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Home renovation and steam heating problems

LostonLI
LostonLI Member Posts: 6
Hello, all. I have started a fairly substantial home renovation of our home, built in 1919, that involves building an addition to expand the kitchen and completely remodeling both bathrooms in the house. We have an ancient gas steam boiler for a one pipe steam system, and a water heater. The pipes for the steam system are all huge cast iron in our basement. The addition requires that we replace our current boiler and water heater so that both can be direct vented - right now both are being vented through a chimney that runs up the middle of what will be my new expanded kitchen (thus, it has to be removed). Replacing the boiler is no big deal, as our boiler is working on borrowed time these days (it's at least 30 years old, and was not maintained by the prior owners at all). However, we are being told that even with a new boiler, the steam system will take a substantial amount of work to bring up to good working condition, in part due to the fact that our return line buried under the basement floor is leaking. We are also being told that the architect made no accommodation in the plans for any radiators in the kitchen or bathrooms, so for all three of these rooms, radiant hot water will be best. In addition, we have discovered during the gutting process that the piping that once was going through the middle of the kitchen up to one of the bedrooms would need to reworked anyway. For this reason, we are being told that the best solution for our heating situation is to replace the entire steam system with hot water radiant.

Let me say up front that I am not even remotely educated on this, other than having done a lot of reading of expert opinion on this and other websites. So I apologize if the terminology I am using is unclear or incorrect. I am doing my best to become educated, but I work in a high-stress, on-call type job, so my time to become educated is limited. I am really trying to rely on my tradespeople, but I am just getting this feeling that every one of them is selling me a line to try to get me to tear out my steam system and replace it with hot water. I know that generally speaking, Steam is King, at least on this website. And for that reason, my heart is breaking a little bit thinking about the removal of our cast iron steam radiators in favor of hot water radiators. We have spoken to three different contractors who seem to dismiss our steam system entirely, and I don't know whether it is because it really is hopeless, because they don't know how to fix it or make it work with our new rooms, or because they are lazy. We are confused and exhausted, and I am not really sure where to turn or what to ask these heating people to get a better idea of whether what they are saying is really true. If anyone has anything that they can offer I would appreciate it. I will do my best to answer any questions you may have. Thank you.
bill nye_3

Comments

  • bill nye_3
    bill nye_3 Member Posts: 307
    I can not speak for the steam system w/o seeing it. Once the steam system is gone it is gone and not many here like to witness that.

    However a hot water system is more flexible and you would have more options. Radiant floor heat where applicable , panel radiators , baseboard radiators , hydro - air , indirect water heater , outdoor reset , etc. Smaller diameter tubing would make piping much easier. Nicely written question I might add. Good luck with your project.
  • RobG
    RobG Member Posts: 1,850
    I disagree with Hat, you can still keep the steam and do radiant in the additions. If you are like most of us, budget is a concern. The key is finding a contractor who knows how to work with both mediums. You may have said it, but where in NY are you? There are allot of good contractors up there.
  • LostonLI
    LostonLI Member Posts: 6
    Thank you so much for your quick replies, and especially the input on salvaging our steam system and combining it with hot water. Budget is not a concern, as we have specifically prepared for a substantial cost for this - we are prepared for the expense either way.

    I do have a question for Hatterasguy - you said "While steam is lovely for those who have it, a fine running hot water radiant system is truly a system to behold. It is absolutely invisible (no radiators)." We are being pitched both baseboard and hot water cast-iron-like radiators - they are both highly visible to me. Have I been using incorrect terminology?

    Bill nye - thank you for helping me see that hot water is not tragic and that there are some benefits to it. I am kind of panicking over this whole ordeal.

    RobG - We are on Long Island - on the boarder between Nassau and Suffolk counties.

    Thanks again.
  • RobG
    RobG Member Posts: 1,850
    I'm a little confused, do you plan on abandoning the steam or going with a hybrid system? Radiant retrofits to an existing structure will be pretty labor intensive and costly. Or do you want to keep the existing steam and do radiant in the renovated areas?
  • vaporvac
    vaporvac Member Posts: 1,520
    edited May 2015
    I think we're referring to radiant as under-floor in wall/ceiling and the homeowner meants water radiators and baseboard. If that's the case, stick to steam and make it work.
    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
  • RobG
    RobG Member Posts: 1,850
    Try calling Danny Scully, Scully's Plumbing and Heating. He's on the "Find a Contractor" section of the site. He does both steam and hot water heat.
  • LostonLI
    LostonLI Member Posts: 6
    Vaporvac - I think you are right. I am using incorrect terminology (I apologize).

