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Steam heating system issues radiators not getting fully hot

ocean123
ocean123 Member Posts: 11
Hello, My condo has been quite cold this winter because the radiators are not getting fully hot. This has been a continuous issue for the past few winters but seems to be getting worse especially this year.

Specs:
* Gas fueled
* Single-pipe steam system
* The old oil boiler was converted to the new gas boiler in 2013
* Burnham IN4PVNI-M2 boiler (installed in 2013)

Symptoms:
* Radiators not getting fully hot
* Temperature is nowhere near satisfying thermostat (it is 47 degress in the open areas)
* Supply pipes (the pipes in the floor that supply the radiators with steam) are only hot 50% of the time... sometimes supply pipes are hot and radiator gets only 10% hot, sometimes supply pipes are cold completely and radiators are cold

Possible issues:
* Balance is wrong? I have read that steam heating systems need to be perfectly balanced to work correctly. When the old oil boiler was replaced with the new gas one, that may have thrown off the balance of the system. I don't think the people who installed it balanced the system correctly and maybe that's why it has never really worked well and is getting worse.
* Radiator supply valves? One of the many plumbers who looked at this issue suggested replacing the supply valves that feed steam to the radiators. I don't think this is the primary issue, because as mentioned, the supply pipes aren't always hot, anyway. I also checked that the valves are open all the way on each radiator.

What I have tried:
* Replaced radiator air vents -- did not make a difference
* Replaced the main vent with a new Gordon #1. This seemed to make it worse so I put the old main vent back on.
* Checked and corrected the pitch on all radiators

Questions:
* Are there any steam EXPERTs in the Boston area? Several different companies have looked at the issue and noone has been able to solve it.
* What could be causing these issues? What can I do to balance the system? Should it be "flushed" out somehow?
* Is it at all possible to convert my existing steam boiler to a radiant heat system? With all the issues I have been having with steam, I am thinking I should've gone with radiant heat. I'm on the first floor and and my wood floors are exposed in the basement, it could be a good fit for radiant heat, if I can re-use my existing boiler.

Thanks in advance!









Comments

  • Ironman
    Ironman Member Posts: 6,575
    edited March 2017
    There are several good steam men on this site from your area. Check the "Find a Contractor" locator on this site.
    Bob Boan
    You can choose to do what you want, but you cannot choose the consequences.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 17,095
    When the new steam boiler was installed, how was it sized? And is the piping correct? And how is it controlled? The symptoms you are listing sound a lot like a wildly undersized boiler -- uncommon, but it does happen if the sizing wasn't done properly -- or a control system which isn't allowing the boiler to run enough. Or both.

    As @Ironman said, there a several really good steam guys who service the Boston area. Check Find a Contractor on this site.

    Oh and no -- the steam boiler will not do radiant and steam properly. You'd need to have another boiler for that. Fix the steam. It's easier and cheaper.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    Ironman
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,510
    I would get your serviceman to jumper the thermostat wires to simulate a call for heat, and see if the system can raise the temperature adequately to heat the space. If it does, then the thermostat may be wrongly set for steam, or in a location which is reacting to one of the radiators.
    Post some pictures of the boiler and its piping for more advice.--NBC
    MilanD
  • ocean123
    ocean123 Member Posts: 11
    Thanks for the advice.
    The new boiler is supposed to be the same size as the original boiler, which worked well. Not sure if size is the issue but it is a good thought.
    Also, the room with the thermostat is 47 degrees and the thermostat is set to 65.
    I think the issue is not enough heat is getting to the radiators. Unfortunately at this point I think it might be a problem with the balance of the entire system.






