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Intolerably loud hissing noise from steam heating system - NYC apartment top floor

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Hi all,
I just moved to a top floor (4th floor) apartment in an old building in NYC. The building uses a steam heating system which was turned on last week. I was jolted from my sleep around 5am by an incredibly loud hissing noise. It was so loud I thought something was going to explode! This noise occurs for roughly 30 - 40 minutes every hour from around 20.00. It turns off at some point at the night, and then wakes me up around 5am. My apartment has two rooms, with two pipes in one room and a radiator in the other room. I have moved ALL of my furniture into the room without the pipes and have fully shut off the radiator in this room.

The hissing noise is so incredibly loud that it's impossible to have a conversation in the same room. My TV is not loud enough to drown out the noise. I am woken every morning even though I am in the adjacent room with ear plugs in. I can clearly hear the noise down on the second floor of this building - again, I am on the 4th floor. The noise travels through the door and down two flights of stairs.

There are two large pipes in one room. One of them make 75% of the noise and has some kind of valve at the top. The other creates less noise and has a different type of valve. The other room has a radiator which I've switched off and is silent (except for the occasional water hammer noise). I did leave it turned on for 24 hours to see if it lessened the noise from the other pipes, and it only added it's own hissing noise. Both times the knob was turned all the way to the left or all the way to the right.

I have complained to building management about the noise and they have informed me that it is an old building and it's completely normal. However, I cannot believe that this level of noise is a) normal, b) created by a steam heating system that is not broken, and c) legal. This noise is really ruining my life, I can't sleep anywhere in this apartment, I can't even be in the same room, it's THAT LOUD.

I have attached some photos and a video can be seen here, if anyone can identify the system installed I would be very grateful. Also, if anyone could weigh in on whether this is normal or not, that would help be with discussions with management.





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Comments

  • heating_help_pls
    heating_help_pls Member Posts: 14
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    I forgot to mention the two noisy pipes are floor to ceiling. Here are some photos for context:

  • neilc
    neilc Member Posts: 2,707
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    see if you can unscrew them 1/2, (one half), of a turn.
    this should flip them upside down,
    and that should shut them off,
    they'll be hot, use a old shirt,
    and just enough hand to turn them,
    don't break them, don't force them too hard.

    Then tell the super / management to turn down the pressure on the boiler,
    or at least inquire what it is,
    shouldn't be more that 1 1/2#
    known to beat dead horses
  • heating_help_pls
    heating_help_pls Member Posts: 14
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    Thanks for the reply. What should I unscrew? These things?

  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,578
    edited October 2018
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    Try turning it clockwise first. If that won’t work then counter clockwise, only half a turn so the tops are pointing down.
    When the system was installed long ago, it would have been silent. If not, then the installer would have been thrown out, so it is not normal, and waste$ fuel!
    Certainly tell the management that you are so alarmed that you may call the fire department when it happens, for fear of explosion. They will clear the building while they investigate, and send all the residents to shelters while the situation is evaluated.—NBC
  • heating_help_pls
    heating_help_pls Member Posts: 14
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    Both of them?

    The first, circular one is only connected at the edge of the circle, it's not a dial. I assume I just turn the whole thing? Sorry for tall the questions, I have no experience with any of this and I am extremely sleep deprived at the moment.

  • gfrbrookline
    gfrbrookline Member Posts: 753
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    Yes, just go easy, don't force it or you will snap the body off the stem and that will be a much bigger problem them the noise.
  • heating_help_pls
    heating_help_pls Member Posts: 14
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    I managed to get it 2/3rds of the way around to the bottom before I encountered resistance.

    Is that a problem if it's not all the way down?

    Now it looks like this:


  • heating_help_pls
    heating_help_pls Member Posts: 14
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    Is there a term for these valves? Something I can look into?
    I can't reach the other one without a ladder so I'll have to look at it tomorrow.
  • gfrbrookline
    gfrbrookline Member Posts: 753
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    The round ones should be gorton no d's not sure about the other but likely a cheap replacement for the D that should have been there. The D's are standard riser vents and work well if the pressurtrol is set correctly and the mains are adequately vented.

