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My system has many issues!

stevie27stevie27 Member Posts: 10
edited October 2 in Strictly Steam
Hi. I have multiple questions about my system. I have read a lot on the forum and own The Lost Art of Steam Heating Revisited, so directing me to specific pages for those resources is fine too. I would appreciate any help you can give, and if you can be very specific and step by step that would be great since I am a newbie.

I have a single pipe steam system. There is a hartford loop to provide for the main level, along with another pipe that goes directly off the boiler for the 2nd level.

On the main level I have 5 radiators of varying sizes. All have Hoffman 40 vents.
1. None of the radiators heat all the way. They get hot for the first 1/3 and then are cold.
-Is this a problem of the pitch needing to be adjusted?
-Is this a problem of the vents needing to be cleaned? If so, can you please give instructions for the vinegar soak?
-Is this a problem with the valve?

On the 2nd level I have one radiator. This is serviced by a single pipe that shoots off from the boiler and then goes straight up.
2. The pipe gets hot until it reaches the radiator, but the radiator remains cold and there has been so sign of any steam getting in (no noise, no heat).
-Is this even the proper configuration to have a pipe not connected to the hartford loop?
-What steps do I need to take the get the radiator hot?
3. The pipe leaked a little bit last year at the junction right before it turned to go vertical. I believe we fixed the leak, but the water coming out was black and rusty and overall very dirty.
-Thoughts on if this is a problem with this particular pipe or the boiler or the entire system?

I do not believe the system was serviced regularly (or at all) by the previous owners. The boiler is from 1994 and seems to run fine. We did have someone come out in the spring of 2020 and they added some sort of cleaner to the system. We recently flushed out the water and it took 40 buckets before it ran clear.
4. The system obviously needs maintenance, but I don't know where to start.
-Should I add some sort of chemical cleaner regularly? And if so, what and how often?
-How do I clean out sediment from the boiler or pipes?
-None of my pipes are insulated. Should they be for better performance?
-On another post someone mentioned cleaning out the pigtails of pummertol. Does this apply to me? If so, what does it mean?

5. At what point do I just scrap the current system and have something different installed? And what would that be?

6. Does anyone know of an expert in Denver? I have had a few people come and honestly they didn't seem to be experts on steam heat.







Comments

  • Darek_NYCDarek_NYC Member Posts: 10
    I am not an expert but I just removed my old steam system.
    Anyway, your problems 1 and 2 are most likely caused by faulty vent valves. Go and by the new ($10-$15) and replace it. See what happens. In #2 check the valve as well - this one is not getting heat at all. #3 - Water will be always black or rusty. No need to worry. What you or the plumber should check is the "mud" collected in the boiler. You may flush the boiler to remove a lot of it but it likely does not go up with steam. #4 - my house is 100 years old and I have enough "banging" and "hissing" so I am replacing it right now.
  • ethicalpaulethicalpaul Member Posts: 1,865
    If the system is correct at all, Derek, there is no banging or hissing. But to the OP can you supply some pictures? Your description of a supply coming off of the Hartford loop sounds suspicious.
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
    Dave0176
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 13,412
    I'm not quite sure by what you mean when you say you have a steam main connected to the Hartford loop. Is there a possibility that you could take some photos of the near boiler piping and post them? It would help a lot...

    On the various comments.