  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,518
    Post a picture of the radiators. Are all the rooms cold? Post a picture of the radiator in that room with the thermostat. What size is that room? What pressure is the boiler running? Has it ever been skimmed? What is the Pressuretrol set at?
  • yz613
    yz613 Member Posts: 13
    I'm just a homeowner who's been tinkering with steam, but I did have a somewhat similar problem a few months ago. That was my pressuretrol being broken and turning off the boiler early.
    Are you able to see if the boiler flame is on or off? If it's turning off before the radiators are hot, the easiest way to test if it's the p-trol is to jump the wires on it (temporarily!) and see if that turns the flame back on. You can also first try turning up the setting on it to a higher pressure (depending on what piece might be broken inside). There are a couple of other controls, such as the low water shut off, that could be at fault, but it would be a bit strange for the heat to turn on and then off because of that, unless you don't have sufficient water in the boiler.
    Good luck!
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,518
    edited March 2017
    yz613 said:

    I'm just a homeowner who's been tinkering with steam, but I did have a somewhat similar problem a few months ago. That was my pressuretrol being broken and turning off the boiler early.
    Are you able to see if the boiler flame is on or off? If it's turning off before the radiators are hot, the easiest way to test if it's the p-trol is to jump the wires on it (temporarily!) and see if that turns the flame back on. You can also first try turning up the setting on it to a higher pressure (depending on what piece might be broken inside). There are a couple of other controls, such as the low water shut off, that could be at fault, but it would be a bit strange for the heat to turn on and then off because of that, unless you don't have sufficient water in the boiler.
    Good luck!

    The Presssuretrol is actually a safety device and shouldn't be jumpered. All that will do is by-pass the device altogether. The best way to determine if the Pressuretrol is defective or needs to be re-calibrated is to purchase a 0 - 3 PSI pressure gauge ( the 0 - 30 PSI gauges that are installed on boilers are not sensitive enough to actually tell you anything at low pressures). Install the 0 - 3 PSI gauge on the pigtail next to the Pressuretrol and watch the boiler pressure during a heating cycle. If the pressure gauge shows a pressure approximate to what the Pressuretrol is set to cut-out, then it is fine. If the pressure significantly builds to a level well out of range of the Pressuretrol settings, it probably needs to be re-calibrated, which is a relatively simple process. If the boiler reaches the Pressuretrol Cut-out pressure, shuts down and then fires back up within 1 to 3 minutes, that's what is called short cycling and could be the result of other issues but not the Pressuretrol. It is doing its job. In any case, you don't want the boiler pressure to be more than 2 PSI, much less is better. Many of us run on 2 to 8 ounces of pressure Max.
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,952
    The horizontal steam main above the boiler is sloped up as it leaves the boiler. That is indicative of counter flow piping.
    Is the rest of the steam main in the basement sloped the same way all the way around? Or does it go a ways and start to slope down hill away from the boiler?
    Do you have any pictures of the original boiler piping?
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 10,317
    Of course it can't work the way it is. It's counterflow with no drip. The condensate is pouring back into the steam riser coming out of the boiler and it's killing all the steam.

    never gonna heat that way.

    Get the installation manual out and study the piping diagram.
  • Ironman
    Ironman Member Posts: 6,575
    The main is sloped counter flow, but the second pic shows a wet return near the floor. Like Ed said, it won't work that way. It's a parallel flow system which means the main should be at its highest point above the boiler and slope downward as it goes away from it.

    It needs to be piped correctly.
    Bob Boan
    You can choose to do what you want, but you cannot choose the consequences.
    Paul S_3
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,952
    edited March 2017
    There are occasions where the steam main starts out counter flow and then perhaps has a 90 up high and is parallel flow after that. Saves head room in the basement.
    However would depend upon how much counter flow piping at boiler without drip leg.
    We need to see the rest of the piping and see how far the first stretch of main is before changing slope, if it does.
  • Check the chimney when the boiler is running, it'll look like a pressure cooker if the boiler is leaking, or overfill the boiler when it's not running, to see if it leaks.
    Thanks, Bob Gagnon
    To learn more about this professional, click here to visit their ad in Find A Contractor.
  • sat
    sat Member Posts: 2
    I have steam and gas boiler. was working well. past 10 day I'm notice. I do have heat in 2nd,3 rd floor but i don't have no heat 1st floor, and boiler run continue .because my thermostat is 1st floor and is not maintain heat that way boiler ruing 24x7, in this case what should i do, i call few company they don't know what should do ti fix heat.
  • sat
    sat Member Posts: 2
    yesterday i put to quart cleaner to clean system and flush boiler too.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 17,095
    sat said:

    yesterday i put to quart cleaner to clean system and flush boiler too.

