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Radiator not working - This plan to fix sounds invasive - Please advise

steam2pipe Member Posts: 52
There is a bathroom radiator on the 3rd floor of our building and after the plumbers installed a new vent, it still didn't heat up. The plumbers then wanted to see a unit in the basement that is served by hot water and not steam (like the rest of the building) to find a vent. They "think" the pipe in this basement unit has an air pocket because it is not heating up. So they want to cut open the pipe (filled with water) to see what is going on, replace the pipe and the insulation around it (as the hot water gets very hot during heating season). This is really invasive in my opinion. The water in the pipe would destroy the floor in that unit, too. They then went to the 2nd floor between the 3rd fl and the basement unit and said they needed to break into the ceiling to see the piping underneath the 3rd floor radiator. This, too, would be very invasive for that unit as well. All of this is for one radiator in the bathroom that is not heating up when the boiler is turned on. Please help me to understand what they are trying to do OR let me know if you recommend another route to fixing the broken bathroom radiator. Here are my questions:
1) The pipe in the basement unit is fed with hot water. It's vertical from the floor to the ceiling. Water goes down, not up. So, how does cutting this pipe open make any sense? If there is an air pocket in the pipe, why is the heat getting to the pipe it connects to on the left and also to the pipe it connects to the right (both on the floor)? This feels invasive to the residents in that unit and it is only a 'theory' that it will work. They are not sure.
2) The ceiling below the radiator unit, if opened, would be very damaging to that unit. Why can't they remove the radiator on the 3rd floor and go into that floor and look from that angle?
3) Are there other remedies to fixing a small radiator that doesn't work when a new valve is installed rather than going into other people's unit's walls and pipes?
The house was built in the late 1800's. The boiler is brand new. All other units are getting steam heat. The basement units overheat from the hot water pipes so they have covered the pipes to endure this.
Any advice on this would be SO helpful. Once the Trustees to the building start making decisions about this, I want to have some constructive thoughts to give to them before tearing into other people's units.


  • Ironman
    Ironman Member Posts: 6,868
    I'm sorry, but your description isn't making sense. You go from talking about steam to hot water to steam as though it's part of the same system?

    Please clarify.
    Bob Boan
    You can choose to do what you want, but you cannot choose the consequences.
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 9,763
    Pictures of the boiler from floor to ceiling....back up....try to show all sides.
    Pictures of typical hot water radiators and picture of typical steam radiators.
  • steam2pipe
    steam2pipe Member Posts: 52
    Thanks, I'll try to clarify. We have 12 units in the building and 10 are heated via steam heat and 2 by the hot water return (basement units) via the same boiler. That is why I have a question. The plumbers think there is an air pocket in the hot water pipe in the basement causing no heat in the steam radiator two floors above. Does this make any sense to you at all? We all share the same boiler that feeds 10 with steam and 2 with the hot water return pipes (and insulation because it gets really hot in the basement). If you still need more clarification, please let me know.
  • steam2pipe
    steam2pipe Member Posts: 52
    Also, I don't have a way to post photos - sorry - this is a one pipe system if that helps -
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,518
    None of it makes sense. You need to never let those guys back into the building and get someone who knows what they are doing. Pipes don't have to be cut to check for an air pocket and the hot water piping in the basement has nothing to do with the steam pipes on any of the upper floors.
    Check the "Find a Contractor" tab at the top of this page and see if someone here is in your area. Where are you?
  • steam2pipe
    steam2pipe Member Posts: 52
    Thank You!! I will check that page. I didn't think it made any sense either! I hope that I can get the Trustees to agree with me!
    Thanks again!!
  • Ironman
    Ironman Member Posts: 6,868
    Are you referring to the condensate return lines?

    As Fred said, those guys don't know what they're doing.

    It's probably a venting issue.
    Bob Boan
    You can choose to do what you want, but you cannot choose the consequences.
  • Intplm.
    Intplm. Member Posts: 1,376
    What needs to be done is to take away some of the confusion. What you need to do is clarify whether this radiator in question is heated with steam or hot water.
    To different scenarios are possible hear.
    Shame you cant post a few pics. Could help immensely.
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 12,006

    I understand what is going on. You have 1 boiler which is a steam boiler with a hot water heating zone off of it. The hot water zone heats the two basement apartments and steam heats the remaining upper 10 apartments.

    The plumber thinks the hot water zone is air bound and want's to cut into the pipes. The third floor radiator on the steam system is the only steam radiator that does not heat.

    On the steam radiator the piping to this radiator needs to be checked for proper pitch. The radiator needs to be checked for proper pitch. The radiator vent needs to be checked.

    Once that is done, and the radiator still does not heat then the walls and ceiling may need to be opened up. This usually does not need to be done.

    The basement hot water zone needs to be checked for air and they could add air vents if need be. Any competent heating man should be able to do this.

    Where are you located? We could recommend someone.
  • steam2pipe
    steam2pipe Member Posts: 52
    Thanks. I think it is a venting issue. I also think the radiator might not be pitched properly. The plumber did say that it was possible the radiator was not installed properly. I do not want the walls and ceiling opened up so I'll ask that they check the basement hot water zone and add air vents if need be. Question: If the walls and ceiling are opened up, what are the plumbers looking for?
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,308
    I agree the company that wants to start disecting the hot water zone off the boiler does not understand steam and should not be relied on. It could be either a bad air valve on that radiator or that radiator or a pipe running to it has become sloped such that it is trapping water.

    I assume that problem radiator worked fine at some point, what has been done to the system between the time it worked and the first time it was found to not be working? That information will point you towards the problem.

    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • brandonf
    brandonf Member Posts: 197
    Is it worth unscrewing the vent and firing the boiler to see if you yet any steam to come out? 🤔
    Homeowner, Entrepreneur, Mechanic, Electrician,

    "The toes you step on today are connected to the butt you'll have to kiss tomorrow". ---Vincent "Buddy" Cianci
  • mikeg2015
    mikeg2015 Member Posts: 1,187
    Could be too large of vents on the other radiators in the building and too slow of main vents (assuming this is 1 pipe system)

    Improper pipe pitch to this small bathroom radiator is a potential issue.

    Also, is steam pressure is set too high...especially on a system designed for vapor... you can get some other issues.

    On the hot after zone, the zone needs to be fill properly and should not have bleeders at all. You have to use a boiler drain to push water into the system to fill it.
  • steam2pipe
    steam2pipe Member Posts: 52
    Thanks, everyone. The plumbers are not going to cut open the basement unit's piping or the upper floor's ceiling.