    1. It is not at all unusual for radiators to not heat all the way across. In fact, they probably won't unless it's cold out and the boiler has to run for a longish time. The question isn't do they heat all the way across -- it's do they provide enough heat to keep the space at the right temperature. If some rooms are cooler or hotter, that can be fixed by changing or adjusting the vents -- smaller if the room is warmer than wanted (it always works better with vents if you slow the warm rooms down, rather than try to speed the cold ones up).
    2. Sounds suspiciously as though the vent on that radiator may not be opening. I'd check that first.
    3. Fixing leaks is a first priority! If the water was gunky, though, it suggests that the pipe may not be draining back to the boiler properly -- that it is not pitched adequately. Check that.
    4. Pipes above the water line in the boiler -- and the radiators -- do not need any maintenance or cleaning on a regular basis. Some "mud" may accumulate in the boiler, however, and in pipes below the water line -- and it does no harm to flush that out -- but it shouldn't need to be done more than once a year, if that. In most cases (not all) there is no need to add any chemicals to the boiler water -- indeed, unless done to meet a specific need, such as foaming or surging -- they may do more harm than good. The steam mains should be insulated. This does two things: directs more of the heat to where you really want it, but also allows for more even and rapid steam distribution to where you want the heat. And yes, the pigtail to the pressuretrol should be at least checked for being open, again once per year. That pigtail allows the pressuretrol to "see" the pressure in the boiler -- and if it is clogged, you may well have a problem with over pressure.
    5. You don't. Steam heat, properly maintained, is as good as it gets.

    Now. Having said all of that...

    Yearly maintenance of the boiler is highly recommended. What this includes depends on whether it is oil or gas, but in any case it involves cleaning the fireside of any soot and checking and adjusting the burner. This can't be done by eye -- it requires someone with the correct instruments and the knowledge to use them. At the same time, the various safeties (pressuretrol, low water cutoff) should be checked to be sure they are working.

    If your heat is badly uneven, you may want to look around and see what main vents you have on the steam mains -- if any. Again, some photos would be helpful.

    Do you have any way to measure how much water the boiler is using? And, if so, how much?

    And I'm sorry to hear of @Darek_NYC 's experience. A properly maintained steam system should neither hiss nor bang -- regardless of the age. Hissing and banging are both signs of neglected system. Many steam systems well over 100 years old are working faithfully, silently, and economically (and efficiently). Proper maintenance and attention is always cheaper -- and more satisfactory! -- than replacement.

    On your item 5... um. Well, no, I don't know, offhand, of any good steam men or women in the Denver area, though if memory serves there is someone at least in Colorado who comes on the Wall from time to time. However, you don't need a steam man to do the maintenance on the boiler. You do need someone who is competent to handle burners though -- and that is usually a heating person, rather than a plumber. On the rest of the system, post some photos and some more description -- and read Dan's book thoroughly -- and you will become the local steam expert.

    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
  • stevie27stevie27 Member Posts: 10
    I edited my post to add photos. Here are the descriptions:

    Photo 1: That's the boiler.

    Photo 2: The pipe on the far left that comes off the main is the one that is not connected to the hartford loop. It goes to the radiator on the second floor. It's a one way pipe--no return.
    The other pipe (it has light hitting it) that comes off of the large main pipe goes to nowhere. The end is somewhere under the floor and I suspect that went to the kitchen radiator which was removed by the previous owner.
    The main fat vertical pipe goes into the hartford loop.
    The horizontal pipe next to the main is the hartford loop going back into the boiler.

    Photo 3: Slightly different angle of photo 2.

    Photo 4:The vertical pipe closest to the front of the photo is the pipe coming from the hartford loop going back into the boiler.
    Also pictured is where we flush the water.

    Photo 5: I believe this is the main vent. It's a #41.

    Photo 6: The red pipe is the one that goes up to the 2nd floor. No return. (more description under photo 2).

    I should add that there is another pipe that comes off the hartford loop that goes to a bedroom. This is at the very end of the line and connects in the boiler room before the pipe loops back into the boiler.
  • stevie27stevie27 Member Posts: 10
    @ethicalpaul I edited my post to contain photos and then commented with photo descriptions.

