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Fixing to buy a steam heated house.

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  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,430
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    Oh help. Please don't tear out the old windows. That is one of the biggest scams going. With a little attention to them, they can be made to be remarkably tight, and adding combination storms on the outside, as @nicholas bonham-carter suggested, will complete the job -- and the payback is much much shorter.

    Depending on how the walls are built, you may be able to blow dense pack cellulose into them. There are definitely two schools of thought on that -- there are some downsides due to condensation within the wall -- but if the plaster is really sound and your installer will guarantee he won't blow the plaster off and if it really is balloon framed, that can help.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Fizz
    Fizz Member Posts: 547
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    Agree with Jaimie, especially the windows from experience. Moved into grandparents old home, 100 yr old and replaced windows. Some of charm lost, and adding new storm windows would have been better. Also, 2 stained-glass windows were removed and couldn't be put back, ended up taking to antque shop and sold.
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,776
    edited April 2016
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    I'm not sure if Jamie and Fizz are talking to me, or not? I assume yes?

    My 150 year old windows are garbage. They're made like crap and there's nothing to save, I started working on one of the better ones and decided to make it work and leave it alone. Jamie I think we've had this discussion before.

    90% of them don't have a stop in between the upper and lower sash so the sashes rub against eachother and there's no bevel or anything and they never had weights and fit super sloppy side to side and front to back. I do have two that were done later, like around 1900-1910 and those work beautiful weights and all. But most of the windows in the house flat out suck. They all have storms otherwise it'd be really bad.

    My hopes and dreams, if I'm ever lucky are to rip them all out and install Anderson WoodWright 400 series with a 2 over 2 pattern to match the originals. I've told the wife I'll never replace them unless it's with something that looks the same, the 2 over 2 I insist on.
    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: 23,430
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    Well, no, @ChrisJ , I wasn't really talking to you -- your windows, I seem to recall from a previous discussion, are somewhat worse than most. They were the Home Depot specials of the day! And windows like that I probably would replace. The OP, though, said something about sash weights (I think!) and windows with weights were tighter to begin with -- and can be made much tighter.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,776
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    Well, no, @ChrisJ , I wasn't really talking to you -- your windows, I seem to recall from a previous discussion, are somewhat worse than most. They were the Home Depot specials of the day! And windows like that I probably would replace. The OP, though, said something about sash weights (I think!) and windows with weights were tighter to begin with -- and can be made much tighter.

    If the OPs windows are anything like the two, or maybe three I have from the early 1900s, I'd absolutely fix them up. No doubt about it. If they have weights and the hardware for them, and work nice then at least you have something to work with. Even if most of mine didn't have weights, but were made correctly I'd fix them up.

    The few I have can be opened and closed with one hand easily and leak very little. I also recall something about being able to buy metal to use as gaskets around the sashes, perhaps it's referred to as spring bronze?
    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
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,479
    edited April 2016
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    I agree it depends on the quality of what you have. My 98 year old windows upstairs had no storms on them for the first 50 years and were in terrible shape, The storm windows that were put on in the early 60's were the only thing that stopped them from falling out of the frames. this house is just a basic 1.5 story tract house from 1918 so it's not like I was condemning any architectural gems by not restoring the old windows.

    I was working crazy hours at the time so i just replaced them with reasonable quality vinyl windows myself, they cost me about $190 each 10 years ago when i could still do that kind of work. They are very tight and trouble free, I would say they are maybe 10-20% better than a good storm on a tight wood window. They don't look as good as the wood windows did and they are about 3" smaller (windows are 32X52 so that really isn't a problem) so all in all I'm glad to have these now.

    A buddies dad bought a nice old colonial about a decade before I bought this palace and I remember he spent a whole summer pulling out all the old windows to repaint and reglaze but those were very well made and he had just retired and needed a project to keep him busy. By the time he was done with those 28 windows it took him a whole day to remove the window, strip off the old paint, do any required reglazing and paint them (inside was natural wood). They came out great and could still be around long after I'm gone.

    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
  • ChicagoCooperator
    ChicagoCooperator Member Posts: 355
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    One of my friends has refurbished his original windows into mint condition - truly a labor of love. I've been putting a lot of elbow grease into my steel windows and am very pleased with the results - it was well worth the effort.

    BTW I didn't realize that Vincennes was considered to be "central" Indiana!
    adamfre
  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 16,544
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    This is input from my friend, Emmet Gonder. He asked me to post for him:

    Dan: Swamped because of wife's medical issues, but feel I need to add my own 2cents to the guy buying the late 1800's house with 2 pipe steam heat, unoccupied for 3 years. Please pass my comments on, if you think them worth doing so; (can't take time at this late hour to register, password, and all that stuff.)

    You might recall from my previous posts, that I retired to Galesburg, IL in late 2003 after 25 years with Chicago Transit Authority, and lived in and around Chicago since 1968.

    Women's Club in Galesburg is in a historic house we have toured on house walks, which has a food warmer built into the radiator like the dining room radiator pictured.