    You need to have your super or management company check the boilers operating pressure, if you are hearing hissing that loud the high limit is too high on the pressuretrol and the main venting also needs to be increased. Since you are a tenant and not an owner he/they will likely not listen to you so I would listen to the advice previously listed.
  • gfrbrookline
    gfrbrookline Member Posts: 753
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    You turned it the wrong way, go the other way until it is upside down.
  • heating_help_pls
    heating_help_pls Member Posts: 14
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    Oh, damn. That's was clockwise, I'll try anticlockwise when it next turns off.
  • gfrbrookline
    gfrbrookline Member Posts: 753
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    Turning the riser vents off will likely cause your downstairs neighbors to over/under heat which will likely prompt them the call the management company. HOPEFULLY they have a contractor that understands steam heat. Most do not as they just hire the cheapest contractor can find.
  • heating_help_pls
    heating_help_pls Member Posts: 14
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    The round one wouldn't turn anticlockwise at all.

    The straight one wouldn't budge in either direction.

    While I was holding on to the pipes I discovered they aren't connected to anything at the top, they appear to just be completely open and are loosely fit into holes in the ceiling. I don't know what's above that.

    I'm going to try to get the super in tomorrow while the pipes are making this noise. The apartment is currently unliveable so I really hope I can break the lease if this can't be fixed.
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,578
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    Show him this article about boiler explosions as if you believe your building is next.

    https://forum.heatinghelp.com/discussion/167007/boiler-explosion

    I’m sure the management will not want any firemen or inspectors in snooping around, so they may actually call someone.
    My guess is that the solution is simple for the right steam person, and the cost would be repaid in reduced fuel consumption in a couple of months.—NBC
    1Matthiasethicalpaul
  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 16,544
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    The object making the noise is an air vent. The vertical pipe serves as the radiator for the room that it's in. Most older, walk-up buildings in NYC have this arrangement. The heat is lowered by a control in the basement during the night. It comes on in the morning when the pipes are completely filled with air. The steam leaves the boiler and pushes the air up the length of the pipe, which passes through your neighbors' apartments as well. Your apartment is at the top of the building, which is where the pipe ends. That's why you have the air vent and your neighbors don't. It's probably hissing because the pressure on the boiler is too high. That's easily fixed by anyone who understands steam heat.

    A word of caution: It's true that if you turn the air vent upside down the float that's inside the vent may drop and keep the vent from venting, but this assumes the vent is actually working and not filled with crud. The problem, however, is that you'll also be turning off the heat in all the apartments below you. But more dangerous than that, you may snap the vent and cause it to fall out of the pipe. That can cause your apartment to fill with steam and that is very dangerous because steam is not just hot, it can also displace the air in your apartment. Note this tragic story.
    Retired and loving it.
  • heating_help_pls
    heating_help_pls Member Posts: 14
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    Thankyou very much for the advice everyone. The landlord has replaced the old valves with shiny new valves. They still make a loud hissing noise though! Granted, it's a lot less noise, but I still have to stop any conversation in the same room :(
    Unfortunately I can't seem to turn them off. I tried to twist them around but neither would budge.
    Is it possible to switch these valves off? Is there some other mechanism I'm missing here?

  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
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    The fact they hiss like that points to one common problem; the system pressure is set way too high. Ask the landlord what the Pressuretrol is set at, Cut-In and Cut-Out pressures. If it's over 2 PSI, Cut-out, then it is too high. If it is set properly, ask the landlord when was the last time the pigtail (looped pipe that the Pressuretrol is mounted on) was taken off and cleaned. If it hasn't been cleaned in the last couple years, it is probably clogged and the Pressuretrol can't see the system pressure.
  • heating_help_pls
    heating_help_pls Member Posts: 14
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    Right ok, I'll try to ask via the super. Thanks.
    Is it not possible for me to turn the heat off in my apartment?
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
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    Right ok, I'll try to ask via the super. Thanks.
    Is it not possible for me to turn the heat off in my apartment?

