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New Home, steam bubbling from valve stem?

NoreenClaireNoreenClaire Posts: 19Member
edited November 2015 in Strictly Steam
I've been reading through lots of posts and have ordered "We Have Steam Heat" and am looking forward to reading it when it arrives. Until that happens, I have one issue I would like to see if I can fix a) quickly and b) myself:

The house we bought two months ago, built in 1947, has one-pipe steam heating system. There was a sunroom addition put on some years ago, and a radiator was (poorly) piped to heat it. The previous owner stated that she would just "shut off the room during the winter". Well, we intend to use this room year-round. The problem is the radiator.

The radiator in this room barely/rarely works. Right after we moved in the air vent on the end broke (my kids had never seen radiators before), so I replaced it with one I bought at HomeDepot. The radiator now seems to heat up SOMETIMES, and never all the way across. On top of that, the valve handle is missing and we just noticed that there is steam escaping/water bubbling up from the valve stem. (Pictures below). For right now, until the book comes, I'm really just interested in making the steam stop, so as to make sure none of my little noisemakers gets hurt. Can I do this myself?

Thanks in advance. Go easy on me - I have very little idea what I'm doing....yet!

Comments

  • SteamheadSteamhead Posts: 12,296Member
    That looks like the wrong type of shutoff valve for a steam radiator- it looks much more like it was made for hot-water.

    And the air vent is in the wrong place- it should be lower down that end of the radiator. There should be a proper place to drill and tap for the vent.

    Where are you located?
    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
  • NoreenClaireNoreenClaire Posts: 19Member
    I'm in Methuen, MA, near the NH border.
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Posts: 8,535Member
    In answer to your direct question... yes, you should be able to fix that drip yourself. You will want two wrenches. One to turn the valve stem (you wouldn't need that if you can find the handle) and the other to turn the nut which the valve stem goes through. What you want to do is to turn the valve stem back and forth a bit. Then turn the big nut clockwise -- take it easy, they can split -- until the valve stem is hard to turn, but not impossible. You shouldn't have to crank on it, but it should be firm (this is easier with the proper handle...). Then make sure that the valve is fully open -- turn the stem, holding that nut, fully counterclockwise.

    And hope. It may be that the packing is sufficiently crummy that that won't work.

    Steamhead's comments are, no surprise (he's one of the very best) both correct. But fixing the drip, if you can, will get you heat.

    While you are at it, take a big level and make sure that the radiator as a whole has a slight tilt towards the valve end. It needn't be much, but it must have a slight tilt. You can place shims -- even quarters! -- under the feet at the end with the vent, if necessary.
    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
  • NoreenClaireNoreenClaire Posts: 19Member
    Is this the proper spot, about 2/3 down the radiator, for the air vent?
  • That's the right place.
    The packing nut tightening should be easy enough to do. Use an adjustable crescent wrench which will provide an even pressure on the nut, instead of a pipe wrench.
    When you place the wrench on the nut, make sure the fixed jaw is pointing away from the direction of rotation, and that the jaws are snug on the flat faces of the nut. Sometimes loosening the nut an fraction of a turn will then enable you to then tighten it up.--NBC
  • NoreenClaireNoreenClaire Posts: 19Member
    Thanks, all. I'm all over this tomorrow, just as soon as I can find where we moved the wrenches. ;-)

    Is how to drill and tap for the air vent explained in the book?
  • SteamheadSteamhead Posts: 12,296Member

    I'm in Methuen, MA, near the NH border.

    You'll want a steam man at some point..... Charles Garrity is one of the best. He's in Springfield but might be sweet-talked into coming that far:

    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/charles-garrity-plumbing-and-heating
    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
  • JUGHNEJUGHNE Posts: 4,558Member
    While waiting for the steam man and your book, could you post pictures of how this new pipe for this rad was installed? From where it connects to original piping to where it pokes thru the floor. Boiler and piping around it are always interesting also. :)
  • NoreenClaireNoreenClaire Posts: 19Member
    edited November 2015
    JUGHNE said:

    While waiting for the steam man and your book, could you post pictures of how this new pipe for this rad was installed? From where it connects to original piping to where it pokes thru the floor. Boiler and piping around it are always interesting also. :)

    I'm a babe in the woods as it relates to steam heat, but I can tell you that this doesn't look right to me. Is it possible for that one radiator to actually be hot water? Looking at it, it comes off of the same pipe that I use to draw off the brown water at the bottom of the furnace.

