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New Steam owner, my observations and project list.

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TheRooster
TheRooster Member Posts: 34
edited October 2014 in Strictly Steam
Hi all,
I have been reading the forum for almost a year, learning about steam systems, how to maintain, what I can do and what I should leave to the pros. I also read Dan's We Got Steam Heat and it has been a real eye opener.

So let me give you a little background. I just made the plunge into home ownership a year ago, a 1923 built detached row house. I don't think we did to bad, the plumbing and electric have been completely replaced 10 years ago and are all up to code. It looks like the boiler has also been replaced maybe around the same time but not too sure. The building consists of a commercial space downstairs and an 1400 sqft apartment upstairs. A bakery is located in the commercial space and because of all the heat generated from the ovens and refrigerators the downstairs radiators have all been discontinued except for one. Before last winter, I replaced the old radiator vents in the upstairs apartment as well as the one vent downstairs in the bakery. I also replaced the boiler blow-off valve because some "knucklehead" put a hot water heater blow off on it (pressure & temperature instead of just pressure) which promptly spewed steam during every heating cycle.

So after having one heating season under my belt and having used 900 gallons of oil to heat basically the apartment, I have a list of projects to make the system more efficient. I don't think that I am in such bad shape, I don't have any water hammer and other than some hissing from the rad vents at startup the system is quiet. My main project would be insulating all the pipes, at some point, the asbestos was removed (maybe during the 10 year ago reno?) but never replaced. I also have to replace the three main air vents. The two vents in the basement seem to be Hoffman and they just spray steam everywhere. The third vent seems to be painted shut. So those are my two major projects which I hope will make everything more efficient. I also have to address the chimney in the future, add a clean out and a cap.

Now to my pressing question. I have a VXT automatic water feeder on the boiler which added water every few days last winter. I thought that the water loss was mostly due to the broken main vents and the hot water heater vent on the boiler. Today I went to the basement to take a look at the boiler, I have the oil company coming to do a service tomorrow and I just wanted to give everything a quick check before the guy came. Anyway, I noticed that the water level was really low. The boiler has been off since April so I am thinking maybe a leaky pipe?? Fortunately, all the pipes are exposed, none are buried, but I was not able to see any evidence of leaking. Any thoughts?

Another question I had was that the return piping and Hartford Loop were plumbed in copper pipe. Dan said in his book that this is not good for the boiler. Should I be worried about this and have the copper replaced with steel?

I attached some pictures so you guys can get a better idea of what I am dealing with. Thanks!
2001 Slant-Fin Liberty II LD-40, Single pipe steam
456 sq/ft connected load
3PSI gauge

Comments

  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 16,525
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    First impression is that it's poorly piped and that's going to cost you money. the returns and the equalizer are too small as well.

    You can lose a lot of water through leaking vents, and there is always evaporation during the summer. I'd be keeping track of how much water gets added to see where the leak is, and it may be inside the boiler and above the waterline is there's aggressive water. You'd be seeing white "smoke" coming out of the chimney if this is the case.

    Let's hear from the other guys.

    Thanks for the fine story and welcome to home ownership!
    Retired and loving it.
    ChrisJ
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,477
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    It might be worth it to fill that boiler up so the water fills it right up and turn it on. As it heats up look for any signs of water or steam leaks anywhere along the piping or the boiler itself. After it gets good and hot shut off the oil gun and listen carefully to see if you here any hissing that might indicate a leak into the firebox.

    If you tell us how long the steam mains are and what size pipe they are we can tell you what main vents you need.

    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
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
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    That near boiler piping is just wrong. You need a proper header off of that boiler riser and your mains (looks like two of them) should come off of the header, then the header should extend 10 to 15 inches beyond the steam main and elbow down to the equalizer. A drop header would create dryer steam but any header, at least 24 inches above the water line would be better than what is there. Copper should not be used above the water line.
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,576
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    Yes overfill the boiler up to the header with it switched off, and when the service man comes, tomorrow, he can look inside to see if there are any signs of leakage.
    If it is necessary to change the boiler, then make sure the radiators are measured for the sizing of the new boiler, rather than using the new boiler. After all, if the installer made mistakes with the piping, then likely the sizing was imperfect as well. If you are handy, you could repipe the boiler yourself, but maybe not so soon before winter!
    The hissing vents are a sign of excessive pressure, which may have damaged your main and radiator vents. In operation, these systems are capable of near silence. Possibly the pigtail is plugged, allowing the pressure to run out of control.--NBC
  • TheRooster
    TheRooster Member Posts: 34
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    Thanks for the comments,
    I can check the pigtail to see if it is plugged, it looks newish but I am betting that the boiler was never skimmed since it was installed so that could clog it up a bit. I also noticed that it looks like the gauge is on the boiler side of the pigtail, shouldn't it be protected by the pigtail??

