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Need competent steam service in St. Louis!


So, I'm a DIY kind of homeowner and picked up Dan's book - The Lost Art of Steam Heating. Great read, filled my head with possible sources of problems with my system. But, when standing in my basement, staring at the Burnham and various pipes, I realize, this is probably out of my league. I need someone knowledgable here in St. Louis.

Bought the house summer 2011. Last winter was mild and system worked fine. I called a local heating company to do a checkup before this winter and the problems really took off. He flushed out the boiler - saw him getting sludge out of a couple small fittings and spent 2 hours down there. But then the leaks started. Lots of water coming from one radiator on first floor - appears to be from between 2 coils, rather than any valve.

Lots of noise on warmup. I guess that's watter hammer.

I closed the valve to the leaky radiator and started a nice fountain in the basement from the supply line to that radiator (it's a one-pipe system). The exact source of leak is hard to tell, as it is soaking through all the asbestos insulation. Oh, and it's about 1.5 gallons or more a day.

I noticed gauge reading 10 psi. I turned the pressuretrol down to about 2. Didn't fix the problem. Water seems to be bouncing a bit in the glass.

Looking at the boiler, the piping doesn't look as pretty as Dan's diagrams in the book. One riser. The header appears to be at least 24 inches up from water line.

Anyhoo. I can post photos if it would help. Though I'm thinking I need an expert to come to the rescue.  I have some plumbing experience - ran new copper water lines through my old house myself to replace dead galvanized. But this is looking beyond my ability.



Fritz Faerber


  • BobCBobC Member Posts: 4,406
    Plugged pigtail

    Was the pressuretrol set to 10PSI and then you turned it down or did you try and turn it down and no change in operation occurred?

    You may have a blockage in the pigtail under the pressuretrol that is preventing the pressuretrol from seeing the true boiler pressure. You might want to shut the boiler down and cut the power at the circuit breaker and remove that pressuretrol to make sure that pipe is clear.

    Please post pictures of the boiler and the piping around it so we can see what your dealing with.

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

    Pressuretrol was set really high - gauge was reading 10 psi. I turned it

    down and when system running these days, gauge seems to be around 2-3


    Will check the pigtail. Also, will take some photos to

    upload. Should I just photograph the boiler and near pipes or try and

    follow the whole rube goldberg piping around basement?

    I am running an ancient heatpump to keep house warm enough now, so steam system is off.

    The water in the glass has a rusty film.


  • nicholas bonham-carternicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 6,535
    System worse after servicing

    Was some sort of "plumber-in-a-can" chemical added to the water, by the serviceman? If so, then drain and refill to remove it.

    You could ask around the supply houses (or boiler distributor) for the name of a retired steam man, who could guide you in a step by step evaluation/correction of the system.

    While you are checking the pigtail, see if there is room for a 0-3 psi gauge in addition to the standard one, so you can see what your pressure is in ounces. When time comes to evaluate your main (not radiator) venting, the gauge will show you how ,uh main venting needs to be added.

    Pictures are essential for diagnosis.

    The leaking pipe would indicate a possible sag from which water never drains, and when you replace that section, you may have to repitch it. --NBC
  • Here is the beaut - in all its glory

    Hope these pictures capture the essence...

    Not sure how to rotate the pix so the two vertical ones are the right side up.

    And no plumber in a can added. There were no known leaks when he cleaned system (he also cleaned out the pigtail then). I just had a pre-emptive Fall servicing to check out the system.

    I've read the advice column on how to clean out return. However, I am not sure how to actually disconnect the return to see if it's gummed up. I haven't worked with steel pipes like this. I DID cut out an entire deteriorated galvanized water supply system in a 1920s house and replace with copper a few years ago. But, I'm assuming all these joints are corroded together and impossible to take apart...
  • nicholas bonham-carternicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 6,535
    a turn for the worse

    I had problems with our new pressuretrol [supplied with the new boiler]. when I turned the cut-out pressure as low as it would go, the internal linkage became disconnected, and the pressure soared to 10 psi on an early test run!

    maybe your serviceman had the same problem with his servicing of your boiler.

    now will be a good time to draw out a diagram of the piping, and feel for the epicenter of any water-hammer areas.--nbc
  • Anyone see obvious failings with the pipes in those pix?

    Advice greatly appreciated.

    Spring seems to have finally sprung. I want to get on this before other more pressing issues delay me and suddenly it's November and I haven't made any headway....


  • nicholas bonham-carternicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 6,535
    Rectifying the boiler

    Download the piping diagram required for you boiler, and I think you will see some changes which have to be made, including insulation, after you have made the needed changes.--NBC
  • SteamheadSteamhead Member Posts: 11,321
    Piping is all wrong

    There is no header or equalizer, and the two dry returns are connected above the waterline. It will have to be repiped to work properly.

    And the main vents are probably too small- measure the length and diameter of your steam mains and we'll tell you for sure.
    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.
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