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What is best book (or other way) to learn about hot water heat in 130 year-old house?

shambles
shambles Member Posts: 10
edited December 2020 in THE MAIN WALL
Hello, have never owned or operated a HW heat system but buying a 130 YO house (with 70 YO boiler!).

In brief, of Mr. Holohan's many books (or others') which is the best one(s) to learn all about hot water heat in my house, how to operate, maintain, etc? Add to this maybe also 'what are the things I need to learn about or do right away?'

So far my level of question has been very low (web searches: 'how to tell steam hot water heat difference' 'difference single double pipe hot water heat' and the names on the radiators (which are ca. 1910 beauties and some ca. 1940s ones)...

Having gotten that straightened out, I'm ready to read all about theory & practice. The system seems to be working great at the moment (have only been to the house twice though, still working on paperwork), but will probably replace with new more efficient (gas) boiler in next few years.

Besides the whole general 'how it works', I'd like to learn about how to determine what size/type new boilers I should read about, how to turn off certain radiators to keep some areas (of the 2-storey house) cooler in winter (thus cheaper) and how this might affect other radiators' flow, etc.

Since the %$#@! real estate agent seems to be (among other unprofessional behavior that seems typical) most terrified of any contact between buyer and seller, I may not be able to ask the basic questions like 'how do I work this?" 'when was it last serviced?", etc. I'd think that sort of thing would be critical, but it's enough getting even a 5th grade level email from her lest I ask any actual questions and expect an answer... Anyway, I've done some carpentry help in the past & the house inspector seemed competent & all looks in decent shape, if old so confident it's not about to blow up.

The people selling I believe are old themselves (maybe same age as boiler?!), and I don't see any recent service tags on the boiler, so unsure when last service might have been. I'll attempt to contact the owners myself after I buy (mail a letter to them at my new address & hope it forwards!) but I may have to figure it all out from scratch.

On the other hand, when I was there last week for inspection I did some tests of my own & was surprised to see the heat was almost an even ~60 downstairs & 65 upstairs in all areas (thermostat was turned 'down' to ca. 60 but didn't check exact). The owners moved out a month or so ago so it's been at that T░ for a few weeks. Again, I was surprised at the evenness of temperature everywhere I measured - wow!

The closest I've come to using HW heat previously was living in the xUSSR in the early 90s (read here somewhere Mr. H's description of Soviet heating systems... accurate but he doesn't get around to mentioning the broken pipes hissing steam into the sky for months or years - I'm thinking of that scene in 'Eraserhead' - the above ground 'central heating' pipes running for KMs across the land with the thin asbestos [of course!] exterior insulation long decayed & fallen off, etc.)

So I had better get better information!

I do plan to call in an HVAC person after I take possession and ask the basic operating questions, have it looked over, etc. (so any hints on getting a qualified person in the eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan? Hardly a metropolitan area). No 'results' on search here for that; will probably just call the single local place since there are apparently a lot of old HW systems in the town of ~1500.

It's a ca. 1950 Stewart-Warner Winkler 'econo section' CEC-3 with a ca. 1970s (looks like - or maybe later? light blue) 'Adams speedflame' natural gas burner (conversion from oil), by the way. Even that which I just typed would've made no sense to me two weeks ago so some progress I suppose!

I see a worn copy of his "Ye Compleate Workes" available and am tempted to buy that based on title alone... But what can people suggest?

By the way this is my first house (at 52, after 20+ years of moving around every couple of years for work) so also having a blast reading about old houses & their operation & maintenance! One major reason I am looking forward to it is .. being able to have all my books on shelves! So don't mind buying more to study up on...

Uh-oh, this has gotten a little long, but trying to give the info to state what I know, don't know, want to know, & equipment.

Thanks in advance for ideas!

//

Comments

  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,632
    Modern Hydronic Heating is good. there is an Idronics that goes through the history of hydronic heating, that is a good place to start to understand how it got to what you have today.

    https://www.caleffi.com/sites/default/files/file/idronics_12_na_2019.pdf

    A boiler from 1950 will more or less have the same parts as a modern conventional boiler(though it could still be set up as gravity instead of having a circulator and probably has a conventional expansion tank and air controls but could have the original open expansion tank). Once you get pictures people here can tell you more about it. A few pictures of the distribution system would be good too.
    woobagooba
  • shambles
    shambles Member Posts: 10
    Wow, that was fast (& helpful)! Thanks. I wasn't sure what 'an Idronics' was, but followed the link & now I do, wow that's great & full of useful figures (will avoid most of the heavier math at the moment...)!

