Welcome! Here are the website rules, as well as some tips for using this forum.
Need to contact us? Visit https://heatinghelp.com/contact-us/.
Click here to Find a Contractor in your area.

Is this a good evaluation?

HoyteKing Member Posts: 85
Our building has been heating unevenly since the new boiler was installed 5 years ago. No one thought anything of it until this fall, when the top story became way too hot. The installer told our "boiler team" that we needed vari-vents. 13 were installed in 4 apartments. The problem has returned to typical uneven heat, with hissing radiators and an overheated 2nd floor with "window" venting.

A report was commissioned because I thought the way things were handled was wrong. The company that installed had no idea of what the underlying problem was.

The report is bellow. It caused a great deal of upset with the "boiler team" that has interfered with logical discussion. The original installers were called back to evaluate the report. They have hemmed and hawed, as I understand. I am personally fully satisfied with the reports competency. It was made by a person with 25 years of experience in steam heat in apartment buildings.

A third opinion is wanted if anything is to get done. What is your opinion of the report? My own comments are in <em>cursive</em>. I am working off of Dan Holohan's book <span style="text-decoration:underline;">The Lost Art of Steam Heating</span>.

A short YouTube video is here: <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJO774xeQNc">http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJO774xeQNc</a>

As a result of this inspection the

following deficiencies, problems and items of concern are noted as follows;


The installation of the Weil McClain boiler was done contrary to the

manufacturers installation drawings and what would be considered good engineering practice, the failure to maintain the manufacturers minimum riser elevation along with the failure to install an equalizer line or to install a condensate drip line and steam trap on the steam header results in poor efficiency and wet steam production.  (see page 17 of the attached Weil McLain installation manual for model 80 boiler)

<em>Indeed,the specs do not match up at all. Holohan in The Lost Art of Steam</em>

<em>states that with new boilers it is critical to follow specs. What are the</em>

<em>chances of not repiping, and instead do the other fixes. This report does not</em>

<em>state we have to repipe. I am especially concerned about the Hartford Loop we</em>

<em>seem to lack.</em>


The installation of the Watts 8g steam traps in their present location

will allow condensate to back up in the steam main and requires steam pressure to force the condensate through,the present location of the steam traps also renders the main air vents useless as they are located after the steam traps. In addition wye strainers were installed after the steam traps and there location there serves no purpose whatsoever.

<em>Holohan uses the term of art “knucklehead” when speaking about the local guy. Our</em>

<em>installer was called in to review this report. A verbal answer stated that this</em>

<em>point was patently false. This knucklehead also cranked up the pressure to 2</em>

<em>psi this past year.</em>


The boiler at present is being controlled by a time clock along with a

return line aquastat that is located next to the boiler and attached to the return pipe of the longest steam run, the aquastat’s function is to prevent the boiler from firing when the time clock calls for heat if the pipe temperature is above the aquastat setting, it does not shut off the boiler, it only prevents the boiler from running if the pipe is still warm when the timer calls for heat, thus it may delay the start of the boiler on a time clock call for heat. The wisdom of this control scheme is that the steam pipe temperature will correspond to the temperature of the radiators, however this requires the boiler to cycle on and off regularly through the use of a numerous time clock trippers with on off cycles occurring perhaps every couple of hours or less, your time clock had only two on-off cycles occurring, each lasting 6 or more hours, which meant your boiler, would come up to steam pressure with the burner cycling to maintain pressure, I gave you two more sets of trippers to create more cycles.


The boiler at present does not have an outside temperature shutoff, this control would prevent the heating system from running if the outside temperature was above 60 degrees or whatever temperature one chooses this comes into play during the spring and fall when daytime temperatures are such that heat is not needed.