    Photos of the boiler and near piping:
  • NoreenClaireNoreenClaire Posts: 19Member
    Photos of this specific pipe, as it leaves the burner and travels through first the unfinished part of the basement, then the finished part, and then exits to the outside, uninsulated crawlspace below the sunroom. It definitely needs insulation right away!
  • PumpguyPumpguy Posts: 328Member
    Typical radiator vent valves are threaded for 1/8-27 NPT, (pipe threads). To cut these threads in the radiator, you will need a 1/8" NPT pipe tap and a set of high speed steel twist drills. The final hole size is an 11/32" hole.

    You may get lucky and be able to remove that plug, which is probably a 1/8" pipe plug. Start drilling with a smaller hole, say 3/16", and try unscrewing it with an EZ- out.

    If that doesn't work, then work your way up in steps until you reach 11/32". Before you get there, you may start to see the original threads, and be able to break up the old plug, and then clean out the threads with your tap.

    Keep in mind that pipe threads are tapered, so run the tap in around 3/4 of the way and see how the vent fits. Don't run the tap all the way down since this will make the tapped hole oversize.

    When threading cast iron, kerosene is the recommended lubricant. Typically, I just give the tap a squirt of whatever penetrating oil is in my toolbox. Try not to get the lubricant inside the radiator, If you do, this may cause steaming problems as described many times on this board.

    Good luck.

    Specializing in vacuum pumps for steam heating systems, especially older Nash Jennings units. We build new ones too!



    Now offering Tunstall air vent valves for steam and hot water hydronic heating systems.






    Please visit our website www.nashjenningspumps.com for more information
  • KC_JonesKC_Jones Posts: 3,513Member
    Steamhead said:

    I'm in Methuen, MA, near the NH border.

    You'll want a steam man at some point..... Charles Garrity is one of the best. He's in Springfield but might be sweet-talked into coming that far:

    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/charles-garrity-plumbing-and-heating
    By what he told me the other day he will go that far and further.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
    https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10202744301871904.1073741828.1330391881&type=1&l=c34ad6ee78
  • KC_JonesKC_Jones Posts: 3,513Member
    Looking at those pics I suspect I see what it doesn't work well. It is piped off of the return piping. While that may be able to work somehow, your main venting appears to be a little light so it probably takes an eternity for the feed pipe to even see the steam. It probably isn't working due to inadequate main venting and the thermostat shutting the boiler down before steam even reaches it. I would suggest one possibility is to get better venting to speed it up and get some insulation on all that piping for sure. It gets expensive, but is a worthwhile investment. If you want a pro to evaluate the system get Charlie in there he is a good guy. Oh and your boiler piping isn't correct, there should be swing joints on the header. The way yours is piped it's putting pressure on the boiler sections which isn't good. They used both tappings which exceeds minimum spec, but then left out the swing joint...very strange.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
    https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10202744301871904.1073741828.1330391881&type=1&l=c34ad6ee78
  • JUGHNEJUGHNE Posts: 4,558Member
    The radiator in question was probably used and came from a hot water system, the location of the air vent and the design of the inlet valve indicate that. However now it is hooked to a one pipe steam system and will work if properly piped. It seems to be connected to the dry return from the end of the steam main. There is a maximum length for this pipe in order for it to work. It looks to have some length to it to be considered a "runout"

    "We've got steam heat" is a very good primer for starting.
    The next book you really could use is called "The lost art of steam heating". It gets into detail in very layman terms.

    It does seem like you need a good steam pro, (probably not that installer who did the addition)
  • NoreenClaireNoreenClaire Posts: 19Member
    After reading the last couple of comments, I'm positive I'm currently in over my head! I'll read the book as soon as it gets here, and I'll ask Santa for the second book. However, at what point to I bring in a steam guy?

