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Need help with mom's steam heat system.

My parents home in West Reading PA was built in the 1920's and has a steam heating system. Through the years growing up, and then later returning to visit, winter always meant the house was too hot or too cold or the radiators were hissing like crazy or the small water tube had to be checked every few hours, etc. etc.. It never seemed to operate very well and my parents had, and continue to have crazy fuel bills that have really caused quite a financial strain in the winter months. Dad passed this past July and Mom is left to battle the fuel bills on a very restricted budget (dad was not as prepared as he should have been insurance-wise). It is a three story home at the end of a row of homes. I live out of state (Huntington NY) so I'm trying to find out what I can about steam heat, and while their fuel oil provider is very nice I don't feel confident that they truly understand the system. What I would like to consider doing is have a qualified steam expert come in and evaluate the system and determine if it is working as designed and efficiently as possible. Can you recommend someone in the Reading/Berks County area that knows what they are talking about when it comes to this house and the heat system? Thank you for your consideration. Kevin
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Comments

  • Gary SmithGary Smith Posts: 264Member
    check the Find a Contractor button in the blue bar at the top of the Main Wall page.
  • ImYoungxDImYoungxD Posts: 110Member
    Most likely plugged pigtail, high pressure setting on pressuretrol, slow venting main vent which burns oil that is not necessary.

    Some of the oil companies do make the pressuretrol higher to burn more oil so they make more money. Try using "Find a Contractor" which is found here https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/

    I don't know anyone who in PA but someone can surely recommend you one.

    Make sure the home is well insulated and sealed. Attic insulation helps a lot.
  • GrallertGrallert Posts: 290Member
    Next time you're there take some pictures of the system. We like pictures they're very helpful.
  • KC_JonesKC_Jones Posts: 4,000Member
    I have looked at find a contractor for steam in and around the area and I don't recall seeing anything, I too am in PA.

    If you parents have someone local that can do the work and follow instructions/diagrams. It could be worth paying for a consultation with one of the pros around here and giving the recommended work to be done.

    @Steamhead does consulting work, not sure how far he goes, but Reading isn't a ridiculous distance from Baltimore.

    That's about an hour and a half from me, but I am not a professional, so not sure if any local contractors would even listen even if I do know what I'm talking about...lol.

    As was said pictures can do wonders and we could probably give a lot of recommendations from them.
    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
  • EBEBRATT-EdEBEBRATT-Ed Posts: 4,977Member
    4 contractors listed in PA. Don't know if they do steam
  • Mike_SheppardMike_Sheppard Posts: 353Member
    I wish I had the time to travel and look at systems. I’m no Steamhead though that’s for sure.

    Went to Philly (from DC) a few weeks ago to check out the steam system in a 164 unit apartment building. It was a nightmare... such neglect. But the trip was fun. I’d do it more if I could.
    Never stop learning.
  • kcolemankcoleman Posts: 5Member
    Thanks for the responses everyone, but it is frustrating that I keep reading about how great steam systems are and yet I am having a very difficult time finding a legit steam technician to come by and take a look and offer advice/suggestions. Today, 1/31/19, temp this morning was -7 in Reading PA and mom called me and said she is having to go down to the basement every hour to keep topping off the water tube to prevent it from shutting off and having to start heating the whole house all over gain. I hate that she has to keep going up and down the basement stairs at 84+ years old. I'll keep looking in the meantime.:)
  • ethicalpaulethicalpaul Posts: 482Member
    What is "topping off the water tube"?

    Does that mean adding water to the boiler because the water level is getting too low multiple times per day? If so, that is not a good situation, there is a leak somewhere.

