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New House, New Steam Enthusiast

MaTTyBiGs
MaTTyBiGs Member Posts: 26
edited February 2019 in Strictly Steam
Hi All,

My wife and I just bought our first house and it has steam heat, it was built in 1900 but had a small addition put on sometime after. My house growing up (built two years before the declaration of independence) also had steam heat, so I was very loosely familiar with the idea. The system is not heating evenly and making all sorts of noises, so I wanted to learn why. The system fascinates me (I'm a chemical engineer, but no steam heating experience) so I tried looking for a book or two, found Dan's books - and here I am.

After reading through "We Got Steam Heat!" I feel like I have some good places to start, and it's certainly in the basement. I am having a professional come in to clean the boiler and a plumber to look over the piping compared to the manufacturer's recommendation (Crown Bermuda 138) - so I will pass over that for now and re-visit later.

The pipes are horribly insulated, someone did a small wrapping job on some mains but looks like they gave up and nothing else is insulated. I am going to get some 1" fiberglass insulation to insulate everything (2" mains, radiator pipes vary from 1.25" to 0.75") - I looked at 1.5" for the mains but the price almost doubles and I know the insulating properties will rapidly decline with thickness (as in the second inch will not stop nearly as much heat flow as the first inch).

This brings me to my next step, the main vents. One main is about 37 feet long (west side of house) and one is about 42 feet long (east side of house). From my calculations, this should be about 0.84 and 0.97 cubic feet of air respectively. Currently, they are both Hoffman #4 Quickvents at the end of the two mains - which from looking at the vent capacity chart seem way undersized (https://heatinghelp.com/assets/documents/Balancing-Steam-Systems-Using-a-Vent-Capacity-Chart-1.pdf) and I'm not sure what kind of shape they are in. I've read a lot about Gorton #2's but am a little unsure of if they are appropriate here or if I should do timing of the steam in an open pipe to understand how long it takes to reach the vents. I also want to make sure I have enough room between the vent location and the floor since I know the Gorton's are quite tall and you want the vent 6-10" (I think) above the pipe. I've attached pictures of my two main vents below for reference of the vent and locations/areas to work with.





I will work with radiator venting after I get my basement sorted out, they are a mismatch of types with some being painted over and not well maintained - this seems like the correct order to work in.

Any input is very appreicated.

Thanks,
Matt

Comments

  • ImYoungxD
    ImYoungxD Member Posts: 130
    Replace those two main vents with barnes and jones big mouth which can be found on Amazon. You want to vent the main line fast. Big mouth vents faster than Gorton #2.

    Next, insulate your main with 1 inch fiberglass. Not worth getting 1.5 inch.

    Replace/repair the vents if they are not working. Rads further away from the boiler should vent faster. Rads in the same room as the thermostat should vent slower. I used this chart to determine which vent should go where http://www.maid-o-mist.com/jacobus.html
    ethicalpaul
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 3,128
    Welcome! Sounds like you have a good handle on what to do and the engineering mind to even understand it :smile:

    I have a question for you-- on your second picture, after the vent, the main goes through an old foundation...where is it going? returning back to the boiler from an addition?
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,943
    The 6-10" you mentioned can be some what less if you have a horizontal pipe involved. The idea is to keep the vent away from any water hammer and debris. You still want the vertical rise to be the max possible.
    Just so the horizontal pipe will slope to drain any condensate back to the main.
    At least one Big Mouth on each main for sure.

    Before insulating it is good to check the slope of the piping and add hangers between existing ones. The pipe can develop a "belly" sag between hangers that leads to water hammer in the future.
    Once insulated you may not be able to see the sag.
    ethicalpaul
  • STEAM DOCTOR
    STEAM DOCTOR Member Posts: 1,368
    edited February 2019
    @ImYoungxD. Don't use the Maid O Mist chart. Radiator size determines vent size. Not radiator location. Bigger radiator means more air. Second floor means 10 more feet of pipe(approx).... Closer or further from the boiler will be irrelevant if the mains are properly vented.
  • MaTTyBiGs
    MaTTyBiGs Member Posts: 26
    edited February 2019
    ImYoungxD said:

    Replace those two main vents with barnes and jones big mouth which can be found on Amazon. You want to vent the main line fast. Big mouth vents faster than Gorton #2.

    Next, insulate your main with 1 inch fiberglass. Not worth getting 1.5 inch.

    Replace/repair the vents if they are not working. Rads further away from the boiler should vent faster. Rads in the same room as the thermostat should vent slower. I used this chart to determine which vent should go where http://www.maid-o-mist.com/jacobus.html

    Thanks for the feedback, I'll look into those main vents. I'll stick with the 1" too. I did buy those Maid o Mist Jacobus adjustable valves on Amazon before I read the book. I may use them since I have them to at least fine tune the system and then have a good idea of venting needs if I buy fixed sizes.

