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/.
Click here to Find a Contractor in your area.

Read the book...now so many questions!

Options
Hi All,

I read "We Got Steam Heat" and was completely riveted. I am not sure if it is because I am a history nerd or a relatively new homeowner that is in love with his 115 year old house but I read the whole thing in two long sessions. I have also spent a lot of time in my basement while reading looking for the various parts etc. When I took the vent off of a noisy and partially working radiator, blew air through it, and it worked perfectly on the next heating cycle, I knew I was really onto something.

Anyway, I have a few questions and while I found answers to most of them on these forums, I think some of them apply to my specific system.

First off, a little about my system. I bought my house exactly 1 year ago today! The boiler was installed in 2010 and it appears as though it was just installed using the same piping as the old one. It is a single pipe system (I know that now!). The system works pretty well to heat my home although after reading the book, I suspect that the boiler might be undersized or something because it takes a long time to heat the house. The main pipes in the basement are insulated with asbestos but the upstairs pipes have no insulation on them. I am going to insulate the upstairs pipes and have the asbestos encapsulated.

Anyway, first off, I can't find the main vents or identify where they should be in the basement. I am including some pictures. The main steam lines turn and go right upstairs. I can be sort of dense but I was expecting them to be at the ends of the steam mains right? The only thing I can find is a T junction and a valve on the return right next to the radiator. Could that be it? See the pictures below. There is also a picture of an example of the line where it goes through the floor to the radiators. They all look like that. Can someone point me to where I should be looking? I forgot to take a picture of it but there is also a second vent on my upstairs bathroom radiator. I thought that was weird and I am not sure if that is important.

My other question is about water quality. I have the "probe" type low water cutoff which he says in the book does not need to be blown down. When I first moved in, I accidentally added too much water to the boiler and had to remove some and it was pretty dirty. Should I remove an replace some water in the boiler periodically so that it is clean?

Also related to the low water cutoff, is it unusual to have it kick on at really uneven intervals? I do not think I have any leaks in the system and the radiators are not spitting out any water. I just thought it was odd that sometimes I will have to add water after 3-4 days and sometimes it will go weeks without needing any. This makes me nervous when I go away for more than a day. I assume that it is just because low barometric pressure causing more evaporation.

Ok, I think that is it for now. Sorry for the novel. I am just curious and excited. Although I agree that I should mostly just keep my hands in my pocket, I don't think that the system has had a good "tune-up" in a while and I think it would be worthwhile to clean all of the radiator vents with vinegar, insulate the upstairs pipes, and install vents on the mains if they have been replaced with plugs.

Thanks!
Red

PS I am including a couple of pictures of what I think was the original boiler from the house which is still in my basement just for show and tell. I love "steampunk" art and I was thinking about welding some dummy valves and coils onto it and using it as a decoration if I can find about 50 people to help me lift it.

Comments

  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,481
    Options
    Welcome to the world of steam heat, if you can get that system working the way it was designed you will have great economical heat.

    The main air vents are usually located near the ends of the steam main (s) but sometimes they are located where the return line goes down to the floor. It's important to get the air out of the mains fast so you don't pay the fuel company more than you have to. Does the steam main start high and slowly drop as it travels along (parallel) or does it start and then slowly climb as it goes along (counterflow)? Are there any bumps in the insulation near the ends of the main(s) or the dry return where a fitting might be hiding?

    Is the piping sloped so the condensing steam can find it's way back to the boiler? What pressure does the boiler run at when making steam, it should be 1-1/2 to 2 PSI and hopefully less. Is the water in the sight glass bouncing around a lot when it's making steam?

    If your getting a lot of bounce the boiler might need skimming to get rid of any oils in the boiler water. That bounce might also be triggering the water feeder. The boiler should have a little water drained every couple of weeks to get the crud out. make sure you bring the boiler up to steam after adding fresh water and don't add cold fresh water to a hot boiler quickly - you don't want to shock the cast iron.

    that valve near the floor might be a drain for the wet return, it should be opened occasionally to flush that return out.

    That boiler is not piped correctly but that is a task you will have to live with till the heating season is over. If you have to really hunt for fittings or a place to put main vents you may have to consider having that asbestos removed so you can work on the pipes. It's not a fun way to spend money but you may not have a choice.