    As far as hissing vents, that may just be due to the two broken main vents being duct-taped shut :s . I know it isn't good practice but until I replaced them, it was better than losing all my steam to the basement.

    Thanks for letting me know about the piping, I called a local PRO that was listed on this website and I will see what he says. I am pretty handy and am not afraid of tackling projects, especially if it means I can rent some big pipe cutting and threading machines, but I don't think I have the required know-how to design a new header.

    As far as the mains, I know from the pictures it looks like two but it is really three, one goes straight up next to the chimney. The chimney main is the longest and has 1.5 inch pipe and is about 55 ft long before the return and carries three smallish radiators. The second longest main is about 35 ft long of two inch and has two very large radiators and one small rad on it. The third main only has two small radiators on it and is only about 10ft of 2in before the main vent.

    I can post an update tomorrow after the service man has been here and I can also let you guys know what the PRO says when he calls back.

    Thanks again.
    2001 Slant-Fin Liberty II LD-40, Single pipe steam
    456 sq/ft connected load
    3PSI gauge
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,280
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    Before you get too worried -- copper above the water line isn't good. Copper below the water line shouldn't be a problem. Not best practice, but it works.

    Do check the pressures. The vents will, most likely, hiss a bit when the system first comes on (a lot of that will go away with the new main vents), but it could be that the pressure is a bit high. Not over 2 psi cutout, and 1.5 psi would be better. 1 psi differential.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,477
    edited October 2014
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    Your two large mains contain about 0.73cu ft of air each. They will need one or two Gorton #2's each to expel the air. The short 10 ft main has about 0.22 cu ft of air and will need one or two Gorton #1's.

    Vents are not cheap but they do save money. Be advised the Gorton #2 is a large vent so make sure you have the headroom before ordering them. The #2 has a 1/2" male thread while the #1 has a 1/2" female and a 3/4" male thread so you might have to adapt.

    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
  • TheRooster
    TheRooster Member Posts: 34
    edited October 2014
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    So you gotta love local contractors...
    Service man was supposed to be here at 8:30, I call the office at 9:00.

    Me: "Hi, I had a boiler service scheduled for for a half hour ago, is the service man on his way?"

    Office: "oh we have to reschedule that appointment, didn't someone give you a call yesterday??"

    Me: "no"
    2001 Slant-Fin Liberty II LD-40, Single pipe steam
    456 sq/ft connected load
    3PSI gauge
  • agurkas
    agurkas Member Posts: 238
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    So you gotta love local contractors...
    Service man was supposed to be here at 8:30, I call the office at 9:00.

    Me: "Hi, I had a boiler service scheduled for for a half hour ago, is the service man on his way?"

    Office: "oh we have to reschedule that appointment, didn't someone give you a call yesterday??"

    Me: "no"

    This has been typical experience so far. I make sure to share those on Angie's list and Yelp as much as I can. Other homeowners need to know. Hopefully a shoddy one goes out of business with enough owners warning each other.

  • TheRooster
    TheRooster Member Posts: 34
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    Before I purchasing the building I am in now, I was an acting GC for three renovations and I do have to say that it was also a "typical" experience.
    As far as bad reviews, I try to give the contractors some leeway before making a review public. Owing a small business myself, a bad review can have a drastic effect on public perception where, nine times out of ten, there may be extenuating circumstances or a just good reason. Sometimes a contractor needs an eye-opener and not to be put out of business. That being said, a contractor that has had many an eye-opener and still runs the business the same way maybe should be out of business.

    I did some calling around this morning to see if anyone knows steam in my area, still waiting on calls back but I will keep updates on my progress posted. Thank you all for the replies and advice.
    2001 Slant-Fin Liberty II LD-40, Single pipe steam
    456 sq/ft connected load
    3PSI gauge
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,477
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    It's not easy to find a good steam main so that means you have to understand the system yourself. You should pick up a copy of "The Lost Art of Steam Heat" that is for sale on this site. That single book will pay for itself many times over.

    Greening Steam is also good but TLAOSH is the gem that will give you the ability to diagnose the system. At that point you can tell if the person your dealing with knows steam and you can always explain what has to be done if he's uncomfortable with steam systems.

    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
  • agurkas
    agurkas Member Posts: 238
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    +1 on Green Steam book. Totally opened up my eyes to how about half of the contractors, who I spoke with, need to read one themselves and for right now have no business claiming they know steam (example: making statements like your vents should be sized per that Gorton schema and no mention of air in pipes volume calculation)
  • RobG
    RobG Member Posts: 1,850
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    Where are you located?
  • agurkas
    agurkas Member Posts: 238
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    RobG said:

    Where are you located?

    You asking OP or me?

  • RobG
    RobG Member Posts: 1,850
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    OP
  • TheRooster
    TheRooster Member Posts: 34
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    Hey Rob, upstate NY, Sullivan County.

