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What's Wrong with This Picture

I've been lurking for a while and trying to soak in the knowledge here. I bought a house with a single pipe steam system about 3 years ago. I've been struggling with it ever since. The first winter was rough and I could barely get heat to all of the radiators on the three floors of the house. I replaced many radiator vents and that helped a bit, but not much. I then turned my sights to the burner/boiler.

I learned that the previous owner did a last minute oil to gas conversion in the summer before they sold to me. The install was done by a fly-by-night contractor and they installed an undersized Wayne Combustion gas burner. I had another contractor come and install a properly sized Carlin burner. This helped a lot and the house was mostly comfortable.

My next problem was my Nest Thermostat fighting with my Hydrolevel Low Water Cutoff. I can't remember what model LWCO I had, but it would cut power to the burner to perform a the test. The Nest would detect this, then wait for a while before calling for heat again. Apparently that's a feature of the Nest to prevent short-cycling, which cannot be disabled. I worked around this by replacing the Hydrolevel LWCO with another model that didn't cut power to perform the test. This also helped quite a bit.

Now here I am and this system is still not living up to the commentary from friends, family, and the previous owners about how great steam heat can be. I perceive two obvious problems with my system:

1) No pipe insulation at all in the basement.
2) No main vents at all.

I'm not super handy, but I figured I can tackle the insulation problem. I hit a few plumbing supply houses today and I showed one of them the attached photo of my boiler and piping. The guy said that the header piping is all wrong and no insulation is going to help the system in its current state.

They referred me to a contractor that will come tomorrow to take a look. My question for you guys is, looking at this photo, do you agree that the piping is all wrong? If so, could you recommend how it should be piped? Also, what kind of cost should I expect? I am in Northern New Jersey.

I guess I'm just looking for your thoughts to make sure I don't get ripped off going forward and am able to enjoy steam heat in all its glory. Your input and feedback would be much appreciated.

Comments

  • kcopp
    kcopp Member Posts: 4,387
    Yes it is all wrong.... Interesting. Looks like there is a gas conversion burner on this... Burnham frowns upon that.
    @EzzyT is your man.
    SMichalczyk
  • EzzyT
    EzzyT Member Posts: 1,288
    Yes that near boiler piping is indeed all wrong.
    SMichalczyk
  • SMichalczyk
    SMichalczyk Member Posts: 13
    I run the risk of being too needy, but are you able to crudely draw how the piping should run so that I can be sure that the contractor coming tomorrow knows what he's doing? The other hard part of my steam journey has been finding contractors that understand these systems well. Clearly whoever installed this didn't know what they were doing.
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
    edited January 2019
    Yes, it's all wrong. First, copper shouldn't be used on any steam piping except returns below the boiler water line. Expansion and contraction will cause the solder joints to give and eventually leak. Use Black threaded pipe.
    - Each of those three mains (red pipes) should drop individually into the header after both of the boiler risers. It should be Boiler riser, boiler riser, steam main, steam main, steam main and then equalizer.
    - Your first riser out of the boiler should not continue on up into the main.
    - The equalizer pipe can be smaller than the header but it sould be reduced on the vertical, down, not on the horizontal, like yours. Being reduced on the horizontal will cause water to be held in the header, causing hammer.
    - I can't tell from this picture if you have a Hartford loop or not. If not, you should have one that ties into the equalizer, just below the boiler water line. That loop will keep a leak in any of the wet returns from draining the boiler and potentially dry firing.

    WEhere are you located? Check the "Find a Contractor" tab above and see if there is a steam Pro in your area. Do not let just anyone talk you into making the required changes just because they talk a good story or because they are cheap. IT IS NOT CHEAP TO HAVE TO REPIPE IT YET AGAIN.
    We don't talk $$$ here so we can't give estimates that may be misleading.
    SMichalczyk
  • neilc
    neilc Member Posts: 2,663
    you could have tomorrow's contractor sketch you what they know to be correct near boiler piping,
    post the sketch here,
    and get comments pro or con
    or, who's stopping by tomorrow?
    there are a few regulars here that you would do well to have,
    known to beat dead horses
    SMichalczykethicalpaul
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542

    I run the risk of being too needy, but are you able to crudely draw how the piping should run so that I can be sure that the contractor coming tomorrow knows what he's doing? The other hard part of my steam journey has been finding contractors that understand these systems well. Clearly whoever installed this didn't know what they were doing.

