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Heating Options/Opinions for North East? Replacing steam heat?

lancia
lancia Member Posts: 21
Just wanted to say thank you in advance for anyone that replies to this.

Quick little run down on what I have going on. Bought house just before last winter that has Steam Heating and a 5 year old boiler (not sure name off the top of my head) which runs off propane. Also have a Navien hot water heater that is also capable of doing baseboard heat (only 90.6 efficient). Propane also does cooking but thats it

Once the cold weather came i started to get a little sticker shock on how much propane i was using. I have 3 100 gallon tanks and they were being filled up every 2 weeks which costed me an average of $1100 per month in propane. I talked to a Steam specialist (recommended from this site) about my system and after going through it with him he stated that all my near boiler piping was done incorrectly and needed to be replaced (making wet steam and using more propane), not enough insulation on pipes in basement, not all pipes are pitched correctly going to boiler, no main vents in basement and no hartford loop near boiler.... We also have very inconsistent heating as in some rooms hot, some cold.....He said that at a minimum to get all that corrected and anything else fixed with the system would cost me at least $10,000

My wife and I are looking at options to replace the steam system and are getting mixed responses from heating contractors on what to do. We do also want to add AC to the house which is one of the reasons i am questioning myself on replacing the entire steam system with something that will offer AC and heat. I would love to get my heating bill below $500 a month. I didn't want to spend all that money on fixing steam and still spend $800+ on propane

If anyone has any opinions or insight on what i should do that would be greatly appreciated

I looked into already:
- Geothermal Heat Pump
- Ductless Mini Split Heat pump
- Hot water baseboard heat running off navien
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Comments

  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 12,820
    edited April 2015
    Keep the steam and get the system working properly.
    Nothing you get installed will save you enough money to ever recover the costs of having the work done.

    A properly working steam system competes with 90+% AFUE forced hot air systems when you include electric used. You'd be better off putting the money into tightening up your home and insulating. This is actually true probably 90% of the time when it comes to heating systems. Keeping the heat in is the hard part and probably the most important part.



    Can we help you find a good steam guy in your area?



    Compare that to geothermal where you have compressors and a ton of other items to fail.




    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
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 18,915
    As Chris said -- keep the steam. Just get it working right. We don't discuss pricing here on the Wall, but one can say -- with confidence -- that there is no way that you are going to recover the capital cost of converting to any other source of heat by savings on fuel, since the steam will be -- when you get it working right -- within a few percent efficiency of whatever else you might put in, except perhaps for geothermal, and that IS pricey.

    Also, as he said, spend some money on insulation and better storm windows. That you will recover on lower fuel costs.

    If you really need air conditioning -- which is rather a luxury in the northeast, in my humble opinion -- you would be better to look at minisplits, and just for the rooms that need it.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,081
    I agree with what's already been said and would like to add to it, for a bit of a cost reality check so you are comparing apples to apples. In addition to the cost of a new system and the tear out of the old system you have to factor in the cost of fixing all the holes left from the old pipe work. If you have hardwood floors you will need to patch them which isn't easy or inexpensive. Depending on what kind of floors you have acquiring the materials to patch could be difficult. In my house the floors are old growth yellow pine, I can only get this through restoration companies doing reclaimed boards and it's quite expensive. People often forget about all the other "incidentals" when pricing these things out. Keep the steam get it running right and never look back. Mini splits, window units or even portable units will work for AC. I use a combination of the last 2 for now, but am planning on mini splits down the road when I have the money. Once you get that steam working properly you will love it.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
  • vaporvac
    vaporvac Member Posts: 1,520
    edited April 2015
    I also imagine you could do the insulation yourself and save that coin. You don't give the edr of your rads as compared to that of your boiler. If over-sized, it will eat fuel as will lack of adequate main venting. Both of these things can be remedied without a total repipe at the moment, so you could save for it. Upping the main venting is something you could do yourself with direction from folks here. At what pressure are you running this system? High pressure is a fuel hog.
    Could you post some pics of your near boiler piping and a representative rad? Is this a one or two-pipe system?

