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First Timer

This is my first post to this site, and the first time I've owned a house with a steam system. I spent a fair amount of time over the summer cleaning, disassembling, and reassembling various parts of the system and I'm learning more and more everyday. I can't stress enough how great this site has been for me. Just simply browsing and reading articles has expanded my understanding greatly.So first things first, a little background, then my problem.The house is 110 year old 3 story brick home. The steam heat is original to the house, originally being coal, then oil, now natural gas. I currently have a large American Standard system. I'm not sure of the age though I can probably find it on a label, or the owners manual (yes the previous owner kept it). Before we bought the house it sat empty for five years. Very little was done to the system over that time. Someone stopped by once a month to check on the house and would fill if needed, but that's about it. Before that, the lady that owned it set the thermostat to 85, and left it there year round. The house was never cooler than 85 degrees for 22 years. However, the system seems to still run great.I am having a problem with the condensate though. The problem has been happening since the start of heating season here, so I am assuming it has been like this for awhile. Problem is this. Radiators only get half hot. Attach a vent tot he 1/8" return, air rushes out, valve shuts off, radiator gets fully hot as expected. So, this tells me the lack of heat is a condensate problem.Down to the basement we go. All the condensate lines eventually terminate at the same point, a cast iron T (B). Condensate line comes in from the left, air vent on top (A) pipe back to wet return on the bottom. I have labeled each item on the attached picture. On the way down to the return, there is a tank with a concave shaped bottom (C). This tank has a single line in the top and a single line out the bottom, then heads to some other contraption (D). I am guessing that thing is to separate sediment from the return water. It looks like the inlet and outlet are in different orientations top to bottom so only water passes between and solids fall to the bottom where that capped pipe sticks out the bottom. Finally, we head down to a valve (E) which I assume is there because we are now below the water line and to service the stuff above you might need to close it? The water then flows back to the boiler via the wet return (F) which is pitched properly now.So the problem is that condensate water is collecting at the top of all this mess. The water is either clogged somewhere between F and B, or the condensate is rushing back to the system faster than the system can recover and accept it. either way, the vent fills up, and the last few radiators spew water out the temporary air vents because the condensate lines are full.What I really want to know is, do I really need the tank and other gadget, or can I just rip is all out and pipe directly from the vent to the wet return? If the tank has a problem, or that other gadget has a problem, fixing them is going to be almost impossible. They used thread compound on everything, and replacing or getting parts is going to be tricky at best. What I'd like to do is take it all out and plumb straight down to the return. Does anyone see a problem doing this? Will there we enough pressure balance for the condensate to drain into the return properly, or will the water pressure from the return shoot up and out the air vent?


  • Tim_HodgsonTim_Hodgson Member Posts: 59
    All good questions,

    but not so simple to answer. Are the radiators 1 pipe or 2 pipe? What is the pressure control cut out and cut in settings? What is the water level doing in the sight glass as the system comes up to pressure? How many inches is "B" above the normal water line? Is there a vent on the "F" pipe (somewhere to the right ) and at what elevation above the boiler?

    Good Luck,

    Timothy Hodgson
  • MDNLansingMDNLansing Member Posts: 297
    More Info

    2 pipe radiators. Condensate lines are 1/8" at the rad then 1/2" in the basement all running to this point.

    Pressure cuts in at 1 and out at 2. It's a Detroit Pressuretrol and 1-2 is the lowest you can set it.

    Water in sight glass fluctuates up and down about 3/8" while running. and drops maybe 1/2" once everything is hot and steam is flowing. Returns to the exact same spot once it cools down.

    B is about 4 feet above the water line.

    There is no vent on that return line. It runs 12" off the floor along the wall for a total of about 30 feet then enters straight into the boiler. Just before the boiler there is a T. One port is the pipe, one port enters the boiler, the third port has a valve you can connect a hose to for draining. The hose is what you see coiled up between the boiler and the wall.

    My memory of college physics tells me that if I extend that 1 1/2" return running along the wall up higher than the water level, the water pressure should stay equal in that pipe. Reducing it to the 1/2" pipe that is there could cause pressure issues sending water up to the vent.

    I can hear water in the rads when things cool down so I think its draining back down the steam pipes. My theory here is that since the system sat barely used at 45 degrees for 5 years, now that I've fired it up that tank and other thing is full of sludge and muck. I think the system is cleaning itself out and has maxed the capacity of those devices, hence plugging up and preventing the condensate from returning normally.