    @SMichalczyk , @EzzyT is your man. He is one of the best. You are lucky he services your area.
    SMichalczykIronman
  • SMichalczyk
    SMichalczyk Member Posts: 13
    @EzzyT Where are you located and what is your service area? I'm in Newark near Branch Brook Park.
  • EzzyT
    EzzyT Member Posts: 1,288
    I’m in Woodland Park, I’m about 10-15 minutes from Branch Brook Park.
    I work all over the NJ.
    You can contact me at
    201-887-8856 or at [email protected]
    SMichalczyk
  • SMichalczyk
    SMichalczyk Member Posts: 13
    Contacted @EzzyT . Thanks for the input everyone!
    IronmanFredCanucker
  • Ironman
    Ironman Member Posts: 7,341
    You won't find anyone better than Ezzy.
    Bob Boan
    You can choose to do what you want, but you cannot choose the consequences.
    FredSMichalczykCanuckerSailah
  • Sailah
    Sailah Member Posts: 826
    You're in good hands with Ezzy, search here to see some of his work he posts pictures of his installs regularly.
    Peter Owens
    SteamIQ
    SMichalczyk
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,471
    This is the piping diagram for Burnham, it costs a few dollars more to do it like this but it works much better. Ezzy will do a great job for you, make sure you write down all your concerns so he can address them.

    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
    SMichalczyk
  • JBFBMech
    JBFBMech Member Posts: 20
    > @Fred said:
    > Yes, it's all wrong. First, copper shouldn't be used on any steam piping except returns below the boiler water line. Expansion and contraction will cause the solder joints to give and eventually leak. Use Black threaded.

    If soldered with silvabrite or probably even 95/5 and the person soldering it knows how to solder, the joints are never going to leak. Every time I bend a piece of copper to fit it in my scrap barrel it breaks at the pipe or the fitting never at the soldered joint itself unless it’s 50/50 then it pulls right out of the joint. I’m not saying I use copper on steam because I never do. But the joints are not going to leak if soldered properly. I have ripped out plenty of copper headers and they are never leaking. I also have seen many copper convectors that are soldered and not leaking, and tbose convectors were soldered long before we had the types of solder we use today.
    SMichalczykSTEAM DOCTOR
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
    @JBFBMech , I appreciate your success with copper but, there are too many examples of copper, on this site, where copper was used above the water line, on a steam system that leak over a few years of expansion/contraction. It may well be the type of solder that was used but who knows, what that might be in any given case and a Homeowner isn't going to know to insist upon certain types. The current best practice for piping, above the boiler water line, on steam systems is threaded black iron.
    SMichalczyk
  • JBFBMech
    JBFBMech Member Posts: 20
    > @Fred said:
    > @JBFBMech , I appreciate your success with copper but, there are too many examples of copper, on this site, where copper was used above the water line, on a steam system that leak over a few years of expansion/contraction. It may well be the type of solder that was used but who knows, what that might be in any given case and a Homeowner isn't going to know to insist upon certain types. The current best practice for piping, above the boiler water line, on steam systems is threaded black iron.

    I don’t have success using copper on steam systems because I don’t use copper on steam above or below the water line. The only copper I install on a steam system is the water line feeding it. I was just making a point that properly soldered copper joints will not leak because of expansion and contraction.
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,580
    OK so the joint holds, but the copper adjacent to it gets work hardened and cracks. A distinction without a difference?
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
  • Grallert
    Grallert Member Posts: 635
    Somethings gotta give.
    Miss Hall's School service mechanic, greenhouse manager,teacher and dog walker
    SMichalczyk
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,021
    Do we ever see copper headers piped correctly by the book?
    That is size, height, location of risers, equalizer w/o reductions, etc. with the only issue that the material is copper verses blk pipe?

    I think the copper that shows up here is just the least of piping issues.

    It seems to be indicative of a bad installation with multiple problems. IMO
    ethicalpaulSMichalczyk
  • Dave0176
    Dave0176 Member Posts: 1,177
    When I read the head line what’s wrong with this picture I thought to myself “Everything” lol Yeah unfortunately a lot of heating men don’t even bother to open up the installation manual.
    DL Mechanical LLC Heating, Cooling and Plumbing 732-266-5386
    NJ Master HVACR Lic# 4630
    Specializing in Steam Heating, Serving the residents of New Jersey
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/dl-mechanical-llc

    https://m.facebook.com/DL-Mechanical-LLC-315309995326627/?ref=content_filter

    I cannot force people to spend money, I can only suggest how to spend it wisely.......
    SMichalczyk