    I'm guessing my house is considerably larger and comes nowhere near the usage you're describing. I'm a homeowner and was able to fix a lot of problems myself. Steam has huge advantages, especially in the cold NE....no worries about freezing pipes is a biggie we saw this past winter, and very quick response. Heating and cooling are best attacked separately....for the most comfort and efficiency. Spacepak is an option if you're set on cooling. I lived in the NE for years and never remember using it, although we had it. Maybe global warming has changed that or it's just expectations. I remember just sleeping with the windows open. Gee, I'm not old, but now sound like it!
    Two-pipe Trane vaporvacuum system; 1466 edr
    Twinned, staged Slantfin TR50s piped into 4" header with Riello G400 burners; 240K lead, 200K lag Btus. Controlled by Taco Relay and Honeywell RTH6580WF
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,081
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
  • Bob Bona_4
    Bob Bona_4 Member Posts: 2,083
    edited April 2015
    You'll have to decide what price comfort. Steam or hot water will win over hot air. A replacement boiler and piping overhaul including insulation can easily run 5 digits. Prayers to be said for remaining radiator piping unknowns.

    Consider a likely chimney liner installation if you proceed with steam repair. From your pictures the chimney looks unlined, age is not on your side here. This is a significant cost.

    The Navien eliminates that issue.

    I would advise either ducted conventional or ductless ac with some kind of hydronic heat separately if it's in your budget.

    Stuff to think about.
  • lancia
    lancia Member Posts: 21
    Thanks for the responses

    The house was gutted a year ago before we bought it and had all new insulation done and all new windows on the first floor. I just had an energy audit done to the house and he told me all my insulation was good but could use a little more in the attic. I guess you could always use more insulation though. Windows on the 2nd floor could be replaced as they are not brand new but somewhat new in last 4 or years.

    The Steam company that i called was someone from this site. He suggested that I keep the steam and wanted me to fix it. But $10,000 did seem high

    If someone knows someone in RI that they could suggest for steam i would appreciate that. There is no contractors listed on this site for RI and haven't found anyone yet that knows what they are talking about when i bring them in.

    I have read 1 of Dans book and have the other one as the steam guy told me that if i read the other one most of it could be done by myself. I just haven't had the time to do it. The contractors that i have brought in from RI to look at other options were not knowledgeable on steam as i felt like i knew more from reading one book.

    i think the pressure was just under 2psi. Its a One pipe system

    The last contractor i had in suggested i keep the steam but fix some of the issues but also use the Mini split systems for more days when its above 40 degrees or use the steam to heat the house to 40 and then run the mini splits to the desired temp....

    thanks again for all your answers
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 12,820
    Mini-splits for mild days sounds reasonable to me.

    We are not suppose to discuss pricing here but I have to wonder, if it's $10K to fix the system, which with a new boiler sounds completely reaosnable.

    I can't imagine it being less to do geothermal or any of the other options you listed inlcuding the labor to rip all of the steam stuff out.

    And, even if it is close to the same, don't forget geothermal has an awful lot of parts to fail. I'm just guessing here but I can't see a compressor lasting more than a few years at most under those conditions. If you need to replace it in 10 years what did it save you?

    Perhaps some pros can chime in regarding how long such systems last, I honestly don't know.
    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
  • Bob Bona_4
    Bob Bona_4 Member Posts: 2,083
    I've dabbled in a few geo jobs- water to water, water to air, closed and open, and DX. My concern is the proprietary nature of the equipment, the scarcity of techs, and the general lack of uniformity between jobs and systems. A very scary arena with stuff here one day, gone the next.
  • JStar
    JStar Member Posts: 2,752
    If you'd like a second opinion, I've been known to travel the Northeast for consultations.
    ChrisJ
  • lancia
    lancia Member Posts: 21
    I have moved away from geothermal as I the cost was very very high and was a 10+ year return on my investment

    Anyone know a person who works on steam in RI that can check my system?

    Need some opinions on what it truly would cost to fix it and get it working properly so I decide which way to go
  • Mark N
    Mark N Member Posts: 1,094
    Lancia,

    Before you make any decisions first buy some of Dan's books. Like "We've got Steam Heat", "Greening Steam", or "The Lost Art of Steam Heat". The key to efficiency with steam is a properly sized and properly piped boiler, then it needs to be properly vented. Learn to look over your system to determine if it has been knuckled headed, like plugs instead of main vents. Take some time to learn what it is you have before you rip it out. Provide some picture of what you have, there are plenty of knowledgeable people here hat can help.
  • vaporvac
    vaporvac Member Posts: 1,520
    @JStar is one of the best. You'd be well advised to take him up on his above offer.
    Two-pipe Trane vaporvacuum system; 1466 edr
    Twinned, staged Slantfin TR50s piped into 4" header with Riello G400 burners; 240K lead, 200K lag Btus. Controlled by Taco Relay and Honeywell RTH6580WF
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,518
    If I were you, I jump at the opportunity to have jStar look at your system and give you a consultation. He's one of the best.
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 12,820
    @JStar is one of the best in my book.

