Click here to Find a Contractor in your area.
Welcome! Here are the website rules, as well as some tips for using this forum.
Need to contact us? Visit

Hello! First time home/steamowner from NJ!

Hello all!

New guy here just checking in. I recently purchased my first home: a multi family in Northern New Jersey. Between inspection and closing I discovered the world of steam heating and never thought I would be so fascinated by something like this. 

For all the other things wrong with the house (it’s about 130 years old), and compared to other old houses I looked at, the heating system seems unmolested. It’s a 2700 square foot, 3 floor house with a Dunkirk boiler built in 1977, which feeds a single pipe system. Other than some deferred maintenance *knock on wood* it seems to be in good order for its age. 

I’m about 1/3 of the way through “The Lost Art”, but have discovered that none of the vents are working properly (either dumping steam or completely plugged up from years of untreated hard water/not changing them), they are all different brands and probably not “tuned” properly, the M&M Model 67 LWCO is so rusted it’s weeping water, and so is the wet portion of the equalizer (is that the correct term?). 

I found a steam guy who seems great. Tomorrow we’re going through the whole thing and fixing it all up (he will fix it, I will watch and take notes). In the meantime I ordered a bunch of Gorton vents of all sizes. Turns out they’re right down the street from me and when I called, the owner had no problem talking to me on a Friday afternoon. 

Anyway, that is my story so far. I’m very excited to join the community and learn more. It’s so fascinating that such old technology can still be so effective. (On that note, is there a Knob and Tube forum somewhere!?)


  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 13,894
    I think you will find this forum is a fascinating place. There is always something to learn! At least I've found it so!

    Knob and Tube, eh? Um. That's not so good. Do you happen to know what the wiring concealed in the walls is? It may have been changed to -- or even installed as (you should be so lucky) as one of the older versions of BX cable -- only with steel armour rather than the modern aluminium armour. If so, it's probably in surprisingly good shape. Rubber insulation, yes. With a fabric wrap (ask me how I know) and an absolute bear to work with. Not up to modern code at all -- but perfectly good. What it isn't is grounded, unless the BX goes all the way back to the fuse box (do you have fuses, too?) -- so do everyone a favour and don't try to use cheaters or something to make it look grounded (on the other hand, if the BX does go back to the fuse box, or is otherwise grounded, it's not modern code -- but it can be grounded, and treated as such. What it usually isn't is 12 gauge. It was usually 14 gauge, which means you must -- no ifs and or buts -- use no more than 15 amp fuses or circuit breakers -- and if it's fuses, get the Type S tamper proof fuses and the associated screw in adapters and use them. Also, if it's fuses, you may find that your insurance company is fidgety.

    I'd be very much inclined to replace the knob and tube wiring, and I'd replace it with modern BX cable. Harder to work with, but -- at least in my opinion -- safer for interior use (although most folks use NM-B, since it's a lot easier to work with)(I'm just a bit strange...). Without the protection of either BX or NM-B cable, it is just too easy to damage the insulation of the wires and create a hazard which you don't need. Be very very wary of circuits which have been rewired with modern 12 gauge cable. If they tie into older wiring in the walls, that older wiring is still likely 14 gauge -- and must be protected (15 amps) as such. I'd use 12 gauge with ground for the replacement wiring -- but, unless it is the whole circuit, you must keep it fused for 15 amps.

    Oh and welcome aboard!
    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: 4,547

    ... is there a Knob and Tube forum somewhere!?)

    Don’t need one.
    Step one, get it out ASAP.
    Make sure you never miss a payment on your homeowners insurance.

    My cousin in So. Jersey, just finished her complete remodel from fire damage caused by knob and tube.

  • StazStaz Member Posts: 2
    @STEVEusaPA do you know what the brand was that caused the fire?
  • STEVEusaPASTEVEusaPA Member Posts: 4,547
    Staz said:

    @STEVEusaPA do you know what the brand was that caused the fire?

    Does it matter? How long does someone want to roll the dice?
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 13,894
    Brand? For knob and tube wiring? Eh?

    I agree with @STEVEusaPA completely, only he put it a bit more forcefully than I did. The stuff really is dangerous. As I noted, it is remarkably easy to damage the insulation. For that matter, the insulation become brittle all on its own with time and exposure to contaminants in the air, particularly in urban areas, and particularly ozone. If the wires are allowed to sag -- or some of the supports are loose -- and if additional protecting is not used when later changes are made in its vicinity (which is hard to do), the risk of intermittent short circuits becomes very real.

    Then there is casual use. It may sound insane, but I've seen people hang things from the wires, or drape new wires -- perhaps for a 'phone or computer or something -- over them.

    Or add new circuit drops to a new socket, perhaps. Not that that can't be done correctly -- it can -- but the number of people who will actually take the time to properly strip the wires, tin them, solder them, and then insulate them is rather small (and an electrician simply won't do it for you).

    Knob and tube is, in the nature of it, not grounded or bonded and can't be.