    I'll get a few pictures up in a few days - they may be a bit fuzzy/dark as were taken during house visit & inspection.

    Yes, mine's got the old 18 gallon Bell & Gossett tank in the basement ceiling and an apparently not too old (based on color & less dust) circulation pump...

    I should add I'm an ecologist, not an engineer or builder, but can figure basic info out if well presented... Studying old houses & now HW heating is a little like reading the manual(s) to a space shuttle, but fun!
  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 7,830
    edited December 2020
    Here is a well-written text on the subject. I used it as my textbook for a one-day seminar I used to teach for the Eastern Heating & Cooling Council. I have it on good authority that Mr. Holohan is the author however he was working for B&G at the time and no author was listed.
    http://media.blueridgecompany.com/documents/ZoningMadeEasy.pdf
    It is written for the non-engineer and has simple explanations of all the relative concepts of hydronic heating. The section from page 4 to page 10 is what you are looking for. That is basic stuff you need to know to go on to the more advanced stuff (that you may not need). But it is short and it's a good read.

    Is your old boiler fired by gas or oil? (or maybe coal?)
    Nevermind, I read the rest of your post. A gas burner in an old coal conversion is not the most efficient system out there. If the fuel bill gets too high, rest assured that there are more efficient boilers that can be fitted to those old pipes. You will need a contractor that understands old systems and how to adapt to them. You may have the rare efficient coal conversion that does not justify the expense of a new boiler. Your winter gas bill will be the determining factor.
    Edward F Young. Retired HVAC ContractorSpecialized in Residential Oil Burner and Hydronics
  • motoguy128
    motoguy128 Member Posts: 393
    Your system is likely a very high mass gravity system with large water volume.  Excellent candidate for a modulating high efficiency boiler as it will typically heat a home at lower temps than original design in most cases.  With the advantage of being direct vent so not drawing additional cold air into the basement for combustion.  Savings can be over 25%.  Can also add an indirect tank for DHW or install a combi boiler.  

    I wouldn’t do anything this year except have a good pro come and check it out and verify it’s safe and maybe get a coupe estimate for spring or next fall if your budget allows.  
  • WMno57
    WMno57 Member Posts: 1,264
    edited December 2020
    Say Ya to da UP!

    This is like the scene in the movie Airplane where the stewardess is the translator because she can speak Jive.

    I'm a Michigander by birth however I was a Troll (lived below the bridge). I'm conversant in Yooperease, and offer my translation services which you don't seem to need now, but may after you spend the winter up there.

    Yoopers and the UP are/is awesome! I almost bought a camp (cabin) up there a few years ago.

    I too have a 70 YO boiler pumping HW through 100 YO gravity piped radiators in a two story house. My house originally had four radiators on the second floor. Three are disconnected at the basement and dry. Winters in the UP are the real deal. I would encourage you to keep the radiators and heat ON throughout the house until you figure things out and/or Spring. You don't want a frozen waterfall coming out a 2nd floor window.

    Your new neighbors may know some of the history of your system. I bought my current place two years ago and received a similar lack of information from the estate / trust.
    I DIY.
  • PC7060
    PC7060 Member Posts: 1,158
    edited December 2020
    Welcome to the “huh, I’ve got a boiler.  Now what?” club.  You’ve already found a great resource and have fun on your journey. 

    I bought my old house with converted gravity feed two pipe hot water 5 years ago.  Learned a lot since then and recently completed a conversion from a 140k BTU cast iron boiler with huge Bell & Gosset 100 series circulator pushing 20GPM to a HTP UFT80 (80KBTU) modulating condensing boiler with Grundfoss Alpha 2 circulator moving 4-8GPM. 
    Old system did a lot of banging and creaking when it first came on due to the high amount of very hot water being shoved into the cold pipes.  New system is very quiet and run for long periods at lower temps so should be more efficient. We will see once I get first gas bill. 


  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,060
    Do I understand that this was originally oil fired, not coal and then converted to gas?

    Adams Speed Flame....only time I have seen that name on the wall. I have one on a small schoolhouse boiler, converted from oil.
    The company is in Cleveland, Ohio.
    Fairly simple power burner, in my case.

