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installing new steam system after total gut reno

Hello,
I'm the new homeowner of a 1900 rowhouse in NYC (2 floors plus basement) undergoing a gut renovation. We always intended to keep the steam system, but during demolition, every single pipe came out. We're left only with 6 beautiful cast iron radiators and a Crown gas boiler, 2003. Every plumber who bid tried to convince me to install a hot water system, but I want steam.

So, now my plumber is about to install a new steam heating system from the ground up (but using the old boiler, warning me that if it doesn't work, it's not his problem - fair enough). However, I'm a bit worried that he isn't the experienced expert on steam I need for a big job like this. He said at one point that steam radiators do hiss, as though it's normal.

This plumber has already completed the sanitary, water, and gas part of the job (and done it well, from what I can tell), and I'm committed to him as well for the heating.

Here are my questions for you steam heating experts:

1. Am I totally crazy to be putting in a new, from-the-ground-up steam heating system? As everyone tells me, people don't do this today. Repairing old systems, sure. But all new? Who does that?

2. Is it realistic to expect a non-steam-specialized plumber to install the system properly? I bought "The Lost Art of Steam Heating" and am furiously taking notes on all the details to check after the plumber is done. The book is extraordinary, and a pleasure to read, and I now feel incredibly knowledgeable and empowered. But still, I am not a plumber so how can I really know?

3. Is it perhaps a good idea to find a steam expert to hire as a consultant to review my plumber's work before the walls are closed?

4. As far as sizing pipes, am I correct in calculating that a 2 story, 2300 sf steam heated home (not counting basement, which will be on hot water) is pretty straightforward to size, since it's a small system with less than 100,000 Btuh? According to charts in Dan's book, it seems like my house will always need the smallest size pipes in the charts. Maybe I'm oversimplifying though, and I haven't gotten through every chapter yet.

5. Any other comments, thoughts, suggestions, or advice as I go forward? Right now I'm crossing my fingers that I end up with a system that functions quietly and efficiently at low pressure, the way steam can and should. But finger crossing isn't a strategy I feel comfortable with!

Thank you to Dan and to this forum! I have learned so much already.

Comments

  • BobCBobC Posts: 4,946Member
    It has to all be done in threaded steel and all the piping has to have the required slope so water can find it's way back to the boiler. The pipe has to be sized to carry the load and the size depends on what type of a system it is (parallel flow or counterflow). He will have to cut and thread his own pipe and some of it will be 2" or larger in diameter. If the piping is not sloped right the system will not work right. Getting the piping around the boiler done right is very important.

    Where are you located? Perhaps you should bring in one of the experts on this board to do some consulting on the system so your assured of getting it done right. That would add more expense but having to do it over would cost a lot more.

    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
  • STEAM DOCTORSTEAM DOCTOR Posts: 868Member
    1. Not crazy at all. Only reason not to install steam from scratch is due to cost.
    2. Not realistic. There are a lot of respectable pediatricians but I wouldn't trust any of them to do heart surgery.
    3. Might be futile. After Plumber does installation, will probably turn into a he said he said. Don't expect Plumber to take advice from steam expert. "Been doing this for 25 years......I don't need no !@#$%^&;* steam expert ".
    4. 2300 square feet of steam is probably not accurate. That translates into 55200 btu. It's all simple for those who know what they are doing. Like anything else.
    Main point. The Plumber is telling you it's not his responsibility if it doesn't work. Why?? He's building the system from scratch. That should be the biggest red flag out there. Please do yourself a big service. Uncross your fingers and let your fingers do some walking (i.e. find someone else). The boiler should not prevent system from working properly. If he truly knows what he is doing, he should also be able to take care of all boiler related issues
  • STEAM DOCTORSTEAM DOCTOR Posts: 868Member
    One more point. Who removed old steam pipes? Where they authorized to remove those pipes? You might be entitled to compensation
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Posts: 10,279Member
    Several really good folks in the New York City area. Look under "Find a Contractor".

