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Am I dealing with a knucklehead?

We have a 4300 sq. ft. 3 story house. I *think* we have a two-pipe system on the first floor and a one-pipe system on the upper two.

Last year, we had the burner converted from oil to natural gas, and no problems all winter. The tank connected to the automatic water feeder pump was leaking and we replaced it. Everything worked great and no major water hammer or other issues.

This season, the water hammer is absolutely cataclysmic and two of the radiators aren't working properly (one not at all.) We had a very small hole in one pipe which was leaking onto the basement floor. I had the contractor out to fix this and clean the unit and told him about the issues. He tried opening the supply valves further on the two that weren't working and suggested partially closing them on other radiators to "push the steam" to the ones that weren't working. That's when I started to worry that he might not know what he's doing.

I am attaching several pictures of our boiler piping, etc. I have spent quite a bit of time looking around in the basement and I can't find a main vent. One picture is of the only thing I could find that looked like it *should* be the vent, but it is capped. The contractor said it looked like a radiator had been moved and that is why it is capped. I think he said some systems don't have a main air vent?

I also wonder about our pressuretrol situation. We seem to have two? The Honeywell looks like it has had one of the scales removed. We also have a round gauge that gives the pressure, and it has been found with the needle pegged on the wrong side of the peg that holds it near 0. The contractor thought this gauge is sticky and would replace it next time he came out.

I have cleaned out all the air vents on the radiators, and all supply valves seem to be open. I flush the low-water cutoff (we have two) every day or so. The steam seems wet.

There were no contractors listed on this site who work in our area, which is northern Delaware near Philadelphia.

Thanks in advance for any help you can give.


  • RodRod Posts: 2,067
    edited November 2013
    Steam Pro

    Hi- There is a really expert steam pro, Frank Wilsey, who works out of Baltimore and is listed in the Find A Contractor section of this website.  He's fairly close by to you so I would suggest you contact him and see if he would take a look at your system. There are few people that understand and can tune these old steam systems better than he does!  He's a member of this website and writes under the nickname "Steamhead". You've probably read some of his posts.

    Here's his contact info:

    Frank Wilsey

    [email protected]

     Phone 410-321-8116

    You mentioned that you needed a steam pressure gauge. If you don't having a heating supply locally, you can get a gauge at Pex Supply on the internet.  Type in  " 100325-01 "  in the search box and that should take you right to it.

    - Rod
  • MDNLansingMDNLansing Member Posts: 297

    Could you post a picture of a first floor radiator and a second floor radiator as well? When the boiler is running do you hear air escaping from anywhere in the basement? It would sound like a hissing noise, exactly what you would expect air venting to sound like.
  • Something changed causing water hammer

    What may have changed might be the pressure of the system, due to a clogged pigtail. Since you will be putting on a new gauge anyway, why not make it a 0-3 psi (gauge, so you can see what is happening.

    Ask the plumber how the air is getting out of the system. The 2-pipe part has traps, and some sort of an open pipe or main vent to let the air out. When the pressure gets out of control, these vents stop working, and can cause the symptoms you describe.--NBC
  • QueenAnneVictorianQueenAnneVictorian Member Posts: 15
    edited November 2013
    Thank you!

    I will be in touch with Frank. I don't think I even have enough knowledge to be dangerous. :-)

    I did take pictures of the radiators, though. I have never heard hissing in the basement when the boiler is running.
  • MDNLansingMDNLansing Member Posts: 297
    You Got It

    I think calling a pro is a good idea here. It looks like you might have a two pipe system that has been modified to run as a single pipe or hybrid system. If you don't feel comfortable getting waist deep in the system a pro will certainly be the best bet. It's the wrong time of year to experiment on it. Plus, any pro recommended by the guys on here will be honest and knowledgeable. You just need to find out what changed over the summer and I'm sure that won't be a problem for anyone running through this website.
  • SteamheadSteamhead Member Posts: 11,373
    I just replied

    to QAV's e-mail. Thanks all!
    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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