    @Jamie Hall
    1. The rooms on the north side of the house are cold and the radiators barely work. Those are the 3 smaller ones. The other 2 larger ones on the south side are okay at best, but definitely not putting out too much heat.
    2. How do you check to see if a radiator vent is opening?
    3. The pipe is vertical going up to the radiator and back down. Would I need to check the pitch of the part that is horizontal between the vertical portion and the boiler? Is there an angle I'm aiming for or just anything beyond 0 degrees?
    4. The cleaner that the technician added was supposed to help the banging, but I agree that it made the problem worse.
    When you say that the steam mains need to be insulated, is this the large pipe coming out of the boiler and then the piping along the hartford loop?
    I see the pigtail. How do I know if it's open? (When we first purchased the house the pressure was set to 9 PSI, but we have since lowered it.)
    Yearly maintenance: The boiler is gas. We had it "serviced" this spring and that was supposed to include cleaning the chimney which they forgot to do and then left the piece detached. We cleaned out the soot ourselves--I don't think it had been cleaned for many years.
    I don't think I have a way to measure how much water it is using.
    We get lots of banging and it wakes up the kids. I am really wanting to get my system working smoothly, but it has been frustrating since I am so new to all of this and no one who has come out has been more knowledgeable than me. The system has definitely been neglected for a long time.
    I have read most Dan's book and I'm not sure I'm any more knowledgeable. I am an extremely linear thinker (I think in outline) and the book isn't. I know that the info is in there, but reading it makes my head spin.
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 13,412
    Oh my goodness. It's a wonder that the poor thing works at all. I'm not even sure where to begin...

    I can't see the model number, but if you look at Figure 4.3 in the IOM manual from this website: http://www.smithboiler.com/html/gsx-steam-gas-boiler.asp you will get at least a sketch idea of how that boiler should be piped -- which is, as you will discover, not even close to what you have now.

    Yes, there will be some repiping which really should be done. However, even if you don't have a steam expert, any competent plumber willing to cut and thread pipe should be able to come a lot closer to what needs to be there. Combine that manual (or the actual one for the boiler, if it's hanging around the place somewhere!) plus some insights from Dan's book, and a plumber not to proud or stubborn to learn, and you can really get somewhere.

    That vent probably is your only main vent -- but until we get some more clarity as to what is, or is not, really a main we can't get much farther.

    i don't suppose you couldn't make a sketch to show where all the pipes go? It's a little hard to puzzle it out.

    I'm not a bit surprised that it bangs. It would be a good deal more surprising if it didn't... and that it doesn't heat well. It would be astonishing if it did!

    And not to worry. It's going to take some time, but patience and fortitude and we'll get there.
    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
  • mattmia2mattmia2 Member Posts: 1,872
    A pipe can act as the steam supply and the condensate return if it is pitched and tied in properly. The steam flows as a vapor in the pipe and the condensate runs back along the bottom of the pipe.

    The near boiler piping looks suspect at best. Looks like they just slid out the old coal boiler with a huge heat exchanger that let the water settle out of the water inside the boiler and slid that modern boiler in which needs a header that is arranged to dry the steam out.

    Try unscrewing the vent on the radiator that doesn't heat and run the boiler until it steams for a while and see if it heats without the vent. If the air can't escape through the vent, the steam can't get in.
  • stevie27stevie27 Member Posts: 10
    @Jamie Hall I know the configuration is ridiculous. Now my idea of scrapping the whole thing and replacing it probably doesn't sound as crazy! I honestly have considered selling the house just because the boiler system is so stressful. I will try and get a diagram posted tomorrow.
    @mattmia2 I will try removing the vent and report back.
  • mattmia2mattmia2 Member Posts: 1,872
    stevie27 said:

    @Jamie Hall I know the configuration is ridiculous. Now my idea of scrapping the whole thing and replacing it probably doesn't sound as crazy! I honestly have considered selling the house just because the boiler system is so stressful. I will try and get a diagram posted tomorrow.

    The system piping is probably fine or can be easily fixed, it is the near boiler piping that looks wrong and even at that it might work ok. That main vent looks like it is probably in poor shape.

    Other than the radiator that doesn't heat at all, is it quiet and does it heat the other rooms adequately?
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 13,412
    Hey! I didn't say it couldn't be fixed! As @mattmia2 said, the rest of the piping is probably fine, or very easily fixed. I say that particularly because it looks as the that cute little HB Smith was dropped in there by someone who hadn't a clue, but the rest of the piping doesn't look bad. Just a little confused.

