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How do I get to the pipes? All water poured out of water line in ceiling going to upstairs radiator

amartineramartiner Member Posts: 16
Out of the blue - ALL the water from my heating system POURED THROUGH my ceiling on the first floor. (house is about 90 years old - gas baseboard radiators) It poured out of the ceiling fan fixture - likely an easy path out - so I'm not exactly sure where the pipes run.

Above the place where the water poured out - is one of the baseboard radiators upstairs at the front of the house. So I assume one of the pipes going to or from that spot - has cracked.

The question - how do I get to it to fix the pipe? Upstairs - it's hardwood floors. Downstairs - I have high ceilings and plaster/lathe ceiling with old-school (horrible) insulation above the ceiling. Fluffy stuff - no idea what it's made of)

I know how plumbing pipes run to/from bathrooms. You have to go to through the floors of the bathrooms -not up through the ceilings to get to the pipes.

Is it the same with the pipes for the heating system? Do I have to take the hardwood floor up near the radiator - and follow the pipes out until I find the problem? It'll be the flooring AND the subflooring, I assume?

HELP! (it's getting cold!)

Amy

Comments

  • JUGHNEJUGHNE Member Posts: 6,929
    edited November 2019
    IIWM, I would first find in the basement where the runs go up to the 2nd floor. There I would install ball valves with hose bibs above them.
    This would let you get the heat on for the first floor.

    Most likely a line froze near an outside wall or a BB heater itself.

    If you have more than one set of risers, the hose bibs with air applied could isolate which set have the leak. You might hear the air leak which could narrow down the location of the water leak.

    Where are you located?

    Some AC and refrigeration or heating people that preform repairs have ultrasonic leak detectors that can hear leaks.
  • amartineramartiner Member Posts: 16
    I'm in Philadelphia. I don't know if it's possible to isolate one floor's source of water (or the loop back) -is it possible to be all on one loop? I tried to go down and figure out which pipe goes from furnace up there - and couldn't see it. (or maybe I don't know what I'm looking at) I'm comfortable putting in a shark-bitey thing -that will allow me to turn off water moving. How can I map it out? My house is about 2,400 sq feet - old stone single. (and it's crumbling around me)
  • ZmanZman Member Posts: 5,831
    Post pictures if you can. Isolating the leaking zone, refilling the water and turning the heat back on should be the priority.
    "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough"
    Albert Einstein
  • STEVEusaPASTEVEusaPA Member Posts: 4,143
    It’s easier to open up and fix plaster rather than cutting/patching/refinishing 90 year old hardwood.
    Plus, if water was leaking, the plaster is potentially damaged anyways.
    You should get your homeowners insurance involved. Usually they won’t pay to fix your piping, but they should pay to repair the damage it caused.
    steve
    amartinermattmia2delta T
  • amartineramartiner Member Posts: 16
    Oh lord. Took pictures.How will you even know what you're looking at? eeek. I'm handy enough - but this is tricky to sort out.




  • amartineramartiner Member Posts: 16
    If you'll spot it - I already tried to isolate the pipe that LOOKED LIKE it was going upstairs - and put a valve on it to close it. It didn't work. Maybe I only did one side and need to close off the return too?
  • amartineramartiner Member Posts: 16
    Hey SteveusaPA...the radiator/pipe in question - is in a closet. A sloped closet in the front of the house - that I don't use much because I'm too tall, frankly. As for homeowners - I had a HUGE repair they chipped in on (regular plumbing that did tons of damage) this year. I don't want my rates to go sky-high. And I bet it won't barely hit my deductible..to patch the ceiling after fixing the pipe. But how do I FIND it, I wonder? I wish there were a map) Thanks for your answer, though.
  • mattmia2mattmia2 Member Posts: 1,320
    That is a converted gravity system. At some point a gravity boiler was replaced with a modern boiler with a circulator.

    All of the heat emitters will have a supply and return pipe. the whole system is under pressure. you have to close both the supply and return or the water will flow in through whichever end is open from the system pressure.

    What are the heat emitters? Are they cast iron baseboard radiators? If it is cast iron baseboard, you might look to see if it is leaking out of the back of the radiator itself and running between the floor and wall.
    amartiner
  • mattmia2mattmia2 Member Posts: 1,320
    edited November 2019
    It may also be possible to just abandon the leaking pipes and run new pex or copper up to the radiators that those pipes serve. The new pipe doesn't need to be anywhere near as large as the old gravity pipes were.
    amartiner
  • amartineramartiner Member Posts: 16
    Ohhhh I am going to go look up all the terms you've used. Sorry - I studied the wrong stuff in school, clearly. But - I think - I only closed off ONE WAY to the leaking system - and will try to close off the return tomorrow to see if I can get heat downstairs. Can you see from the picture up toward the ceiling - are there two loops going OUT/BACK to this system?

