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New to Steam...

JoshS
JoshS Member Posts: 46
Oldhouseweb.com pointed me to this site... some good info here!!!



So this is my first house with steam heat... I know the basics- Water

is heated to steam, the steam rises to the radiators, and, in my case,

the condensate runs back down the same pipes back to the boiler. Fairly

simple concept. I believe this is called a single pipe system?



Here's

where I get confused... In most of my house, only the first couple

fins of the radiators get warm (on the steam inlet end). Is this

normal? If it isn't, is the air valve (?) on the opposite end what you

adjust to let air out and more steam in, thus heating more fins? Are

there cons to letting more steam into the radiators, like hammering or

anything?



Also, I have multiple locations where radiators were

removed and just the capped steam pipe is sticking our of the floor

(like my pantry/laundry with 3 exterior walls!!). If I put radiators

back in these locations, does that screw with the balance of the rest of

the system?



Hopefully I'm making sense... <img src="http://www.oldhouseweb.com/forums/images/smilies/icon_confused.gif" width="15" height="15" alt=":?" />



Thanks for your help...

Comments

  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,572
    disconnected rads

    if you could find the original rads for those spaces, you would be better off. the valve and the spud which is screwed into the radiator are a matched pair; therefore, a replacement radiator needs a new valve and spud. the old spud must be removed from the replacement radiator, which can be a chore. the original radiator would have been exactly sized for the room it was heating, and the riser pipe sized to the radiator.

    if you don't have the originals, then tell us the pipe diameters, and we can tell you the maximum size of radiator which can be put there.

    if you have uneven heating, and are trying to balance the system, wait until your replacements are in, before switching radiator vents. in any case all the air in the boiler, and piping should be allowed to escape without any restriction through generous main vents, usually mounted on the dry returns. a 0- 3 psi gauge will show you how much back-pressure there is as the boiler begins to steam, and gently push the air out. my 55 rads vent at an ounce or less.

    when you get the system running as it once did when first installed, you will love it!--nbc
  • Rod
    Rod Posts: 2,067
    edited March 2012
    Steam Heating

    Hi - Welcome to the world of steam heating!   You mentioned you have a single (1pipe) pipe system.  This classification is determined by whether there are one or two pipes running to each radiator. 1 pipe = 1 pipe system,  2 pipes = a 2 pipe system.

           Depending on the time of year (outside temperature) and therefore how much heat is needed to bring your thermostat to its setting will determine how many sections of your radiator heat up. When the outside temperature isn't that cold (spring & fall) the radiators will only just start getting heated up ( just several sections) before the thermostat reaches its set temperature and the burner shuts off.  When it gets really cold outside the system runs for a longer time period  and the radiators heat all the way across.

          Adding radiators-  You probably can do so as the system was originally designed for them. The only thing that might be a problem was if a boiler had been installed in the mean time and the boiler was sized just for the remaining radiators. There is a way to calculate this but you might want to wait until you understand your system better.

      The owner of this website , Dan Holohan , has written some very good books on residential steam heating and they are available in the Shop section of this website.  I would recommend that you get a book called  "We Got Steam Heat!  Here's a link to it:

    http://www.heatinghelp.com/products/Steam-Heating-Books/25/61/We-Got-Steam-Heat-A-Homeowners-Guide-to-Peaceful-Coexistence

    This book is written for the homeowner new to steam. It's easy, humorous reading and in a few nights reading will put you light years ahead in your knowledge of steam heating.

    This book will save you money and give you the knowledge to get  your steam system running to maximum efficiency and comfort.  It will answer a lot of your questions and lead to other questions which we will do our best to help you with. You might also want to take a look at what is know as "Off the Wall" in the Resources and System section at the top of this page. The is a lot of info there on steam heating.

    - Rod.
  • JoshS
    JoshS Member Posts: 46
    Thank you!

    It was down to about 15 the other night, and only the fins closest to the steam inlet were heating up.  It also had to heat the house from about 45 degrees since it was unoccupied for a few days.  Even the radiators with only 3 fins... only the first fin would heat up.  Definitely not evenly across...  The previous owner said they'd adjust the air valves on the end to balance the system.  Not sure what he meant by that.



