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Are there marbles in my pipes?

AlexK Member Posts: 2
Here's my situation. I live in a 4 unit 100+ year old apartment building with a single pipe steam system.  In our bedroom, there is a radiator and a feeder pipe. It is the feeder pipe that is the noise culprit here, not the radiator. Whenever the boiler is cycling, there is a horrible grinding sound coming from INSIDE the pipe. It sounds like marbles or, more specifically, like something is spinning on bad ball bearings. The sound is persistent and cycles with the boiler. It's been doing it consistently since the heat started coming on in early November.  There is no banging or clanging, but is this a different kind of sound caused by an unbalanced system?  I also wondered if there is some kind of safety valve somewhere that has gone bad and that's why it sounds like bad bearings.

I know steam heat can be noisy but I've lived in several apartments with it and have never heard this sound. Also, there are two feeders in our living room and they are perfectly silent, as have been every other pipe I've had in a home. It might also be helpful to know that our bedroom is directly above the boiler room in the basement, so this pipe is close to the boiler. Our landlord is nice, but you have to stay on her to get things done. I wanted to at least have an idea of whether this is an indication of a problem that needs to be addressed so I figured I'd ask the experts since all I've found elsewhere online is help for the classic banging sounds. Any input would be appreciated.


  • noisy risers

    this seems as if a professional steam man is needed, with full access to the boiler room.

    most likely the boiler is putting out wet steam, which is costing your landlady money for excessive fuel consumption. do a search here on the site for a professional.

    then ask your landlady if she prefers to spend more money, or less money on utilities. if she answers "less", ask her how soon she would like to enjoy the reduced cost. then put her in touch with the pro.

    can you turn the air vent upside down, and have the noise stop [this prevents air from escaping, and steam from coming in]?--nbc
  • Rod
    Rod Posts: 2,067
    "Problem" radiator

    Hi- Residential steam systems operate at very low pressure (under 2 PSI) so it's unlikely that there is a problem with the safety valve or anything like that.

    You might make sure the valve on the pipe going into the problem radiator is fully open.

    You might also check that the radiator is very slightly sloped towards the inlet pipe. Use a couple of quarters under the radiator feet on the end farthest from the inlet pipe. As NBC mentioned you can shut the radiator off by turning the vent 180 degrees (pointing down) which closes the valve so no air can escape from the radiator. With air filling the radiator steam can't enter.  I've attached a diagram on 1 pipe steam radiators which might be of help explain the above.

    - Rod
  • AlexK
    AlexK Member Posts: 2
    Not the radiator, but the pipe

    Thanks for the replies. I think my terminology is off. The radiator itself is fine with no noises coming from it. The pipe I'm talking about is a vertical floor to ceiling pipe that I assume sends the steam/returns the condensate to/from the upper floors of the building.  It's from within there that the marble/bearing sound is coming.  I was referring to that as the 'feeder' pipe, probably incorrectly. Hope that adds some clarity and thank you again!
  • marbles

    I should start out by saying that steam should never be noisy.  If it is, it is telling you that something is not right.   There should be no hissing, banging, clanking or the marble sound.

    The marble sound you are hearing is probably condensate having trouble getting back down the supply pipe.  Probably the most common reasons for this is dirty boiler water, an oversized boiler or radiator vent, or incorrectly piped boiler.   The last few are even more common than the first.  Dirty boiler water is rather easy to fix, the others are not.
    The Steam Whisperer (Formerly Boilerpro)

    Chicago's Steam Heating Expert

    Noisy Radiators are a Cry for Help
  • FJL
    FJL Member Posts: 354

    The pipe that travels vertically is called a "riser." I'm not sure of the correct term for a horizontal steam pipe, but I think those are called feeder pipes.
  • haaljo
    haaljo Member Posts: 112
    Explain to your "nice" landlady she may want....

    to consider having a "free" energy audit done. Here in Boston area, tenants can even qualify for up to ~1K of energy saving measures. But I don't think its a big deal the marble sound unless it indicates higher pressure...

    Anyways, when the audit is done, see if you as tenant can get a "free" TRV (thermostatic radiator valve) installed (cost about $300 inc. labor). I don't even have heat in one of my remodlled bathrooms per heating tech who was right. The other I put in a 3 foot steam baseboard and that was a mistake. He was right about that as well.
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