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2 Pipe Steam System Hell

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I am currently a resident of an apartment building that uses a 2 pipe steam heating system. For the entire heating season, we have had very loud banging noises coming from all over the building. Our plumber has been coming by for the entire season replacing traps, valves, and even refurbishing our vacuum pump. The banging noises persist and our latest issue is that we have steam shooting out of the return pipe (I am in no way knowledgeable about this system). Is it is safe to say its time to call in an expert?

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  • I would say yes.....

    There are a number of good steam people around this site.  Try out the Find A Contractor section.  If you are in the Chicago area just give me a call.

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  • BalkiSmith
    BalkiSmith Member Posts: 6
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    Thanks

    Thanks for your response, unfortunately for me I am not directly in control of the project and can only make recommendations, but I will try to influence those who make the decisions.



    Another quick question: If condensate is forming in the supply pipes (I can actually hear it sloshing around in there when the heating cycle starts) isn't the only way to get rid of it by correctly pitching the pipes? It seems like they are spending a lot of time worrying about the vacuum pump and the system in general rather then just getting in the wall and pitching the pipes.
  • The first question to ask is....

    did the system used to bang?  If not, find out what changed.  If this has been a long term problem its time to go back to the basics and check them.  The most common is probably the wrong size or incorrect boiler installation.  Traps are also high on the list.  With all that water in the piping, the traps are probably being damaged as fast as they are replaced.

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  • BalkiSmith
    BalkiSmith Member Posts: 6
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    Picture Included

    All of the steam pipes, from the basement to the top of the 6 apartment sized building have been replaced. The boiler and radiators have remained the same, although the pipe runs I believe have probably been laid differently then before. Here is photo of the noisiest of the pipes. Again I am in no way in the industry, but don't they look a little "flat"?
  • Are you sure this is a steam heating system......

    Maybe it is a hot water system (they use a boiler too, except is doesn't boil)?  If these are the pipes, you probably have some piping issues if it is steam.  Slopes need to be watched carefully, as do the sizes of the pipes. 

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  • BalkiSmith
    BalkiSmith Member Posts: 6
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    unfortunately yes

    I guess its a bad thing that these pipes look like they've been laid out for hot water. The one thing I do know is that this is in fact a steam system. I guess the bottom line is which I believe you already answered is that its time for us to look for someone else besides the person who has been trying to fix this issue for the past couple of months. Either this person who has been working on it is either stringing us along financially or just does not understand the sophistication of a well designed steam system. Thanks again for your help.
  • RDSTEAM
    RDSTEAM Member Posts: 134
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    new construction??

    is that a new construction?? is that possibly in the basement?  They might be trying to run a hot water circuit off a steam boiler, because those do no look like steam lines. If they want to raise the floor up about a foot or get a couple nice wall mounted steam rads, then they can consider those steam lines. As far as trap work is concerned, unless they replace traps that they can positively say are defective and solve the banging issue, they will need to replace every trap in the building and start fresh.  The banging will completely destroy a new trap. Where are you located? Im sure there's a pro in here that is near you.
  • BalkiSmith
    BalkiSmith Member Posts: 6
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    wall mounted

    These are steam pipes for a wall mounted radiator. What you do not see is that the pipe ending closer to the left side is now connected to a vertical pipe that connects it to the radiator, and the radiator empties out into the pipe further into the picture.



    There is currently a plumber who has been working on the issues. They have cut into the wall behind the radiator and elevated the first portion of pipe before the bend, but now the water just gets trapped before the bend so I believe they have to cut more wall to get to the corner and elevate that. They have been working on it for about three weeks and come about once a week so its been really slow going. Last week they were looking at the vacuum portion of the system, rather then in my individual apartment.



    I guess my other question is, If I have banging in my supply pipes that are in the wall, will fixing the vacuum pump even fix this? It seems like from what I've been reading on this forum that the only way to get rid of condensate in the supply pipes is to have the pipes pitched properly, and that having the vacuum do the work is more of a maintenance heavy patch, if its even possible.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,443
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    Look...

    I have no intention of knocking your plumber -- he's probably doing the best he knows how.  Unfortunately, both for you and for him, the best he knows how is nowhere near good enough.



    All steam systems form condensate in the steam mains; it's inevitable.  That condensate has to go somewhere to get back to the boiler.  This means that the steam mains and runouts and risers and all steam pipes -- everywhere in the building -- have to be pitched correctly so that they condensate can flow freely back to the boiler.  Furthermore, they have to be big enough -- particularly in pipes like runouts -- that the condensate can easily flow one way while the steam is whizzing along above it the other way.  If this hasn't been done, you are going to get water hammer.  Period.  Fiddling with the vacuum assist isn't going to change the water hammer at all.



    Since, for some reason, all the pipes were replaced (why, might I ask?) it is likely -- looking at the picture -- that a good many of them are either undersized or pitched improperly or both. 



    I'm sorry to say that my suggestion would be to bite the bullet and hire a good steam professional -- in fact, at this point, it would probably be worth finding one of the men on this site who travels (I know Steamhead does, and Boilerpro does within the greater Chicagoland area, and I think Gerry Gill does in the greater Cleveland area, and Charles Garrity does in New England, to name four) and paying for his time to come and work with you and your plumber to make a comprehensive check of the all the piping, figure what needs to be done, and doing it.  I don't see any other way out of this one.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • BalkiSmith
    BalkiSmith Member Posts: 6
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    I agree

    The reason for the replacement was that the entire building was gutted down to the studs so everything was replaced including the heat pipes, plumbing, and electrical. Theres a whole back story about the plumber who did the original install which I probably shouldn't go into. Needless to say he is not the plumber who is currently trying to fix these issues. I really appreciate all the info, I will present it to the powers that be and see what comes of it.
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