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Radiator vent exploded, no pitch, sludge

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Hey guys -

I had a Varivalve Quickvent explode, and another vent on the same radiator saw a similar fate less than a year ago.

I found there was no pitch on this radiator, so I have done a quick-fix of that.

Question: When the blown up vent left water on the floor, it also left a puddle of some sludge. I suppose that makes it unclear if the lack of pitch or the sludge (or something else) was responsible.

If I have the boiler flushed, with this radiator now pitched, is that sufficient to solve the issue of sludge potentially getting into the vent and jamming it up? Or do I need to also flush or replace the radiator?



My quick fix for the pitch was to add a 3/4" wood block -




Thanks.

Mike
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Comments

  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,576
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    Can you show us a picture of this exploded vent, and what is your pressure on the gauge-in ounces if possible?--NBC
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,478
    edited January 2021
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    I would check the boiler pressure and make sure the pigtail is clear. If a pigtail is clogged the pressuretrol does not see the steam pressure and the gauge can't read what it can't see.

    Does the system have any banging?

    Bob
    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,324
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    Neither pitch nor sludge is going to explode a vent. Pressure is. They are rated for 10 psi maximum -- when new.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,704
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    If there was sludge then almost certainly either in the past or now, boiler water is/was getting pushed into that convector probably due to high pressure and/or incorrect near boiler piping.
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
  • lbeachmike
    lbeachmike Member Posts: 177
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    Neither pitch nor sludge is going to explode a vent. Pressure is. They are rated for 10 psi maximum -- when new.

    Thanks Jamie. I understand that pressure will explode the vent, but if the sludge gets into the vent and it gets all gummed up, then won't it also cause the vent to malfunction - which subsequently could cause the pressure at the vent to be improper and thus explode the vent?
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,324
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    The pressure in the vent can only be imposed by the boiler -- the sludge, i it got there, can't do it on its own.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    ethicalpaul
  • lbeachmike
    lbeachmike Member Posts: 177
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    If there was sludge then almost certainly either in the past or now, boiler water is/was getting pushed into that convector probably due to high pressure and/or incorrect near boiler piping.

    Hi Paul - There was previously improper pitch on one of the main steam pipes near the boiler which is not far from the location of this radiator. When that was not pitched properly, there was tons of banging when the heat started up. I had that corrected a few years ago. Things have been quiet since that was corrected.

    It may be worth noting that this is/was a tenant-occupied apartment. The tenant just moved and the vent explosion happened when the heat was accidentally turned way up. The apartment stays very warm without any heat because it gets a ton of heat from the steam pipes below and those passing through to the second floor. So much so, in fact, that the floors warped in the corner of the room that's in the photo (another issue I need to address.)
  • lbeachmike
    lbeachmike Member Posts: 177
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    Can you show us a picture of this exploded vent, and what is your pressure on the gauge-in ounces if possible?--NBC

    I will try to get a post a pic of the exploded vent later today. Very simply, the top of it blew off and the inside piece ended up a foot or two away on the floor.
  • lbeachmike
    lbeachmike Member Posts: 177
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    BobC said:

    I would check the boiler pressure and make sure the pigtail is clear. If a pigtail is clogged the pressuretrol does not see the steam pressure and the gauge can't trad what it can't see.

    Does the system have any banging?

    Bob

    No banging since the issue mentioned in one of my other responses was fixed a few years ago. My plumber is coming on Friday to service the boiler and will be checking the pigtail on the pressuretrol.

    Ahead of his visit, I'm interested in understanding if there's anything I need to do at the radiator itself. It looks like a mess - do these need to ever be replaced or cleaned out?
  • SteamingatMohawk
    SteamingatMohawk Member Posts: 1,007
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    Post a photo of the pressuretrol with the cover off and another of the pressure gauge, both showing their pigtails.

  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,704
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    Regardless of banging, regardless of anything really, your boiler should never go above 1.5-2 psi. If it did, it's a problem with the pressure control being faulty, adjusted too high, or it's not "seeing" the pressure due to a clogged pigtail.

    Poor near boiler piping can cause other issues than banging, and water carryover is not guaranteed to cause banging. In other words, don't take the absence of banging to mean everything is fine.
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,544
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    @lbeachmike

    I agree with removing the pressure controls from the boiler, cleaning the pigtails and the boiler connections and making sure the controls work.

    The safety valve should be checked.

    If the vent truly exploded you don't want a boiler explosion
  • lbeachmike
    lbeachmike Member Posts: 177
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    Post a photo of the pressuretrol with the cover off and another of the pressure gauge, both showing their pigtails.

    I don't know if it is easy enough for me to access. And I don't know if I will get there before my plumber. I do not live in this house. It is rental property. I will see if I can these photos and post them.
  • lbeachmike
    lbeachmike Member Posts: 177
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    @lbeachmike

    I agree with removing the pressure controls from the boiler, cleaning the pigtails and the boiler connections and making sure the controls work.

    The safety valve should be checked.