    And that was almost certainly a mistake. You will need to drain the boiler and get all the chemicals out of it, and refill with clean water. May have to do this two or three times...

    Make sure that the boiler is off -- turn the emergency switch off -- when you do this, and let the boiler cool. The metal must be cool to the touch -- all the pipes, not just the jacket.

    Refill so that the water is about half way up the gauge glass.

    On the no heat on the first floor -- is this one pipe or two pipe steam? That is, are there vents on the radiators and just one pipe coming in? Has anything been done to the system -- even valves opened and closed -- since the last time you had adequate heat on the first floor? Any banging noises? What is the water level in the boiler? What pressure is the boiler set to cut out at?
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,518
    edited March 2017
    Also, in addition to @Jamie Hall 's questions, is the first floor on a separate main from the second and third floors? You may want to start a new thread on this issue so as to get more views/responses.
    MilanD
  • ocean123
    ocean123 Member Posts: 11
    Thanks everyone for your responses. I'm very concerned now about what you've pointed out about the piping to the boiler. I will take more pictures as soon as possible and post them here.

    I found a contractor on this website, they are the 5th different company who will be taking a look. I will let you know what they say soon.
  • ocean123
    ocean123 Member Posts: 11
    Update: the technician who is there now is saying that there is a problem with the gas line. They are telling me that the "Incoming gas pressure to the system is too low". It needs at least "4 inches of water column". They're saying that the gas kept cutting out during their testing. Does this sound like it could be related to the issue? I'm calling my gas company now.

    Thanks!
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,518
    ocean123 said:

    Update: the technician who is there now is saying that there is a problem with the gas line. They are telling me that the "Incoming gas pressure to the system is too low". It needs at least "4 inches of water column". They're saying that the gas kept cutting out during their testing. Does this sound like it could be related to the issue? I'm calling my gas company now.

    Thanks!

    Certainly does sound like a very good reason for not getting enough heat to satisfy the thermostat. There may also be other issues but if there isn't adequate fuel, there won't be adequate heat. Keep us posted.
  • ocean123
    ocean123 Member Posts: 11
    SOLVED! The issue was due to a clogged gas line. The inlet gas pressure was very low, only about 1 inch water column. The utility company snaked the gas line and there's plenty of inlet pressure now.

    I'm glad to report my heating system is roaring again!

    Thanks to everyone for all of the suggestions.

    The Find A Contractor link on this website was very helpful in finally finding the right technician to solve the issue, after multiple attempts with different companies.

    A huge thanks and a big recommendation to Central Heating and Cooling in Woburn, MA!
    MilanDJohn Mills_5
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,518
    Great to hear!!
  • MilanD
    MilanD Member Posts: 1,159
    Well, this is the first time I saw/read gas line clogged causing this. Good to know and keep in mind! Thank you for sharing the solution!
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,230
    I started having some problems a few years beck so I got a manometer and verified my gas pressure was dropping a lot when the boiler fired. I was still able to heat the space but was getting noise that was changing with the load on the gas system.

    Gas Co reamed out the pipe which helped but 2 days later they replaced the pipe from the main into the gas meter in the cellar.

    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
  • Jean-David Beyer
    Jean-David Beyer Member Posts: 2,666
    I did not have a problem with gas pressure, but the gas company did. They replaced the over 50 year-old black buried gas pipe, about 3 1/2" diameter with new 4" or 5" plastic pipe. The old pressure was presumably 15 PSI, but tested out at 8 PSI in the summer time when little home heating was being done. The new, larger main in the street runs at 50 PSI. So we all have enough pressure now.