5,  A combustion analysis was performed of the flue gasses while the boiler was in

operation, those readings were taken utilizing a Kane May electronic combustion analyzer which was serviced and calibrated by the manufacturer within the last 120 days. The readings indicate that the burner is not operating at peak efficiency as the carbon dioxide reading is low, with to much air entering the burner, at present the boiler has a combustion efficiency of 76.9%  and should be able to achieve at least 80% combustion efficiency with some minor burner adjustments. (See page 32 of the attached Weil McLain manual and analyzer printout)


Radiators appear to have been replaced over the years with little concern for heating capacity. In one pipe steam systems, radiators and piping are sized based upon the calculated room heat loss. Radiators that have been replaced because they didn’t physically fit in with remodeling or radiators that have covers installed have in many cases decreased the available heat in a given room.Modifications to the structure such as replacement of windows, adding insulation, moving of walls or enclosing

porches has affected the heating needs of rooms/individual units. Radiator air vents have been replaced with little consideration given as to quality or capacity.

<em>I have no idea how the boiler capacity was determined when the new boiler went in. I am guessing that the residents here at the time did some research and found one that was reliable. I personally believe it to be sufficient for our needs if installed properly.</em>




1,  A properly sized equalizer line should be installed per the boiler installation

manual or a condensate drip leg and steam trap could be installed on the steam header and piped to the condensate receiver.


The steam traps should be located closer to the condensate receiver and

below the steam main as this would not require steam pressure to force the condensate from the steam main as gravity would allow the condensate to drain from the steam main and exert pressure on the steam

trap at the rate of 1 psi for each 2.31 feet that they are located below the steam main, this would allow for better air venting as the end of the main vents would be located before the steam trap in addition there would be no condensate backed up in the

steam main thus the air vents located internally in the steam trap would now function as designed.


Additional trippers must be installed on the time clock allowing for numerous cycles per day while utilizing the return line aquastat to prevent or delay the boiler from operating

if the radiators are still warm from the previous cycle of the boiler. Setting should be written down on a sheet located in the boiler room noting such things as outside temperature, time clock settings and aquastat setting,adjustments should be made based upon review of those setting and should remain as a record for future boiler operations. Adjustments should be made by a responsible party, not by the person who complains the most but by the one who listens the most.


The boiler should be equipped with an outside temperature shutoff, although one owner insisted that this is presently being done manually I question the wisdom of this as this relies on the human element and reliability is certainly a human deficiency 

 5,  A combustion analysis should be performed and corresponding burner adjustment

should be performed as this will reduce boiler fuel consumption by 3-5 %. A combustion analysis should have been performed on initial installation and at least every two to three years thereafter.


The replacement of radiators, radiator air vents and or remodeling should be regulated by the condominium bylaws or rules, to prevent any potential for causing a

heating system imbalance. The replacement of radiator vents should be done only after evaluating the entire system, high quality name brand vents should be used preferably all from the same manufacturer as most manufacturers produce vents capable of different venting capacity. Radiator vents serve one purpose only, that being to allow the air to vent from the radiator and related piping at the beginning of the heating cycle, once the air is vented the radiator will remain hot as long as steam pressure is present,

adjustable radiator vents, vents of differing venting capacity only effect how fast the radiator warms up at the beginning of the cycle,  they have no thermostatic control. Since radiator vents allow air to enter the radiator and piping during the boiler off cycle it is important to have the heating boiler cycle on/off regularly via the time clock allowing the steam pressure to go to zero and allowing the radiators to cool thus allowing air to enter the radiators and related piping,  this is accomplished by having numerous on/off stops installed on your boiler time clock, only then will you be able to control heat output with vent sizing.

10, Once you have achieved temperature balance and control utilizing your existing time clock and return line aquastat you may consider some type of thermostatic control utilizing remote temperature sensors located in individual units allowing for an averaging of gathered temperatures and operation of the boiler based upon that average temperature, however your building is far from that point as you haven’t achieved temperature balance from unit to unit yet. In addition the association should decide what is a reasonable temperature range for daytime operations, a night setback temperature range and most important who should be in charge of the controls.


The poor workmanship of the boiler installation, the basic disregard for manufacturers installation drawings, accepted engineering practices and safety issues along with the poor attempts to correct operational deficiencies leads me to recommend that you find a new heating contractor as your present contractor or at a minimum the individuals

that he is sending out are clueless.

<em>I wonder why the contractor does not recommend repiping. This was not explained. </em>

<em>Otherwise, my own research has not given me any indication that this report is in any way unreasonable.