    He's the only other person that's worked on my boiler besides me. Anyone that knows how picky I am knows that means something.



    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
  • lancia
    lancia Member Posts: 21
    @jstar I would love to get your opinion and help on my system. I will send you an email as I am not even sure how to send a private message on here

    Thank you
  • Charlie from wmass
    Charlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,216
    If @jstar can't make it I am in Carver MA every other Friday and Sunday.
    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
  • lancia
    lancia Member Posts: 21
    @Charlie from wmass Thank you for the offer. I would love for you to come down and look at our steam system and get your opinion on it. I will send you an email now and see when you are available.
  • icesailor
    icesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    I'm not a Steam Pro.

    FWIW, IMO, that 5 year old boiler looks fine and isn't ready for a trip to Asia for recycling.

    The connections of the new boiler to the old system don't resemble anything that I ever saw in an old Deadman Steam installation. The connections from the boiler to the system look like the doings of a Wethead who doesn't know about Steam. Rather than a Steamhead, that knows about both Steam and Hot Water. It looks under piped/supplied, and over returned improperly. What is that great big/long insulated pipe running across the cellar that looks like a big water trap?

    I wonder about the quality of the insulation job. That silver colored insulation is usually used on cold water pipes as a vapor barrier. Then, there's the return part with the oversized insulation just hung over the pipe. Then, there's that partially covered pipe that the insulation is way oversized for the pipe. It looks like a hack oversight to get rid of extra insulation for the job. That stands out like a red replacement fender on a white car.

    An inspector said you could use more insulation in the attic? That's probably true. But that's the easiest thing to do. So I wonder what else they cut corners on.

    Just because the windows on the second floor are old, doesn't mean they are energy suckers. Especially if they have quality aluminum storms on them. They are almost always more energy loss resistant than new modern double pane windows without another (third) storm panel outside.

    That house was a gut re-hab before you bought it? Speculators that do gut re-habs for resale aren't usually noted for hiring high wattage bulbs. Any lower watt bulb will do as long as they get it done cheap and on time. Intuition tells me that because of the way the boiler was piped, the boiler may be too big. It can be made smaller.

    I don't quite understand how the return condensate water gets back into the boiler like it might show in the I/O manual.

    When the tires wear out on my 5 year old car, I don't go out and buy another car.

    Check out your options.

    IMO.
  • lancia
    lancia Member Posts: 21
    thanks @icesailor

    I am not looking at just scrapping the system and get rid of it but i need to cut my heating cost down in the winter. If i can fix my system to have it be piped, insulated and sized correctly and that will potentially save me 50% on my heating bill from what i am spending now then i would to keep the system. I am not going to just scrap the system either way. I am either going to have it fixed now (if i can cut my fuel consumption down) and keep using it or install some Mini split ductless systems and then i will get worked on little by little and use both systems.

    Whoever installed the boiler and repiped it definitely did not know what they are doing. I am not a steam pro either but from reading Dans book "we got steam heat" and looking at the boiler manual I can tell all the piping near the boiler was sized and installed incorrectly. I just don't know what type of propane consumption i will save by getting it installed correctly and thats my biggest problem. My wife and I need to cut our heating cost down and need to get a honest opinion on what would be the best option and cost effective thing to do.

    The big long pipe is one of the pipes that head to one of the radiators on the first floor. A couple of them are definitely water traps as they are not pitched back to the boiler correctly

    The house was gutted and redone but it was not a flip house. Previous owners bought it in foreclosure and was going to be their dream home together but got a divorce and had to sell the house when they were not 100% finished with the rehab.

    thanks again for your response. I am setting up as many meetings as possible so i can see what different heating contractors thing. Just waiting to hear back from the couple steam specialist on here so i can actually get a steam pro to look at the system.
  • vaporvac
    vaporvac Member Posts: 1,520
    You've come to the right place!
    Two-pipe Trane vaporvacuum system; 1466 edr
    Twinned, staged Slantfin TR50s piped into 4" header with Riello G400 burners; 240K lead, 200K lag Btus. Controlled by Taco Relay and Honeywell RTH6580WF
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 18,915
    As to the savings on energy costs -- the only way you are going to get a 50% savings is by insulation and tightening the envelope up. You probably will be able to gain some efficiency (hard to say how much) just by getting the steam system set up properly, and either Charles or JStar can do that for you. You won't gain significantly by replacing the steam system with anything else.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    RobGvaporvac
  • lancia
    lancia Member Posts: 21
    I was paying 2.59 a gallon and averaged 400 gallons a month from December -March. I also use propane for cooking and my navien for hot water