    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: 23,656
    Options
    Do have the asbestos encapsulated. Peace of mind, and it looks as though it is in good shape. It's easy to do.

    There is an alternative to main venting, which you might find easier to do: at the top of each riser -- before any runouts to radiators -- you can install a nice big main vent. They will do exactly the same thing as main vents located conventionally in the basement!

    On the LWCO. Your situation is exactly why I like automatic water feeders with a nice long time delay on them and a meter. I know some folks frown on automatics, but if one has to go away from time to time, they sure do give peace of mind -- and if you keep track of what the meter says, you will know right away if you have a problem. You might see if it would be possible to get an automatic feeder installed. Set the time delay to 10 minutes, and unless your system is really wonky it will just reset itself -- not feed anything unless it is really needed.

    Water quality. Boiler water does tend to be seem pretty gunky. It is not a bad idea to flush some out -- you seem to have a valve on the cold return you could use -- once in a while. But not on a regular basis. In my opinion, anyway. Float type LWCOs do need to be flushed from time to time -- every couple of weeks is ample, again in my view. Otherwise, unless the water level in the sight glass is bouncing more than a couple of images, I'd leave it in peace.

    Near boiler piping. Well, it's a good thing steam doesn't mind going around corners, and your near boiler piping isn't exactly by the book. However, unless you are getting some water hammer, I'm not sure how urgent it is to do anyting about it.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • redhaven
    redhaven Member Posts: 8
    Options
    Thanks guys for the responses! I will have to respond to most of the questions when I get home and can take a look. From what I remember, the main pipe leaves the boiler, splits in two, and then goes upstairs without a lot of fanfare but I will look for bulges in the insulation.

    I am going to get some bids on encapsulating or even removing the asbestos. I know in PA where i live removal can be pretty expensive because I think they have to tent off the basement and use a lot of special equipment but Bob did bring up a good point that if I had it removed, it would be easier for a contractor to make changes to the piping.

    I forgot to mention that I bought a Nest thermostat which is part of the reason I have suddenly taken an interest in my heating system. The Nest does give me some piece of mind while I'm away because I can see the current temperature on my phone or computer and would know if the system is not heating the house. Of course, then if it wasn't, I would have to call my neighbor to check it out. I have a $40 IP camera that I use to see when my teenage kids get home from school (I live alone with them) and the next time I go away I will put that camera in the basement to keep an eye on the boiler and the water level.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,656
    Options
    Don't remove the asbestos unless you absolutely have to -- and only where you have to even then. And when you do, reinsulate the pipes.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 17,010
    Options
    That boiler is, as others have said, piped completely wrong. Here are some pics of properly-piped ones:

    http://forum.heatinghelp.com/discussion/146210/this-weeks-steamer-replacement#latest

    and the first one in this thread:

    http://forum.heatinghelp.com/discussion/151822/two-recent-steamers#latest
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
  • redhaven
    redhaven Member Posts: 8
    Options
    Thanks for the info. It is both interesting and depressing.

    I do not have too much confidence that the people that lived in the house when the boiler was replaced knew what they were doing. The guy that bought the house from the bank and sold it told me said that he didn't touch the heating system since the boiler was only about a year old when he bought the house.

    All that said, I think that the performance of the heating system is not too bad. I do not have any water hammer and other than some hissing, the radiators are pretty quiet. I wish it could heat the house up faster now that I read in the book that it is taking longer than it should but I can live with it as long as it is safe and I am going to insulate the non-insulated pipes on the upper floors and clean all the radiator vents this weekend.

    I looked at the tag on the boiler and it says that nozzle is rated at 1.25 with a burner pump pressure of 140 psi making the maximum gallons per hour 1.5. Does that mean I am using 1.5 gallons per hour when the furnace is running? If so I am in pretty good shape because my thermostat says it is running around 4 hours per day and it is cold here.
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,481
    edited February 2015
    Options
    If the piping is not causing any obvious problems your best off making sure the boiler is running at as low a pressure as possible and finding a way to add some venting to the mains (or radiator input pipes. You mentioned one radiator had two vents on it, are they both on the same end or is there a vent on each side of the radiator? What kind of vents are on that radiator and the other radiators?

    The boiler piping can be left alone till you can afford to have it addressed but try to come up with a plan to get some venting added.

    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