    1992-2005, we owned a 1901 4-unit apartment building in Rogers Park in the farthest north lake side neighborhood in Chicago, which had a 1-pipe steam system. Originally, coal boiler, later coal stoker, later yet converted to oil, in early 1970's, People's Gas installed a then-new natural gas boiler, which we replaced with a new Peerless in ~2001. Building was built as 2 bedroom apartments, 1 bath, separate dining rooms, open back porches, pantries. 2 separate entrances, 2 stories, "flat" roof, foot-thick brick walls on first floor, 8" thick brick walls on 2nd, foot-thick brick fire wall between the 2 sides of the building.

    By the time we bought it, aluminum triple track storms added to very loose-fitting wooden double-hung original windows (complete with sash-weight channels), in poor condition. Air space in outer walls between brick and wood lath and plaster interior walls, similar ceiling with a thin layer of rock wool insulation above 2nd floor ceilings. We bought 3 high quality vinyl double-glazed windows to replace really bad ones, but one 3' wide X 5' tall would expand so much in the summer, sashes could hardly be moved, and then shrink so much in the winter, fit became sloppy. Vinyl only windows do that, I have learned.

    We talked to Andersen rep, and he measured, and suggested an excellent union contractor, who carefully removed each window out to the original brick openings (and removing sash weight channels as well), and then installed Andersen's vinyl-clad (on the outside) wood-frame double-glazed windows. Wife stained the inside bare pine, all 88 sashes for the 44 windows, and then 3 coats of varnish, before contractor installed. The windows and the exterior trim are all the same bronze-color vinyl, never needs painting. Very tight and sound proof. Aesthetically, looks like could be original.

    For our Galesburg house, aluminum triple-track storms, wooden double-hungs, single-glazed, failing putty and peeling paint, but at least new when house built in 1967. Much smaller than the 4-flat's windows, since this is a single-story ranch house. Replaced with Marvin wood frame double-glazed with white aluminum cladding on the outside. Again, no repainting ever, and wife stained and varnished interior pine on all sashes for 11 windows. Army buddy in Omaha specified Pella aluminum clad wood windows when his house was built in 1980's, double-glazed, and has never painted, and still excellent.

    I say screw restoring original windows, remove out to structural opening, which will enlarge the glass area since sash weight channels will be removed. You also eliminate any lead paint issues. (Chicago has found old wood sashes moving up and down rub off lead paint dust, dangerous to all to breathe or ingest.)

    Shame this house is not in Chicago. One can easily find experienced steam guys who know old systems. Ours had been neglected with feed water valve clogged up with rust and debris so one had to manually ensure boiler water was at proper level, among many other ailments. I propped up radiators so they drained condensation, replaced all air valves including on the 150' loop in the basement, adjusting and sizing them to balance the system. Before window replacement, we had to adjust thermostat setting to compensate for wind direction in the winter to keep us and tenants happy. After replacing windows, fewer wind compensation adjustments necessary. After 1 foot of fiberglass insulation blown in on top of the rock wool while reroofing, I had to adjust and replace all 2nd floor air valves, since without the heat loss through the roof, 2nd floor was too hot! Gas bill declined as well. Some radiators had been removed, since I was told Chicago systems were designed in 1901 for windows to be opened in winter for healthful(?) fresh(?) outside air, (then laden with coal soot, and trash incinerator soot).

    I was chair of buildings and grounds at 1912 church we attended, which had steam heat, and single-glazed stain glass windows. We decided to install new front doors, custom made huge mahogany ones with large stained glass windows in them. However, building codes these days say glass in doors must be tempered or plastic (preferably Lexan). Tiffany Studios in Chicago (no connection to the famous Tiffany glass studio in NYC, as I understand) said they could fabricate stained glass window for interior side, with tempered glass protecting inside and out, and the whole unit sealed like any Marvin, Pella, or Andersen window. These were installed 15 or so years ago, and still look great.

    If I was Adam buying this house, definitely look until you find an experienced knowledgeable steam tradesperson, and plan on replacing boiler and things like feed water valve. flushing out the system, replacing pipes that are showing exterior rust, checking flue and chimney, and ensuring all radiators are functioning and set up properly. New boiler will be more energy efficient, and certainly more reliable. Check for asbestos insulating visible steam pipes, and safely remove or encapsulate. One can buy excellent fiberglass insulation sleeves to replace. You want the heat going to the radiators; not to the visible basement piping, except what might be needed to heat the basement.

    I'd replace the windows, dealing with lead paint if present, and insulate roof/ceiling and walls. Small windows, you can replace yourself; I did on our ranch house. For bigger ones, find a helper. A lot of insulation can be done yourself, and some requires only small holes in the wall, inside and/or outside, easily plugged or repaired.

    I wish him well, and would like to see an update if he buys. Cheers, Emmet
    Retired and loving it.
    adamfre
  • adamfre
    adamfre Member Posts: 122
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    Hi gang! Definitely appreciate the conversation regarding Windows. Sometime in this house's past, it got wrapped in aluminium, and storm windows were installed as well. It was actually a pretty good job. Posting a pic of the house now :)
    Just want to stay warm in the winter. :D
  • adamfre
    adamfre Member Posts: 122
    edited April 2016
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    I'll start a new thread regarding the boiler and piping. :)

    Just want to stay warm in the winter. :D
  • Fizz
    Fizz Member Posts: 547
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    With windows as bad as you describe, then replacement would be the better option, and you seem right on the selection you plan to make.