Click here to Find a Contractor in your area.
Welcome! Here are the website rules, as well as some tips for using this forum.
Need to contact us? Visit https://heatinghelp.com/contact-us/.

Newbie Homeowner with half-working one-pipe steam radiators

donde
donde Member Posts: 8
Hello all. I am a new owner of a 100+ year old house with steam radiators. My problem is that for our 2 floor home (and a basement), our upstairs radiators seem to work just fine while none of our 1st floor radiators fully heat up. This is a big problem for us considering that the house is not properly insulated (we are working on it).



Some details:

- I have attached a photo of the type of radiator we have in most of our rooms throughout the house

- the first floor

**radiator in the foyer (which only heats up half way at most every time)

**the living room (this one has heated up fully before but maybe once or twice and only after I removed the air valve for some time)

**the half bath (there is a radiator in the wall that seems to work fine but I have not physically checked since it is behind a metal panel)

**the kitchen (half the size of all the others and only heats up half way max every time)

**dining room (same as the others in that it only heats up half way every time)

- the second floor

**radiator in every bedroom/bathroom and all the same size as in the picture (all give more than enough heat)

- I have removed the air valves on the first floor radiators and for a couple of them, it appeared to work for moment, but then the next time the heat came on the radiators were not fully heating again



Beyond what I listed above, I am not sure what else may be needed to help. If you need specific pictures of things, let me know and I can post them as needed.



Thank you in advance for any assistance as needed.

Comments

  • Charlie from wmass
    Charlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,195
    answer with questions

    Often it is a venting issue if the boiler has run fine in the past and the problem is a new one. How old is the boiler and what is the fuel source? a photo of theboiler may help even more then a picture of the radiators.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/charles-garrity-plumbing-and-heating
  • Mark N
    Mark N Member Posts: 1,090
    Balance

    With steam heat it is not unusual for the radiators not to heat all the way across. But the radiators should heat all the same. If the air venting is balanced all the rads should be say heated half way across at the same time. I suggest the you pick up a copy of "We Got Steam Heat" from the shop here on this site. Also check out steam under the systems tab at the top of this page.
  • donde
    donde Member Posts: 8
    .

    I have attached pictures I had of the water heater and the gas burner. When we bought the house the water heater was new and the gas burner was refurbished.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 17,049
    Sounds very much

    like a venting/balancing problem indeed.  Particularly if the system is quiet -- no banging or things like that.



    First, are there any main vents on the steam mains in the basement?  If not, there should be.  That will help a lot.



    Second, what pressure is the system set to cut out at?  It should cut out at 2 psi or less.  If it's more than that, there's no point in trying to fix the venting until that is adjusted, so get that straight.



    Third, now that you have main vents and a reasonable pressure, try putting slower vents on the radiators that heat fastest.  There are a number of good brands, and they come in various sizes (various folks seem to like various brands; Maid-o-Mist, Gorton, Hoffman all come to mind).
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • donde
    donde Member Posts: 8
    There is banging

    I forgot to mention that there is banging when the system starts heating up. The banging is always for a short time, but sometimes the banging gets so hard that the house seems to shake.



    Could you explain what the "main vents" are? I am completely new to this. Also, all the radiators have air valves on them. When you say that slower vents may need to be placed on the faster heating radiators, do you mean we should replace the air valves?



    Lastly, where would I find on my water heater what the water pressure is for the cut out (or cut-in)? I read on the this site how the water in the tanks going out should be clear, but I do not know how to check this. Like I said, I am completely new to this, but I want to try to learn it all so I can be good for the future.



    Thank you again for all the assistance.
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,228
    Noise and venting

    Water hammer (banging) usually occurs when steam encounters water sitting in a pipe, the steam collapses by about 1700:1 and that is the noise you hear. Check all of your horizontal pipe with a level to make sure it all has some pitch back towards the boiler so water will find it's way back to the boiler. Also sight along any long piping runs to make sure there isn't a sag as the pipe rgoes along.



    Steam cannot enter a pipe till the air leaves, it is important that all the air in a steam main finds it's way out quickly. Towards the end of the main or maybe on the returns you should have an air valve (usually silver, copper, or green in color) that is supposed to stay open till steam hits it. You want all that air out of the main in a couple of minutes, the longer it takes the more fuel you burn. Main vents are usually sized so they can let all the air out quickly, sometimes groups of vents are used to get the required capacity. While you want a main air valve to vent fast you usually want the radiators to vent more slowly, the idea is for steam to be available to all the radiators at about the same time and for the radiators to vent slowly and evenly - that gives you quiet even heat.



    The boiler should be operating at no more than 2 PSI and hopefully less. High pressure causes a lot of problems.



    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
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 17,049
    To which I would add...

    on the blue Kenmore unit -- which is your boiler -- there is a grey box just above the water gauge glass on the front.  That's the pressuretrol, which controls the maximum pressure the boiler will produce.  There is a scale on it (I can't read it in the picture); if it is set higher than 2, try setting it to between 1.5 and 2.  For starters.



    The white unit -- your domestic hot water heater -- isn't part of the heating game at all.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • donde
    donde Member Posts: 8
    Found it, but have not touched it

    I attached more photos of the boiler. I took a look at the scale that, as was suggested, and it looked to be a little under 2. I am not sure how I would even go about adjusting. I see the two knobs and the transparent water tube between them but I do not want to touch/turn the wrong thing.



    Also, is the water in the tube supposed to be that color? It looks a little dirty to me, but it could also be the tube itself since I did not touch anything. Lastly, are all boilers wired as mine is? There seems to be wires going all over the place and no organization to it.



