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Big problem with even heat distribution, please please help!


I submitted this in the wrong forum and I am now resubmitting it here including images. I live in a building with steam heat.


I live in an old apartment building roughly 110 years old. It has four unit lines, apartments A, B, C & D. We get our heat from an oil burner and most apartment have risers and old style cast iron radiators, all with air vents on them. Our boiler is quite new, purchased 2007 but we have severe problems with heat distribution. The apartments/units in the B line gets about 10-15 degrees LESS than all other units. Please note, we are the line the furthest away from the boiler. In order for us to get the bare minimum of heat (68 degrees) the other units get heated up to about 85 degrees. What can cause this? I am far from an expert in this area, really, I am just a tenant who observes what is going on. Could their be some sort of blockage in our pipes/riser? Do we need to ensure that all units have the correct size air vent on their risers/radiators? Should all tenants keep their valves open at all time? If I ever close my valve my radiator quickly fills with water and starts leaking. Throughout the winter we have had endless leaks from radiators in the homes of tenants that closes their valves, this has cause severe damage to numerous apartments together with high costs for the building. The building has 6 floors and 6 units in each line, 4 units on each floor. I am on the top floor of the line who gets very little heat, the B line. We have spent lot of time and money trying to figure out what the problem is, a plumber told me to get bigger radiators, I do not want to get bigger radiators because when we are above 30 degrees ALL apartments over heat and my bedroom becomes 88 degrees warm, with a bigger radiator I might reach close to 90. At the same time I am unable to shut my radiator off since it immediately starts collecting water and leaks. The conditions are almost unlivable and I am desperately looking for guidance and advice. Any help would be truly appreciated and I would not be able to thank you enough.


  • Eastman
    Eastman Member Posts: 927
    can you

    take a photo of the radiator, i think that would help people here determine the type of steam distribution employed
  • millispillis
    millispillis Member Posts: 11
    Added Images of Radiator as well as one of the risers in my apt

    Please find the added pictures.
  • Eastman
    Eastman Member Posts: 927

    it looks like the riser is capped and ends before the ceiling --am i seeing that correctly

    do you know when these problems began
  • millispillis
    millispillis Member Posts: 11
    Capped risers

    Dear Mr. Eastman,

    Many thanks again for your time and attempts to help me. Yes, indeed, the riser in the image is capped, it is in the living room. Then I have 3 more risers, one in the kitchen, bathroom and office, none of these risers are capped and I am assuming they go through my ceiling up to the roof (since I am on the top floor). When it comes to the huge amount of steam collected in tenants radiators (including my own) it has happened in the past but very rarely, this winter we have already have 5 major leaks because of it. The uneven heat distribution has been going on for a couple of years but it has definitely escalated this year. We recently changed the control panel and we still have the same problems. 3 unit lines over heat while one unit line gets barely minimum heat. All unit lines overheat when temperatures are above 30 degrees and all unit lines have problems with radiators collecting steam.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,276
    edited February 2014
    I made some comments on this

    when it was on the other thread. 

    First, in response to your direct question on the other thread -- main venting is, simply, providing vents (like the ones on the radiators, but bigger) on the steam mains and risers -- as discussed below. 

    To recap briefly, this is almost certainly a venting problem, although bad pitch on the riser line which doesn't heat properly may contribute.

    Your question is right on the money for starters: do we need vents?  Indeed you do.  Each main in the basement needs to have a main vent near its end, and these vents need to be fairly large, depending on the size and length of the main.  They are there to ensure that each main receives steam at the same speed and time; you can't get even heat (particularly on a larger system) without them.  Second, it won't hurt a bit in a multi-story building to have additional main venting -- sized by the size of the risers and their height -- at the top of each riser.  Same purpose.  Make sure the steam can fill the entire riser rapidly.

    Having added those, double check the pitch of all near-horizontal pipes; they must be pitched so that any water in them can flow back to the boiler (called counterflow) or to the far end to a wet return (called parallel flow).  Any dips or sags or other places where water can collect will cause trouble.

    Then, having done that make sure that every steam main you can find is insulated.  Even a short length of uninsulated main will pretty well kill steam delivery to radiators beyond it.

    OK.  Got this far.

    As you have observed, you cannot control the heat from a one pipe steam radiator with the inlet valve.  If you close it, even part way, condensate collects in the radiator and creates problems.  The way to control a one pipe steam radiator is with the venting on the radiator -- that tuna can thing on the end opposite the inlet.  If you need more heat from a radiator, use a bigger vent.  If you need less, use a smaller one.  Some vents are adjustable, allowing you to fiddle.  Some vents can even be hooked up to a thermostat, giving individual automatic control to the radiator.

    But...  no manner of fiddling with the vents on the radiators is going to be of any use until you get even steam distribution in your system, as described above.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Eastman
    Eastman Member Posts: 927
    question jamie

    why do the risers continue up through the ceiling

    would a vent be behind the plaster, or would the vent be outside on the roof
  • millispillis
    millispillis Member Posts: 11
    Thank you!

    Dear Mr. Hall.

    Many thanks for your help and time in explaining this. Would you (or anyone else) know of someone based in New York City who our building can hire to come look at the situation? So far we no one seems to be able to find the problem and I am desperately trying to find someone with the knowledge of our system who can take a look in person. Again, thank you so much!