    Welcome! Sounds like you have a good handle on what to do and the engineering mind to even understand it :smile:

    I have a question for you-- on your second picture, after the vent, the main goes through an old foundation...where is it going? returning back to the boiler from an addition?

    Thanks! I think my engineering background combined with the history of steam systems is why I'm instantly obsessed. Yes, the second picture that pipe that runs through the old foundation is from a small addition. That pipe goes 90 degrees after it goes through the wall then another 90 and runs all the way across the wall to meet up with the pipe from the first picture and then that runs all the way to the boiler. I believe this is the wet return (make sure my terminology is correct), it starts off at 28" above the floor in the picture you commented on, drops to 25" when it meets the other return, and is about 14" when it is next to the boiler. My water line for the boiler is 28.625" from the floor. The below pictures show where the main first crosses the foundation, bends a few times, then goes back.



    JUGHNE said:

    The 6-10" you mentioned can be some what less if you have a horizontal pipe involved. The idea is to keep the vent away from any water hammer and debris. You still want the vertical rise to be the max possible.
    Just so the horizontal pipe will slope to drain any condensate back to the main.
    At least one Big Mouth on each main for sure.

    Before insulating it is good to check the slope of the piping and add hangers between existing ones. The pipe can develop a "belly" sag between hangers that leads to water hammer in the future.
    Once insulated you may not be able to see the sag.

    Sorry, just want to make sure I understand. Which horizontal pipe are you referencing? If I had to attach another pipe in order to make the valve fit?

    Also, what is the proper way to check the slope of the pipes? I'm a little worried about making any adjustments only because the pipes seem pretty solid and not sure if I'll be able to budge them at all.

    @ImYoungxD. Don't use the Maid O Mist chart. Radiator size determines vent size. Not radiator location. Bigger radiator means more air. Second floor means 10 more feet of pipe(approx).... Closer or further from the boiler will be irrelevant if the mains are properly vented.

    This is what I remember from the book, vent by radiator size not location. Interesting how every single adjustable vent I've found says to do it by location. Do you mention the pipe between the main and the radiator so that I include it in the "size" of the radiator when venting the radiators? For example, if I have a small radiator but it's on the second floor - I may need a larger vent than if it was on the first floor.
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 3,128
    Very cool! Don’t be afraid of the pipes. Soon you’ll be buying 36” pipe wrenches, an NPT threading toolkit that goes to 2”, and 10 foot lengths of pipe from supplyhouse.com, like me
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
    CLamb1Matthiascnjamrosforesthillsjd
  • MaTTyBiGs
    MaTTyBiGs Member Posts: 26

    Very cool! Don’t be afraid of the pipes. Soon you’ll be buying 36” pipe wrenches, an NPT threading toolkit that goes to 2”, and 10 foot lengths of pipe from supplyhouse.com, like me

    As exciting as that sounds, starting small for now :D
    ethicalpaul
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 3,128
    OK great! Now send us pictures of your near-boiler piping and your controls so we can make your to-do list longer! :lol:
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
  • MaTTyBiGs
    MaTTyBiGs Member Posts: 26
    Like these? This is one of the things I'm having the plumber look at to compare with the boilers instructions, but would be open to any other input as well.






    Was going to adjust this per Dan's recommendation from the book, but haven't gotten to it yet.


    ethicalpaul
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,943
    The horizontal pipe I refer to is the one you add for your vents.
    The more corners involved the more protection the vent has.
    The vent needs to be able to drain any condensate back in the main. So that the, newly added, horizontal pipe needs to point back towards the boiler following the slope of the main in order to drain.

    On pipe slope, you want it to be consistent with no dips or sags.
    Just adding extra hangers to insure of no future sags.
    A tight string along side the pipe would show sags.
    A 4' level would show the amount of slope.

    You mention 2 mains, are they tied together above the water line? (Other than at the boiler).
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 3,128
    I think the pressuretrol setting looks pretty good. It is a subtractive model, so the cutout is just below 2psi and the cutin is .5psi. Were you going to bump the cutout a little lower like to 1.5? that would be fine I think.

    See what the pros think, but I think you aren't too bad with the piping. I don't like that they took a sideways tee off of your header but I guess they were running out of headroom.

    Also I wish they had made two tees, one for each of your mains, coming out of the header, instead of a single one with a tee on it.

    The Hartford loop has me totally confused I admit.