By the way, the insulation has been removed from the piping, as shown in the photographs, both in the boiler room and in the middle tier basement. Should it be replaced? I believe condensation is forming in this run, which is around 30’ of pipe. I can hear quite knocking near the boiler in this pipe.</em>


  • Brad White
    Brad White Member Posts: 2,398
    Some quick thoughts

    Following the manual is alone the single best piece of advice.

    I do have to ask, where "traps go here" is noted in what seem to be dry returns. Is this a 2-pipe system with traps at the radiators? You did mention radiator vents which makes me think it may be one-pipe, but some older vapor systems have two pipes with express returns to a wet return (below the waterline, there is your seal).

    If you do have traps, you do not want two in series nor so-called master traps. What is in the pipe should be condensate. That brings me to the receiver, boiler feed unit I assume. Is there live steam in that receiver? Might those returns be dropped to form a water seal, assuming no traps at the radiator?

    There is a lot I cannot tell about the system. The above are just a few quick thoughts and questions; others I am sure will have more.

    Oh, the insulation? Yes, the piping should be insulated and will cause collapse of steam to vacuum and hence make noise. But wait until the piping is corrected first!
    "If you do not know the answer, say, "I do not know the answer", and you will be correct!"

    -Ernie White, my Dad
  • HoyteKing
    HoyteKing Member Posts: 85
    one pipe system

    Yeah, what type of system is important to state, I suppose. It is a one-pipe system. I also think it is a parallel-flow/up-feed system.

    Regarding the traps, the question is still beyond me at the moment. The person who wrote the report did have to study up on this a little bit, and likes hot water heat a lot. I think you might be saying that the returns are not placed correctly for the water lines. If so, that happens a lot, so I understand. We do have a huge old boiler in a pit next to the new one.

    I am sorry my questions, etc. are not more professional. I am in a real pickle about educating myself so as to be able to convince my neighbors that the world is not flat.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,438
    That's just ugly

    For starters, that boiler installation -- from what I can see in the pictures -- is just ugly.  Just plain ugly.  I doubt that you will ever get decent quality steam from it -- even if nothing else goes wrong.  So... first thing I would suggest is OK, let's get the boiler piped right.  Weil-McClain doesn't print their instructions just for laughs.

    Then... traps?  On what lines and where?  Is this really one pipe steam?  OK, if it is, then you may need f&t traps -- at the ends of the steam mains, leading to a dry return or returns.  However, if the drips at the ends of the steam mains lead to below the boiler water line (note: if you have a condensate receiver, rather than a direct gravity return, there are other considerations), you don't.

    Would it be possible for you to make a reasonably accurate sketch of the steam distribution and returns, showing all the traps, runouts, etceteras and whatnots and post it?  It would help some to figure out what is going on here...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • That boiler looks like its in Chicago......

    my home town.   The evaluation seems on the ball, but there may be additional problems with the boiler piping besides those stated.  I can't see the traps in the pictures, so I can't comment on these but converting a gravity return one pipe system to  use oa boiler feed pump is rarely necessary and can be tricky.

    There was an error rendering this rich post.

  • Rod
    Rod Posts: 2,067
    System problems

    Hi- As Jamie mentioned, it would really help to have a have reasonably accurate schematic of your system showing where the individual components like traps, vent and radiators,mains, returns etc. are located. At this point it is pretty hard (at least for me) to mentally put together a overall picture of your system though from what I can see from the pictures and information you have provided, there are a lot of things that are pretty heavily "knuckleheaded"

    The boiler is a "no brainer". It either follows the manufacturers installation diagram or it doesn't and the way your boiler is presently piped, it doesn't. This has to be costing you big time in the efficency area. The manufacturer's recommendations are minimums rather than optimums so there is even more room for improvement using higher than minimum boiler risers and by using a drop header.

    Radiator venting-  Using Vari-vents was a lazy way of addressing the problem of inadequate venting on your mains. I've attached one your pictures and circled what I believe are main vents. What is the make and model number of these? From what I can see your main venting capacity is seriously undersized. There is a steam adage : "Vent you mains quickly and your radiators slowly!" You can't over vent your mains but you can cause a lot of problems by overventing your radiators.