  • millispillis
    millispillis Member Posts: 11
    Response to Mr. Eastman

    Dear Mr. Eastman,

    i am enclosing 2 pictures of my riser, one in bathroom and one in office. I was wrong, 2 risers disappears into the ceiling (bathroom and kitchen) and two are capped (living room and office). My bedroom has no riser, only the radiator I enclosed images of previously. Currently I can't get up to the roof to check if the riser actually comes out on the roof, I might be able to check it tomorrow though. So far, all I can show you are the enclosed images but I am unsure if you can tell anything by looking at them...

    Many thanks for all the help!

  • Risers going into the ceiling

    Before the steam can travel up from the boiler to any radiator, the air in the pipes must be allowed to escape, or in your case, pushed out with extra fuel. Main vents accomplish this, as the radiator vents do not have the capacity to handle this amount of air. When the venting is adequate, the steam will arrive at each radiator on a floor at the same time, which is not happening now.

    I believe you have a down feed system, whereby the steam riser travels straight up to the attic, and then turns downward feeding each floor from the top down. This was thought to compensate for the heat loss on the upper floors. In this arrangement, there are many more feet of pipe than in the more conventional up feed system, requiring even more main venting at the end of the riser.

    Is this a condo, or coop, with a board of directors? Has this problem only recently got worse, or have the others in the building been ignoring the problem for years?

    Take some more pictures of the side of the boiler showing the piping just above it, so we can see why there should be so much water in the steam.--NBC
  • millispillis
    millispillis Member Posts: 11
    more images

    Dear Mr. Bonham-Carter:

    Thank you so much for all the information and help. This is a condo with a board of directors, the problem has existed for years but it is not until this winter (which has been extremely cold) that things have escalated. Each time something has been done about it the management company has sent someone to check the boiler settings or a plumber who would check if the radiators were on in each apartment. So no, there has never been a thorough investigation done where someone has examined the main vents, pipes nor risers - I am unsure anyone would even know WHO to call to have this done. We are in New York City so if you know of someone who is an expert in this area please let me know. Also I have attached a bunch of additional images, I hope you might be able to figure out why there is so much water in the steam.... Many many thanks again!
  • trisha
    trisha Member Posts: 13

    Hi Greta,

    I live in NYC and had a good experience with a plumbing consultant for a similar problem.  I suspect I can't post his contact information in a public forum, but if you can give me a way to contact you directly, I can give you his name.

  • millispillis
    millispillis Member Posts: 11

    Trisha I just contacted you directly through the forum with my email information. Please let me know if you did not get it.


  • Who to call

    One New Yorker whose posts here show signs of intelligence and forethought is


    Give him a try.--NBC
  • SWEI
    SWEI Member Posts: 7,356
    Do you have natural gas available?

    That boiler could be converted, which would reduce your fuel bills rather dramatically, especially with proper venting.
  • Gas conversion

    A great idea SWEI !!

    A few more pictures of the top side of the boiler would show us if the piping instructions for the boiler were followed. There should not be so much water carried up with the steam, as to fill radiators so quickly.

    The reduction of fuel cost with a gas conversion should make the cost of the work more palatable to the members.--NBC
  • millispillis
    millispillis Member Posts: 11
    more details

    Swei thank you for your suggestion, I will be sure to bring it up with our management company. Mr. Bonham-Carter, I will take more images of top of boiler as soon as I am back home. Meanwhile I discovered something else and I am not sure if this is helpful or not. The bed rooms in the B line and A line are right next to each other, all of them have radiators but NO riser. My radiator is in the corner of my bedroom, which is next to my neighbors bedroom, and their radiator is in the corner as well (on their side of the wall facing my wall). Could they somehow be connected to the same "pipe/riser system)? Additionally, we converted the basement space (immediately under the B line, the problem line) into an apartment for our super. There are pipes all over his ceiling but NO air vents nor radiators anywhere in the apartment or any of the pipes. So to make it more clear, he is the first unit below all of us in the B line and if most of his pipes were not insulated he would get a crazy amount of heat (I know this because that was the problem until last year when we insulated the pipes). His apartment is the only unit in the basement and it was built immediately under the B line. Again, I have no idea if this is helpful information or not, still, I wanted to make sure I mentioned it. Thank you so much again for all the help!
  • millispillis
    millispillis Member Posts: 11
    NYC help

    Mr. Bonham Carter, I forgot to thank you for the recommendation to gateway plumbing, I just left them a message.
  • JohnNY
    JohnNY Member Posts: 3,229
    edited February 2014

    Millispillis, my office just reached out to me with your issue and I see what's going on after reviewing your pictures and descriptions of the problem. Yours is a common issue here in NYC and it is resolvable.

    I'd need for us to make an appointment to have a look at your entire heating system before coming to any definitive conclusions about how best to balance your steam heating system.

    Yes, chances are pretty good this will be done by proper venting strategies and pressure/piping adjustments, but it's impossible to tell for sure from here, I'd need some kind of approval from your Board to move forward.

    Please expect a call from my office shortly.
    Contact John "JohnNY" Cataneo, NYC Master Plumber, Lic 1784
    Consulting & Troubleshooting
    Heating in NYC or NJ.