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Vacuum steam heat system problems

RBrower
RBrower Member Posts: 9
I own a house built in 1930. It has steam heat. The original boiler was

old, big, and in need of replacement.......but it did work to heat the

whole house. (Kitchen, living room and dining room downstairs, 3

bedrooms and 1 bath upstairs)







I had a local HVAC company replace the boiler a year ago. Since then the

front half of the house gets no heat (living room and the 2 bedrooms on

the front half of the house) while the other half works great (Dining

room, kitchen and bed/bath on the back half)







The company that installed it spent hour after hour and service call

after service call trying to fix it. They haven't been able to get it

right yet. I even coughed up an additional 2000.00 over the original

contracted price because I felt sorry for the owner.







The owner of the company attributes the problem to the fact that my

system is a "vacuum" system and no one knows how to work on those any

more, and all the guys who DID know are all dead (that's why they are

called 'deadmen')







Any suggestions on how to get heat to the rest of the house?







Thanks



Bob

Comments

  • crash2009
    crash2009 Member Posts: 1,484
    You should

     post some pictures here, and have the system identified.  We need photo's of the radiators, and the boiler area.  Also some pics of how the boiler hooks up in the ceiling, and how the smaller pipes come down from the ceiling and go back to the boiler. 

    Once it gets identified someone will be able to let you know what, if any, changes need to be done.
  • Rod
    Rod Posts: 2,067
    Vacuum Systems

    Hi Bob- Vacuum steam systems are/were the "Cadillac" of the steam systems. As "Crash" mentioned, post some pictures of your new boiler and of the radiators especially including the piping/fittings where it connects to the radiators. Also post pictures of any "odd" contraptions that are located on the piping. All these will help us to better identify the make/model of your vacuum system and to give you some ideas as to what needs to be adjusted to make your system work properly.

     Some of the best steam heating pros in the U.S. are active on this site and quite of few of them are experts on vacuum systems. Tell us where you are located and maybe we can recommend a steam pro close to you.



    You might also want to get some of the excellent steam books available in the "Shop" section of this website. I would recommend to you "The Steamy Deal"

    http://www.heatinghelp.com/products/Super-Deals/14/129/A-Steamy-Deal

    This consists of three books. They are written for the homeowner who is new to steam heating. They are humorous, easy reading and are filled full of diagrams, facts and pictures. In a few evenings of reading you will be "light years" ahead in your knowledge of steam heating. Read "We Got Steam Heat!" first as it is a good introduction to steam heating and the terminology of steam.  "The Lost Art...." describes how different steam systems and their components work and includes a big section on vacuum systems.

    - Rod
  • Yes,.....

    Follow Crash's advice.  There are lots of folks here that work on Vapor/Vacuum systems.  About 1/2 to 3/4 of the two pipe steam systems I work on are old vapor/vacuum systems and they work very well.  They are quite common in building built before WWII.
    The Steam Whisperer (Formerly Boilerpro)

    Chicago's Steam Heating Expert





    Noisy Radiators are a Cry for Help
  • RBrower
    RBrower Member Posts: 9
    Photos of my vacuum steam heat system

    Hi Guys,



    Thanks for the responses to my post.



    I'm attaching some pix of the system before and after renovation. the only 'plumbing' that was changed is that going into the new unit.



    on the registers that do NOT work; the 3/4 inch inlet line gets warm UP TO the radiator but the heat doesn't make it across.



    If a schematic diagram will help let me know and I'll map it out and attach as well



    Thanks again

    Bob
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 14,415
    edited April 2011
    That sure looks like

    a Trane Orifice Vapor system.



    In such a system, there are no traps or air vents at the convectors. An orifice, cast into the convector element's inlet header, keeps steam from completely filling the element and getting into the dry return as long as you keep the pressure low. Air and condensate go into the dry return, the air is vented and the condensate returns to the boiler. It's the height of simplicity.



    What make was the old boiler? I've never seen one like that. The new one doesn't look like it has a proper header, equalizer or Hartford Loop, so it will need to be repiped. Those Peerless 63-series steamers have 3-inch tappings for connecting steam lines, and this is the size you should use, especially on a Vapor system.



    Where are you located?
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
  • RBrower
    RBrower Member Posts: 9
    Photos of my vacuum steam heat system

    If you blow up the pic of the back of the old boiler you can read:



    American Radiator Co



    Max W.P.             Lbs.

    Steam                 15

    Water                   30



    At one point the tech said he had the pressure up to 12 PSI. I see the Vaporstat looks like it's set at 12ish OzSI......could he really have meant PSI?



    the convectors have no valves on them.