    As for second floor radiators, most of the valves will not shut off 100%. They have a small port to pass some water to prevent freezing. You can cover them with wool blankets to save some energy. But you want some heat retained because of the freezing cautions.
    Or if you do not bleed all the air out of the upper rads then the water in the lower part will still pass for circulation.
  • STEVEusaPA
    STEVEusaPA Member Posts: 6,506
    The best education you will get is to find a really good hydronics person, hopefully one from this site, to guide you and answer all your questions and concerns.
    From there you can read away. "Modern Hydronic Heating" is a good book, despite a few math errors, but a tough read for a novice, more like a school text book.
    Idronics has the best up to date stuff, given in chunks, just enough history, just enough theory.
    steve
    woobagooba
  • Robert_25
    Robert_25 Member Posts: 527
    I suggest "Classic Hydronics". If you are hungry for more after you read it, read "Modern Hydronic Heating".

    https://heatinghelp.com/store/detail/classic-hydronics-how-to-get-the-most-from-those-older-hot-water-heating-systems
    ZmanAMservices
  • TAG
    TAG Member Posts: 755
    I'm an old house guy and can't stop buying and fixing them up ! The Hippocratic oath rules .... do no harm. Live in the place for a while before you start ripping and changing things. Obviously, you don't want safety items .. those things need fixing.

    living in the house will give you an idea of what is working and what is not. Lots of the old dead guys who put together those systems understood what they were doing ..many today ... don't.

    mattmia2PC7060
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,517
    @shambles

    You no doubt have and old gravity system. If you research @DanHolohan 's books on this site. "How Come" covers gravity systems. There is also "Classic Hydronics" which is one I do not have
    STEVEusaPA
  • Erin Holohan Haskell
    Erin Holohan Haskell Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 2,283
    shambles said:


    I see a worn copy of his "Ye Compleate Workes" available and am tempted to buy that based on title alone... But what can people suggest?
    //

    Ye Compleate Workes is out of print and covers @DanHolohan's magazine columns from 1986-1993...so it's not really his complete work anymore. :D You can find all of his books here: https://heatinghelp.com/store/
    President
    HeatingHelp.com
    STEVEusaPA
  • shambles
    shambles Member Posts: 10
    edited December 2020
    Wow, this is an active forum!
    OK, you all asked for pictures - I made a web page with pix of my heating parts (based on the zillions of digicam pix I took when looking at house & inspection):
    http://rjl.us/house/hydro-heat.htm
    [hmm, can't seem to get target="_blank" working]

    Under the small pix are some general comments/questions/misconceptions. Press the small picture for bigger one.
    What can you tell me about what I have?

    Also since it might matter: the house is appx. 1800 ft2, 2 storey, 3 rooms & bathroom up, 2 bedrooms, big living & dining rooms with small kitchen & loo downstairs. On two days I was there it was appx. 30░f with little wind, and the temperatures were very even in the rooms (thermo settings in pix).

    By the way, I'm happy I can live and work in a place as beautiful as the UP, where I can get a cool old house like this in decent shape for under $40,000! (because field scientists make less than HVAC people, I'm sure!)
    mattmia2
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,632
    that corrugated insulation is almost certainly aircell asbestos.

    Those...homemade covers for the convectors aren't right. The need to enclose the convector with an opening on the bottom and top so that it will draw air through the convector by stack effect.

    That soot on the front of the boiler indicates it probably needs some tuning by someone that knows what they are doing.
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,060
    edited December 2020
    The copper tube is maybe a solution for a water spitting air vent and puts water into the basement. A close up of the vent itself is in order....with numbers readable.

    The chain might have been to run a air damper inside the convector that would slow down the air flow.

    How about a close up of the Adams burner, showing the nameplate?
  • jumper
    jumper Member Posts: 2,245
    Nobody knows heating system as well as person who lived with it. You didn't ask but my advice is to politely threaten realtors and contact seller. There's nothing wrong with communication. Realtors –actually their managers usually– badly require rehabilitation.
  • shambles
    shambles Member Posts: 10
    (sorry, real estate agent rant)

    Sorry - future replies will be about boilers & radiators!
    jumper said:

    There's nothing wrong with communication. Realtors –actually their managers usually– badly require rehabilitation.

    Agreed, but like buying toilet paper in the USSR (I have done this): you do it wherever you find the possibility, because you've no other options and waiting for better isn't one of them!

    The owners themselves may wish to answer questions about their house - I'd think they'd want to to help sell it. Real estate agents, on the other hand, seem to want complete control to do as bad a job as possible and seem to work in interest of only themselves, treating anything as a bother to their time. I am only hoping to get this done and over so I need never deal with such people again!