    Not likely. If you can turn those vents upside down, you can close them and stop the hissing but, because they are on risers (pipes that go through your apartment and probably into another, above you, that apartment probably also has vents on the pipe which will still allow steam to heat your apartment, on its way to the other. If you can't turn them upside down or get the Super to adjust the system pressure, you can take a round toothpick and insert it into the hole in the top of that vent. That will prevent air from escaping and stop the hissing. Obviously, the best solution is to get the system pressure down.
  • gfrbrookline
    gfrbrookline Member Posts: 753
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    I am also guessing there are no vents on the mains. Proper venting of the mains should tame the hissing down considerably. Short of asking the Super, he probably wouldn't have a clue what to look for, can you go down to the basement and see if you can find anything that looks like the vents that were replaced or added? You can also familiarize yourself with what to look for by going to Supplyhouse.com and look at air valves. Chances are you have low capacity vents, if you have them at all that need to be upgraded. Take pictures of what you find.

    I also think the Hoffman 40 they installed is way too small, it should have been a Hoffman C or D. That would also be a noise factor as it is having to expel more air than it was designed to do. Does it ever click shut?
  • heating_help_pls
    heating_help_pls Member Posts: 14
    edited October 2018
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    I'm on the top floor so it's just the roof above me.

    the super and landlord are pretty non-responsive and unlikely to give me any information regarding the boiler.

    It does click shut. There's a hissing noise which gradually gets louder, and then it clicks shut.

    I was really hoping I could just shut the heat off, at least with these two pipes in this room. It's so hot I have all the windows open all day and night.

    I'm slowly resigning myself to living with this noise until my lease is up in 11 months :(

    I'll try the toothpick though, thanks for all of your help.
  • gfrbrookline
    gfrbrookline Member Posts: 753
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    If you are on the top floor you can shut them off by turning them upside down. You will likely stay warm enough because of the radiant heat from below. If you get cold just turn them upright.

    I would still put gorton c's or d's on them, the 40's must sound like a tea kettle going off, push your super, otherwise spending short money to replace the vents yourself will make your unit much more livable.
  • gfrbrookline
    gfrbrookline Member Posts: 753
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    I also agree with others that the pressure is likely set to high. They have likely installed vents that were too small, like yours, because they are less expensive, throughout the system and have attempted to fix the problem by turning up the pressure which just compounds the problem.

    The fact that you had Gorton vents on the risers means someone in the past knew what they were doing, unfortunately the new super doesn't understand steam and you need to have someone that does come in and evaluate the system. Your landlord will likely not go along with with this but would save a fortune in fuel cost if s/he would.
  • JohnNY
    JohnNY Member Posts: 3,231
    edited October 2018
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    Tell management they need a guy like me to come and go over the boiler settings and air vents throughout the building. I charge for the service but they'll have far happier tenants and they'll probably save lots of fuel if they take my advice and perform some of the simple tasks I recommend. I've got an office in Manhattan and also in Orange, New Jersey.
    Contact John "JohnNY" Cataneo, NYC Master Plumber, Lic 1784
    Consulting & Troubleshooting
    Heating in NYC or NJ.
    Classes
    1MatthiasCanucker
  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 16,544
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    Also, keep in mind that if you turn the air vent upside down you will be shutting off the heat to all the apartments below you. You need an air vent with a larger hole (the smaller the hole the louder the noise), and the steam pressure has to be lower. Simple stuff. Listen to JohnNY.
    Retired and loving it.
    JohnNYLong Beach Ed
  • superMARKet
    superMARKet Member Posts: 87
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    The system shouldn’t be building appreciable pressure while the riser vents are still open and the risers are full of air. I think this is a venting problem first, not so much a Pressuretrol problem. The amount of hissing at this stage would have more to do with inadequate venting and an oversized burner than anything else.

    Someone familiar with steam should be able to review the system and put more suitable vents in your apartment and probably elsewhere in the system.
    1Matthias
  • heating_help_pls
    heating_help_pls Member Posts: 14
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    Thank you all very much. I will try to get an expert to look at the system. I don't think the landlord will help though.

    For now, I discovered I can actually turn the vents, so I'm going to do that.