    How about one more picture of all the controls from a little further back? I want to see your sight glass and your pressure gauge. If you can take the picture in the middle of a heating cycle, that'd be awesome. Sorry so demanding haha!
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
  • MaTTyBiGs
    MaTTyBiGs Member Posts: 26
    JUGHNE said:

    The horizontal pipe I refer to is the one you add for your vents.
    The more corners involved the more protection the vent has.
    The vent needs to be able to drain any condensate back in the main. So that the, newly added, horizontal pipe needs to point back towards the boiler following the slope of the main in order to drain.

    On pipe slope, you want it to be consistent with no dips or sags.
    Just adding extra hangers to insure of no future sags.
    A tight string along side the pipe would show sags.
    A 4' level would show the amount of slope.

    You mention 2 mains, are they tied together above the water line? (Other than at the boiler).

    Thanks for the clarification, that makes total sense. Do you think the extra piping is necessary? Or is it just added insurance? I'm sure it would be a relatively cheap thing to do - a few extra pipes and fittings. Stupid question: do they make fittings less than 45 degrees, or do you just mechanically bend the pipe with torque?

    I have a 3' level, I'll give that a shot - I'll also check for any sagging when I re-insulate (i.e. take the old stuff off and have good visibility).

    No, the only place they are connected above the water line is at the boiler, the other connection point is in the wet return which is about 25" off the ground (right below waterline when at level).

    I think the pressuretrol setting looks pretty good. It is a subtractive model, so the cutout is just below 2psi and the cutin is .5psi. Were you going to bump the cutout a little lower like to 1.5? that would be fine I think.

    See what the pros think, but I think you aren't too bad with the piping. I don't like that they took a sideways tee off of your header but I guess they were running out of headroom.

    Also I wish they had made two tees, one for each of your mains, coming out of the header, instead of a single one with a tee on it.

    The Hartford loop has me totally confused I admit.

    How about one more picture of all the controls from a little further back? I want to see your sight glass and your pressure gauge. If you can take the picture in the middle of a heating cycle, that'd be awesome. Sorry so demanding haha!

    I have to admit, I don't recall - I was going to check the book when I got home for exact settings.

    Interesting thoughts, I can't comment too much on that other than it makes basic sense to me - at least the sideways T (sort of :smile:).

    The Hartford loop confused me too, it doesn't look like the plumbing diagram from the instructions but that's where I was hoping a pro may be able to help out.

    There is a picture below with less magnification, the disclaimer is I'm not sure the boiler was on. My memory says that the gauge always reads zero. The sight glass at first was very dirty and seemed to go down in level quickly. I drained water from the front drain (still not sure if this is good practice) and it was filthy and slowly got better - but then I think may have clogged. I was hoping the pro's could take a look at this when they come. Good news is none of my wet returns go under the floor, and they seem to be accessible to get everything flushed out - not sure what the last people did. That being said, after doing this the sight glass seems cleaner and the water level seems to hold more steady. Don't have a lot of data here yet though.


  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,943
    The extra piping is for insurance on your vent investment.
    Also Big Mouth vents do not have a float to close on any water.
    The higher elevation is a little insurance against this event.
    If you had to establish angle to your offset you could use swing 90's. That is 2 elbows connected with a short nipple. This allows you to have a vertical riser and angle off to the side with a horizontal that has any desired pitch, rather than being perpendicular to the riser.
    You may see some swing fittings in your steam piping for take offs and risers thru the floor.

    I would go every 10' for 2" pipe hangers. The weight of the insulation, while not much will slightly add some load.
    Also the installation process could change some hanger loading.

    Are your dry returns tied together well below the water line?
    That is could steam pass from one to the other?
  • ImYoungxD
    ImYoungxD Member Posts: 130
    Replace the cycle guard low water cut off with Safgard.
    Cycle guard turns the boiler off every 10 minutes to measure water levels which is not needed.
  • MaTTyBiGs
    MaTTyBiGs Member Posts: 26
    JUGHNE said:

    The extra piping is for insurance on your vent investment.
    Also Big Mouth vents do not have a float to close on any water.
    The higher elevation is a little insurance against this event.
    If you had to establish angle to your offset you could use swing 90's. That is 2 elbows connected with a short nipple. This allows you to have a vertical riser and angle off to the side with a horizontal that has any desired pitch, rather than being perpendicular to the riser.
    You may see some swing fittings in your steam piping for take offs and risers thru the floor.

    I would go every 10' for 2" pipe hangers. The weight of the insulation, while not much will slightly add some load.
    Also the installation process could change some hanger loading.

    Are your dry returns tied together well below the water line?
    That is could steam pass from one to the other?

