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Steam not getting to one radiator - why?

Hello. I have a Folk Victorian house in northern New England, built in 1908. It has a Peerless boiler and two-pipe steam system with column-type radiators, installed sometime prior to 1965 (as far back as I can trace). It has worked well in prior years, but now one radiator does not heat.

The system is unusual in that it is not piped like the line drawings in Dan's book; there is no steam main with an F&T trap at its end with a return to the boiler. Instead the steam pipes are radial off the header; they dead end at radiators. The steam lines are all insulated in the basement.

The condensate lines are also radial, essentially parallel to the steam lines until they get close to the boiler, at which point they come together with a main vent, then connect via the Hartford Loop to the equalizer.

With one exception there are no steam traps anywhere. The valves on the inlet side of the radiators all have short handles on them. I am assuming they are multiple-orifice valves but all are stuck in place. I have not tried to take one apart, so I'm guessing.

The one radiator that is not getting steam is on the second floor (in the bathroom where we would really like heat in the morning). There is loud water hammer on this one line when the heat is coming on, which can be felt on the steam pipe. It feels like someone is hitting the pipe with a hammer, somewhere below the second floor. Occasionally the steam pipe will get hot almost up to the valve, but not to the radiator. There is no sign of steam coming out of the floor around the steam pipe, nor water leaking down into the basement at the bottom of the chase, so I don't think the steam pipe has failed within the chase.

My plumber, who reads Dan's books and has great respect for the Dead Guys, is at a loss. He has disconnected the radiator and blown (by mouth) into both the steam and condensate lines. He says both lines are free of obstruction.

Dan has said the enemy of steam systems is rust. Is it likely that a flake of rust is keeping steam from getting to the radiator, or air getting out of it? If so, where should he look?

Is there anything else you can think of that would have made this recent change in a formerly-working radiator?

Thanks for your thoughts and help.

Comments

  • AbracadabraAbracadabra Posts: 1,948Member
    Possibilities in order of most likely to less likely:

    1 - House/radiator/pipe has shifted, creating a trap for water/condensate, ergo your water hammer.
    2 - clogged orifice, not letting condensate drain out of radiator, again, ergo your water hammer.

  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Posts: 10,882Member
    Can't think of anything abracadabra hasn't said. With No.. 1 being considerably more likely -- and it is surprising how little a shift it takes to create this kind of problem.

    What does the outlet elbow from the radiator look like? Can you identify it? Some of them had various small orifices in them, and if they get clogged that can cause this kind of problem.
    Jamie

    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England.

    Hoffman Equipped System (all original except boiler), Weil-Mclain 580, 2.75 gph Carlin, Vapourstat 0.5 -- 6.0 ounces per square inch
  • SteamheadSteamhead Posts: 13,220Member
    edited November 2015
    Take some pics of the system- valves, radiator return fittings, any devices in the piping near the boiler, and post them here. Let's see what variation of Vapor this is.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    "Reducing our country's energy consumption, one system at a time"
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Baltimore, MD (USA) and consulting anywhere.
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/all-steamed-up-inc
  • The_Old_GuyThe_Old_Guy Posts: 9Member
    Hello again. Sorry about the quality of the photography, but here's my first attempt:

    The (formerly) cold radiator -- Frank, our plumber, installed a vent on the radiator, which gives us a warm bathroom, but not an answer to the original problem:


    A typical radiator in a more open area:


    Steam side:


    Condensate side:

    That is just a plain elbow; no valves or gimmicks in it, or in the outlet of the radiator.

    Boiler with riser and header. Radial steam lines leave from the end of the header opposite the riser:


    Condensate lines and single main vent:


    Equalizer and condensate return via Hartford Loop:


    Thanks for the input so far. Since Frank added the air vent on the bathroom radiator, the water hammer has increased, which seems to verify Abracadabra 's and Jamie Hall's views. But if so, how could Frank blow into those pipes and not feel any resistance to his breath?

    We have heat now, and can stand the water hammer, so it's mostly a matter of curiosity, for both Frank and me.

    Do these pictures help any? Anything else I should include?