    I ordered one of Dan's books already today.



    Thank you both for your input!!  I appreciate the friendly help.
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,572
    main vents

    definitely, find those main [not rad] vents, and see if they are working, even though you will need more venting. don't think the rad vents can do the job.--nbc
  • JoshS
    JoshS Member Posts: 46
    Some progress.

    I checked it when I got home today... the radiators not heating all the way across have the "Varivalve Quick Vents" on them.  I opened the valves, and they heated across pretty quickly and evenly.  I still have two radiators not working at all... one has a standard air vent on it and the other is a Varivalve.



    The pressure gauge on the boiler... When do I take a reading?  When its running?  Running, it appeared to be at 12 PSI.
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,380
    edited March 2012
    Old 0-30 psi gauges . . .

    are about as reliable as a fart in a windstorm. They tend to get less and less reliable with age, adding an auxiliary 0-3 psi gauge (with a shutoff) might be your best bet to see what is going on.



    What is the pressuretrol set at, it should have a cutoout of 1.5 - 2PSi and less would be great. Old systems can develop a clog in the pigtail that connects the pressuretrol to the boiler, when that happens the pressuretrol can't see the boiler pressure and that is not good. At that point the pressuretrol (a safety device) has no control over the boiler; you should verify that the pigtail is open and clear.





    Check the radiators and the pipes feeding them yo make sure the slope allows water to drain back to the boiler.



    Main steam vents are crucial on a steam system, they have to be sized to vent all the air from the steam main quickly but the radiator vents should vent much slower. Varivents may not be good for your system because they vent too fast and that leads to uneven heat.



    Keep working at it, steam can be economical and very comfortable heat.



    Bob
    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • JoshS
    JoshS Member Posts: 46
    Main vents?

    The pressuretrol is at 1.5 right now.  Also, I'm having trouble finding the main vents on the steam lines in the basement.



    Is there a better option than the varivalves?  I noticed some of the vents that aren't varivalves have numbers on them.



    The previous owners were claiming heating bills of $900 a month during the coldest months... since it's a natural gas boiler, that seems outrageous.  Granted it's a 3 floor Victorian, but I think there's a lot of tweaking to do here.
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,380
    Venting is critical

    Does that pressure gauge read zero when the boiler is off and cool? If not the gauge is probably shot. You can add an aux 0-3 psi gauge that will tell you exactly what pressure you are operating at. The picture below shows how i did mine - I really shoauld add a shutoff between the pipe and the gauge). I mentioned putting a shutoff in line with just the gauge just in case the pressure is over 3psi and it can be used if you have to raise the pressure to blow down and crud in the boiler occasionally. If the pigtail feeding the pressuretrol is clogged that could cause the system to run at high pressure and is a definite safety issue.



    Look at the steam main and see if there are any fittings where a main air vent may have been in the past. there should have been a spot around where the steam main returns back to the boiler is it is a parallel flow system (steam main starts high above the boiler and slopes down to the the point the return heads down back to the boiler return. A counterflow main starts low above the boiler and slope upwards till it just ends after the last radiator runout (in that kind of system the vent is past that last radiator runout). Having an adequately sized main air vent goes a long way towards even economical heat. All the piping in the basement should have a minimum of 1" fiberglass pipe insulation on it.



    Varivalves are often to aggressive to use as radiator vents except for special applications. If you want adjustability try Hoffman 1A's or Ventrite #1's; those along with adequate main air vents usually do a great job.



    My system is a lot smaller than yours (2 story, 6 rooms) and after getting everything worked out I burn about 350 gallons of oil a year. I'm a block off the ocean just south of Boston and the northeast wind can really snap around here.