    Thank you for your patience and explanation, I understand now after your wording and a bit of googling. I will most likely do this on each side, may make access easier as well. Is there any "no-no's" with regards to pipe size and bends? I know bends influence fluid flow but not sure if it matters here.

    Understood, I'll check out the hangers.

    I guess that depends on "well below" - it looks to be about 4" below the waterline. I don't see how steam could pass from one to the other unless the level gets really low while the boiler is on?

    I attached a (terrible) diagram that may help explain.

    ImYoungxD said:

    Replace the cycle guard low water cut off with Safgard.
    Cycle guard turns the boiler off every 10 minutes to measure water levels which is not needed.

    I remember seeing this in the manual, it does seem very excessive. I will ask the pro about it when they do the maintenance.
  • I hope your plumber knows steam heat-not all do! The difference between a plumber and a steam pro might be like the difference between a cook and a chemist-they both combine ingredients for interesting effect, but their jobs are not automatically interchangeable!
    You might ask him about his other work, particularly if he has pictures, which you could post here. Some people subscribe to the “Ive been doing it this way for 30 years-I know what to do!”
    Then the job is noisy, and uneven, and his telephone goes unanswered...
    Even talking to his clients may not give you the information you need about his work. Websites relying on hearsay such as Angie’s list, or Yelp are suspect, because most posters will only focus on the make of boiler, and since the installer was so nice, he must be a good pro……—NBC
    CLambforesthillsjd
  • gfrbrookline
    gfrbrookline Member Posts: 683
    Where are you located? Have you tried find a contractor?
  • gfrbrookline
    gfrbrookline Member Posts: 683
    Also once you figure out your main venting and insulation get Vent-rite #1's for the radiators. The dial makes them super easy to adjust and balance your rooms out. Start with them all at 4 and go up and down from there based on hot and cold rooms.
  • MaTTyBiGs
    MaTTyBiGs Member Posts: 26

    I hope your plumber knows steam heat-not all do! The difference between a plumber and a steam pro might be like the difference between a cook and a chemist-they both combine ingredients for interesting effect, but their jobs are not automatically interchangeable!
    You might ask him about his other work, particularly if he has pictures, which you could post here. Some people subscribe to the “Ive been doing it this way for 30 years-I know what to do!”
    Then the job is noisy, and uneven, and his telephone goes unanswered...
    Even talking to his clients may not give you the information you need about his work. Websites relying on hearsay such as Angie’s list, or Yelp are suspect, because most posters will only focus on the make of boiler, and since the installer was so nice, he must be a good pro……—NBC

    This place has a pretty good reputation in general, but I guess I will find out. The good news is there is no major work being performed and I will be much more prepared in case after the book! We will see :)

    Where are you located? Have you tried find a contractor?

    Harrisburg, PA

    Also once you figure out your main venting and insulation get Vent-rite #1's for the radiators. The dial makes them super easy to adjust and balance your rooms out. Start with them all at 4 and go up and down from there based on hot and cold rooms.

    Worth returning the Maid O Mist Jacobus adjustable ones I already have?
  • gfrbrookline
    gfrbrookline Member Posts: 683
    Without a doubt. Maid O Mist have a plastic badder that doesn't hold up. The ventrites are much more robust and easier to adjust.
  • MaTTyBiGs
    MaTTyBiGs Member Posts: 26
    > @gfrbrookline said:
    > Without a doubt. Maid O Mist have a plastic badder that doesn't hold up. The ventrites are much more robust and easier to adjust.

    Good to know, I rather pay a little more and get something well made. I know firsthand that often times the cheaper alternative is a coin flip.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 17,059
    Your returns relative to the water level are OK. Not by much, but OK.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • MaTTyBiGs
    MaTTyBiGs Member Posts: 26
    edited February 2019
    > @Jamie Hall said:
    > Your returns relative to the water level are OK. Not by much, but OK.

    Can you elaborate for me?
  • gfrbrookline
    gfrbrookline Member Posts: 683
    Set your pressuretrol so the main is half way between 2 and the dash then set the differential to 1. This will let you run between 1.5 and .5 psi which is the normal operating pressure for steam unless you have a vapor system.
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 14,837
    MaTTyBiGs said:

    Where are you located? Have you tried find a contractor?

    Harrisburg, PA
    We have a couple customers up that way...............

    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
  • MaTTyBiGs
    MaTTyBiGs Member Posts: 26

    Set your pressuretrol so the main is half way between 2 and the dash then set the differential to 1. This will let you run between 1.5 and .5 psi which is the normal operating pressure for steam unless you have a vapor system.

