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The Evolution of a Header

Polycarp Member Posts: 135
It's probably my preservationist background, but I'm fascinated by how buildings are changed over time. I thought I'd share my fascination and see if any of the pros want to weigh in.

This picture is of the header that I replaced when I installed a new boiler. The house is a turn of the 20th c. Victorian twin. It originally had a gravity air-based system. Within only a couple of years, this was replaced with a one-pipe, parallel flow steam system with a wet return. Based on the piping, I'm assuming that there were a total of three boilers before my new one.

The First Generation

I assume this first boiler was coal-fired for a couple of reasons. It has only one long main that loops down one side of the basement, around the front, and down the length of the other side and the original piping has no provision for main venting, both of which I understand are characteristic of coal-fired boilers. Plus, the house had provisions for coal storage, a coal-grate in the family parlor and a coal kitchen stove. I am also surmising that there were two more boilers between that original and the new one.

I've denoted what I think is the original piping with red. (I might be wrong about the S-bend though.) The take-off at the main elbow circumvented the main and directly fed a radiator by the front door. The radiator is gone, but the piping remained and was capped off. I assume this piping was original because there would not have been heat in the front hall without this radiator and there were no other piping provisions.

The Second Generation

I've denoted what I think was the second generation boiler and header with blue. The pipe had different manufacturing marks and was in substantially different condition. They added another main circumvention. That pipe went directly from the header to the kitchen radiator. There is original piping that had been capped off that would have connected the kitchen radiator to the main. I figure this was done because the coal kitchen stove had been replaced and the kitchen was no longer getting enough heat. I figure they added a bigger radiator and a direct line to the header because that was easier than dismantling and reassembling the main to add fittings for a larger runout. The kitchen radiator also does not match any of the other radiators in the house.

I also assume that this first boiler replacement was oil. Long before the original coal boiler should have been ready for replacement, we would have been out of the coal age.

The terrible Third Generation

I've circled what I assume to be the third generation near-boiler piping in green. The copper is a big cue. So is the tortuous routes that the pipes take from the boiler to the header. The copper used for steam pipes also probably at least partially explains why the boiler that was there when I bought the house was dead even though it didn't seem all that old. This boiler was certainly oil. This was a horrendously done job. It actually made my soul hurt.

The Next Generation

As you can see, I took out all of the previous headers. The front hall and formal parlor had been combined into a single modern living room, which is probably why the radiator was removed in the first place, so I took out the capped runout for the front hall radiator. A problem in the main necessitated a repair that allowed me to retrofit the main for a sufficiently-sized run-out, so I also took out the home run for the kitchen radiator. These sure did clean up my basement piping.

Now, I just need to fix my hartford loop and add main vents:

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Maybe then my soul will stop hurting completely. ;)


  • kcopp
    kcopp Member Posts: 3,820
    looks nice...

    but is that galvy piping? Galvanized is not really a great choice for steam because of the zinc in the coating flaking off and giving you problems..
  • Polycarp
    Polycarp Member Posts: 135

    It is unfortunately. When I did the original install, I relied too heavily on the guys at the plumbing supply and that's what they told me to use. I'm using black for all the re-piping, but I can't afford to replace all the galvanized (2.5" is about 4x as expensive as 2" in my area).

    So, in my limited redesign, I'm putting in good traps and clean-outs to accommodate any flaking. I'll also be very judicious about the cleaning schedule.
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