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New to Steam Heat

Jesse_6Jesse_6 Member Posts: 13
edited November 2016 in Strictly Steam
Hi all..
I'm new here. I realize this is a rather lengthy post/call for help. I appreciate the effort that active members put into supporting these boards. Thanks in advance for your time and knowledge sharing.

I moved into my home just over a year ago. Its a Circa 1820's Colonial which has undergone two major additions/renovations over the years, by the look of things nothing all too recent. I've observed a few of radiators and pipes have been relocated during these renovations.
I'm a little concerned that things are not running optimally, over the last year we burnt well over 1500 gallons of oil heating 2,500 sq foot house. This being my first home with an oil burning, steam boiler, with one pipe steam. I have no real basis for comparison maybe this is totally normal. Upon moving in last fall it was readily apparent that the heating system was neglected. I've started to take steps to address some of the obvious problems.

1. Replaced all the pressure valves on the radiators as nearly all were hissing and never closing.
2. Re-pitched all the radiators as none were correctly sloped.
3. Re-packed all the gate valves at the radiators most were leaking.
With above steps completed and a slightly quitter heating system. I'm observing the following behaviors from my heating system which i still have questions about.

1. One of the mains in my basement (I think it’s a main) that appears to be on the return line from some of my most distant radiators continually vent steam when the system is running full bore.
a. Should I replace it or is this expected behavior?

2. On the same line as above, my two most distant radiators are the last to heat in the entire house. I have Hoffman A1 vents on the radiators both vents appear to be working fine they are newly replaced and set to #3 for size of radiator and not distance from boiler as I have read is correct. If I remove the Hoffman when boiler is going I get heat faster but it’s still kind of slow compared to others. I should note these radiators have been retro fitted to a copper feeder pipe (maybe 1" or slightly bigger?) which sits on the surface of a crawl space in an addition.
a. I imagine that insulating this pipe would help and be a good idea but will that fix the problem?
b. Do I need to think about having this pipe replaced? This would be a big job it’s in a very tight crawl space. No one is going to want to work in there.
c. Should all radiators heat perfectly in sync? What should be my expectation?

3. I have an auto fill valve on the boiler and have noticed it is replenishing lost water quite often. Maybe every few heating cycles. It may be of relevance that my water heater is heated through my boiler.
a. Could/should I lose this much water through steam heating system?
b. How often should auto fill be “auto filling”?
c. Could the heating coil be cracked and leaking into water heater? I don't know how this works so just throwing out random questions/ideas?
4. Discoloration in middle of my wood floors on first floor. I’ve noticed there are mains (think they are mains) directly under these spots in basement ceiling. I haven't yet noticed them over venting so they may have been replaced already and problem remedied.
a. b. Is there a solution to this problem like putting up some kind of barrier in the basement on underside of my floors or should this have never happen in the first place i.e. vents were malfunctioning?
c. Side question. Anyone know if sanding down floor and redoing will fix this or if discoloration permanent, damage already done, irreversible?
5. After the boiler has finished a heating cycle, several minutes after. I hear a clanging sound. It’s not a loud bang, but more of a low pitched clang. It happens a couple times a few minutes apart always after boiler stops running after a hearing cycle.
a. Could this be contraction of pipes?
b. Is this normal? Should I just tolerate it or do I need to track this down?
b. What is likely culprit?
6. I've notice that when the boiler is firing to re-heat the hot water heater that I get steam hissing in bedroom heater directly above the boiler. The riser from the basement going up the first floor to the 2nd floor bedroom is piping hot.
a. Amusing this inst normal, what problem is this and indication of?


  • New England SteamWorksNew England SteamWorks Member Posts: 1,356
    edited December 2016
    1. That is a lot of oil. Biggest causes of high consumption: Uninsulated home, uninsulated steam pipes, small or no main venting, improperly piped or tuned (or both) boiler.
    2. You've come to the right place, good for you.
    3. Great help if you could post some pics of your boiler, and all of the near boiler piping around it, as well as a typical radiator or two.
    4. You should not be using all of that water. It may be leaking via underground returns, or as steam via faulty vents, or as steam via the boiler block, usually. Important to determine. Fresh water will shorten the life of your boiler.