    Thanks,

    The Old Guy
  • vaporvacvaporvac Posts: 1,516Member
    What????????????? Seriously, that rad shouldn't have a vent on it, and why did Frank, the plumber, put it there rather than fix the problem? You just applied a bandage. You have a beautiful vapor system probably just like mine. I'm guessing a vacuum system. Why ruin it ?I have the exact same valves. This is how systems get jack-up beyond recognition, but I understand you just want heat. No criticism meant. I've been there. Could you please post pics of the main venting apparatus in the basement? Perhaps @Steamhead can pipe in with proper suggestions to get this working.
    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
  • AbracadabraAbracadabra Posts: 1,948Member
    I can't tell where the equalizer comes off the header. I think there may be an issue there.
  • vaporvacvaporvac Posts: 1,516Member
    Yes, some pics of the boiler from further back would help.
    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 HallJamie Hall Posts: 10,882Member
    "But if so, how could Frank blow into those pipes and not feel any resistance to his breath? "

    When you blow into a pipe, you really can't get much velocity, and the water -- if any -- just sits there in the low area. When you put steam on the pipe, first the amount of water increases from condensing steam, but more important, that steam is really moving along -- and takes what water there is and blows it up against the next available elbow. Whang...
    Jamie

    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England.

    Hoffman Equipped System (all original except boiler), Weil-Mclain 580, 2.75 gph Carlin, Vapourstat 0.5 -- 6.0 ounces per square inch
  • The mispiping of the supplies is sending a lot of water up into the mains.
    Somehow the air is not able to get out of that radiator, without the vent in place, (blocked elbow)?
    Now the radiator may start to fill up with water, which like the air may not be able to escape.--NBC
  • The_Old_GuyThe_Old_Guy Posts: 9Member
    Vaporvac, in defense of Frank:
    "What????????????? Seriously, that rad shouldn't have a vent on it, and why did Frank, the plumber, put it there rather than fix the problem? You just applied a bandage."
    We're not supposed to discuss pricing here on the Wall. I hope some comments in general about cost do not cross the line. I am in my eighth decade and am retired with a (decreasing) fixed income. And good plumbers do not come cheap, even here in the North Country.

    I have heard it said that the ultimate engineering problem is determining "How good is good enough?" Frank fixed the immediate problem of getting heat to our bathroom for the cost of a steam vent and a quarter-hour of his labor. How long would it have taken him (and therefore cost how much) to find and fix the root cause of the problem in the basement or pipe chase? The run from the header to the pipe chase is less than twenty feet, so we're looking for an inch of pitch -- in a pipe covered by insulation.

    In a perfect world, or even a world where I had unlimited funding for a project like this, certainly finding and fixing the root problem would be preferable. But under the reality of our circumstances, I am satisfied that Frank's answer to "How good is good enough?" was the right one. And our bathroom is now nice and warm in the mornings.

    The Old Guy
  • BobCBobC Posts: 4,983Member
    "Better is the enemy of good enough"

    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
  • The_Old_GuyThe_Old_Guy Posts: 9Member
    Nicholas, could you please tell us what is wrong with the near boiler piping?
    "The mispiping of the supplies is sending a lot of water up into the mains."
    There is a 24" riser off the top of the boiler to the header, and perhaps another 10" from the water level to the top of the boiler. The riser is at one end of the header and the mains come off the other. There is no sign of turbulence in the water glass when the burner is running. Where is the error?

    Thanks,

    The Old Guy
  • The_Old_GuyThe_Old_Guy Posts: 9Member
    More pictures of the boiler piping to follow.

    Thanks for all the input thus far,

    The Old Guy
  • AbracadabraAbracadabra Posts: 1,948Member

    Nicholas, could you please tell us what is wrong with the near boiler piping?

    "The mispiping of the supplies is sending a lot of water up into the mains."
    There is a 24" riser off the top of the boiler to the header, and perhaps another 10" from the water level to the top of the boiler. The riser is at one end of the header and the mains come off the other. There is no sign of turbulence in the water glass when the burner is running. Where is the error?