    The house is 1850sq feet. The exterior walls are insulated with R-13 cellulose and attic is insulated with 9" fiberglass with heat resistance value of R-19

    I had a Manual J calculation done and my numbers were:

    Heating required 44,379 btuh
    Sensible gain 22,537 btuh
    Latent gain 4,058 btuh
    Cooling required 26,596 btuh


    2 floors and partially finished attic. House is pre 1900 but updated 2 years ago. I think the house is pretty tight. Don't feel any draft at all really. Feet sometimes cold when bare feet on 1st flop but only in 1 area really. House is a old Victorian

    Hope that helps.

    Thanks again
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 18,915
    Just to cheer you up a little bit, Lancia... this was, I'll grant you, a rather chilly winter. The place I care for (see the description in my signature) is fully exposed to the northwest winds.

    My worst day this winter was 48 gallons of fuel oil. In one day. I can easily go through 800 gallons of oil in a month in the cold months...

    Staying warm in New England does not come cheap.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • lancia
    lancia Member Posts: 21
    Thanks for the Info @hatterasguy. With never having steam or propane before I was not expecting the huge monthly bill. The most I spent in my other house was about $350 but with natural gas and forced hot water baseboard. Also smaller house.

    The 1460 consumption number was something I was looking for to see if I was using a lot more or not so I could get an average of savings if I stuck with steam.

    Looking at my invoices they have put in 1350 gallons of propane from December to mid March.

    I understand we had a cold winter just never had heating bills that high.

    I just need to figure out if I install another heat type what type of heating bill I would of had during the same exact winter. My family with a bigger and brand new house spent at most $350 a month on heat during this winter but with natural gas and forced hot air.
  • Charlie from wmass
    Charlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,216
    How many therms did your family get $350? Were they on a budget plan where the bill is spread out over the year?
    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
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,306
    This was the coldest winter I have seen since buying my house (just south of Boston) 34 years ago. It wasn't just cold but we had a lot of wind and there is nothing as cold as a northeast wind on the coast. I lived in Korea for a year so I know a thing or two about cold.

    The first thing I would do would be to air seal the house, if you can keep the heat from escaping it will lower your heating bills more than anything else you can do. Make sure the attic and the rim joist in the cellar are properly sealed and insulated.

    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: 8,518
    Do you have Natural gas anywhere near you? Unless I missed it in one of the earlier posts, I didn't see anyone ask that question. If you do, I'd spend my money on bringing it into the house and either converting the boiler to a gas burner (plus fix the piping and venting). That is where you will get the biggest bang for your buck in terms of fuel savings. You have any number of options for the central air. I have a 5000 sq. ft. house heated with steam and natural gas. We had an unusually cold winter this year and my highest heating bill was around $350.00/mo. I opted to install two split central air systems with ducts in my house. A 3 ton that serves the first floor (2000 sq. ft.) and a 5 ton that serves the second and third floors (another 3000 sq.ft.) Ducting for the first floor is in the basement with registers in the floor. Ducting for the second and third foors in the attic with second floor registers in the ceilings and for the third floor, at the top of the walls near the ceiling. There was no tearing into any of the walls that way. Just cut-outs for the registers. Instead of air handlers, I installed two furnaces, one in the basement, in the boiler room and one in a closet/storage room on the third floor. They provide the blowers for the central air and, should there be a failure with my boiler, I have the option to use them for heat. In the 24 years I've been in this house I've only had to use them once for heat and then only for a couple days so I'm not sure you need that backup except for peace of mind that it is there if needed. Of course it's not cheap but if you can cut your fuel bill in half, it might pay for itself in 2 to 3 years, allow you to keep the steam heat (the best heat there is), have the central air and have a backup system as a bonus.
    Just another option, if you can configure it so that it works out.
  • lancia
    lancia Member Posts: 21
    No natural gas yet where I live. They are not sure on when it will make it to the neighborhoods.

    Charlie the $350 from my family's heat was their normal bill no budget plan

    That's what in trying to do is cut my heat in half and have a return on investing in about 7 years of possible. Either fixing my steam to get me fuel savings if possible or change it out. Just wish I could find some calculation that could tell me my cost per system in same climate this winter.