    If i were to extend the 1 1/2" return up to higher than the water level, then brought the condensate return pipe down into it, would the water levels stay equal and balanced and drain the condensate back into the boiler?
  • vaporvacvaporvac Member Posts: 1,512
    closer pics/name on tank?

    Hi.! Any chance you could grab a name off that tank and get some more pics? It looks remarkably similar to my Trane vaporvacuum pot with some differences, although you state your system is AR. Does that refer to the boiler/rads or the boiler? What exactly does the original lit say? If that is for a vaporvac Trane system, that pot isn't something you want to take off. Your system won't work as intended.

    I'm not sure if I'm reading your problem it that your rads only heat half-way?If so, this is normal in the swing seasons before very cold weather. I still might devise a way to clean your wet returns and the boiler itself before i messed with any of the original piping. It clearly worked for many years and now may just need a good and thorough skimming, cleaning, etc. What steps did you take before bringing her back online?

    Any chance of pics of the boiler and its piping?
    Two-pipe Trane vaporvacuum system; 1466 edr
    Twinned, staged Slantfin TR50s piped into 4" header with Riello G400 burners; 240K lead, 200K lag Btus. Controlled by Taco Relay and Honeywell RTH6580WF
  • MDNLansingMDNLansing Member Posts: 297
    More to come soon

    I just took a bunch of pictures of the entire system and I will sort / post them soon.

    There is no noticeable name on the bullet shaped tank, however there is a vertical line of rivets from top to bottom (can't see them in the pictures because its on the wall side of the tank).

    I will also get the manual out and read / pull any info I can from it. Now that you mention vac, yesterday was our first real cold night and I noticed in the morning after it had run for several long cycles the pressure turned to vacuum on the gauge as it was cooling. The tstat stopped calling for heat and after 15 or 20 mins the gauge read about -10 PSI.

    As for the problem I am having, the rads only half heat. so a 9 fin rad might have 4 hot fins one warm fin and 4 cold fins. More on that to come with the pics...
  • SteamheadSteamhead Member Posts: 11,378
    edited October 2013
    That's a new one on me

    can't wait for more info- you may have discovered a previously-unknown air-line system!
    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.
  • MDNLansingMDNLansing Member Posts: 297
    Have a look

    Here are the pictures of the system. My main problem is that several radiators aren't fully heating. However, after reading some more about vacuum configurations, it seems that might be normal when the weather is transitioning. I assume the system needs to run more frequently and hotter to be able to know if there is a problem or not?

    The original manual is for the boiler itself. Although it is the manual and the installation guide, its only the install guide for the boiler itself. It has no mention of piping the system. So, I'm unsure if this is a vapor vacuum system like you mentioned or not. I do know I have seen 10 psi of vacuum on the gauge after it ran for a few cycles and got nice and hot. 4 radiators were still only half hot though.
  • nicholas bonham-carternicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 6,540
    American standard+ vacuum system

    It looks like a Paul system, with the connections to the basement from the radiator vents. There should be a description of the Paul system in the literature section here. How long will the vacuum persist? When it achieved the vacuum, do all the radiators seem to heat to the same degree (all 50% )?

    If some are heating all the way across, and not others, then there could be a partial water lock in one of the pipes due to a sag, or some malfunction of the Paul vent (still sold by Hoffman ).--NBC
  • MDNLansingMDNLansing Member Posts: 297
    Had a suggestion

    It built about 10 psi of vacuum and an hour later, when i had to leave for work, it still had 7 pounds left. I'm not sure how long because I had to leave but i would guess a few hours. I will monitor and time it this weekend while I am home and post back.

    Someone suggested that I remove the plug on the vent lines and blow into the pipe side (not the rad side) with a piece of flexible tubing. This should give me an idea if the lines are plugged or full of water. most of the radiators heat up all the way, only 3 have problems. Since that vent exits the rad 2/3 the way up i'd guess those lines have to be free flowing to vent the steam back.

    However, what got my thinking about removing that whole tank system in the first place is that on occasion water collects up around the vacuum vent. I will hear it gurgle, then it will spit water and close. If i let the system cool a little and remove the vent, i get about a gallon of water that pours out of the pipe.

    I think I'm going to try blowing in the lines to check them out, then replace that hand valve near the wet return. It's possible that valve is clogged and corroded and not letting water through fast enough.
  • vaporvacvaporvac Member Posts: 1,512
    edited October 2013
    rad pitch?