    As for controls for your system. You might want to look at the Tekmar 279 http://tekmarcontrols.com/hvacsystems/279.html

    or at the systems of R&D Electronics http://www.rdcontrolsystems.com/index.php

    Where are you located? Perhaps we can recommend a good steam pro near you.

    - Rod
  • HoyteKing
    HoyteKing Member Posts: 85

    Yes, I am in Chicago. The local big names seem to know more about hot water and boilermaking (they love to weld) than steam.

    I will post a schematic this afternoon. Thank you all for your help!
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,894
    Have Boilerpro look at it

    he's one of the best. 
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
  • Rod
    Rod Posts: 2,067
    Get a Steam Pro!

    If you are in the Chicago area and need a really good steam man, Dave Bunnell, "Boilerpro", is the person you want to contact. Here is a link to his company- http://www.heatinghelp.com/professional/105/Boiler-Professionals-Inc

    You might also want to read one of his articles that he posted on this website as you can learn a lot from it. http://www.heatinghelp.com/article/11/Hot-Tech-Tips/1551/Taking-Another-Look-at-Steam-Boiler-Sizing-Methods-by-Dave-Boilerpro-Bunnell

    Your system, as screwed up as it is now, has to be very inefficient and a good steam man could quickly get it straightened out so that it would be comfortable and economic.

    - Rod
  • HoyteKing
    HoyteKing Member Posts: 85
    heating layout and radiator layout

    This is the layout of the radiators and pipes (more or less) in the basement. As you can sort of see the building has three teirs, and there are nine apartments. Actually, the apartment right above the boiler room was converted to forced air over 30 years ago. The building is three stories high.
  • clammy
    clammy Member Posts: 3,113
    1 pipe system?

    If this is a 1 pipe system i would think with traps on all the returns that in all liklyhood they are not needed .Every time i have seen this on a 1 pipe system the main cause was a big change in the water line of the new boiler in comparision to the old boiler.If you still have steam appearing at the condensate reciever and or end of the main drips and any main line drips then the issues is the fact that you have lost loop seals that used to exist with a higher water line witht he old boiler.You really need some one to go through the whole building and find every end of the main and every main drip which could be some where along th e steam main to get rid of exess condensate .I have seen many guys not understand what the drip where for and removed and plugged them adding to more knuckleheading .Please try to think how the system operated originally,it had no end of the main traps ?yes then why would they need them more ?Get a pro in there you may have to weed through a few more knuckleheads to find some one who is going to bring your system back to how it should perform .There are always issues in my mind when you see a single pipe system with end of the main traps and condensate pumps .They are things that usually are never on a single pipe systems.Fiqure out where your original water line was and have  false water line installed ,get all the near boiler piping correted and over size the header for a slower exiting velocity and make sure they leave you a 2 in tapping off the new header for a equilizer for a possible false water line .Have all your system venting looked at and possible up grading of main vents and last but not least have a vaporstat installed .I have done this on smaller apartment building and the owners where amazed at fuel reduction of over 50 % and all the promblems disappeared.Any one who says you need end of the main traps on single pipe systems should be shown the door .I have only seen 1 or 2 system where they where needed but mainly beause they ddi not want to do any thing with the new boiler water level .Do you home work peace and good luck clammy
    R.A. Calmbacher L.L.C. HVAC
    NJ Master HVAC Lic.
    Mahwah, NJ
    Specializing in steam and hydronic heating
  • HoyteKing
    HoyteKing Member Posts: 85
    Steam People of America, move to Chicago!

    I have already talked with one of the site contributors, who is local. He makes sense. From my own layman's observations and his experience, it seems there are only big companies in Chicago doing work these days, and their "Dead Men" are unfortunately dead.

    I am pretty sure that the valves were removed, but do not have access at the moment to check for sure.

    There is a lot of work available fixing knucklehead work here in Chicago.

    All of the posts have been of great help to me and the people in the building. If all goes well, we should be resolving our issues this summer.

  • Charlie from wmass
    Charlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,322
    Thats ok I am sure

    Boiler Pro will take good care of you. He is one of the very best in the trade.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,438

    he's not dead yet, last I heard!
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Though, some may wish it so!!!


    There was an error rendering this rich post.

This discussion has been closed.