    Do you need more pics?



    If the old unit worked well, why would the new unit need to be repiped? And why would 1/2 the house be working well now, and not the other?



    I'm in Middletown, NY
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 15,736
    It looks to me

    as thought that nice new Peerless sits a good deal lower than the old boiler (what was it?  That's a neat looking boiler!).  Which gives rise to a possibility: in the section was doesn't heat any more, is there somewhere a drip from the steam line down to a wet return?  And a nearby drip from the dry returns which I see there, also to the wet return?  And is that wet return still wet?  Or does the new boiler sit low enough so that the wet return isn't wet any more -- in which case you could be getting steam going down that drip and back up into the dry return.  Presto, no heat.



    Just a thought... but look all over the basement for booby traps.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • RBrower
    RBrower Member Posts: 9
    Hartford Loop

    One more thing:



    When the salesman, and later the company owner looked at the system, they both said it had a Hartford Loop and explained how it worked (which I've forgotten by now)



    If you need better or more specific pics let me know



    Really appreciate the help



    Bob
  • RBrower
    RBrower Member Posts: 9
    Greek to me

    Wow.........that is all absolute Greek to me.........



    I wouldn't know a wet return if it sat on my lap and called me Papa



    How would I know?



    I remember the tech telling me that the steam arrived on one end of the radiator and condensed as it cooled, returning to the boiler as water........that's about all I know



    The old boiler was an American Heating Co. product.



    The owner added some decorations of his own.



    Bob
  • Charlie from wmass
    Charlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,182
    Flared copper is a bad sign.

    I am thinking you need to use the find a contractor section up top of the page. The basics are whats the pressuretrol set at? why are the returns so high after they drop? How did they size the boiler?
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/charles-garrity-plumbing-and-heating
  • RBrower
    RBrower Member Posts: 9
    Contractor help

    Hi Charlie,



    I agree; I'm going to have to have someone look at the system and make suggestions so I can contact the installer and have them make it right.



    The salesman 'sized' the boiler by measuring the house and consulting a table.



    Looks to me like the Vaporstat is set at 12 OzPI but have no idea what the return is or why it's high or even what the heck that means.



    but thanks for your input



    Bob
  • Charlie from wmass
    Charlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,182
    The convectors needed to be measured not

    not the house. The boiler maybe too small to fill the house system with steam.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/charles-garrity-plumbing-and-heating
  • I bet Jamie has it......

    I bet those return lines on the right of the boiler  were wet before and I am nearly sure they are dry now.  If the pipes dropping down from the ceiling just to the right of the boiler are the ends of the steam mains, this is probably part of your problem.

    Also, the new piping connecting the boiler to the system is incorrect.  I am not sure what size boiler you have, but the piping looks pretty small...check you installation manual for the proper size.   The size listed are inside diameter so add about 1/4 inch for the outside diameter.  The connection from the new horizontal header pipe above the boiler  to the system needs to be off the top of the pipe not the side.  The old boiler had a 45 degree elbow here which is less than optimal but much better than the new piping.
    The Steam Whisperer (Formerly Boilerpro)

    Chicago's Steam Heating Expert





    Noisy Radiators are a Cry for Help
  • If it's any orifice system, boiler sizing can be different.

    Sizing the boiler to the heat load is very  possible with two pipe systems,  especially an orifice system.
    The Steam Whisperer (Formerly Boilerpro)

    Chicago's Steam Heating Expert





    Noisy Radiators are a Cry for Help
  • Charlie from wmass
    Charlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,182
    Hey Boiler Pro

    Soon as I hit Submit I knew you would be here. As always glad to get your input. I live in the world of one pipe steam. I still think it may be a bit small for the system.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/charles-garrity-plumbing-and-heating
  • Gordo
    Gordo Member Posts: 757
    Dear RBrower

    Please tell us where you are located so we can possibly recommend a good steam man nearby. 



    In the meantime, do either of those Gorton #2 main steam vents get  hot while the system is heating up?
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    "Reducing our country's energy consumption, one system at a time"
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Baltimore, MD (USA) and consulting anywhere.
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/all-steamed-up-inc
  • crash2009
    crash2009 Member Posts: 1,484
    Bob, looks like your old green boiler was a big hit!

      Must be spring, or The Pro's finally got an hour off, all at the same time.  There must be a hundred years experience here advising you on what to do to get some heat to the other side of the house.  You can tell those guys that hooked up your new boiler that, The Deadmen ain't dead, they are alive and well.
  • RBrower
    RBrower Member Posts: 9
    Location and steam vents

    Hi Gordo,



    I'm in Middletown, NY



    All 4 of the large round steam vents get hot while the system is running



    bd
  • Gordo
    Gordo Member Posts: 757
    If the Main Vents on Your Dry Return

    Are getting hot and shutting off, steam is getting where it should NOT.