    Yet in my experience there are a zillion easy things I'd think they'd want to do better, to look more professional and sell easier/more - from being able to properly, clearly, and fully fill in legal forms; write a basic, concise, polite business email (we all learned this in elementary school, right? At least in the 70s... Pretty hard to forget because even if you cabn't sopell ofr ttype, pulitnus is eazy); take level, properly-exposed photos that look at least better than dingy ... and don't post them upside-down and sideways on their web ads (and clean the crud off their i-phones if that's all they can lift to take a picture); know which emails they have so they don't have to later say the one on their ad isn't the one they use (really! - two of them said that!) and do something like 'sell' a house's merits to a potential customer when one comes to look instead of playing with their i-phones (or indeed, even answer basic questions - one agent never replied even after I had come hundreds of miles to look at a house and was pretty interested-but they disappeared for two weeks when I asked about an inspection, claiming on my third reminder that they hadn't gotten the emails! End. of. interview!).

    Honest business should be, and can be, a pleasure of interaction with your fellow citizen rather than something leaving you feeling dirty, like you're dealing with a half-witted dishonest huckster unable or unwilling to do work. I have to work two weeks of hard honest work to make wages and cover my benefits for what the agent (6% - seller's and buyers agent because I couldn't get anybody else in the small town to work as buyer's; one told me they get jealous and .. unpleasant .. if someone does!) get as commission; I doubt she put 25 hours into this sale since I know she only has shown it to a few people herself.

    Perhaps she wants to sell $500k meadow mansions a mile outside town (even more money, even dumber buyers perhaps), and regards them as her wealthy peers, treating buyers of cheaper houses (who pay cash by the way, and plan to take care of the house, pay village taxes, and be part of the community) as somehow below 'their' class - certainly that matches the interaction I've had. In that case they ought not pretend to sell the 'little peoples' houses', and leave it to someone who cares!

    I have been thoroughly appalled. Also just amazed. If members of my profession displayed similar lack of pride of work, attention to detail or completeness - or even basic legal competency - as pretty much everything I've experienced trying to deal with real estate agents for the last year, I'd be ashamed and find a better group to identify with. I get far better professionalism at the deli counter or even fast food place. But pride of work doesn't seem to be part of their motivation. But look on the bright side - If HVAC people were this bad there'd be a lot more house fires!

    Asterisk: I am certain there must be honest professional polite real estate agents somewhere although I haven't chanced to meet any this year or last-or ever ... I even had a friend in college who was one; she and her family and friends reinforced my opinion; easier to be a friend of a sloppy worker than a customer!

    Well that was cathartic, a little. Now about my heating system...
  • shambles
    shambles Member Posts: 10
    mattmia2 said:

    Those...homemade covers for the convectors aren't right. They need to enclose the convector with an opening on the bottom and top so that it will draw air through the convector by stack effect.

    What would be an improvement?
    Maybe replace the bottom sides with mesh or space a few ~ 1" holes on the bathroom one; make an air channel from the front under the cabinet floor on the kitchen one?
    (the cabinet doors are OK solid wood, but the sides, bottoms, & shelves are crappy particleboard so I'll probably replace those parts, or some of them.

  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,632
    The sides should be solid and fit tightly up against the element. The top and bottom should be open or have an opening low and high on the sides below and above the element. The heat needs to draw air through by convection the way hot air is drawn up a chimney. If you don't have a cover that draws air through the element, the output of the element will be greatly reduced.

    Mesh sides in the middle is exactly what you don't want.
  • shambles
    shambles Member Posts: 10
    Makes sense to me (luckily I studied micrometeorology in my non-heating education).

    That kitchen one looks most difficult, being in the back of a cabinet (which I'd of course fill with pots & pans). It'd probably still be a stretch to make an under-cabinet air path if the cabinet's closed on top... Luckily it is across the 'aisle' (of the linear kitchen) from the oven.

    Maybe a better bet would be to just take the cabinet there out, leave or lower the counter, and make a chair-under sit-down kitchen work area (I'm planning to never sell the place so will hopefully be very old there someday - and lazy earlier).
  • shambles
    shambles Member Posts: 10
    edited December 2020
    JUGHNE said:


    How about a close up of the Adams burner, showing the nameplate?

    This is all I have for now:

    full size: http://hujev.net/image/house/irz_TG60897.jpg
    ... but can get a better one once I get the house bought.

    This is cropped from the original furnace photo seen on the picture page.

    I left the old oil burner in the frame too. Anybody know about that one?