    Post some pictures of your boiler and the piping around it so we can see what your dealing with and offer suggestions on what might need to be done



    Bob
    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • Paul48
    Paul48 Member Posts: 4,469
    Main Vents

    Should be near the end of the main(s). It should be a large vent, as you want to vent the mains quickly. You system has probably been "knuckle-headed" over the years, and they may have been removed when they failed. Look for a tee with a plug in it, or a tee with a capped nipple coming out of it.
  • JoshS
    JoshS Member Posts: 46
    edited March 2012
    I'll post pics tonight.

    I'll grab a few pictures tonight of the radiators, boiler, vents, mains, etc.



    The pressure gauge I'm relying on is in the same position as the one on your boiler that's under the Burham logo.  I'm going to trace the lines again and look for the main vents.



    Edit-  This is the vent that's on the radiators that ISN'T a varivalve-

    http://www.homedepot.com/buy/building-materials-heating-venting-cooling-hvac-parts-accessories/5-1-8-in-ips-angled-steam-radiator-vent-valve-172828.html
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,380
    Maid-o-Mist

    That looks like a maid-mist vent, if those have the different orifices included they should workout pretty good.



    Bob
    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • JoshS
    JoshS Member Posts: 46
    Pictures

    The boiler and main vent locations





    Boiler again-





    Pressuretrol





    One of the main vents





    The other main vent





    Capped off location





    Typical Radiator





    Varivalve-





    This one doesn't work- has a varivalve on the end-





    Typical valve





    Non working raditor-





    And the vent on the non-working rad

  • Paul48
    Paul48 Member Posts: 4,469
    I'll

    put this up, so you can see for yourself. I see a re-pipe of the near boiler pipes in your near future. http://www.comfort-calc.net/Steam_Piping_Donts.html
  • Rod
    Rod Posts: 2,067
    Boiler Piping

    Hi- I looked over your pictures and it appears that  your boiler piping is a bit wacky.

    The risers leading from the boiler to the header appose each other. This is very inefficient and causes wet steam, (See attached diagram)

    Not sure quite how the piping is configured. Could you tell us what each one is and where each one  leads and what it is connected to?  I've labelled all the pipes I can see including "G" which I suspect is a sewer pipe. (See attached picture)   Was is at the top of the pipe marked "A"?

    - Rod
  • Paul48
    Paul48 Member Posts: 4,469
    That

    is a system that was knuckle-headed, right from the installation. Hopefully you have one of the steam pros close to you. Once that system has been made proper, you'll be amazed at the comfort. And your bills will go down drastically.
  • JoshS
    JoshS Member Posts: 46
    edited March 2012
    Boiler Piping ID

    A-  Beginning (or end)  of loop that serves additional 5 rads on first floor- probably second and third floor too?



    B-  Kitchen Rad



    C-  Foyer Rad



    D-  Living Room (not working)



    E- Other side of loop for A



    F  Small 1-1/2" pipe-  return?  Drops off a main supply to kitchen



    G-  Sewer
  • JoshS
    JoshS Member Posts: 46
    So I need a guy...

    I was afraid of this... anybody know a good steam guy in Northeast PA?  I'm in Honesdale, near the Poconos.
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,380
    While your waiting

    That near boiler piping has to be corrected if you want the system to work well. You will probably have to live with it till spring so in the meantime read that book of Dan's and consider picking up a copy of 'The Lost Art of Steam Heating"; that has all the information you could ask for about steam systems and it's a very good read.



    While your trying to find a good local steam guy, lets try to figure out what the mains need for proper venting. The existing main vents look much too small, no point in paying the gas company to compress the air in your pipes. Measure the length and diameter of each steam main, the chart below should help with that chore. Once we know the volume of air in each main we will know what amount of venting you need. Make yourself a simple drawing that shows each main and the radiator leaders that come off it, note the length, size and slope (use a level) of the piping. This might enable you to see problems that are not apparent to the naked eye.



    Once the main venting is set we can figure out what should be done with the radiators. Any of the adjustable vents that don't seem to be venting can be boiled in vinegar for 20-30 minutes to try and clean them out, just make sure the system is shut down so the boiler doesn't start to make steam.



    have you checked that main gauge to see if it ever reads zero? It's probably just a bad gauge but you want to be sure the pressuretrol can see the actual boiler pressure. Does the system ever shutdown and then restart before the thermostat is satisfied?