    If the the main vents on the ends of the steam mains are getting hot and shutting off, that's ok.



    Steam supply mains should have steam in them when the system is running.



    Dry returns (returns above the boiler's water line) on a two-pipe system should only have air and a little water in them.



    If there is steam getting into your dry returns, it will tend to block the release of air from  other heating units and they won't heat.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    "Reducing our country's energy consumption, one system at a time"
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Baltimore, MD (USA) and consulting anywhere.
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/all-steamed-up-inc
  • gerry gill
    gerry gill Member Posts: 3,004
    I think Jamie nailed it.

    other than the boiler isn't piped right, look at the drip pipes by the chimney..look how high they are compared to the water line of the new boiler..then look at the water glass height from the original boiler..have them lower the returns or build a false water line..AFTER they repipe the boiler properly.
    gwgillplumbingandheating.com
    Serving Cleveland's eastern suburbs from Cleveland Heights down to Cuyahoga Falls.

  • crash2009
    crash2009 Member Posts: 1,484
    I marked

     a couple photo's to help explain your point.
  • gerry gill
    gerry gill Member Posts: 3,004
    that helps alot..

    well done..pictures worth a thousand words.
    gwgillplumbingandheating.com
    Serving Cleveland's eastern suburbs from Cleveland Heights down to Cuyahoga Falls.

  • RBrower
    RBrower Member Posts: 9
    Final solution?

    Hey guys,



    Is that the final solution? the new boiler needs to be raised so the water level in the sight glass is the same as the old one?



    On Fri night I e-mailed a contractor from the "find a contractor" at the top of the page. Hopefully they'll contact me during the week



    Thanks for all the info



    Bob
  • Charlie from wmass
    Charlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,182
    I would lower

    the returns. The new pipe will help with flow.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/charles-garrity-plumbing-and-heating
  • RBrower
    RBrower Member Posts: 9
    too late to fix?

    Another question:



    After fighting with this thing during the entire winter of '09-'10, about this time of year the installer told me it was too late to continue, and he would start again when the weather got cold during winter of '10-'11.



    He said the returns need to be cold so the steam would condense.......and with warmer weather the pipes would not be cold enough.



    This seemed a little fishy to me at the time but..........is he correct?
  • crash2009
    crash2009 Member Posts: 1,484
    Your new installer

     is likely going to have to start from scratch.  Disconnect everything, gas, water, electrical, steam supply and return, and the chimney.  Possibly rotate the boiler a quarter turn clockwise.  Its not going to be as simple as lifting the boiler to match the waterline of the old one.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 15,736
    Steam condenses...

    at 212 Fahrenheit.  In the radiators.  If you have steam condensing in the returns, you have big time problems -- which, other than the water line and near boiler piping problems, I don't think you have.  And if your radiators or returns are so hot that the steam doesn't condense, you also have big time problems... !



    Your installer, I'm sad to say, appears to not have a clue as to how steam heat works...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Charlie from wmass
    Charlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,182
    He is lucky enough to have dry returns

    this means the boiler stays the pipes drop. If the boiler was across the building from where the returns connect then other things could be done. But lets KEEP IT SIMPLE. Jamie said in a nicer manner all you need to read about your installer's excuses. I love repiping Steam boilers in the warm weather, means I can work 8 hour days and go home for supper instead of 14 hour days and packing two meals a day. Bunk! is all I can add about his reasoning.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/charles-garrity-plumbing-and-heating
  • snotnosedpunk
    snotnosedpunk Member Posts: 1
    my two cents

    Have the valves on the radiators been replaced? if you are getting heat up to the pipes and not in the radiator itself it is due to pressure.  the coin valves must be replaced every 5 years or so on these type of systems. the steam is compressing the air to create enough pressure to not allow the steam to flow into the radiator.  when those valves are operating properly they let the air out and the when the steam makes it to the outlet the bi metal shuts it and traps the steam in the radiator. each valve orifice must be sized properly in order to produce even heating.  the radiators farthest away must have the largest orifice to allow a lower pressure so the steam will travel the distance required.  the orifice on the radiator in the room with the thermostat should always remain small so that all of the other radiators receive the steam and produce the heat required before the thermostat can be satisfied.
  • cobras
    cobras Member Posts: 1
    plumber

    the quick vents are not correct if this is a vacuum system and the boiler is not plped correctly at all
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