    (after a few days on this forum, I'm guessing yes, even if they don't see the question or bother to reply!)
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 22,121
    I will say once you find a truly professional realtor to work with it is an experience to behold., like any profession I recon. I worked with my son to buy a home recently, went on the market at 8:00 AM, had 9 offers by noon, deal closed by 7:00 PM. My son ended up with the home due in large to how well the realtor played the game, and used her network of top notch folks.
    As hot as the market is right now with low interest rates, etc most realtors just need to show up to close a deal. The walk through can be done electronically, drone views of the neighborhood even.
    shambles said:

    (sorry, real estate agent rant)

    Sorry - future replies will be about boilers & radiators!
    jumper said:

    There's nothing wrong with communication. Realtors –actually their managers usually– badly require rehabilitation.

    Agreed, but like buying toilet paper in the USSR (I have done this): you do it wherever you find the possibility, because you've no other options and waiting for better isn't one of them!

    The owners themselves may wish to answer questions about their house - I'd think they'd want to to help sell it. Real estate agents, on the other hand, seem to want complete control to do as bad a job as possible and seem to work in interest of only themselves, treating anything as a bother to their time. I am only hoping to get this done and over so I need never deal with such people again!

    Yet in my experience there are a zillion easy things I'd think they'd want to do better, to look more professional and sell easier/more - from being able to properly, clearly, and fully fill in legal forms; write a basic, concise, polite business email (we all learned this in elementary school, right? At least in the 70s... Pretty hard to forget because even if you cabn't sopell ofr ttype, pulitnus is eazy); take level, properly-exposed photos that look at least better than dingy ... and don't post them upside-down and sideways on their web ads (and clean the crud off their i-phones if that's all they can lift to take a picture); know which emails they have so they don't have to later say the one on their ad isn't the one they use (really! - two of them said that!) and do something like 'sell' a house's merits to a potential customer when one comes to look instead of playing with their i-phones (or indeed, even answer basic questions - one agent never replied even after I had come hundreds of miles to look at a house and was pretty interested-but they disappeared for two weeks when I asked about an inspection, claiming on my third reminder that they hadn't gotten the emails! End. of. interview!).

    Honest business should be, and can be, a pleasure of interaction with your fellow citizen rather than something leaving you feeling dirty, like you're dealing with a half-witted dishonest huckster unable or unwilling to do work. I have to work two weeks of hard honest work to make wages and cover my benefits for what the agent (6% - seller's and buyers agent because I couldn't get anybody else in the small town to work as buyer's; one told me they get jealous and .. unpleasant .. if someone does!) get as commission; I doubt she put 25 hours into this sale since I know she only has shown it to a few people herself.

    Perhaps she wants to sell $500k meadow mansions a mile outside town (even more money, even dumber buyers perhaps), and regards them as her wealthy peers, treating buyers of cheaper houses (who pay cash by the way, and plan to take care of the house, pay village taxes, and be part of the community) as somehow below 'their' class - certainly that matches the interaction I've had. In that case they ought not pretend to sell the 'little peoples' houses', and leave it to someone who cares!

    I have been thoroughly appalled. Also just amazed. If members of my profession displayed similar lack of pride of work, attention to detail or completeness - or even basic legal competency - as pretty much everything I've experienced trying to deal with real estate agents for the last year, I'd be ashamed and find a better group to identify with. I get far better professionalism at the deli counter or even fast food place. But pride of work doesn't seem to be part of their motivation. But look on the bright side - If HVAC people were this bad there'd be a lot more house fires!

    Asterisk: I am certain there must be honest professional polite real estate agents somewhere although I haven't chanced to meet any this year or last-or ever ... I even had a friend in college who was one; she and her family and friends reinforced my opinion; easier to be a friend of a sloppy worker than a customer!

    Well that was cathartic, a little. Now about my heating system...
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
  • WMno57
    WMno57 Member Posts: 1,264
    @shambles Asked about his Tridicator, pictured here:
    http://hujev.net/image/house/H04.jpg

    what units are altitude in?
    Do I need to adjust it?

    Altitude is in feet. Not the elevation above sea level of your location, but the distance between the boiler and the highest radiator. This red needle does not move, it is more of a "redline" to guide you where to set the system pressure.

    Too low and your second floor radiators wont get hot.
    Too high and you will find all the weak points in your 100 YO system.

    I'm running 10 psi cold in my two story house. Maybe a little low for the second floor, but I only have a single radiator up there, and it still is warm.

    Your tridicator is unusual in that it goes to 100 PSI. That would be for a multi story building!

    more here:
    https://forum.heatinghelp.com/discussion/69505/tridicator-what-is-it
    I DIY.
  • psb75
    psb75 Member Posts: 833
    Poster Shambles: perhaps you need a "real estate" forum? Realtors are not expected to be heating professionals. If you need a heating pro--hire one. Even (especially) BEFORE you acquire a property. Use this forum to vet one.