    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
  • KC_JonesKC_Jones Posts: 4,093Member
    Everything you said leads me to one unquestionable conclusion. Do not under any circumstance let that plumber do anything with your steam system....ever. In NY there are plenty of good steam contractors. Use the find a contractor link on the main page and get a contractor in there that knows what they are doing. I also wonder about the removal of all the steam piping...not quite sure what that was supposed to accomplish?
    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
  • STEAM DOCTORSTEAM DOCTOR Posts: 868Member
    @sarahjay. Are these six rads the only rads roads in the system? Are you adding rads? If yes, proceed with caution. New rads need to be sized properly. In addition, mixing different types of rads (even if they are all sized properly) is not always advisable.
  • Neild5Neild5 Posts: 85Member

    1. Not crazy at all. Only reason not to install steam from scratch is due to cost.


    4. 2300 square feet of steam is probably not accurate. That translates into 55200 btu. It's all simple for those who know what they are doing. Like anything else.


    Due to the wonders of where comma's are placed, he is saying the house is 2300 square feet, not that the EDR total is 2300.

  • JUGHNEJUGHNE Posts: 5,579Member
    Is this a 1 or 2 pipe system? If 1 pipe could you change to 2 pipe?
    If you have Dan's books you can see if your Rads will do 2 pipe and understand the advantages of 2 pipe.
  • DanHolohanDanHolohan Posts: 14,577Member, Moderator, Administrator
    Thanks for reading me!
    Retired and loving it.
  • jumperjumper Posts: 1,302Member
    If I was installing new steam heating I'd go modern per Igor's papers here on this site.DeadGuys did not have modern resources. With modern flex tubing you can manifold in attic and run skinny individual piping to each terminal. That avoids many problems we hear about in this conference.
  • SteamheadSteamhead Posts: 12,868Member
    We're doing a similar project in Baltimore. Not crazy at all, and not the first time I've been involved with such a project.

    Do a heat-loss calculation on each room. Size your radiators from that. You may find yourself relocating some of the radiators so they better match the heat losses, especially if you're upgrading insulation, windows etc.

    Once the radiators are sized, then you can size your runouts, risers and mains.

    I agree with having a Steam Man build the system. It is entirely possible for someone to be a good "Plumber" but not know much about steam. Plumbing and steam heating are two different things- the only thing they have in common is they both use pipes.
    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
  • HermioneHermione Posts: 3Member
    Thank you, everyone. I am not sure I can really get out of the contract with current plumber without losing a bunch of money.

    @steamdoctor.
    My plumber only meant that it's not not his fault if the old boiler doesn't work and needs replacement (in other words,.a new boiler, if needed, will be on my dime)

    Yes, adding 9 new radiators. Was considering salvage rads to get the old-timey look, but plumber says they might leak and best to get new cast iron rads. What is the concern with mixing different types of rads? I did rough EDR and btu calculations (with online calculator) for each room, accounting for upgraded insulation and double pane windows, to have an idea of what size is needed.
    .
    To clarify, the two floors are 2300 sf in total. I don't know the EDR, but the online calculator I used indicated about 55,000 BTUs needed for all the rooms on both floors. Does that sound really off to you?

    @Jughne. It's one-pipe system. Original rads are 1 pipe and I don't think we can switch to 2 at this point.

    @jumper. Will look up Igor's papers, but I think it's too late to do major change in direction. I'm about a day away from the plumber starting unless I pull the plug.

    @DanHolohan. I am loving your book! Thank you so much for not just writing it, but writing, organizing, and illustrating it so coherently that even a total novice like myself can understand it with ease...and be entertained along the way. Bravo!
  • DanHolohanDanHolohan Posts: 14,577Member, Moderator, Administrator
    Thanks!
    Retired and loving it.
  • newagedawnnewagedawn Posts: 549Member
    cant go wrong with steam, its so energy effciant, just make sure to get a good contractor and you'll love the energy savings bills, highly recommend!!!
    "The bitter taste of a poor install lasts far longer than the JOY of the lowest price"
  • KC_JonesKC_Jones Posts: 4,093Member
    1. Make sure all piping is done in black steel. Copper is ok (even encouraged by some) for wet returns below the water line only.
    2. Pipes leaving the boiler should start off high at the boiler and slope down away from boiler until the end of the main. This is assuming parallel flow system.
    3. Make sure there is provision for plenty of main venting approximately 15" before the end of the main.
    4. Make sure near boiler piping is to manufacturers spec at a minimum! Your plumber should be reading the manual for your boiler for this. Don't let them cut this corner. Many on here exceed minimum spec, well because it's minimum.
    5. Make sure all radiator take offs are at 45° from the top of the main and all that piping slopes towards the main.
    6. Slope is absolutely critical on steam. for parallel flow 1" in 20' and for counterflow 1" in 10'