    Bringing the near boiler piping to some sort of good arrangement really isn't that big a deal. A good man (or woman) with a good helper could probably knock it out in a day, once they got going -- and for much less cost that scrapping the whole thing.

    Then fixing up other problems will not be difficult, either. It rarely is -- mostly a matter of figuring out what needs to be done and doing it right.
    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
    mattmia2garrettgjpethicalpaul
  • SteamheadSteamhead Member Posts: 13,998
    edited October 3
    @stevie27 , you want to get in touch with @Dave Stroman of Stroman Plumbing & Heating, in Aurora. I'm sure he's the one @Jamie Hall was thinking of. We haven't heard from him in quite a while, though, hope he's doing well.

    And regarding @Darek_NYC 's post, killing a steam system because it bangs is the wrong move. Steam systems are quiet when they work properly- just fix the problem!
    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
    mattmia2garrettgjpethicalpaul
  • stevie27stevie27 Member Posts: 10
    edited October 5
    @mattmia2 @Jamie Hall
    Diagrams attached! And a photo to better show the piping coming off the boiler.
    -No, the radiators do not heat properly. The bedrooms and bathroom barely supply heat. We were having a problem with bed #2 vent sputtering considerable water a couple of years ago and probably messed with something, but I can't remember what we did.
    -There is considerable banging. This is even worse since we had the cleaning chemical added this spring.
    -I am also attaching a photo of a giant grate type thing in my basement which is hooked up to the loop. Is this a ceiling radiator for the basement?

    @Steamhead Thanks for the recommendation, but it looks like Dave Stroman closed his business. Any other leads?

    THANK YOU for taking your time to help me with this!




  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 13,412
    Well, the giant grate type thing is a radiator, intended to give you some warmth in the basement. They do. Some. They don't work all that well on one pipe steam -- but maybe better than nothing.

    From what I see in the photos and your sketch, I'm think that this was -- once -- piping intended for a different boiler, and the present one was just kind of stuck in there. It really is a wonder that it heats at all, as to be honest there is almost nothing right about the near boiler piping.

    That's not to say that it couldn't be made right. However, it's going to take some pretty complete revision of the piping around the boiler -- and that really is hard to do by remote control, as it were. I'm sorry that Dave closed his business -- he is the one I was thinking of.

    I have attached the manual to which I referred earlier, if you couldn't get to it. Figure 4.3 (page 10) has a near boiler piping diagram for a Weil-McClain boiler similar to yours. As you will note, the idea is that the steam comes out of the boiler in a riser, and then turns and goes horizontally in a header That header needs to be at least 28 inches above the water level in the boiler. Your riser increases in size on the way up -- that's not good. From the look, though, it may have a bushing where it comes out of the boiler which could be removed to allow a bigger vertical pipe. Anyway, it should not get bigger in the vertical leg. The header pipe, though, should be one size bigger, and slope away from the riser (not much, but a little). The steam mains -- pipes to the radiators -- should all come off of that header. Then at the far end of the header, it turns down and drops down to the return water fitting on the boiler. The far end of your steam main should also drop down to near the floor, then come back up to that close nipple shown (that's the Hartford loop) and then back into the boiler.
    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
  • mattmia2mattmia2 Member Posts: 1,872
    The near boiler piping is wrong. It doesn't have any way for any water that gets pulled up out of the boiler by the steam or any condensate to get back to the boiler other than by colliding with the steam exiting the boiler. the chemical probably caused the boiler to surge more and pull more water in to the system. That capped off tee will hold a lot of condensate and the steam will collapse and hammer as it hits that too.
    ethicalpaul
  • dopey27177dopey27177 Member Posts: 401
    Before you can do anything!

    Your site glass shows you have very dirty water in the boiler. The boiler needs to be cleaned and the water needs to be clear.

    Additionally the steam pipes need to have insulation installed on them.

