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.

Trying to identify steam heating issues.

Hey guys, just looking for a little advice. I bought a house recently and I'm having issues with my two pipe steam system. So we went under contract and the boiler cracked before we closed and the estate had a new boiler installed. It's a Weil McLain around 100k btu. The house is around 2700 sq. ft. With 9 foot ceilings. The highest radiators are located on the third floor and there are two of them. There are 5 on the second floor and two on the first. Firstly, the house doesn't get warm. It's warmer than outside but can't break the 60 degree mark on its own. One room is great but the rest of the place is no good. I suspect bad steam traps. From what I read they only last for 5 years or so and these have what appears to be 5 coats of paint on them. The boiler runs and hits 2 psi. In about 10-15 minutes then shuts off for another 10-15 minutes. Most radiators are cool enough to touch and others are flat out cold. The one I'm sitting next to right now is cold but I hear whistling at the valve. The feed pipe is cold too. My heating guy wants to put in a bigger boiler and hasn't mentioned anything about traps. He's also saying the returns are piped bad and the boiler isn't getting its condensate back in time and drawing city water via the automatic filler. Any thoughts ? Thanks for reading guys.

Comments

  • Chapstick
    Chapstick Member Posts: 64
    It burned 250 gallons of fuel oil last month too and the third floor radiators are both cold but whistling at the valves.
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,473
    Start by listing the radiators and their sizes. Radiators have an EDR rating that is the sq ft of surface area and that determines how much heat they can supply. The total of all the radiators EDR should ideally match the boilers sq ft of steam (EDR). If your boiler is rated at about 100,000 BTU it should have an EDR of about 280 sq ft of steam.

    I've attached a chart that will let you figure out the EDR of common radiators. Also find your main air vents in the cellar and make sure they are working.

    Even if the boiler is too small the radiators should all heat to some extent. If the traps are shot steam may not be able to enter the radiators and that is probably your first hurdle.

    Post pictures of the boiler and the piping around it from all sides and post pictures of a sample radiator that shows both ends so we can see the traps and valves. I suggest you get a copy of "The Lost Art of Steam Heat" that is offered for sale on this site; it's important you understand how your system works and once you read that book you will know if a contractor has a clue when it comes to 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
  • clammy
    clammy Member Posts: 3,094
    where are you located .Use the find a pro section and have a steam pro take a look .Is this system a single or 2 pipe system.Sounds like you have venting issues .I would count your rads and fiqure out your edr and see if it was sized corretctly but being it.s cycling possible on either your pressuretroll or on a cycle guard lwco which is factory installed on most new boilers.You raditors should be hot this is steam .Can you post a picture of the boiler install including the near boiler piping.Personally i would call the insulation contractor and have take a look being he installed it ,he should be responable to make sure it works properly burningh 250 gallons of oil and have crappy heat is not properly installed in my book .Go on line and download the installation and operating instruction for your boiler .In this manual there are clear printed diagrams of how your boiler should be piped for it to operate corrctly if not ot will not operate correctly and cost a bundle of money and produce not heat which sounds like where yoyur at now.The diagrams give the proper sizes foor the risers and the header .These pipe sizes they give you are minium and it is way better to increase there sizes 1 pipe dimension for dryer steam and hassle free installation.Those who do not often have issues .Cheap steam contractors are a dime a dozen and if a true steam contractor had installed this boiler it would in all likelyhood be working perfect .Real steam guys take no short cuts and charge more then most because they are master of a art form that is fading away and they install over sized riser and drop headers there systems always out perform the hacks na dwhen issues arisew they show up and get it repaired properly.Do yourself a favor and see if theres a steam pro in your area.I don t endorese contracots who run ads but its far better then thosde who are going to yank your chain .Peace and good luck clammy ps if you wanna leearn about steam just buy some of our host books on the topic you will end up knowning more then most hvac and plumbers which will help you fiqure out who knows what and who is full of it .Keep posting there a great number of very smart and helpfull peaopler here again peace and good luck clammy
    R.A. Calmbacher L.L.C. HVAC
    NJ Master HVAC Lic.
    Mahwah, NJ
    Specializing in steam and hydronic heating
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 22,941
    The first thing I think of is traps. It really isn't true that they fail in five years as a routine thing -- the ones on the system which I care for are 80 years old and going strong. However, if they have ever been abused, such as by too high a pressure, they can fail very quickly. So -- traps. The second thing is valves. Are you sure the valves are open? Sounds silly, but it happens.

    So... step 1. Make sure all the valves are open.

    Now, when the boiler is running, feel along the steam mains to see how far heat is getting. Even if they are insulated, a main with steam in it will be nice and warm. While you are doing this, go to the ends of the mains and see if there are any vents on them, or traps which connect to the returns. There should be; if there aren't, that's part of the problem.