    New England SteamWorks
    Service, Installation, & Restoration of Steam Heating Systems
  • You also inadvertently posted under "A-C, Heat Pumps & Refrigeration" when you really want "Strictly Steam", so when you post the pics, you might want to do so with a new thread and a more manageable list of concerns. Once we knock a few out, you can start a new thread to tackle a few more. Easier for everyone if take a slower and more methodical approach.

    New England SteamWorks
    Service, Installation, & Restoration of Steam Heating Systems
  • KC_JonesKC_Jones Member Posts: 4,424
    This may answer several of your questions. If any vent remains open once steam hits it you have a problem, either way too high pressure or a failed vent. This could be part of your water usage issue. You want to use as little water as possible. I feel mine is excessive (still working it out) and I add water maybe once per month and that is just to keep it at operating level I am typically not even close to actual low water situation like you are getting.

    The water usage is a big concern as this rots the boiler. I would make that a top priority.

    In addition to the pictures RI asked for you can measure the length and diameter of your mains in the basement, this will help us recommend how much main venting you will require. We typically assume you don't have enough as that is quite common.

    The goal is quiet comfortable heat. When tuned and running correctly you should essentially hear nothing.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
  • EBEBRATT-EdEBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 7,340
    I agree with @KC_Jones & @RI_SteamWorks that tracking down where you are loosing water should be Item #1. This will save fuel (costs more to boil cold make-up water) and the oxygen you are adding (it comes in with the MU water) is very bad for the boiler and piping. Item #2 should be venting improvments.

    We need pics of the boiler and near boiler piping
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 13,494
    Just picking up a couple of other points -- those two radiators you mention in item 2. I am sorry to say this, but that 1" or thereabouts copper pipe feeding them isn't helping at all. To begin with, it may simply not be big enough: how big are those radiators? Second, I'd be kind of surprised if it is pitched adequately. If it isn't, that will need to be corrected. Third, not being insulated isn't going to help any either. And fourth -- it would probably help a lot if there were a vent on the end of it -- while strictly speaking it isn't a main, it's long enough that venting is going to speed those radiators up. All of which means that someone is going to have to do some work in that crawl space. Sorry about that. Radiators won't heat perfectly in sync, but big differences can usually be evened out some.

    The stain on the floor is probably permanent, if it was caused by steam from a vent below it.

    But -- that vent or vents (I assume that that's what's down there!) shouldn't be leaking steam. If it is, it's toast. But we need to know more about what the piping is really like to comment much further on venting the mains.

    The clang after the boiler has shut down is probably -- but not certainly -- a contraction noise. They can be a bear to find, never mind get rid of, but it can usually be done -- with patience. First place I'd look would be that copper pipe, but it could be anywhere.

    Your item 6 -- the hot radiator when all that is happening is asking for hot water -- should not happen. There should be a device called an aquastat on the system somewhere which turns the boiler off if the water is hot enough and the thermostat isn't calling for heat.

    Br. Jamie, osb

    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
  • Jesse_6Jesse_6 Member Posts: 13
    Wow didn't know this board was so active. Thanks for your prompt replies. As suggested I'll get pics measurements and break up questions into more manageable groups and post in steam section.
  • JUGHNEJUGHNE Member Posts: 7,213
    If in doubt of any vent or fitting leaking steam, you can use a small mirror above the vent/fitting. Steam would fog the cool mirror. I have one on a telescoping handle as I'm lazy and don't want to haul a ladder around.

    You should not see any steam under normal operations....maybe just a spit from a vent as it closes.
  • Jesse_6Jesse_6 Member Posts: 13
    Thank you all for your feedback. I'm re-creating this thread in everything steam as requested with same subject
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