    I'll try to do whatever I can after reading the books but should I have someone come in anyway? With all the other work that this house is going to require (don't even get me started on the 'squishy' floor boards in the bathroom, ugh), I don't think my husband will be up for paying someone to come in if the house is relatively warm and the fuel bill isn't astronomical.
  • FredFred Posts: 6,591Member
    edited December 2015
    Tighten the packing nut on the valve stem and see if it stops leaking. If not, go to a plumbing supply house and ask for some steam valve stem packing and repack around the stem, after turning the power to the boiler off, so that you don't get scalded. Since you are new to the house/system, it would be a good idea to have a good steam Pro look over the system and make sure things are good and safe, like any other heating system. Depending on the type of Low Water cut off you have (if it is a float type) on the boiler, it may need to be blown down every week or two. That will be explained in Dan's books. It just takes a minute to do and is very simple.
    With that radiator tied to the dry return, it probably won't ever get as hot as tgose tied directly to the Main but it may work well enough to do the job for a small room. Time will tell. Ideally it should be moved to a location on the Main.
  • NoreenClaireNoreenClaire Posts: 19Member
    Steamhead said:

    I'm in Methuen, MA, near the NH border.

    You'll want a steam man at some point..... Charles Garrity is one of the best. He's in Springfield but might be sweet-talked into coming that far:

    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/charles-garrity-plumbing-and-heating
    Thanks. If I can't convince him to travel (I'm 2 hours away!), has anyone heard of this guy? He's closest...
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/bob-gagnon-plumbing-and-heating
  • Do a search here for his name to read his posts, and you will get an impression of him. I think he is a frequent and respected poster here.--NBC
  • KC_JonesKC_Jones Posts: 3,513Member
    Charlie has mentioned he goes as far as 3 hours from his home base.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
    https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10202744301871904.1073741828.1330391881&type=1&l=c34ad6ee78
  • NoreenClaireNoreenClaire Posts: 19Member
    Thanks, all. I have a call in to Mr. Garrity, and am anxiously awaiting a response!
  • Charlie from wmassCharlie from wmass Posts: 3,967Member
    I only travel as far East as Provincetown. Lol. We have spoken.
    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
  • Charlie from wmassCharlie from wmass Posts: 3,967Member
    edited December 2015
    Noticed the dry returns are tied together way too high. They need tied together below the water line. My mistake. If I read this correctly that second pipe is a supply to the sunroom? If that is the case I think when they installed the new boiler they tied it into the wrong side. I will be making time to see this first hand.
    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
  • NoreenClaireNoreenClaire Posts: 19Member
    Quick update:

    We insulated the pipes in the crawlspace under the sunroom and in the unfinished part of the basement, nearest the boiler. I spoke with Charlie and he had me turn the pressure down on the pressuretrol. The radiator seems to be be bubbling/leaking less (as well as the only other one that bubbled, in the living room).

    I managed to tighten the nut on the valve stem approximately a quarter turn. I can't for the life of me figure out how to turn the stem itself, though. The stem is completely round and smooth and I can't grip it with the wrench. The top looks like the handle had been broken off, rather than removed.

    I'm anxiously awaiting for the book to arrive, and waiting to hear if Charlie can fit my boiler into his schedule. Until then, I keep reading and researching on this site. Thanks all for your help so far!
  • FredFred Posts: 6,591Member
    As Steamhead said earlier, the vent on that radiator, in the picture is in the wrong place. It should be about mid way up the side of the radiator. When Charlie gets there, ask him to look at that also. I'm sure he'll want to move it down. That valve is missing its knob. As long as it is open, all the way, that's ok. If you ever need to shut that radiator off, you can just turn the vent updise down and that will prevent steam from getting into the radiator. If you want/need a knob, you can take one off of another valve and try it on this valve to make sure it is fully opened. You can always try to buy a new knob at a plumbing supply or google Steam valve knobs on the internet or on ebay. I'm sure you can find replacements. You may even have an old valve laying around in the basement that you can take the knob off of.
  • NoreenClaireNoreenClaire Posts: 19Member
    Fred said:

    That valve is missing its knob. As long as it is open, all the way, that's ok.

    That's the problem - I'm fairly sure that the valve is closed (or, mostly-closed), as the previous owner said that she shut this room off during the winter. The top of the stem is ragged and looks broken, so I don't think that I could get another knob on it, even if I wanted to.

  • Charlie from wmassCharlie from wmass Posts: 3,967Member
    Use vise grips or a small pipe wrench to turn the stem.
    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
  • Charlie from wmassCharlie from wmass Posts: 3,967Member
    I will have time the end of the week or start of next week. I will call tonight.
    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
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