    RobG - What I wanted to do originally was repair and KEEP the existing steam, and do radiant only in the kitchen and bathrooms, and until the gut was done, I was told that this was possible. Now I am being told that keeping the steam will be even more challenging because the pipes to the bedroom directly above the kitchen need to be moved. I am basically being told that having two systems is crazy - and that I need to abandon steam altogether. What I am having a hard time discerning is whether this is true or not. Maybe the contractors are injecting their budget-consciousness into the conversation - which I can appreciate, but budget isn't the only concern for me. I am also extremely concerned about the disruption to the rest of my house, and taking out something that may be a superior system.
  • RobG
    RobG Member Posts: 1,850
    It is impossible for any of us to give you advice without seeing the home. It is possible to have a system that operates on both steam and hot water though. Use the Find A Contractor tab on the site and get some professionals out to survey the system. Be careful on who you hire and get references and photos of previous work and post them here so that we may critique it. Don't feel bad about asking for the photos and references, you're the one writing the check at the end of the day.
  • LostonLI
    LostonLI Member Posts: 6
    Thanks for the recommendation, RobG. Not sure if he can work in my area, but I will call.
  • RobG
    RobG Member Posts: 1,850
    I think we double posted. Please do what I said in the previous post though. I don't personally know Danny Scully, but he does have a good reputation.
  • Danny Scully
    Danny Scully Member Posts: 1,329
    edited May 2015
    Where are you located on Long Island? I'd love to help, and the last thing I would do is talk you out of steam ;)
    jonny88RobGChrisJ
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,518
    How exactly did your architect assume you would heat those new rooms ? I hope he didn't assume you'd simply tear open the rest of the house to put a heating system in that he prefers for the 2 or 3 new rooms. I'm pro steam 100% and a good steam guy can move a couple vertical pipes and maintain the correct pitch on any horizontals that he/she may need to make to get those pipes out of the middle of the kitchen plan. Will the addition be on a slab or will there be a crawl space or basement under it? If a basement or crawl space, extending the steam into the addition should not be a major issue and your architect just needs to figure out were the radiation needs to go.
    Take the advise given here and get Dan Scully or, if possible JStar (Thacher Heating) out for a consult where they can actually see the site. If you can get Jstar out, he is one of the very best and won't steer you wrong, Dan has a stellar reputation as well. Sometimes the very best thing you can do is get a knowledgeabe third party to consult, especially if they have no vested interest. That cost for the consultation is peanuts compared to the total cost of this project or to later having regrets about your decision. I mean be it steam or hot water, we don't know the skill set of the contractors you have engaged. Execution is the most important aspect for either of those systems. You would be well served to maybe seperate the heating system out from the general contractor, if you can get one of the Pros on this site engaged. I know Steamhead travels for consultations as well and he's another killer choice!
    ttekushan_3
  • LostonLI
    LostonLI Member Posts: 6
    edited May 2015
    Hi, Danny. I am in Amityville, in Suffolk County. I would love to get your input. Fred and RobG, and everyone else, thanks for encouraging me to follow my gut. I have not been sold on the solutions that have been presented to me by those who have seen theproject.
    RobG
  • Danny Scully
    Danny Scully Member Posts: 1,329
    That's a bit of a hike for us, but I can't leave you hanging :) PM me and we'll try and figure something out.
  • LostonLI
    LostonLI Member Posts: 6
    I am so grateful! You will hear from me shortly (once I figure out how to PM!)
    RobG
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,228
    I'm only a homeowner but I think your contractor does not know steam so he is trying to steer you into something else. I would tell your architect he can expect to be paid when he comes up with a print that shows the location of the steam radiators that will heat the new construction.

    i think you should get in touch with the names above to make sure someone knowledgeable oversees this installation, you want it done right the first time.

    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
    RobG
  • jonny88
    jonny88 Member Posts: 1,139
    Keep steam if possible.Most guys are not familiar with it on Long Island and would love to give you a Series 2 Burnham and water heater then wrap your house in baseboard.A properly working steam system is beautiful.Radiant is great but I will tell you for a whole house you are talking a lot of money.As Robg said you can take a hydronic loop of a steam boiler or maybe even consider electric radiant in kitchen yikes.
    RobG
  • vaporvac
    vaporvac Member Posts: 1,520
    As mentioned above a hot water loop is often used in conjunction with steam rads to make use of the "pick-up" factor inherent in steam boilers. You can use this for heat or domestic HW. I's done all the time and not too difficult, but it does need to be done correctly. Since you're using rads you might as well keep the steam. Baseboard isn't nearly as nice as the rads. Glad you're intent on keeping it. I was almost talked into ditching it until I came here and now my new system is outstanding. Colleen
    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
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 14,831
    LostonLI said:



    (snip)

    However, we are being told that even with a new boiler, the steam system will take a substantial amount of work to bring up to good working condition, in part due to the fact that our return line buried under the basement floor is leaking. We are also being told that the architect made no accommodation in the plans for any radiators in the kitchen or bathrooms, so for all three of these rooms, radiant hot water will be best. In addition, we have discovered during the gutting process that the piping that once was going through the middle of the kitchen up to one of the bedrooms would need to reworked anyway. For this reason, we are being told that the best solution for our heating situation is to replace the entire steam system with hot water radiant.

