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

Steam Expert Serving Southern Maine?

Hi all,

I am a newbie homeowner of a 100 year old house and steam heating system. Ever since moving in, we have had A TON of unpleasant noise from the radiators, each with a different issue -- loud hissing, extreme banging, annoying gurgling, high-pitched whistling, you name it. We've had various folks come out to evaluate the system, but none seem to be expert enough in steam to know how to solve our issues.

Here's what we've already done ourselves: replaced all of the valves (in some cases this made the noise worse?!) and leveled the radiators (didn't solve banging whatsoever). A new boiler was installed before we moved in, and we had a plumber skim the new boiler last winter. He suggested that would help, but it hasn't at all. I've checked and our pressuretrol is set at the lowest level.

Based on my research here and elsewhere, I suspect we need main line valves installed (we currently have none), and the system rebalanced, but we aren't skilled enough to do this ourselves. Can anyone recommend a reliable steam expert that serves southern Maine? We did find one via this site, but despite several chases we haven't been able to get him to come out. Any and all recommendations welcome. We are expecting our first child so we really need to get this figured out once and for all before next winter! Many thanks.

Comments

  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,021
    By main line valves do you mean "steam main air vents"?

    Pictures of boiler floor to ceiling piping shown, several angles, might get you some advice to pass on to an understanding plumber. Also show us the end of the steam mains, back up for pictures.
  • kcopp
    kcopp Member Posts: 4,396
    How south in Maine?
    York or Cumberland County?
  • nosleeptilbklyn
    nosleeptilbklyn Member Posts: 5
    @kcopp We are in Cumberland (South Portland)
  • nosleeptilbklyn
    nosleeptilbklyn Member Posts: 5
    @JUGHNE Many thanks—a few photos of the system. Let me know if this doesn’t give you what you need. 
  • nosleeptilbklyn
    nosleeptilbklyn Member Posts: 5
    @JUGHNE Yes, steam main air vents is what I meant (sorry, total newbie as I say)!
  • Pezdyspensr
    Pezdyspensr Member Posts: 6
    I too live in the Portland Maine area and would love to know of any steam experts nearby. I have come to this site on occasion and never seen much info coming from our state.
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,021
    If you follow the steam main all around the basement and as it comes back to the boiler, look for main air vents. Or a fitting where one might had been in the past.
    Main vents will look like your rad vents only should be larger, probably not chrome plated.

    Another thing you could do is clean the pigtail under the pressure control.
    Shut off switch, unhook wires, take picture of wire connections for later, unscrew the control with a wrench.
    Do not remove the screws on the bottom of the control. Check the bottom for goop.
    You should be able to blow thru the pigtail easily.
    If not then unscrew the pigtail and flush the junk out of it.
    Use a large cable tie to push thru it, reinstall and blow thru to check that the boiler connection is clear into the boiler.
  • MilanD
    MilanD Member Posts: 1,160
    edited January 2021
    Water hammer, aka "banging pipes" is exlusivelly an issue of steam hitting pools of water. When you said you leveled the radiators, you really need to pitch the radiators toward the supply valve (in one pipe systems). If this doesn't help, the next step is to get a couple of 2x4s to use as a fulcrum and a lever, and attempt to raise the entire radiator, pipes attached and all, and shim them higher. This will in many cases repitch the horizontal pipes inside the joist spaces and allow the pools of water to drain. Same on so-called swing joints on the radiator risers that are in the basement.

    At the same time, you would want to check your steam mains, pipes in the basement, for sags and proper pitch. 1" on 20ft on parallel flow is all that's needed, so not much. But, again, even pipes that are hung may start sagging with the sagging floors, or broken or removed hangers. This too is an easy job for a home owner to do. 

    Then, as mentioned earlier, main venting and proper operating pressure.

    Lastly, and although very nicely piped, to my eye your main header seems a bit too "skinny", as in not properly sized. Look at the installation manual and check if it's to spec. It may not matter if you do all the abovementioned re-pitching, but undersized header and riser(s) make for a poor quality steam aka "wet steam", which will carry a lot of water out of the boiler and can slosh it around and also hit it against the elbows and turns in the piping. Higher operating pressure actually helps in this case as it slows the steam down, but it wastes fuel and thus is more expensive to operate. 

    (Edit): once all the above is addressed, you may want to invest in some insulation for the basement mains. This will also help with keeping things quieter and more efficient.

    Good luck!!
  • MilanD
    MilanD Member Posts: 1,160
    Oh, and congratulations on the baby!
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,346
    @nosleeptilbklyn

    Looks like whomever piped your boiler knew what they were doing
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,021
    Ed, the sequence of connections seems correct, however the header is the same size of the riser.
    Is it all 2"? Without knowing the boiler size we don't know if the boiler requires 2 risers or if the header should be increased one size.

    Someone skimmed the boiler last winter.....the only place I can see for a potential skim port is the connection where the gauge and pigtail are connected. 3/4" at best.
    So it may have been a bottom draining and refill type "skimming".....which does not count.

  • nosleeptilbklyn
    nosleeptilbklyn Member Posts: 5
    Hi @JUGHNE and @MilanD,

    Many thanks for the very helpful and thorough advice--much appreciated! We did finally manage to get someone who understands steam systems out to take a look today (thanks to a recommendation from a trusted handyman), and the pitch of the steam main pipes in the basement (in a room separate from the ones in the photos / where the furnace is) seems to have been the major culprit. They've now been properly re-pitched, and even our noisiest radiator which we never turned on before is 90% quieter. We're having the plumbers come back out in a couple of weeks to install a main line steam vent because currently there is none, and hopefully this will help with the loud hissing of our living room radiator (the largest). When that's all done, and we're sure the major problems are solved, my husband and I will take care of adding some insulation to the mains in the basement, where it does get chilly. So I think we're finally on the road to solving most of our noise problems, with time to spare before the baby arrives.

    I just wanted to thank everyone who took the time to comment and offer advice. And @Pezdyspensr, if you're looking for similar help in the Portland area, Snyder Plumbing and Heating in Gorham were the best by far of several different people we've had come out to take a look, both in terms of response time (a few days) and in knowing what needed to be done/having the skills to execute it.

    Gratefully,
    Laura
    MilanDkcoppErin Holohan Haskell
  • MilanD
    MilanD Member Posts: 1,160
    @nosleeptilbklyn

    Great! 👍 And yes, adding main vents will help tremendously with hissing radiators. Btw, when they come back, ask them to check the pressuretrol setting and double check that an operational system pressure is not set to higher than 1.5 psi cut out and differential of 1. This will be the lowest setting possible on your Honeywell 404A pressuretrols. And have them also check the so called pigtail for obstruction, to which that pressuretrol is mounted.

    Matter of fact, with properly vented system, and assuming the boiler is not oversized, you should hardly develop any pressure and should have a quiet and toasty home.

    Glad you found a good contractor!

    Best,
    Milan
  • Pezdyspensr
    Pezdyspensr Member Posts: 6
    @nosleeptilbklyn thank you for the recommendation! It's been a bear to figure out who thinks in steam in this area, which I find surprising!