    Those are just a few highlights there is more to it, but the above is absolutely critical. Others will add I am sure.
    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
  • bcoylebcoyle Posts: 27Member
    These might be an option if you still wanted the vintage look with new rads, http://www.governaleindustries.com/products/victoria/ - not sure the pricing though. Love that you're keeping a steam system
  • HermioneHermione Posts: 3Member
    @KC_Jones. Thanks for those critical tips. It is parallel flow.

    For better or worse, the plumber started yesterday and from what I see, they are going to pipe the 1st and 2nd floors using separate uprisers for each floor, avoiding need for a dripped riser (right?).

    I'm backstopping the plumber (and probably also annoying him) by measuring pipe sizes, getting a laser to check pitch, and calling Crown to get correct near-boiler pipe specs, among other things.

    If I get through this with a well-performing steam system, I will be amazed, and so appreciative to all.
  • STEAM DOCTORSTEAM DOCTOR Posts: 868Member
    @Hermione. Different radiators heat up and cool down at different rates. The larger the mass of the radiator, the longer it will take to heat up and cool down. And visa versa. Having rads that are drastically different (in regard to mass, regardless of edr) can lead to balance issues. Not necessarily but can happen. Try to stick to similar rads throughout the house
  • JohnNYJohnNY Posts: 2,220Member
    How the heck did "plumbing" and "heating" ever get so intertwined anyway? Two totally different skill sets and tools required to do either well.

    That said, I think there's a licensed plumber in New York City named JohnNY Cataneo who's pretty good with steam.

    Just saying.
    For installations, troubleshooting, and private consulting services, find John "JohnNY" Cataneo here at :
    "72°F Mechanical, LLC"
    Or email John at [email protected]
    John is a professional Master Plumber, licensed by The Department of Buildings of The City of New York, and works extensively in NYC while consulting for clients in and out of state.
  • IronmanIronman Posts: 4,964Member
    JohnNY said:

    How the heck did "plumbing" and "heating" ever get so intertwined anyway? Two totally different skill sets and tools required to do either well.

    That said, I think there's a licensed plumber in New York City named JohnNY Cataneo who's pretty good with steam.

    Just saying.

    I guess it goes back to the days when plumbers did heating because both involved piping. But those guys usually understood hydronics. That's not the case today.

    The average plumber thinks installing a boiler is just like installing a water heater: hook two pipes to it and run them out to where they need to go. We know better around here, but the average consumer doesn't.

    I think we'd do well if we went back to calling a steam pro a "steam fitter" like we used to.

    Customers would also do well to ask the contractor if he's actually a steam fitter.

    Bob Boan


    You can choose to do what you want, but you cannot choose the consequences.
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Posts: 10,279Member
    JohnNY said:

    How the heck did "plumbing" and "heating" ever get so intertwined anyway? Two totally different skill sets and tools required to do either well.

    That said, I think there's a licensed plumber in New York City named JohnNY Cataneo who's pretty good with steam.

    Just saying.

    I've heard of him. Heard he's pretty good... :)
    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
  • MilanDMilanD Posts: 1,107Member
    I've been lurking here following the thread for a couple of days. First, installing it from scratch gives you options to build system you want (and/or can afford). Keep us posted how it's going. I hope your plumber is curious enough to learn things he's unfamiliar with and do you a good job.

    As to Gerry's system... uhmmm... this is awesome! @Abracadabra thanks for sharing this!
  • hboogzhboogz Posts: 104Member
    @Hermione Curious how this went as we are approaching heating season in NYC
  • Me too!


    New England SteamWorks
    Service, Installation, & Restoration of Steam Heating Systems
    newenglandsteamworks.com
  • EBEBRATT-EdEBEBRATT-Ed Posts: 5,630Member
    Strongly suggest you call @JohnNY to consult
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