    (snip)

    We have spoken to three different contractors who seem to dismiss our steam system entirely, and I don't know whether it is because it really is hopeless, because they don't know how to fix it or make it work with our new rooms, or because they are lazy.

    (snip)

    Find some contractors worthy of the name. Danny Scully would be a good choice. JStar, another good choice, is a bit further away. The ones you have dealt with previously appear to be primarily interested in taking your money.

    Oh, and Fred- thanks.

    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
    RobGChrisJ
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 4,814
    I have read this thread with interest and so far not commented. There have already been plenty of comments from people much more experienced than I. That being said my comment is much more basic. I never understand how an INTELLIGENT contractor can suggest a complete tear out of a PROVEN system. In addition with a complete tear out this would certainly be the most expensive route to take....by a long shot. As Steamhead said it sounds like your contractors are fantastic at taking peoples money. I am surrounded by such contractors in my area...the primary reason why I replaced my own boiler last year. Good luck with your project and I also vote keep the steam...your comfort will thank you later.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
    jonny88
  • ttekushan_3
    ttekushan_3 Member Posts: 940
    I certainly hope you can find a willing contractor from this site.

    We've done a couple jobs just like yours and added to the steam heating system,
    Without straying from steam anywhere at all. One was a 2 pipe vapor system that I reverse engineered so as to match the heating characteristics of the new section to the old. In this instance the addition was 1000 square feet of living space and had already been built but was heated with forced air, and the comfort compared to the steam was inferior. We matched the radiators in make and style, and provided steam radiant heat for kitchen and entry hall; 2nd floor bath was heated with radiant in the wall. Surface temperatures matched those of a hot water radiant but wound up being much easier to install. We did the whole thing with minimum dust or demo.

    Another fun one was a single pipe system and major rearrangements with a few "interesting" pipe runs needed to be done to connect new properly sized radiators. But heat nicely they did, evenly and quietly. This one had no accommodation for a kitchen or mud room radiator either but we worked with the custom cabinet maker to conceal the radiator in a properly designed enclosure (from a heat emitting standpoint) as part of the kitchen cabinets and actually ducted to the mud room to pick up cold floor air to augment the cabinet-bound kitchen radiator to boost its output. It was a delightful project.

    None of this is really very difficult if one chooses to think about it. I wasn't born with steam knowledge. I just liked it and learned how to do it. When you already have a system all the contractor has to do is duplicate the relationship of piping, pitch, layout and capacities as they exist in the rest of the system. I don't know how it is that the knowledge of the ancients is so difficult to learn. Especially since there's the model right there in your house-- you know-- the one they want to tear out!!
    terry
    vaporvac
  • vaporvac
    vaporvac Member Posts: 1,520
    edited May 2015
    We matched the radiators in make and style, and provided steam radiant heat for kitchen and entry hall; 2nd floor bath was heated with radiant in the wall. Surface temperatures matched those of a hot water radiant but wound up being much easier to install. We did the whole thing with minimum dust or demo.



    @ttekushan , I think we need a separate post with pictures and details for this!!!! First time I'm hearing of it...usually the advise is to do a HW loop. I'm still trying to figure out what to do in my kitchen so I have a personal interest in this one. :)
    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
    ttekushan_3
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 11,966
    I'm sorry, I don't have much to say.

    Keep the steam.


    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
    ttekushan_3
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,228
    A properly configured steam system is VERY reliable, my old boiler had to be fixed once in 16 years (failed primary control). I had it cleaned every year and that was it other than replacing the odd air vent.

    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
  • jumper
    jumper Member Posts: 1,709
    On this site is an article by Igor Zhadanovsky. My point is that a modern steam heating system is easier to construct than what could be done in 1919.
    •modern windows & insulation means less heating load.Thinner pipes.
    •insulated flexible tubing.Less work and fittings.Main can be hung in attic.
    •switch to two pipe,use thermostatic regulating valves for perfect control and balance.

    A small enough boiler may be unavailable?