    Any radiators at this point which are completely cold -- chances are the trap has failed closed. Scrape that paint off and replace the guts of the trap and try again.

    That's enough for now...

    Oh -- and do buy the book. It's well worth it. And -- as has been asked, were are you? There may well be a good steam guy who could come and take a look.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Steve_175
    Steve_175 Member Posts: 238
    Post some pics of the boiler and pipes connected to it from various angles. Also pics of some of the rads too.
  • Chapstick
    Chapstick Member Posts: 64
    Thanks for all of the replies guys. All of the valves were replaced last month. The old valves were leaking badly. It's a shame too, the valves were very nicely made. The rebuild kits were $50 a piece so I just got some new ones. They are of a good quality. I smacked one of the traps around with a dead blow and it worked for a couple hours so I'm going to replace all of them this week. I took your advice and ordered the book and I downloaded the Weil McLain manual. The piping is completely wrong and the next stretch of mild weather I'm going after that next. I haven't really had the time to wrap my head around the heating system but now that I have I found a ton of problems. I actually burned myself pretty good on one of the return lines yesterday while running some wire in the basement. It was just as hot as the feed line so I'm assuming some traps are failed open. We successfully rebuilt a single pipe system on another property last year so here we go again...... I'll get some pics up to entertain you guys. It's terrible.
  • Chapstick
    Chapstick Member Posts: 64
    I never rebuilt a trap before. Is it a matter of taking it apart and bringing the guts to my local heating supply place or should I just order replacements ? I found these online.

    http://www.steamdepot.com/TA-1/2-DBC-A.html?id=BpK9AGmQ
  • Chapstick
    Chapstick Member Posts: 64
    Who says sleeping disorders are bad ? I just measured all of the radiators and did the Sq. Ft. EDR calculations. Turns out the boiler was sized perfectly. According to my calculations my radiators require 65k btu's and I have 85k btu's. That's perfect because I want to add two monster radiators and the biggest one I have is 11k. Being as the boiler is brand new it's just a matter of working out the bugs. Bummer it's oil though.
  • Chapstick
    Chapstick Member Posts: 64
    I also stumbled upon a trap measuring system called L.A.M.B.S. It is pretty confusing so I better consult my heating supply guys.
  • Chapstick
    Chapstick Member Posts: 64
    Hey guys. I scraped a ton of paint and found that they are Hoffman specialty co steam traps. There are two 17c's and a half dozen No. 18's. Apparently they stopped making the 18's a long time ago and parts are not available from Hoffman anymore. I did however find something from a different manufacturer. I'm not sure what I'm looking at though. Could somebody take a look and verify ? It looks to me like this replaces the entire assembly but I'd like to be sure before I drop $400 on them.

    http://barnesandjones.com/resource/repair-elements-cage-units/

    Thanks again guys. You've been very helpful.
  • Are there any crossover traps as well, from individual return to main return. Any steam hot returns are signs of a failed open trap, further up the line.
    I would start out with replacements for known bad traps, but later replace them all when the weather is warmer.--NBC
  • icesailor
    icesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    From my personal experience, of one with 50+ years at Plumbing & Heating, there is a major difference between a Wethead and a Steamhead. All Steamhead's are Wetheads, but not all Wetheads are Steamhead's. Many Steam "Experts" are only Wetheads, and may be poor ones at that. I know, because where I worked, there was very little steam to work on, and what was there during my duration, was mostly ripped out for Forced Polar or Sahara Air. I learned about Steam long ago but had no place to practice it. Any person who claims to be a "Steam Expert" that doesn't know about "Heatinghelp.com", and is a regular reader of this site, is probably barely a Wethead. Their work is regularly displayed and discussed here.

    Your "steamer" is a Wethead and NOT a Steamhead. Or else, he wouldn't be trying to sell you a new and bigger boiler that you might not need. And what would he say when the bigger boiler didn't work any better than the smaller one?

    Steam boilers and radiation isn't measured the same as with hot water. You may not have the figures right. I would avoid the person that wants to sell you a new boiler without resolving the obvious problems you already have. And there are true Steamhead's here on this site. Try to find one. Or your system will be FUBAR'ed worse than it already is. That "Low Bid" insurance installer may have made the same mistake that many Wetheads make and sized the boiler to the heat loss of the building and not the connected load of the radiation.

    You need help.

    If you need a dental implant, it involves drilling. You wouldn't go to an electrician to have the drilling done. You go to a Periodontist.