    Also if the removed radiator pipes are all capped like the one in your photo, adding them back in is just a matter of determining what size you need and then buying radiators, valves and fittings.



    Bob
    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • JoshS
    JoshS Member Posts: 46
    choked out...

    So I guess the way mine is piped, water is choking out the steam supply to the radiators above?
  • JoshS
    JoshS Member Posts: 46
    Contractors.

    The guy they were using to maintain it is different than the guys that installed it.  I'm going to start with him, since there aren't any steam pros near me.



    Also, the pressure gauge never reads zero.  The picture I took was when it was 70 degrees outside, and the boiler had been dormant for about 12 hours.
  • Rod
    Rod Posts: 2,067
    edited March 2012
    Steam System

    Hi-  I think your best approach would be to do a survey your whole system. First determine what pipes are connected to which radiators.  I would then sketch out a drawing which shows the piping connections and the radiators.  I would also include the piping where the radiators are missing.   This sketch doesn't have to be blueprint quality just something so we can visualize and understand the system.  Bob has provided you with a piping chart. Measure the circumference of the piping as you survey it  and look on the chart to determine the pipe size.  When looking at steam pipes we also have to consider which direction the condensate flows so determine the slope of each steam pipe.  Does it flow towards or away from the boiler. If it flows away it then has to have a return pipes to get the condensate back to the boiler.  Also measure the length of the piping and put that on the sketch. The lengths can be an estimate in feet. It doesn't have to be exact.



    You may have problems finding a steam pro. Unfortunately there aren't  that many around. What you need to do is learn enough about steam heating to be able to determine whether the guy you are talking to really understands steam.  At first learning steam seems a bit daunting but it's really quite simple once you understand its "rules" After reading Dan's books you will have a much greater understanding of your system and what needs to be done to straighten it out.  Do you have a mechanical background and feel comfortable doing your own work like changing gauges etc?

    We'll need a sketch of the system and it would help to have more pictures of your boiler piping . Take the pictures farther back so the picture takes in all the piping. Also take the pictures from several angles around the boiler so we can trace where the piping leads.We can blow the pictures up if we need to see more detail.

    - Rod
  • JoshS
    JoshS Member Posts: 46
    Sketch

    Fortunately, I'm an architectural designer, so I can definitely provide a pretty good sketch.  I'll work on it soon.



    Also, I'm very mechanical and handy.  I'd like to understand the system in and out so I can work on it myself. 
  • Rod
    Rod Posts: 2,067
    EDR Sheet

    Great!  You should have no problems then. If you get to where you can understand how the  the system should be configured then its just a matter of getting someone that can do piping and who will work with you. They don't have to know steam, just how to measure and  thread pipe.

    I've attached a form which will help you figure out the EDR for each of your radiators. The term EDR, which stands for Equivalent

    Direct Radiation. In a steam- heating system, one square foot of EDR

    will put out 240 BTU/Hr.  If the boiler has been sized properly, it will match the total EDR of the system (the radiators)  The boiler is actually sized to the total EDR of the radiators plus a 33% "pickup factor". The "pickup factor" is an extra allowance  for the heat loss from the piping.

    - Rod

  • JeffM
    JeffM Member Posts: 179
    vent location on radiator

    That photo of the non-working radiator gives a clue. Note that the air vent is up at the top corner of the radiator - this isn't right. On a steam system, you want the vent to be lower down the radiator body, more like where it is on the photo of the black radiator you show. Incoming steam will rise to the top of the radiator and prematurely close an air vent that's located up top. Moving that air vent to a lower tapping may get more steam into that radiator.
  • The Wire Nut
    The Wire Nut Member Posts: 415
    Honesdale

    MrGrady,

    Sorry if I missed your name in the thread. Steamhead gave me a heads up on this thread. I'm not a plumber, but am pretty knowledgable in steam (thanks to everyone here!) and I have a house in Whites Valley, just north of the Red Schoolhouse on 670.

