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Cold steam pipes

hello everyone. I have recently moved in an old walk-up in NYC and live on the last floor. When we first looked at the place it was nice and warm (we did have our coats on).

Now we have exposed the brick and raised the ceiling and our contractor never finished the job so I know there's parts of the brick where air could be coming in from, however the steam pipes are always cold!

We have 2 radiators and 2 standing pipes. The radiators are at the front of the house under 2 windows, while one pipe is at the middle coming straight up and the other one goes from the back of the house to the front. I'm not sure how this system works. The super said the the heat comes from downstairs and makes it way to the top floor, but that the boiler might turn off once it sense that the lower floors are hot. Is that why my pipes are always cold!???

I hear them hiss maybe 4-5 times a day and when they do they stay hot for about 5 min, while the radiators are always cold.

Super keeps telling me no one else in the building is complaint about being cold and that exposing the brick and raising the ceiling would make it harder for the whole place to warm up. But my pipes are always cold!!! Are they supposed to be hot all the tine and then every now and then you hear the hissing sound. Or are they supposed to be hot when you hear the hissing sound?

We've stayed at some hotels with the same system, on top floors and the rooms were always cozy and the pipes went on much more frequently that they do in the apt.

The super doesn't seem to want to do anything so how do I stop freezing to death!???

Any help on this system and how it should be working/ staying hot for is appreciated :)


  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,276
    First thing...

    we need to know is about the radiators -- is there one pipe, or two pipes, going to each radiator?

    Are there valves on the radiator inlets?

    If there is just one pipe going into each radiator, are there vents about half way up the radiators on the other ends?  Can you describe them if they are there?

    Then, how do the two pipes you describe hook into the radiators -- if they do.

    Then we can go from there...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Rod
    Rod Posts: 2,067

    Hi - With his questions, Jamie is trying to establish what type of steam system you have as that would then give us a better idea of what the problem might be.  Were the radiators disconnected when the renovation work was done on your place?. Were the radiators relocated or are they situated in their original location? If you could upload some pictures of your radiators that would also be a big help.

    - Rod
  • Pickleedill
    Pickleedill Member Posts: 2
    Duh :/

    sorry i thought i had given ample info.

    Ok, so the 2 radiators have one pipe coming up into the radiator where the shut off valve is, then on the other side there's a bullet looking thing which I believe is a valve but it doesn't seem to have a release nozzle like the 2 straight pipe do. (where the air come from)

    The radiators are not connected to the other 2 pipes I described and these are also independent of each other, or at least I can't see anything connectig the 2.

    I don't believe the radiators were moved or touched at all during the Reno. They worked the first day we got in the apt, then when I noticed they were cold I opened them up completely. They have only really worked once more since we've been in here and it was on the hottest day. They do make a clanking sound when they decide to work but that is every once in a while and then they just get mildly hot.

    The 2 other piles are coming out from the floors. The bigger one we have had off cuz it was making the banging noise really bad( even shaking ) and spraying water everywhere. They came and fixed it, but it still leaks. I have now just put a bucket underneath cuz this one is the biggest pipe we have and it is just too cold to have it off. It hasnt made the banging noise again, but it does leak still.

    The last pipe is the least problematic. But the problem I having with both is that they seem to go on very lil throughout the day and then stay hot for about 5-10 min max.

    I hope this is the kind of info you need :)
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,477
    What kind of vents

    It sounds like you have single pipe steam. The pipes and radiators should heat up when the boiler is running. Those bullet shaped things half way up the radiator are air vents. The steam cannot get into the radiator till all the air has left. Can you hear or feel air leaving them when the boiler is making steam? Do all radiators try and heat at about the same time? What make and model are those air vents and do they have an adjustment knob on them?

    Put a level on the radiators to make sure they are pitched back towards the input pipe so water can find it's way back to the boiler. You can shim the air vent end up with quarters to get positive pitch if you have to. use a 2X4 to GENTLY lever that end of the radiator up - to much force and you might crack something.

    You said you are on the top floor, is there any insulation in the ceiling? If that was removed during the renovation any heat that comes up is just whistling out the top. That ceiling has to have insulation to keep heat in. being on the top floor yo should be getting some assist from the lower floors.

    You may need larger radiators to support the bare brick walls because you have probably increased the heating load.

    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • Some thoughts....

    If you originally had wood furring and then plaster on your brick walls and now only have brick, you have increased the heat loss through the walls about 250%.  Bare brick walls have about the same insulation value as thermopane windows.  In other words, picture the whole space being surrounded by glass walls to get an idea of the heat load. You may also be seeing the difference in the fact that poorly balanced steam systems heat very poorly in warmer weather, but do much better in colder weather.  Radiators that heat in colder weather, sometimes don't heat in mild weather. 

    It sounds like half of the problem may be the changes you have made and the other may be a poorly balanced system that needs some TLC to get it working better all season long.
    The Steam Whisperer (Formerly Boilerpro)

    Chicago's Steam Heating Expert

    Noisy Radiators are a Cry for Help
  • Paul_11
    Paul_11 Member Posts: 210
    Welcome to a NYC walk up

    Welcome to a NYC walk up,get a hammer bang on the pipes, the steam will come up.

    In NYC no other tenant every has the same problem you have.

    It's your problem not the landlords anyway, the apartment was warm before you got there.

    And besides it's steam heat, it supposed to bang, right.

    OK fun is over.

    You say the radiators are cold so we know the steam is not getting to your floor.

    No matter what you have done, if the radiators don't get hot you can't get warm and that is not your fault.

    Every riser (vertical steam pipe) needs a "quick vent" at the top to get the steam there quickly.

    The steam lines in the basement need "quck vents" as well.

    Ask your landlord to hire a competent heating company to do a survey and make reccomendations.

    Give your landlord a few chances to do the right thing.

    Then start meeting your neighbors and you will see that those on the top floors are cold and those on the first floor are hot.

    If you are an owner go to your board meetings and put this on the adgenda.

    If you are a tenant get a few of you to complain and the landlord may fix this.

    You may have to start a tenant's association to get this work done.

    You may be in the Lower East Side but even if you are not call GOLES, Good Old Lower East Side and they can help you in dealing with your landlord.

    I have attached a picture of a Gorton #2 quick vent on the top floor of a SOHO building.

    Good Luck



    Since 1990, I have made steam systems quiet, comfortable, and efficient. We provide comfort while saving the planet.

    NYC LMP: 1307
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