    Then there is poor or shortcut initial workmanship. This is a problem with all wiring, of course, but knob and tube is not immune, and some shortcuts I've seen -- such as a neutral shared between two hot legs are not that uncommon.

    Then there is fusing. It is prudent, upon taking over an older house, to verify the correct fusing on all circuits. 15 amp is the maximum for a circuit which contains even a short length of either knob and tube or older BX, unless the wire is gauged and verified to be 12 gauge or bigger. If the fuses have been changed for circuit breakers, don't assume that the person putting in the breaker box did that -- and used the correct breakers. If you should be inspired to replace a fuse box with a circuit breaker panel, use arc fault circuit interrupter breakers (they are required for new work, even remodelling, in bedrooms).
    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
  • JUGHNEJUGHNE Member Posts: 7,453
    Most K&T I have seen/replaced was 14 gauge copper, it was tinned conductors to protect the copper from the aggressive materials of the wire insulation. Often mistaken for aluminun at the scrappers.

    IIRC, that 14 gauge could be fused at 20 amps. That is because the conductors are considered to be in free air for heat dissapation. K&T is still reconized in the code book but the restrictions are such that it can be in contact with nothing other than the insulators.
    Today's insulation upgrade will bury the K&T wiring.
    It can then overheat, especially if splices are not soldered.
    Some is impossible to change out. That is typically ceiling lights and I would put that on 15 amp CB.

    Often both lines were fused as there was not a grounded neutral.
    Neutrals were often shared between circuits, possibly overloading the wire.
    Neutrals might be switched for lighting, leaving a "hot" at the socket when the light is off.

    It is best to replace all of it if possible.
    In some rewiring I was able to follow the K&T that was installed after the house was plastered. Holes had been drilled in top plates etc.
    Most ceiling lights had the floor above cut open for access.
    That hole is obvious but often covered with carpet.
  • Gary SmithGary Smith Member Posts: 336
    In my area (NJ) you cannot get homeowners insurance as a new owner if you have K&T wiring, thus the houses cannot really be sold until the K&T is replaced as the prospective owner cannot get a mortgage.
  • ForcedWhaaatForcedWhaaat Member Posts: 7
    Well this blew up! OP here, thank you all for the responses.

    Yes, the house has three generations of wiring. Everything visible was either Romex or BX, but our electrician (thankfully) found one circuit of BX that was spliced into K&T where it was barely visible. It is in the middle of being rewired.

    Yes, our homeowners carrier is making us take it out within 30 days of closing.
  • Tom_133Tom_133 Member Posts: 709
    sorry to pile on the K&T conversation but I checked out a SERIOUSLY cool house the other to purchase. It is all K&T but oh my head, the workmanship is incredible, and its steam.

    Here is a plug that was there that I have NEVER seen.

    Montpelier Vt
  • ForcedWhaaatForcedWhaaat Member Posts: 7
    Cool! That's called a "tandem and parallel" plug. I think they were for 240V. Twice the fun!
  • EBEBRATT-EdEBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 7,571
    If the house is really 130 years old rewiring should be easy as it was built before most homes were wired...........Unless insulation was blown in
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 13,894
    At 130 years it may be really easy -- it may be balloon framed, so if you have a long enough fish tape... You should try post and beam though. You never quite know where you are going to run into a horizontal or diagonal brace... of oak or chestnut or something of the sort!
    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
  • SnowmeltSnowmelt Member Posts: 1,252
    Forced what, congratulations on the home may I ask where opin New Jersey, I’m from Avenel
  • ForcedWhaaatForcedWhaaat Member Posts: 7
    @Snowmelt hey! I am in Rutherford, and “work part time” at the armory down the street from you. Small world!
  • SnowmeltSnowmelt Member Posts: 1,252
    How did the steam guy do at your home?
  • ForcedWhaaatForcedWhaaat Member Posts: 7
    Awesome. Replaced some wet piping, cleaned the burners, replaced the LWCO, and added some sort of flushing chemical (which I promptly screwed up when I accidentally left the supply valve cracked open and unknowingly added about 40 gallons to the system, which I didn’t realize until we got the most hellish hammer and the main vents were squirting boiling water all over the basement, but that’s another story!). 

    Next up for me is to insulate the exposed pipes, elbows, and fittings, and re-pipe the main vents which are all precariously close to elbows. I’ve also got a 40 foot x 2” run to a single radiator that doesn’t have a vent at the end that is always slow to warm up. Also could probably stand to re-pitch the piping as the house is 120+ years old. 

    The house is a 3 floor, 2 family and I live on the 1st. The 2/3rd floor tenants have heat and new vents, but I do hear the occasional hammer from their pipes which suggests their radiators could be re-pitched at some point. 

    Finally, since the house is one zone and the thermostat is in my living room, I did buy an Ecobee so that I can make adjustments when not home. Currently trying to figure out wiring for that...


Leave a Comment

BoldItalicStrikethroughOrdered listUnordered list
Align leftAlign centerAlign rightToggle HTML viewToggle full pageToggle lights
Drop image/file


It looks like you're new here. If you want to get involved, click one of these buttons!