    I, too, have an old house whose steam system was a nightmare. It now purrs. Unfortunately I could not find any good "steam" guys in the area so I tackled it myself.

    I'd be happy to take a look at your system and help you come up with a list of things to have done, and maybe help you figure what you can do yourself, if you want.

    I'm only up on weekends (until the summer), and time is tight (my kids need to see me once and while!), but I'd be happy to figure out some time to pay a visit.

    Alex "the Wirenut" Marx aka "Stonehouse"...
    "Let me control you"

    Lost in SOHO NYC and Balmy Whites Valley PA
  • JoshS
    JoshS Member Posts: 46
    Making progress...

    So I read Dan's book (We've Got Steam Heat...) and have learned a lot already.  Great read.



    My main issues so far are the boiler piping mains (which was already mentioned here) and lack of insulation on piping.  They wrapped most of the mains in the basement with about less than a 1/2" of fiberglass batt.



    A new thermostat made a HUGE difference.  Turns out my old Honeywell was about 8 degrees off. :)
  • Rod
    Rod Posts: 2,067
    edited March 2012
    Insulation

    Hi- It sounds as though you have made a lot of progress.  On insulation - Here is a post that one of the members of the Wall, "Crash" did on insulation

     http://www.heatinghelp.com/forum-thread/137178/Insulation  

     that may be of help to you.  Take a look at the graph by David Nadle  on Insulation.  It shows that insulation of 1 inch thickness is about the minimum and also about "the best bang for the buck" expense wise.

        You might post some more pictures of your boiler piping taken from different angles so we can get a better idea of your piping. Once you have finished "We Got Steam Heat!" you might want to read "The Lost Art of Steam Heating" as it goes into the configuration rules and "whys" of piping layouts. "Greening Steam" is another very useful book.

        Your main gauge has an interesting calibration which raised my curiosity.  What is the make and model # ? (if you have it)  Most of us also use a 0-3 PSI gauge which is available from the Gauge Store  http://www.gaugestore.com/prodinfo.asp?number=33020

    and you will also need a working 0-30 PSI gauge as it is required by insurance /code.

    These are available from Pex Supply  

    http://www.pexsupply.com/Burnham-100325-01-Steam-Pressure-Gauge-for-IN-INPV-Boilers

    Pex Supply is also a good source for other steam parts like radiator vents etc.

    - Rod
  • JoshS
    JoshS Member Posts: 46
    Stonehouse...

    I completely missed your offer to come look at my system until today!!



    If you see this, please feel free to contact me.  I'd love for somebody else to take a look at it, especially somebody that knows more than I.
  • Rod
    Rod Posts: 2,067
    Try Email

    Hi- You might want to go to Stonehouse's post and click on his name. That will lead you to a page where you can email him directly.  As it is the end of the "heating season", a lot people aren't following the Wall as close as in mid December so Stone House might not see your reply.

    - Rod
  • JoshS
    JoshS Member Posts: 46
    Much better again!

    I got in contact with Stonehouse.... we're going to get in touch in the near future to take a look at the system.



    I still have yet to map out my piping... been pretty busy with rewiring some knob and tube circuits.



    I DID, however, finish one of Dan's books.  Great stuff!!  It got me to finally look at my pressuretrol.  It was at 1.5lbs cut in with a +1 differential (I sound like a pro now!!)  I dropped it down to a .5lb cut in... what a difference!!  The radiator  valves aren't as noisy, the heat is more constant (a 'glow' if you will), the radiators are heating evenly, the boiler runs quieter (no gurgling), and the little pipe noise there was when the boiler kicked on is gone too.



    I'll still be investigation my piping issues, but the pressuretrol adjustment has been the biggest change yet.
  • Paul48
    Paul48 Member Posts: 4,469
    When

    my wife and I were house hunting, we looked at a beautiful victorian.The realtor was showing us the basement, when I looked up and saw old knob and tube, so I said to him," this isn't live, is it"? He responded by reaching up and grabbing it, while saying it's all been disconnected. Needless to say, it wasn't, and he got rocked pretty good.
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