    It's not a typical feature of steam heat that water has to be added by elderly residents several times per day :grimace:
    1 pipe Utica 112 in Cedar Grove, NJ. If you see me say something dumb, just think of my poor wife--she has to hear it every day!
  • ImYoungxDImYoungxD Posts: 110Member
    Constantly topping the water tube is not a good thing. She could have a leak somewhere. The tube should be filled up to 3/4.
    I check my water levels every week and probably refill it once a month.
  • kcolemankcoleman Posts: 5Member
    I checked the contractors button and got a couple of names. Most local guy says he doesn't have a license for Reading, the house is in West Reading, but I don't know what the licensing restrictions mean. Other guys are over an hour drive away and I need to consider cost due to mom's tight budget.
  • pecmsgpecmsg Posts: 541Member
    From HVAC-TALK.Com

    Try Www.mechsolutions1.com
  • kcolemankcoleman Posts: 5Member
    What picture(s) should I take to maybe help someone see the issues?
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Posts: 9,773Member
    Take some time and start looking for the leaks. You've got them. Until you find them even the best steam wizard is helpless.
    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
  • ethicalpaulethicalpaul Posts: 482Member
    edited January 31
    Some pictures from a few feet away that show all the piping near the boiler, from several angles.

    And another picture, closer in, of the controls like the glass tube, any pressure gauges, and the "pressuretrol" which is probably a gray box about 3"x3" with a vertical PSI scale on the front. We'd like to see what it is set at. If you can take these in the middle of a heating cycle with the boiler firing, that is best!

    And if you have the time, look on the big pipe or pipes that run horizontally around the basement. Look for a place where there is a vent device on it, possibly right before the pipe turns vertical to return the condensate water back to the boiler. Take pictures of any of those you find.
    1 pipe Utica 112 in Cedar Grove, NJ. If you see me say something dumb, just think of my poor wife--she has to hear it every day!
  • KC_JonesKC_Jones Posts: 4,000Member
    Take over all pictures of the boiler and it's associated piping. As a start.

    If she is adding water hourly, she either has a very very serious leak or the boiler has a hole in it. Both situations need addressed as soon as possible. I know that doesn't help, but want to make sure it is clear what the situation is.

    Water should only need to be added a few times per season.
    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
  • kcolemankcoleman Posts: 5Member
    There has always been steam coming out at a couple of the radiators on the first floor(3 story home) for as long as I can remember, especially on cold days like today. When dad was alive he said he was told that it was normal by the "furnace guy". Never sounded right to me and I am determined to get this resolved once and for all, spending a ton on fuel costs because of how it operates.
  • ethicalpaulethicalpaul Posts: 482Member
    The furnace guy was wrong (as you may already have figured out). He was probably also wrong about the pressure he set the boiler at, but we'll find that out with your help.
    1 pipe Utica 112 in Cedar Grove, NJ. If you see me say something dumb, just think of my poor wife--she has to hear it every day!
  • KPColemanKPColeman Posts: 9Member
    Had the oil company service guy come to the house and he spent some time and took cover off and found two leaks in the boiler wall. The Burnham model#pv855c-ubuntu was installed in August 2008, called Burnham cust serv and she says it has a 10 year warranty, but the best I can hope to get is $150 rebate after the paperwork is done. Claims that due to government regs that they don't construct the steam boilers the way they use to and they are more prone to corrosion now, but 10 years!!?? Really?
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Posts: 9,773Member
    In a sense the Burnham lady is right: both the government mandates and the consumer screams are driving the boiler manufacturers to try and boost the efficiency of their boilers -- and one of the few ways to do that is to make the metal thinner and increase the area of it in contact with hot gas. Neither of which is conducive to long life.
    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: 4,000Member
    Excess make up water from leaks rots the boiler.

    I wouldn’t be to upset with Burnham, I’d be more upset at the man telling your father “letting steam out is normal”.

    It seems you still have a dilemma, now she needs a new boiler and you need someone that either knows what they are doing or is willing to listen to a knowledgeable consultant.

    Couple key points here. First it needs to be sized correctly, it’s not difficult, but from what I see on here not many want to do it.

    The second is getting them to follow the install manual to pipe it correctly.

    After that it’s fixing the other issues.
    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
  • KPColemanKPColeman Posts: 9Member
    I need to find a qualified/certified "Steam" guy to come to the house and do an evaluation of the system before I get the new boiler and then I need to get a "qualified" person to install. Who is willing to go to West Reading PA. I can't afford time or money to have a guy who doesn't really knows what he's doing.
  • IronmanIronman Posts: 4,837Member
    Some pics of the system, the boiler and its near piping would be very helpful.