    As most anyone here will tell you.
    Jim_R
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 22,941
    Chapstick said:

    Hey guys. I scraped a ton of paint and found that they are Hoffman specialty co steam traps. There are two 17c's and a half dozen No. 18's. Apparently they stopped making the 18's a long time ago and parts are not available from Hoffman anymore. I did however find something from a different manufacturer. I'm not sure what I'm looking at though. Could somebody take a look and verify ? It looks to me like this replaces the entire assembly but I'd like to be sure before I drop $400 on them.

    http://barnesandjones.com/resource/repair-elements-cage-units/

    Thanks again guys. You've been very helpful.

    That's the place to start... good goods.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Abracadabra
    Abracadabra Member Posts: 1,948
    Chapstick said:

    Who says sleeping disorders are bad ? I just measured all of the radiators and did the Sq. Ft. EDR calculations. Turns out the boiler was sized perfectly. According to my calculations my radiators require 65k btu's and I have 85k btu's. That's perfect because I want to add two monster radiators and the biggest one I have is 11k. Being as the boiler is brand new it's just a matter of working out the bugs. Bummer it's oil though.

    steam radiators are matched to the boiler via EDR. What's the total EDR of your radiators? What's the EDR of the boiler?
  • Chapstick
    Chapstick Member Posts: 64
    65k btus's on radiators boiler is 85k. I need to know about those trap parts though. It's the first thing I'm going after because they're all shot.
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,484
    If the radiators are 65,000 I'm going to assume they are 271sqft of EDR.

    @Chapstick I'm currently running 392sqft on a boiler that is rated for 325sqft. Or, 94,080 btu worth of radiation on a boiler rated for only 78,000 btu for steam but it's true output is 104,000 btu which is the DOE rating.

    My boiler was exactly matched per the typical 33% oversized but I didn't agree with that so I installed a smaller burner.

    Which rating are you using, the NET steam rating, or the DOE output? Either way, you should be able to make all of those radiators heat with that boiler if things are made right.

    Are the pipes insulated? What kind of venting is there?
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
  • Abracadabra
    Abracadabra Member Posts: 1,948
    Chapstick said:

    65k btus's on radiators boiler is 85k. I need to know about those trap parts though. It's the first thing I'm going after because they're all shot.

    EDR not btus.
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,484

    Chapstick said:

    65k btus's on radiators boiler is 85k. I need to know about those trap parts though. It's the first thing I'm going after because they're all shot.

    EDR not btus.
    Sounds like an SGO-3 boiler.
    http://www.supplyhouse.com/Weil-Mclain-386-700-819-SGO-3-115000-BTU-Steam-Oil-Boiler-11441000-p
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
  • Chapstick
    Chapstick Member Posts: 64
    Good call chris. That's exactly what I have. I just ordered the replacement trap cages. After a bit of reading and a conversation I had with the manufacturer I feel confident they will work. I figure I'll start at the top and work my way down. My book should be here today or tomorrow. Who knows, maybe the trap repair will get it running good. The return lines are chest high in the middle of the basement though so at very least they'll be moved. The install was a real hatchet job though so it'll probably be completely redone. I'll hire somebody for that though.
  • Chapstick
    Chapstick Member Posts: 64
    If I remember correctly I multiplied the EDR by 260 to get the btu's of each radiator and added them together. I got the EDR by measuring the height of each radiator and counting the tubes/columns and sections.
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,484
    Chapstick said:

    If I remember correctly I multiplied the EDR by 260 to get the btu's of each radiator and added them together. I got the EDR by measuring the height of each radiator and counting the tubes/columns and sections.

    Close, 240 not 260.

    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
  • Mark N
    Mark N Member Posts: 1,115
    All depends on the air temperature. Use 240 with room air temp of 70 degrees.
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,484
    Mark N said:

    All depends on the air temperature. Use 240 with room air temp of 70 degrees.

    What is it at 68F?
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
  • Mark N
    Mark N Member Posts: 1,115
    Not sure Chris I once saw a chart that showed was it was for different temps, 68 is pretty close to 70 so 240 is probably fine. At 60 degrees it might be an issue.
  • Mark N
    Mark N Member Posts: 1,115
    edited February 2015
    The higher the room temp the lower the output is, the lower the higher.
    icesailor
  • Chapstick
    Chapstick Member Posts: 64
    edited February 2015
    I'm sure it was 240. I've been doing 16 hour shifts getting a coal fired power plant back online. No time to track down my notes. Nothing is insulated in the basement. It looks like somebody removed asbestos insulation at some point. It'll be getting replaced very soon.
  • Chapstick
    Chapstick Member Posts: 64
    I received the book in the mail yesterday. That book has an enormous amount of information in it so I won't be bothering you guys that much anymore. I can't wait until I can get to the house and start figuring out which system I need to run. I believe I can fit an f&d trap on the dry return. Right now, it doesn't have one. No vents either. At some point somebody ran copper return lines and must've did away with them.
    ChrisJ