    Thanks,

    The Old Guy

    It doesn't appear that you have an equalizer connected to the "header". I use "header" loosely, as I cannot be sure there really is any kind of a header. Improper near boiler piping can cause a host of issues, including some of what you are seeing.
  • ChrisJChrisJ Posts: 10,045Member

    Vaporvac, in defense of Frank:

    "What????????????? Seriously, that rad shouldn't have a vent on it, and why did Frank, the plumber, put it there rather than fix the problem? You just applied a bandage."
    We're not supposed to discuss pricing here on the Wall. I hope some comments in general about cost do not cross the line. I am in my eighth decade and am retired with a (decreasing) fixed income. And good plumbers do not come cheap, even here in the North Country.

    I have heard it said that the ultimate engineering problem is determining "How good is good enough?" Frank fixed the immediate problem of getting heat to our bathroom for the cost of a steam vent and a quarter-hour of his labor. How long would it have taken him (and therefore cost how much) to find and fix the root cause of the problem in the basement or pipe chase? The run from the header to the pipe chase is less than twenty feet, so we're looking for an inch of pitch -- in a pipe covered by insulation.

    In a perfect world, or even a world where I had unlimited funding for a project like this, certainly finding and fixing the root problem would be preferable. But under the reality of our circumstances, I am satisfied that Frank's answer to "How good is good enough?" was the right one. And our bathroom is now nice and warm in the mornings.

    The Old Guy


    I'd bet a good steam guy could've figured the problem out faster than Frank could've drilled and tapped that radiator.
    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
  • vaporvacvaporvac Posts: 1,516Member
    edited November 2015
    Are we still trying to figure this one out? I'm for @Abracadabra and @Jamie Hall conclusions. He had a similar racket last year when a large rad fell VERY slightly out of pitch It still heated, however, which is why I think it's a clogged orifice. Maybe a little vinegar or lube would get the valve working. I seriously doubt anything is in the line.
    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
  • The_Old_GuyThe_Old_Guy Posts: 9Member
    Abracadabra,
    It doesn't appear that you have an equalizer connected to the "header". I use "header" loosely, as I cannot be sure there really is any kind of a header.
    The equalizer has four 90s in it before it drops to the wet return. The first picture below shows the equalizer dropping from the horizontal line I referred to (perhaps mistakenly) as the header, 30" from the riser, and just before the mains head out to the radiators:
    The nex picture shows the short horizontal run of the equalizer and the beginning of its drop to the wet return:
    The last photo in the first series I posted shows the bottom of the equalizer connecting to the wet return. The line to the right is the equalizer, the one to the left the condensate return via the Hartford Loop.

    Thanks again to all who have helped,

    The Old Guy
  • FredFred Posts: 7,984Member
    That really isn't a header. It is an extension of the main. The mains should come off of the top of a horizontal header and the equalizer should come off of the end of the header, where the main is now connected. Aside from the one radiator that doesn't heat, how does the boiler perform otherwise? Is there any banging around the boiler piping? If it heats the house reasonably well, you may want to wait until the boiler needs to be replaced but it should be addressed at that time, for sure. I doubt that this particular situation is the cause of one radiator not heating, most likely it is a clogged orifice, as has been noted. It is also possible the valve, on the supply side of the radiator is in the closed position.
  • The_Old_GuyThe_Old_Guy Posts: 9Member
    Aside from the one radiator that doesn't heat, how does the boiler perform otherwise?
    Very well -- no complaints at all. The first year we were in the house (almost 15 years ago) we had a three week period in which the outside temperature did not get above negative 20*F, with the night temps down to neg 40*F. We went through 300 gallons of oil in those three weeks, but were nice and warm.

    No problem other than that one radiator, which is now warming the bathroom again (albeit with a band-aid).

    Thanks,

    The Old Guy
  • AbracadabraAbracadabra Posts: 1,948Member
    What was the "band-aid" fix that made the radiator work again?
  • vaporvacvaporvac Posts: 1,516Member

    What was the "band-aid" fix that made the radiator work again?

    He put a vent in the two-pipe rad.

    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
  • I wonder how the condensate will get out of the radiator, if the air could not.
    Maybe the problem is in a crossover trap further down.--NBC
  • vaporvacvaporvac Posts: 1,516Member
    Yes, he did say it banged more after putting on the vent, but he could live with that better than no heat. I din't get the impression they checked much else. Perhaps they decided to get heat to rad first via a "band-aid", and then explore why it suddenly decided not to heat in the first 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
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