    Maybe you could clear out that wet return at the same time and check out the pitch on the porblem radiators. as wekk as any visible return piping. I didn't catch what exactly you've done thus far to this system...anything in terms of cleaning skimming the boiler or new pipes that might have introduced contaminants. Also, is your vacuum in lbs or inches? etc? I have a Trane, but now I'm goinging to read up on Paul. These were the Cadillac of steam and were designed to give the softest, gentlest and most controllable heat.

    also, be sure to investigate NBC's suggestion of a bad vent. ..air in the rads could of course lead to a cold one. What's amazing is that they still make this vent!

    Here's one link to the Paul system:
    Two-pipe Trane vaporvacuum system; 1466 edr
    Twinned, staged Slantfin TR50s piped into 4" header with Riello G400 burners; 240K lead, 200K lag Btus. Controlled by Taco Relay and Honeywell RTH6580WF
  • SWEISWEI Member Posts: 7,356
    No boiler header

    assuming the system has been operating well, that boiler must have a huge steam chest.
  • MDNLansingMDNLansing Member Posts: 297
    Time for a lift

    That vent I have is actually the Hoffman #76 Vent Vacuum. In reading the specs I see that it needs to be installed 6 - 10 inches above the horizontal returns. Right now its only 3 inches above it, and coincidentally floods with about 2 inches of water. I'm going down to raise it right now and get it as close to 10 inches as I can.
  • SteamheadSteamhead Member Posts: 11,378
    edited October 2013
    That's probably an Eddy system

    I've seen those vents before somewhere, can't remember where now.

    Look closely at the device in the pipe below the main vent and tank- does it have a name on it?
    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.
  • MDNLansingMDNLansing Member Posts: 297
    Sure Is

    The water return valve says Eddy on it, the tank is unmark but I believe eddy made it as well. The port on the radiators are Eddy as well. They are called "retarders" because they only have a small pin hole to allow the air to escape.

    I've decided to restore all the parts. I've taken off the tank and water return valve and just piped the returns straight to the were return so I can restore the parts. They are obviously the reason for the vacuum because i now have none. I'll post pics and updates along the way, should't take me more than a few days depending on how many parts i have to make myself.
  • MDNLansingMDNLansing Member Posts: 297
    A Question Already

    If you look at the cross section of that water return valve you can see a ball with a weight on it that caps that pipe until water enters the body, then it floats up and lets the water into the other chamber. This float prevents steam from passing and only opens with water.

    The ball in my assembly is shot. It seems to be a rubber material but it is lodged into the cap and dry rotted. Anyone know what I can replace this float with? I was thinking about using a vending machine bouncy ball or something similar, but I'm not sure how it will hold up over time in the heated water and steam environment. Does anyone know if I can buy some type of replacement for this of am I improvising here?
  • RodRod Posts: 2,067
    Replacement Ball

    Hi- You might try Mc Master Carr  They carry balls of many sizes and types.

    - Rod
  • BobCBobC Member Posts: 4,441
    What size

    They are a great company to deal with and the products they offer are seemingly limitless.

    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • MDNLansingMDNLansing Member Posts: 297
    Wow, what a site

    Thanks for the link guys. I was able to shave off the hardened rubber with a razor blade and discover the inside of the ball is still soft rubber that still floats. For now, it will work sealing off each side of the valve, but I'll order a few new ones and replace it.

    I've got the valve all cleaned out and working great. It was certainly where my problem was. Because the ball had expanded and gotten stuck it was blocking the exit port on the drain side of the valve. Hence, no water was passing through it and the returns were backing up in the vent. With that problem solved, the mains and return are venting fast, and the radiators are as well. In fact, now its time to balance.

    I turned the tstat up from 69 to 70. The system fired and ran one cycle cutting out at the high limit. It cut in at the low limit and ran about half the cycle before the tstat was satisfied and shut it down. It then draw 12 psi of vacuum and with the steam continuing to cycle through the rads even with the system off, the temp rose to 74 degrees. That 12 pounds of vacuum utilized over bit of heat and stem the system had to offer. I'm either going to have to figure out a balance using the radiator valves, or buy an expensive Honeywell that can handle all that residual heat, either automatically, ore preferably one I can configure.

    Which leads me to my next question. Are there any thermostats out there people would recommend to help me with this? What I would like is to be able to set the temp at which it kicks in, then either set the shut off temp (even if its not satisfied) or set a run time so it shuts off after say 3 mins. I know Honeywell makes some nice units that sense outside temp and adjust your settings based on how cold it is, but I have no experience with high end thermostats like this. Any Ideas?
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