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Maintain my steam heating system

tmac
tmac Member Posts: 7
I bought a house 8 years ago that is 95 years old. I think the steam heat furnace may be over 50 years old according to a neighbor who remembers when it was installed. I LOVE my steam heat but here is the problem. I can't find any heating people who know anything about steam heat or how to maintain the system. The system has been running okay but just like your car, you still need to maintain the system. I do add water and drain it weekly until the water is clear but that's it. There should be more done to maintain the system right? I want to get a person to look at it who knows what they are doing and has experience. It's like looking for a needle in a haystack.....isn't there anyone around who knows or works on steam heat???? 

Comments

  • crash2009
    crash2009 Member Posts: 1,484
    Welcome to the club

      You have found the right place.  You can learn a lot here just by asking questions about your steam system.  You can also get the books.  http://www.heatinghelp.com/categories/Super-Deals/14/1 



    If you just want someone to come over to your place and take care of it for you, you could look in the "Find a Contractor" section at the top of the page.  It is difficult to find some one that is close.  Most of us have learned to do the easy stuff ourselves and bring in a pro for the tough stuff.

    You might want to start by posting a couple pictures of your boiler, and maybe a radiator or two.  If possible, stand far enough back to get the whole boiler in, and how it hooks up to the pipes in the ceiling.  Take a few shots from different angles.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 17,795
    Actually...

    maintaining a steam system isn't hard at all, and 98% of the "work" takes about 5 minutes a week, at most.



    You've already mentioned one of the most important bits -- flushing the low water cut off (I assume that's where you're draining from?).  Once a week is great.  You don't need to get drinking water clear out of it, either; just the gloop.  A couple of gallons -- max -- should be ample.  At the same time, just give the boiler a general look-over.  Water level right?  No visible leaks?  etc.



    Does your system have an automatic water feeder?  That's very useful -- saves some headaches -- but unless it is a very modern ones, it can be difficult to keep track of water usage.  I wouldn't worry about it, but...



    After that, it always helps to wander around the place from time to time and make sure that all the radiators are heating the way they should.



    The 2% the average homeowner can't do (and even the average building super can't -- or shouldn't!) is having the boiler properly cleaned once a year, and having the burner cleaned and adjusted.  Only needs to be done once a year, but it does need to be done, and it's best to get someone to do it who really knows what they are doing.



    Do get the books, as crash suggested -- they are really well written, and very helpful.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • JohnLaPlante
    JohnLaPlante Member Posts: 49
    Books...

    ...you should buy them...now.  Get the "Steamy Deal" with all 3.  If I had purchased them when I first bought my house, I would have saved the purchase price easily in the first 2 years.



    I'm having similar problems finding someone local to support my system.  But between the books and the folks here, I'm able to find plumbers to do what I ask them to do based on the things I have learned here.  So far so good...



    Welcome!
  • tmac
    tmac Member Posts: 7
    Thank you all!

    Thank you all for responding and for the welcome! Its nice to know I am not alone in my dilemmas..lol  I will definitely buy the books and educate myself. I had a heating guy come out who knew all about steam heat or at least claimed to, anyway he was here for 4 hours looking everything over and I was getting that feeling like he knew as much or I should say little about steam heat as I did. The radiators in my dining room don't get heat all the way through each coil, some are hot, some are cold. Within 12 hours after he left I had steam blowing out of the radiators onto the wall upstairs, complete disaster. My brother had to drive 2 hours to my house to fix what he had done. He said he made a classic mistake by turning up the pressure to "fix" the radiator, which goes to prove he did not know anything about steam heat. Since then I'm nervous about anyone touching it since I really don't want to keep bothering my brother to fix their mistakes. So, I'll try to educate myself and keep looking for someone who is reliable to do yearly maintenance. I live in Lower Bucks County so if anyone knows of someone.....I'll check the "contractor" on this site as well. Thanks again to all of you who responded.
  • tmac
    tmac Member Posts: 7
    please see my post to crash

    Not sure how to respond to all....obviously not only am I "steam heat" challenged, also computer challenged as well.....lol
  • tmac
    tmac Member Posts: 7
    books

    Thank you, see other posts. Definitely buying the books, but do I really need all of them? Isn't there just one, sort of like a steam heat for dummies version? 
  • JohnLaPlante
    JohnLaPlante Member Posts: 49
    I recommend...

    That you get the "Steamy Deal" with (1) Lost Art of Steam Heating, (2) Problems, and (3) We Got Steam Heat.  I only purchased the latter, and am wishing I had purchased the others at the same time.  "We Got Steam Heat" is great for the basics (I would have saved 5x the purchase price for just one Knucklehead HVAC repair visit), but I quickly read through it and wished for more.  
  • crash2009
    crash2009 Member Posts: 1,484
    There are 2 ways to reply

    One is to reply to the individual "click the reply button to the right of what they said"

    Two is to reply to everybody "click the reply to this thread button down at the bottom left"
  • tmac
    tmac Member Posts: 7
    Books

    Okay, sounds good.  However, they aren't inexpensive, priced them earlier, so are these books that anyone can understand that has NO knowledge or even basic terminology when it comes to heating?
  • tmac
    tmac Member Posts: 7
    reply

    Thanks, got it! 
  • JohnLaPlante
    JohnLaPlante Member Posts: 49
    Yes...

    ...but I would argue that they are inexpensive.  Maybe not compared to other books you might purchase, but certainly inexpensive when compared to HVAC service calls.  I'll bet you'll save the purchase price in the first 2 years of reduced service calls, or at the very least, shorter service calls.  Doesn't take a lot of $60/hr service calls to make up the cost of the books.  
  • Rod
    Rod Posts: 2,067
    edited February 2011
    "The Books" are the Key!

    I agree with John.  Start with "We got Steam Heat" as it is a good introduction to basic operation and terminology. The books are written for the homeowner new to steam. They're easy, humorous, reading. (Like a good novel, you'll find you really don't want to put them down) and in a few evenings you'll be light years ahead in your knowledge of residential steam. Before I found this site and read "the books" I was in a very similar situation as you.  I was spending lot of money on the local heating "experts" and nothing was getting fixed. The books have easily saved me a hundred times their cost. Maintenance wise I do all my own steam maintenance. It's easy to do as once you understand it, steam is pretty simple. Initially the big thing is getting the "mickey mouse" work, done over the years by incompetent people, straightened out. After that the maintenance is minimal and the system will purr.

    I now have a good burner guy come in and do a boiler cleaning and check the burner once a year. As the same boilers and burners are used on many hot water heating systems it's fairly easy to find someone who is good with/understands burners and has the instrumentation to check them. We have an understanding. He doesn't do steam (at least on mine) and I don't do burners! The weird thing is that he quite often calls me now for advice when he runs across a steam problem.

    - Rod
  • tmac
    tmac Member Posts: 7
    Books

    Okay, you guys convinced me, and thank you once again for the input. Also, thanks for describing the content of the books, that was helpful. I didn't want to invest the money and realize as I was reading them that it was very technical and over my head....but it seems I will be able to comprehend and learn. Who knows, maybe when I finally do find that reliable contractor to do yearly maintenance (one can hope) I will actually know what he is doing and if I get someone who doesn't, I will be able to have enough knowledge to stop them before they make it worse. Thanks again for taking your time to help out and give me some insight. Being the informative consumer is always in ones best interest ,so off I go to buy the books and start reading!
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