  • amartineramartiner Member Posts: 16
    Sorry - i meant to post this picture - which one is the outbound/hot - and then return?
  • amartineramartiner Member Posts: 16
    Very lastly - I don't see any water AT ALL up near the likely offending radiator. I wish I could just isolate THAT one. It's in a closet I don't use. It's clearly BELOW that cast iron baseboard radiator. THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH. You've really really helped me think through this. I hope I can get heat going downstairs, at least. I wonder, then, what's next steps for fixing leak? or replacing piping? Is it a ceiling-access job? pulling up the floor near the radiator?
  • amartineramartiner Member Posts: 16
    This is the house. The radiator is where the window is - and the leak was directly below -into the front room (where my office is) and dumped all the radiator system water down via the circular fan. Boo.
  • mattmia2mattmia2 Member Posts: 1,320
    edited November 2019
    Can you get to where those pipes go after they go through the wall? where do they go from there? My guess is that the pipe next to it is the other end of that loop like you think, assuming those go to the leaking loop.

    A good contractor that has experience with old houses can probably make a better guess where the leak is to minimize how much they have to tear in to. You would most likely go through the ceiling.

    Looking at the pump and finding the arrow on the side will tell you which way the flow in the system is. The circulator is on the left side of the boiler just out of view of your pictures. i can see just the top of it and it is green. I'm pretty sure the manifold on top is supply and the manifold on the side is return.

    amartinerZman
  • amartineramartiner Member Posts: 16
    THANK YOU. You cannot imagine how helpful. Good night!!!
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 12,864
    The other guys have pretty well covered the territory so far. Two further thoughts -- or, rather, emphases:

    Having gotten thoroughly soaked, the plaster is probably problematic at best. However, there do exist people who can repair the plaster in kind once you find and repair the leak. They may take some finding, but try talking to your local historical society. They won't be able (usually) to recommend someone, but likely they will know someone who knows someone. I'd send you my plasterer, but he's a crazy old Spaniard who is a perfect genius but doesn't travel. Whatever, do not let someone talk you into replacing with sheetrock/plasterboard. It's almost as expensive and never looks right and the practice should be banned.

    That insulation is probably what is called "rock wool". I've never been quite sure what it really is. It does not usually contain asbestos, but it is irritating and the dust isn't really good to breathe, so I would suggest a respirator, goggles, gloves and a bunny suit when working on it.

    Br. Jamie, osb

    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
  • STEVEusaPASTEVEusaPA Member Posts: 4,143
    For starters you could probably remove the ceiling fan, make a tiny hole and shoot a camera in there to at lease see the pipe.
    The insulation (rotten cotton) is already wet and matted down.

    When trying to find the pipe (leak), remember that plumbers who have to cut and thread pipe are pretty efficient-straight lines, fewest pieces to thread, etc. I'd imagine that radiator was piped directly vertically in the front wall, and over thru a floor joist cavity, or up a partition wall (you mentioned a closet), then over to the radiator.
    From the looks of your house, the insulation is probably in the unheated attic space, so maybe you can see something from the attic (BE careful--mask, gloves, tape your sleeves to the gloves, 2 flashlights).
    steve
  • JUGHNEJUGHNE Member Posts: 6,929
    This looks like a hot water gravity conversion.
    The few I have seen are "zoned" left of boiler and right of boiler.
    Then the 1st & 2nd floor radiators/piping are stacked up on each side of left and right.
    Usually no zoning by floor, rather just this side and that side.

    IIWM, I would cut in the ball valves on all 4 copper lines at the boiler. Add a hose bib above.
    Isolate the boiler with those 4 valves.
    Pump air in thru one hose bib, air comes out thru another bib then those are a pair.
    Do the other pair.
    You can hear an air leak, that is where the demo would start.

    The hose bibs can then be used as purge valves for re-filling. These systems are time consuming to purge of air when filling.
    The valves would save some stair travel time.
    mattmia2amartinerZmanSuperTech
  • mattmia2mattmia2 Member Posts: 1,320
    Are there any unfinished parts of that attic you can get in to so you can look to see where the water and pipes are, especially maybe a knee wall at the eves? Also, if they are insulated, don't disturb the insulation unless you are sure it is an asbestos free insulation.
  • neilcneilc Member Posts: 808
    what about closing all 4 valves,
    open and refill the boiler,
    then see which 2 are the leakers,
    at least now you know where to have a bucket,
    it will be one valve from the left side header, and one valve from the header over the boiler.
  • amartineramartiner Member Posts: 16
    Everyone is helping SO MUCH. The rotton cotton is what I'm dealing with. It's an incredible mess. (I had a respirator when I tried to poke a little) I have a camera - and will def poke a hole and take a look. Tonight's task - add 2nd valve - and get water isolated AWAY from the loop that goes upstairs. And get some heat downstairs. I'm a woman with a PLAN - so much better than before. The right side/left side loops make more sense than the upstairs/downstairs loops. I will figure out a plan - and isolate the problem area. Some heat is better than none.
  • JUGHNEJUGHNE Member Posts: 6,929
    If you isolate just one pipe of a loop, that loop will fill with water from the other side. I think you need 4 valves. Isolate all 4 copper pipes that connect to the old piping.

