23 psi?  Your safety valve should have popped at 15.  Something is seriously wrong there; I hesitate to say to shut it down right now, but... but... if it really was 23 psi, you run a very very serious risk of blowing that boiler, which in turn will reduce the house to kindling.



    Assuming it doesn't blow up tonight...



    Then you can attend to your pitch problems.  A runout to a radiator should never be less than 5" in 10 feet (one pipe steam) -- less, but not less than 1' in 10 feet, on two pipe.  Flat will bang.  You've found that out.  Parallel flow mains 1" in 20 feet is OK; counterflow 1" in 10 feet.  However, the pitch should be the same for the entire length of pipe between drips.  Sounds like you have some rather up and down pipe, which needs fixing.  You will need to put in good hangars in the basement to support the pipes where they should be.



    I looked over your note.  You did say 23 psi.  Ye Gods.  Run that boiler on manual, or not at all, until you can get the safety valve replaced and the pressuretrol fixed.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Unknown
    edited November 2009
    Insulation

    Insulation wise -"the more the merrier ! However from a "bang for the buck" standpoint 1 inch gives you the most. (See attached chart done by Brad White)

    When my boiler was replaced some years ago my near boiler piping and risers to the mains were left uninsulated. I was really surprised how much of a difference it made when I did insulate them.

    - Rod



    WOW! Just read farther down about the 23 PSI. While it might be just a bad gauge, you might have a serious problem and I'd shut it down and have a pro look at it right away.  If the gauge is reading correctly your system has a bad pressure control AND WORSE a bad safety valve.  If you want to see what could happen with a bad safety valve I would suggest this link. [url=http://www.heatinghelp.com/article-categories/120/Boiler-Explosions]http://www.heatinghelp.com/article-categories/120/Boiler-Explosions



    LOL- Just read "Not my boiler" ! With respect, I don't think you have any idea of what could happen here if that boiler were to blow. If there is something wrong with the safety it has the potential to bring down the whole building. You need to contact the building owner right away!
  • lutorm
    lutorm Member Posts: 78
    Not *my* boiler

    Yeah, I figured it was bad...



    Except it's not my boiler, it's the upstairs apartment's. I can't really do more than talk to them and try to impress upon them that it's b a d .
  • lutorm
    lutorm Member Posts: 78
    Still here!

    Just thought I'd update you guys: my neighbor had a plumber come out and look at his system, and it was just a faulty pressure gauge. I'm surprised the gauge would fail so that it would show too high pressure. Does that happen often?



    By the way, I got a Gorton #2 and I'm about to attempt adding it. I read about cleaning the new plumbing to get rid of the oil. Is there anything else I should think of, apart from using teflon tape? Someone recommended using red extra thick tape, is that right?



    I'm also going to add a low-pressure gauge and replace the broken 30psi gauge (and put it on a pigtail).
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