    I can't speak for everyone, but it's gonna be hard to get anyone to travel far out of their normal service area without seeing what they're getting into first.
    Bob Boan


    You can choose to do what you want, but you cannot choose the consequences.
  • KC_JonesKC_Jones Posts: 4,000Member
    I don’t have the time to turn wrenches for your mother, not a contractor, but I could go to her house one evening and walk down the system, measure radiation, take pictures and do my best to come up with some recommendations to be put into a contract for any potential work to be done.

    Of course I would post system pics and such in here to get others opinions.

    You can private message me if you want to work out details. Let me know.
    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
  • ethicalpaulethicalpaul Posts: 482Member
    I had the urge to offer the same thing, given the extreme weather and your mom’s age, but KC is much more experienced!
    1 pipe Utica 112 in Cedar Grove, NJ. If you see me say something dumb, just think of my poor wife--she has to hear it every day!
  • EzzyTEzzyT Posts: 797Member
    @KPColeman Reading PA is about 2 hours from me, you can private message me and maybe we can set something up.
  • SailahSailah Posts: 778Member
    ^^^^You can't do better than EzzyT
    Peter Owens
    SteamIQ
  • KPColemanKPColeman Posts: 9Member
    I'm working on getting some pictures posted today and thank you for the responses.
  • pecmsgpecmsg Posts: 541Member
    EzzyT said:

    @KPColeman Reading PA is about 2 hours from me, you can private message me and maybe we can set something up.

    Sailah said:

    ^^^^You can't do better than EzzyT

    X-2
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Posts: 9,773Member
    pecmsg said:

    EzzyT said:

    @KPColeman Reading PA is about 2 hours from me, you can private message me and maybe we can set something up.

    Sailah said:

    ^^^^You can't do better than EzzyT

    X-2
    X-3
    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
  • SteamheadSteamhead Posts: 12,654Member

    pecmsg said:

    EzzyT said:

    @KPColeman Reading PA is about 2 hours from me, you can private message me and maybe we can set something up.

    Sailah said:

    ^^^^You can't do better than EzzyT

    X-2
    X-3
    This.
    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
  • KPColemanKPColeman Posts: 9Member
  • KPColemanKPColeman Posts: 9Member
  • KPColemanKPColeman Posts: 9Member
  • KPColemanKPColeman Posts: 9Member
    Mom's boiler and near pipes, hope it helps. I can get others now that I know(sort of) how to download pictures. :) :)
  • pecmsgpecmsg Posts: 541Member
    I see 2 different boilers...........

    a Y fitting on the first but missing on the others!
  • KPColemanKPColeman Posts: 9Member
    I'm out of state so I'm asking someone to get a picture of the gauges.
  • FredFred Posts: 7,610Member
    pecmsg said:

    I see 2 different boilers...........

    a Y fitting on the first but missing on the others!

    I think it's the same boiler. Front view on the first picture, side view on the other with the one riser out of view.
    The near boiler piping doesn't look too hateful. If you can get @EzzyT to come and look it over and see what he finds as well as do a maintenance on the boiler, that would be great. I'm guessing there aren't any main vents on that system either.
  • IronmanIronman Posts: 4,837Member
    I've never seen a wye/strainer on a steam riser. What in the world?
    Bob Boan


    You can choose to do what you want, but you cannot choose the consequences.
  • FredFred Posts: 7,610Member
    Ironman said:

    I've never seen a wye/strainer on a steam riser. What in the world?

    Looked like a waste pipe cleanout to me. Must have been all he had on his truck. Makes easy access to add steamaster tablets, if the plug doesn't weld closed. ;)
  • EBEBRATT-EdEBEBRATT-Ed Posts: 4,977Member
    @Ironman & @Fred

    Obviously you two haven't herd of "clean steam" LOL

    Must have needed a coupling.

    Piping better than most we see.
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