    Sounds very similar to what I saw in the "We got steam heat" book.
    Steamhead said:

    MaTTyBiGs said:

    Where are you located? Have you tried find a contractor?

    Harrisburg, PA
    We have a couple customers up that way...............

    Really? That's quite a hike (about an hour and 20). Depending on how this visit goes I may be looking for steam experts, so I'll keep that in mind.
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 3,128
    I recommend take notes on his comments, but don't let him touch anything until you sanity check it here. We've all seen so many systems that were not improved, or even harmed. That homeowners paid for that privilege is especially galling.
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
  • MaTTyBiGs
    MaTTyBiGs Member Posts: 26

    I recommend take notes on his comments, but don't let him touch anything until you sanity check it here. We've all seen so many systems that were not improved, or even harmed. That homeowners paid for that privilege is especially galling.

    Definitely will, I'm not worried about the boiler maintenance aspect as much as I am the near boiler piping check. I will pay attention to what he says and sanity check it here. I must say I already don't like that they have two separate people for the boiler maintenance and the plumbing.
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,518
    If you get @Steamhead to look your system over, definitely take notes but you don't have to do a sanity check here or anywhere else. He is one of the very best!
    ethicalpaul
  • MaTTyBiGs
    MaTTyBiGs Member Posts: 26
    Just called and left them a message, If I can get in contact soon and they service my area I will happily cancel with the other company. Much rather have a well-respected expert look my system over.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 17,059
    On the water level,, @MaTTyBiGs -- all that is necessary is that at the end of the wet return, where the drips come down, the top of the pipe has to be lower than the low normal water level in the boiler. The more the better -- but even an inch or two is OK. When the boiler is steaming, the water will rise a somewhat in the drip from the dry return, but not in the drip from the steam main --- but the seal will still be there, which is what counts.

    And if you have @Steamhead coming -- he's one of the very best in the business.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    MaTTyBiGs
  • MaTTyBiGs
    MaTTyBiGs Member Posts: 26
    Thanks, crossing my fingers they service my area!
  • MaTTyBiGs
    MaTTyBiGs Member Posts: 26
    edited February 2019
    Well, I trusted my gut as well as you steamies (and the book) and canceled with the other provider. They "specialize" in too many things for my comfort - and I don't like that they had separate people coming for my boiler maintenance and plumbing. I want someone who works on the system as a whole and not pieces. My engineering side agrees with that, to make a system work - you need to understand the system in its entirety.

    Contacted All Steamed Up crossing my fingers they service Harrisburg, and if not I'll find someone else that specializes in steam and the ENTIRE system.
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 14,837
    edited March 2019
    MaTTyBiGs said:

    Well, I trusted my gut as well as you steamies (and the book) and canceled with the other provider. They "specialize" in too many things for my comfort - and I don't like that they had separate people coming for my boiler maintenance and plumbing. I want someone who works on the system as a whole and not pieces. My engineering side agrees with that, to make a system work - you need to understand the system in its entirety.

    Contacted All Steamed Up crossing my fingers they service Harrisburg, and if not I'll find someone else that specializes in steam and the ENTIRE system.

    Just left you a message, @MaTTyBiGs - hope to talk to you soon.

    And thanks all for the kind words!
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
    MaTTyBiGs
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 10,271
    @MaTTyBiGs

    I wouldn't worry about a company that would use a pipefitter and a technician. They may have a piper that does boilers and piping and a technician to do the burners and controls.

    But you have already crossed that bridge and at the end of the rainbow you got @Steamhead

    MaTTyBiGs
  • dopey27177
    dopey27177 Member Posts: 748
    Second picture from the top: The end of the steam main shows a end of the steam main on the left connected before the Hoffman # 40 vent valve is part or all of your banging problem.

    Here steam will cross over into the pipe with the lowest steam pressure and push condensate toward the radiators.

    That end of steam main needs to be dropped vertically to the wet return. Also you need to put a vent valve on the horizontal piping. The vent valve should be installed at least 6" away from the vertical drop and not more than 12".

    From what I see two Gorton # 1 vent valves will be fine.

    Additionally I did not see a Hartford Loop at the base of the boiler.

    Jake
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,228
    Don't discount the maid o mist vents, I've used them on my system for main and radiator vents and not had any problem for 5 years. The kit they sell with the vent and 5 orifices is very well priced and lets you change venting rates without dancing the whole air valve around the house. If you neen a slower rate than the #4 orifice solder the hole closed and drill a smaller hole.

    The VentRite is the better vent but it's also 4X the price, your choice. Do put a level on your radiators and make sure they have positive pitch so water can find it's way back to the boiler.

    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
    ethicalpaul