    I know the steam heat is nice but I also have to convince my wife to keep the steam heat if we go that route

    I think I might have to get something not running off propane from the sounds of it since that is the most expensive part. That's why my thougt was install some minisplit system for mild days and use the steam only in really cold winters....

    Thanks again for the responses
  • Mithramuse
    Mithramuse Member Posts: 3
    Speaking as someone else who has been looking at heating options recently, if for a different reason (dead heat pump compressor), barring going geothermal you probably have the second least expensive system there using propane, with natural gas being least expensive. Depending on the circumstances solar with all-electric (and a lot of tightening up) might work too, but as with geothermal - large up-front cost (unless you rent your roof to someone for the solar).

    I have all-electric and the first response was basically, go propane. Fortunately I've been talking with @Rich (thank you again!) and local contractors to find out more options, while getting quotes for replacement systems... with the weather now decent I would rather take a bit of time to figure things out, but the wife is looking for A/C before it gets too hot.

    Anyway, though this is coming from a non-steam head, you might do better fixing the steam, keep running propane, maybe run minisplits like you're saying but propane is almost certainly less expensive than all-electric. Combining both to keep a few rooms warmer while just taking the edge off the rest might work to keep operating costs down too?
  • j a_2
    j a_2 Member Posts: 1,796
    If you get 3 steam pros then they basically should all have the same answers…if not,then they may be not as they say they are…steam pros…Honestly, there are just not many companies out here that have both competent and dedicated employes…In the mom and pop shops you mostly get one good competent person,then he will bring in a helper or two, usually a unemployed friend or relative..careful with that because normally there is no insurance…A good indicator is he pulls up i a p o v….Lots of guys say the guys today are not as they once were…I don’t agree, with that..because since my first solo steam boiler in 1979, i have heard that statement over and over…Truth be told the local industry was better off when they retired…You want in your home a competent honest hard working individual..Take any one of those away and you got trouble..
  • Robert_25
    Robert_25 Member Posts: 406
    In addition to the steam piping improvements, I would make a few calls to see if you can get a better price on the propane. In my area the few remaining independent propane suppliers almost always have the best prices...but even the big guys like Amerigas have price programs that give you a guaranteed rate through the season.
  • Patchogue Phil_2
    Patchogue Phil_2 Member Posts: 303
    No matter what fuel you use or method of heating, you really MUST insulate that attic better than R19 !! Minimum code is at least R38 and even that is too little.

    First air seal all those little air leaks into the attic from the living areas. Foam-in-a-can the small holes from electrical wiring in the top plates of walls. Work from attic side. Any recessed lighting? Those leak the most unless they are special sealed and meant for insulation covering them. Is this a balloon frame house? Gotta seal up those airflow leaks! That's your money leaving the house. Then have loose blown cellulose blown over the whole attic, to R50 at least. More if there's room. Make sure there are airchutes at the roof to outside wall top plates.

    The air sealing and blown cellulose are a truly easy DIY project If u are physically able to trapes around the attic.

    Air sealing and more insulation will make even an inefficient heating system burn much less fuel.
  • jumper
    jumper Member Posts: 1,831
    Emphatically steam heat lasts indefinitely. Compressors don't.
  • lancia
    lancia Member Posts: 21
    Thank you

    From the sounds of it I need insulate my house better and fix steam piping and that should help my overall heating cost.

    Thanks again for everyone's input
  • lancia
    lancia Member Posts: 21
    one more question

    If my house needs 44,000 BTUs of heat and my boiler is 113,000 BTU is my boiler to large and could be a reason for me using more propane?
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 12,820
    lancia said:

    one more question

    If my house needs 44,000 BTUs of heat and my boiler is 113,000 BTU is my boiler to large and could be a reason for me using more propane?

    You're going to get a lot of opinions on this.

    How much radiation do you have? My opinion is you want your boilers output to be 0 to 10% above the amount of radiation plus piping losses.


    Most will say 33% above radiation and some even say 50%.

    Is 113,000 input or DOE output?
    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
  • lancia
    lancia Member Posts: 21
    I think it was DOE output but I have to check when I'm home
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 12,820
    edited May 2015
    lancia said:

    I think it was DOE output but I have to check when I'm home

    You will also need to figure out how much radiation you have. Very often steam systems are oversized for the house they are in.

    This will help
    http://www.smithfieldsupply.com/company_info/forms/radiatorest.pdf

    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
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 12,820
    That pdf does not appear to list thin tube type radiators.

    http://www.oldhouseweb.com/imagesvr_ce/stories/bitmaps/830/heating_p31_300x246.gif
    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