    This wont explode the boiler will it? I mean, the pressure has to go somewhere right?
  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 16,544
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    You okay with turning off other people’s heat? I understand that you’re in your own apartment, but you will be affecting the people around you. You may be making some kids cold.
    Retired and loving it.
  • heating_help_pls
    heating_help_pls Member Posts: 14
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    Well, I don't want to affect anyone else, but I am going **** crazy here. I went two weeks with less than two hours of sleep each night because they took so long to replace the $20 vents.

    I turned one of them off for now. It is STILL hissing audibly. I can hear it in the next room.

    What else can I do? I can't move out because I have 11 months left on my lease and they wont let me break the lease. I am going to talk to management again but I'm not hopeful.
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
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    Check with the tenants below you and see, if by chance, they also have vents of the pipe that runs through their apartment(s) and to yours. You may find that they have them and have turned them upside down as well, causing all the air to have to be vented out of those small vents on your pipe. I still feel like this is a system pressure problem that needs to be corrected in the boiler room. It may well just be a clogged pigtail and the Pressuretrol can't see the system pressure.
  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 16,544
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    Typical, on those systems, the person on the top floor has the only vent. Tough choice.
    Retired and loving it.
  • HydroNiCK
    HydroNiCK Member Posts: 182
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    They shhhlobered paint all over the vent. Nobody sees this? All the other apts are probably the same. They probably all clogged up..the air is probably venting through a pinhole.
  • HydroNiCK
    HydroNiCK Member Posts: 182
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    If it is really as loud as you claim. Assuming that your not exagerating and new to Nyc apt. steam heat living. And if it is true your landlord is doing nothing to help you....call nyc housing and preservation and file a complaint.
    Also if that doesnt help .
    Call dept of health and let them know about the amount of air venting into your apt. And your feeling sick from a strange smell..maybe it was chemicals your landlord used to clean boiler. But be warned that you and your landlord are not going to be friends after you make that call. httpssww1.nyc.gov/site/hpd/renters/complaints-and-inspections.page
  • heating_help_pls
    heating_help_pls Member Posts: 14
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    I've turned both valves off now. My apartment is both quiet and warm enough. Let's see what happens now.
    I really dont want to start a war with my landlord - at leat now if the apartments below get cold they will complain quickly and maybe the landlord will investigate his **** heating system. We'll see...
    SeanBeans
  • nycheatsucks
    nycheatsucks Member Posts: 1
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    Hi, please let me know if your landlord or the tenants found out your did that and if there were any repercussions. I just moved in and it's 100% unbearable I'm already planning on leaving if they don't fix it asap. I want to turn the valve too but scared other tenants will get cold and complain and the landlord will know what I did. Also scared of explosion!
  • JohnNY
    JohnNY Member Posts: 3,231
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    It's not going to explode. I work on NYC steam heating systems day after day. Tell your landlord to hire me and I'll get you all fixed up.
    Contact John "JohnNY" Cataneo, NYC Master Plumber, Lic 1784
    Consulting & Troubleshooting
    Heating in NYC or NJ.
    Classes
    stlvortac
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,578
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    It probably would not hurt to call 911, during the hissiest times of operation, and tell them you are afraid it will explode, and that might get the landlords attention!
    If you can speak to your neighbors, ask them if the are bothered by this situation.
    Even though the system will not probably explode, it will push the boiler into an early death, having burnt much more fuel than needed!
    Is there a mandatory yearly inspection of boilers in NYC?—NBC
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,779
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    Please don't call 911 for things that aren't actually emergencies.

    @JohnNY Is who needs to be called and the system needs to be fixed properly.

    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
    ethicalpaulJohnNY
  • Intplm.
    Intplm. Member Posts: 2,000
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    @heating_help_pls Do not call 911. Although I do understand your frustration . The noise and the non responsiveness.

    As a first responder, I know that would not go over well.

    You can try telling the landlord that you feel unsafe and that you feel you need to make that call but don't. If you do decide to tell them that you are feeling as if you should call 911 they might become more responsive.
    Sorry you are going through this.
    ethicalpaul
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,578
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    You are right of course-emergency calls should be reserved for real emergencies.
    No harm in telling your landlord you are terribly worried by the noise.--NBC
    Intplm.