    Based on what I see the boiler most probably surges and short cycles.

    The radiators do not need to be hot across all the sections. As long as you have good heat in the rooms a partial heated radiator is OK.

    As to the radiator on the top floor not heating the short cycling of the boiler and excess condensate generated by the uninsulated pipe is the reason why the rad on the top floor does not heat.

    Jake

  • stevie27stevie27 Member Posts: 10
    @Jamie Hall @mattmia2 @dopey27177
    Thanks for your help. I have called a couple of local companies to come out to give estimates.
    The technician this morning saw multiple flaws with the near boiler piping. Turns out I don't have a Hartford loop, along with multiple other basic system requirements. Geez.
    A couple of questions:
    -He suggested getting a digital thermostat and programming it so that the boiler cycles 1x/hour. I thought that it is just that the thermostat temperature should stay the same. I currently have an old basic one where I slide to the temp I want.
    -He suggested replacing my vents with variable vents. Thoughts on these or what I should replace them with? I currently have old Hofman 40's.
    -How exactly should a boiler be cleaned? Is this adding a chemical to the system and having it sit and run through the system?

    Thanks again!
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 13,412
    Your old basic slider thermostat is probably just fine. In fact, depending on the exact model, it may be better than a new fancy digital one. But if you do get a digital one, you must set it to 1 cycle per hour -- it will probably come out of the box set for forced air at 6 cycles per hour, and that just won't do.

    A bit of theory here -- no thermostat (that is, available to ordinary applications!) will hold a constant temperature. Rather, they will all let the temperature droop some -- known as swing -- and then fire the boiler to bring the temperature back up. The trick is to get that droop reasonable -- most will shoot for a degree or so -- and to get the boiler to turn soon enough so that the space doesn't overheat. Not easy. The older styles usually have an "anticipator"; a simple bit of electrical wizardry -- which turns the thermostat off before it reaches the set point; set accurately one can get startlingly good results. Digital ones instead may or may not be able to do that, but they do it with timing -- which is where the cycles per hour comes in. Some very fancy ones claim to be able to "learn" how the system responds. Sometimes that even works...

    The only reason to change radiator vents would be if the old ones aren't working properly, or if some rooms are too hot or too cold. In any event, check to see if there are main vents on the steam mains, and if so, if they are adequate. That's always the first step in venting.

    If you do have some rooms which are too hot, you could put a variable vent on there -- Vent-Rite makes a good one -- and slow them down.
    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
  • stevie27stevie27 Member Posts: 10
    @Jamie Hall Thanks for your help.
    As of now, I do not have any room getting too hot, but I do have a couple of vents that I know need replacing (one was sputtering and the other was the radiator that is completely cold). Recommendations for those?

    Also, just in case I totally confused you earlier, I realized that what I thought was the hartford loop was not a hartford loop and I don't have one. I just wanted to clear that up!

    The main vent looks really rusted and needs to be replaced. The technician who came out said he wanted to move it to a different position too.
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 13,412
    If the heat balance is satisfactory, I'd try very hard to replace the vents that need replacing with ones as close to the same venting capacity as possible -- perhaps just new replacements in kind. Save yourself a lot of trouble.
    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
  • ted_pted_p Member Posts: 63
    stevie27 said:

    ......
    1. None of the radiators heat all the way. They get hot for the first 1/3 and then are cold.
    -Is this a problem.... ?

    ......
    The radiators do not need to be hot across all the sections. As long as you have good heat in the rooms a partial heated radiator is OK.........

    Jake

    I'd like to second, and expand on, this part of Jake's comment:

    In rooms that are currently staying warm enough with radiators only heated a third of the way across, this partial heating is more than just OK; it's necessary!

    Your radiators were sized large enough to keep the house warm on the coldest day of the year, which I'm betting is well below zero in your area. This would make it extremely difficult to balance the heat during mild, or even moderately cold weather, if those radiators quickly got hot, end-to-end and top-to-bottom.

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