    Thank you again to everyone for all the assistance and Happy New Year!
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,228
    No pressure gauge?

    I don't see any pressure gauge in your pictures and that makes hard to know what might be going on inside the boiler - you really should have a gauge. However if you loosen the screw on the front of the grey pressuretrol you will see a white wheel, that wheel should be set to one. That should let the boiler run at a maximum pressure of 1.5 to 2 PSI which is about as good as possible with your setup.



    The wiring is sloppy and that is all to common, they are required to run it in flexible metal conduit where I am. The water looks a little rusty and that is not uncommon, does that water bounce around a lot when the boiler is making steam?



    Have you found anything on your steam mains that looks like it might be a main vent? Try to take a picture from further back so we can see the boiler and all the piping around it in one shot so we can see how it's configured.



    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
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 17,049
    The pressuretrol

    is set at 4 -- too high.



    The wiring isn't much messier than a lot I've seen, and the water in the tube isn't bad.



    However, in view of your uncertainty about playing with this stuff (for which I do not blame you in the least!) may I suggest that you see if you can find one of the really fine steam contractors who are on The Wall and who are in your area?  You can search under "find a contractor" (search by state, though, not by zip) and see who might be available.  Or you could just tell us where you are, and we may be able to suggest someone.



    Have him or her come over to look over your system, and perhaps make some adjustments and recommendations, and then help you understand how things work and why they are there.  All the folks I've met on The Wall have been really helpful.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • donde
    donde Member Posts: 8
    Not sure on the main vent

    I took more photos (attached) to see if it helps any. I was unable to tell if the wheel was set to 2 since there was no marking outside of the number visible on the wheel. The heat was not on at the time of the photo so I cannot say if the water bounces when the furnace is running.



    Hopefully the more encompassing photos can help give a better idea.



    Thank you again for the assistance.
  • donde
    donde Member Posts: 8
    Live in the Bronx, NYC

    I took a look at the contractor list before but it was by zipcode. I will try again using NY state. I would still appreciate any recommendations anyone has out there.



    How could you tell the gauge was set at 4? All I see is the level at 2.



    Thank you again for the assistance.
  • Dean_7
    Dean_7 Member Posts: 192
    Steam systems

    As a homeowner with a one pipe steam heat system ( that originally didn't function very well) I bought both We Got Steam Heat and The Lost Art of Steam Heating. Plus I bought EDR (Every Darn Radiator) later. If you really want to understand your system that's the way to go. There are two more books Greening Steam and A Pocketful of Steam Problems. As far as I am concerned as a homeowner if you buy and read these books since you do have a one pipe steam system you will educate yourself and enable yourself to talk to contractors you might need intellegently. You will also end up knowing a lot more about steam heat than unfortunately far too many contractors out there.
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,228
    White wheel

    Turn that white wheel down to one, it looks like you are set too high right now - steam works best at low pressure. Look to see if there is a spot near the end of the main that you could mount some main venting and tell us how long the main is and what size pipe.



    The boiler piping looks like it could be done better, what make and model is it and do you have the install manual for it? If you do have the manual comparte the piping diagram with what you have now.



    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
  • donde
    donde Member Posts: 8
    Lowered the white wheel

    So I lowered the white wheel, but I am not sure if anything has changed just yet. I have a Kenmore Steam Boiler (Model# 229960360). I attached the manual that I found online for it. According to the diagrams I read in it, and looking at my pipe setup (check the pictures I uploaded earlier), I think everything is connected correctly. Anyone else is welcome to take a look and tell me if I am wrong.



    I am still not sure what part is the "main" nor how long it is or what the size of the pipe is. I need more information to be able to post that.



    Happy New Year! Thank you so far for all the help.
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,228
    edited January 2014
    I see two issues

    If you are only going to use a single boiler takeoff the feed to the steam main should be between the boiler outlet and the equalizer, yours is after the equalizer. There should have two takeoffs from the boiler header to feed the mains. The way it is now I can see a problem getting the two mains to heat evenly. If the mains venting were just right it might work but I don't know if it would heat evenly.



    It would also have been best if both boiler takeoffs had been used; depending on the output of that boiler a single output might not be optimal.



    Lets see if the lowered operating pressure helps and do look for a location where main vents can be installed.



    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
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 14,837
    Another piping issue

    it looks like the steam piping coming off the boiler is too small. This boiler was made by Dunkirk (as have all Sears boilers for decades) and (here we go again) it looks like they reduced the 2-1/2" piping to 2" at the steam outlet. It's right there in the manual- they don't want you reducing the pipe. You will probably find a reducing bushing where the pipe leaves the boiler, and if I'm right, it proves once again that you can't fix stupid.



    Dunkirk gas-fired steamers are very sensitive to improper piping. If the pipe is too small, the steam leaving the boiler will pull water along with it, which can cause banging and high fuel consumption. We've had to repipe a bunch of Dunkirks- it was the only way to make them run properly. I like to increase the header size on the larger models in this series to 3-inch, as this does an even better job of "drying out" the steam.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
  • donde
    donde Member Posts: 8
    Recommendations

    Thank you everyone for the help given so far. From what I read about there possibly needing to me some pipe reworking done on the boiler, I think it may be finally time to get someone to come out and at least give us an estimate on everything.



    Outside of whoever I may find on the contractor listings I may find on this site, anyone have anyone in particular they may want to recommend? We live in the Wakefield area of the Bronx in NYC.



    Thank you again to everyone for helping me out.