    Bob & Agurkas, I was actually contemplating on purchasing both books after being so happy with the first one I read. Hey, maybe after reading them, I might just be up to redoing the boiler piping myself!
    2001 Slant-Fin Liberty II LD-40, Single pipe steam
    456 sq/ft connected load
    3PSI gauge
  • TheRooster
    TheRooster Member Posts: 34
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    Ok, so a little update...

    Until I get a pro over to look at the boiler piping in person, I am going to start a few small jobs on my own that I think I can tackle. I am going to insulate the steam mains and work on my main venting.

    I plan on insulating only the mains in the basement currently and one 12ft riser that runs through an unheated stairwell. Everything in the basement I am going to do with 1-1/2" and the riser in the cold stairwell I will do in 2".
    I wasn't planning on insulating the other two risers even though they are accessible, but being that the first floor is virtually unheated, I figured a little loss in that space might be nice.
    I also didn't order materials for my wet returns for budget reasons but I plan on doing those next year (baby steps!). The basement never gets too cold because I have a large condenser for a walk-in freezer which puts out a lot of heat. I am actually thinking of getting a heat exchanger so I can use some of that heat to dump in my hot water tank, but again, baby steps...

    So onto the venting. I am ordering a box of Gorton 2's. Two on the long main and one each on the other two shorter mains. That gives me one extra to install on a long (30ft) riser (1-1/2") that currently only vents through the rads. The riser is accessible and has a nice place with sufficient height to accommodate the #2.

    One question, I read that the Gorton's don't perform too well over 140 degrees. Do I have to worry about them venting if I have the mains insulated in an already warm basement? I mean if the boiler cycles normally in winter months about once an hour?

    Thanks
    2001 Slant-Fin Liberty II LD-40, Single pipe steam
    456 sq/ft connected load
    3PSI gauge
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,280
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    u

    One question, I read that the Gorton's don't perform too well over 140 degrees. Do I have to worry about them venting if I have the mains insulated in an already warm basement? I mean if the boiler cycles normally in winter months about once an hour?

    Thanks

    I suppose, if the air in your mains somehow managed to get to near 140 you might have the Gortons starting to close (they're supposed to, after all, on steam...). But I doubt very very much that either your basement, or the air in the mains, will be anywhere near 140, so not to worry.

    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,832
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    Some years ago, there was a run of Gorton #2 vents that did close too early. But the good folks at Gorton got that straightened out, and replaced the bad ones.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
  • TheRooster
    TheRooster Member Posts: 34
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    OK thanks,
    Quick question.. 60ft of 2" main.. 2 or 3 Gorton 2's?
    2001 Slant-Fin Liberty II LD-40, Single pipe steam
    456 sq/ft connected load
    3PSI gauge
  • JStar
    JStar Member Posts: 2,752
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    Three.
  • TheRooster
    TheRooster Member Posts: 34
    edited October 2014
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    Another update...

    I changed out the three existing main vents. The two shorter mains had "Arco-Detroit Hurrivents" and I have no idea what was on the longest main. The shortest main got a Gorton #1, the second main a Gorton #2 and the longest main, got three #2's (thanks JStar).

    I also changed out the pigtail and added a 3 PSI gauge.

    Changing out the vents did speed up the system. I did a cold start a couple days ago from a 2 degree centigrade setback (aprox 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit). It took the boiler a 45 min burn to satisfy the thermostat. After changing the vents, the same setback on a cold start now takes 35 min.
    Basically, the boiler needs 7min to produce steam and now only another 7min to close the vents on the longest main.

    Quick question, now that I have a 3 PSI gauge, I noticed that I do not build any pressure. Should I be concerned? The gauge never went above 0.5 PSI during the entire cycle.
    2001 Slant-Fin Liberty II LD-40, Single pipe steam
    456 sq/ft connected load
    3PSI gauge
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,737
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    Not building pressure is a good thing! The lower the pressure the better the system will run. There are guys on here in the sub 1oz range. It hasn't gotten too cold here yet, but my mains fill and most of the rads start heating before my gauge moves much. I have a 0-15oz gauge on mine and the few times it has run I haven't seen it above 4 oz which would be .25 psi on your gauge. Sounds like you are right on track. Beautiful work on the vent tree, that's a nice clean install.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
    RobG
  • TheRooster
    TheRooster Member Posts: 34
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    Yeah, I may just need to wait until it gets colder and the system runs more often to get a better idea of what my "normal" pressure will be.

    I was mainly just asking because I expected some sort pressure increase once all the vents have been closed. I don't think there are any broken pipes or leaks in the system and I hope no holes in the boiler either.
    2001 Slant-Fin Liberty II LD-40, Single pipe steam
    456 sq/ft connected load
    3PSI gauge