    If you are going to do the air test you will need a port to inject it.
    Also a fair capacity air compressor. FWIW
  • jumperjumper Member Posts: 1,453
    Looks like a nice house. Sorry to frighten you but if you sprang one leak you're vulnerable to more. I'd consider repiping everything unless you're going to move soon.
  • neilcneilc Member Posts: 808
    aren't those circuit setter ball valves on the header over the boiler, half way up the 2 coppers?
    mattmia2
  • ZmanZman Member Posts: 5,831
    edited November 2019
    mattmia2 said:

    Are there any unfinished parts of that attic you can get in to so you can look to see where the water and pipes are, especially maybe a knee wall at the eves? Also, if they are insulated, don't disturb the insulation unless you are sure it is an asbestos free insulation.

    When it was a gravity system it had a tank high in the system. As @mattmia2 suggested, it would be worth exploring the attic. The old tank termination could be the source of the leak. If nothing else, it is a good indicator of where the pipes are run in the house. You will be looking for large diameter threaded pipe like you see in the boiler room rather than cast iron vent pipes with large bulges where they connect.
    "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough"
    Albert Einstein
  • amartineramartiner Member Posts: 16
    Eeek there's no attic. The house slopes up from the first floor - and the radiator is in the closet in the front - on the 2nd floor - where the window is. Where the leak came down - was in the MIDDLE of the room (1st floor front) right below where the radiator is upstairs. I believe the pipe cracked there. (I have a few theories as to why it failed) The entire system is in the basement - with a pump (I replaced it a few years ago) that circulates the water.
  • amartineramartiner Member Posts: 16
    I have settled on this: the furnace supplies to 2 zones - I'm fairly confident that I know the offending zone - and will be putting a 2nd valve on there - to cut both sides of the loop it off form the rest of the system. Thanks for the suggestion about the air valve - but I LIKE bleeding the radiators and doing the stairs! (fitbit steps!) I'll post my results. I couldn't find my pipe cutter tonight - so will head to hardware store tomorrow to and give it a whirl tomorrow evening!
  • ZmanZman Member Posts: 5,831
    I guess it is just "follow the soggy plaster" then. If you have access to an infrared camera, they are good for chasing down leaks. In condensation mode, you can highlight the cooler areas where water is evaporating.
    "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough"
    Albert Einstein
  • amartineramartiner Member Posts: 16
    UPDATE!!!!!!!!! The offending pipe has been LOCATED. Exactly where I thought it was. Here's the GRIM picture. How on EARTH am I going to get up in there (ceiling) and get the old blown out elbow replaced and put a new one in? AAAK

  • mattmia2mattmia2 Member Posts: 1,320
    edited January 24
    Is that in the attic right underneath the roof? Are those shingles right above it?

    The best bet might be to abandon that riser and replace it with PEX fished up the wall if that is all that rider serves.
  • amartineramartiner Member Posts: 16
    No - it's in ceiling on 1st floor - that's the upstairs flooring.
  • mattmia2mattmia2 Member Posts: 1,320
    edited January 24
    It looks like that froze, that is about the only way a fitting would split apart like that.

    A good plumber should be able to either get that apart and replace it with iron or adapt an replace it with copper or pex.

    Actually, now that i look at it more, where does the lateral on the right go to? Might not be easy to replace that piece, does it go several feet across the room?

    Or do those 2 pipes going toward the wall feed the radiator?

    Be a great idea to get some insulation in the wall cavity between the outside and the pipes and on the pipes while you're in there.
  • amartineramartiner Member Posts: 16
    It seems very very unlikely that it froze - because of where it is - between a closet upstairs and my toasty office downstairs... The person who helped me gain access through the ceiling seems to think that it was a corrupt piece of hardware - that failed after 100 or so years. Who knows...but I know it's a rare bust up. (also - it's the heating system - so when things are cold enough to freeze - the system is circulating hot water to baseboard radiators)

    Ya - the plumber i just spoke to said he's going to go to the other side of the joist - and extend it over there to greet the elbow.

    This has been a MESS to find/figure out. Thanks for all the comments!

    A
  • mattmia2mattmia2 Member Posts: 1,320
    Is that wall an outside wall? If it is, some air leaking in from the outside in to that ceiling cavity can easily make it cold enough to freeze a pipe. I suppose it could have had enough stress to crack it if the pipes were pulling apart with enough force.

    The way pipes usually freeze in a heating system is the emitter stops heating for some reason (in a hot water system because the emitter got air locked or had some other issue, then the water in pipes that are too close to the outside stops circulating and freezes.)
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