    If the vent truly exploded you don't want a boiler explosion

    Good point about the boiler explosion. Though most of the other radiator vents look like they have been in place for decades and are fine. Minimally, they have been there for the last seven years that I've owned the house. If there was a pressure issue at the boiler, wouldn't that impact *all* of the steam vents, not just one of them? There are four other radiators, though all of them are further from the boiler - this one is closest.
  • lbeachmike
    lbeachmike Member Posts: 177
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    Regardless of banging, regardless of anything really, your boiler should never go above 1.5-2 psi. If it did, it's a problem with the pressure control being faulty, adjusted too high, or it's not "seeing" the pressure due to a clogged pigtail.

    Poor near boiler piping can cause other issues than banging, and water carryover is not guaranteed to cause banging. In other words, don't take the absence of banging to mean everything is fine.

    Thanks for the excellent info Paul. A lot of things in this house were not done properly, so I don't assume that anything is fine. That's the purpose of my post here - to learn enough so I can be sure that my plumber properly investigates everything he should be looking at, so that I can be assured that things are indeed fine. The first thing he mentioned was checking the pressuretrol and pigtails.

    I think a fundamental issue I am running into is lack of steam heating expertise in my area. I am in Nassau County (Long Island) in NY if anybody has a recommendation. I see there is a "Find a Contractor" link here, but I don't know the experience level of those who are listed. Can anybody be listed or are those actual members or genuine recommendations?
  • lbeachmike
    lbeachmike Member Posts: 177
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    The pressure in the vent can only be imposed by the boiler -- the sludge, i it got there, can't do it on its own.

    Does the radiator need to be removed and cleaned out, or replaced? Is there any concern there? I understand the importance of checking out the boiler's pressure controls.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,324
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    On the contractors on the contractor tab -- those are all persons or firms who actively support this website. Not all of them are steam pros (some specialize in hot water, some do both) -- though many of them are, and most of the best steam pros. do have an entry there. That said, Scully's Plumbing and Heating is in Malverne (516-887-1122) -- not far from you and, although I've not actually seen their work in person, I've seen his work shown here on the wall, and I regard him as one of the best. Give him a call.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    lbeachmike
  • lbeachmike
    lbeachmike Member Posts: 177
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    The pressure in the vent can only be imposed by the boiler -- the sludge, i it got there, can't do it on its own.

    Hey Jamie - In your first response, you said that pitch (or lack thereof) can't explode a vent. But if there is no pitch and cool water settles under the steam vent, then when the hot steam later comes along and things go *BOOM*, couldn't that be responsible for blowing the top off the vent? *BOOM* = pressure.
  • lbeachmike
    lbeachmike Member Posts: 177
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    On the contractors on the contractor tab -- those are all persons or firms who actively support this website. Not all of them are steam pros (some specialize in hot water, some do both) -- though many of them are, and most of the best steam pros. do have an entry there. That said, Scully's Plumbing and Heating is in Malverne (516-887-1122) -- not far from you and, although I've not actually seen their work in person, I've seen his work shown here on the wall, and I regard him as one of the best. Give him a call.

    Thanks very much Jamie. This is super-helpful.
  • lbeachmike
    lbeachmike Member Posts: 177
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    A few of you asked for photos of the steam vent that exploded. Now that I found my photos, I'm thinking that "exploded" made it sound a little too dramatic. Very simply, the top blew off the vent and the guts landed about a foot away. Below are the photos.

    Note: All of those flakes on the floor are peeling old paint from the inside of the cabinet.







    Thanks.

    Mike
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,324
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    Yeah... I was envisioning something rather different when you said exploded... that poor old thing just simply failed, and the ordinary steam pressure just popped it.

    And no, what would happen if steam hits a pool of water is that the steam condenses, or at least enough of it does to raise the water temperature to -- but not beyond -- boiling, and not enough to boil the water. This, by the way, is partly why a pool of water in a pipe slows steam down so much.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • lbeachmike
    lbeachmike Member Posts: 177
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    Yeah... I was envisioning something rather different when you said exploded... that poor old thing just simply failed, and the ordinary steam pressure just popped it.

    And no, what would happen if steam hits a pool of water is that the steam condenses, or at least enough of it does to raise the water temperature to -- but not beyond -- boiling, and not enough to boil the water. This, by the way, is partly why a pool of water in a pipe slows steam down so much.

    Thanks for the feedback. Re: the vent, it is less than one year old. The one that was previously there was much older and had a similar fate. In the previous case I thought it was simply age. I don't recall what vent was there previously, but it was not a varivent.

    When I called tech support at the Heating Timer company, which makes the varivent, they said that they have an extremely low failure rate and the only way this happened was from pressure. They basically gave similar guidance about checking the pressuretrol and pigtails.

    Have you seen this as a common failure with the varivent?

    I have never had any boiler maintenance on this boiler since I own the house (about 7 years) other than a repair to replace the automatic water feeder last winter, and correcting the pitch of some banging pipes near the boiler a few years ago.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,324
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    Ah... no maintenance in 7 years? Then you're six years overdue. It's time... and it's going to be a job. Cleaning the fire side, setting and adjusting the burner, taking all the pigtails off and clearing -- or replacing them -- checking the taps into the boiler, doing the same for the sight glass, checking the adjustment of the pressuretrols... checking the low water cutoff for operation, checking the autofeeder for operation...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • SteamingatMohawk
    SteamingatMohawk Member Posts: 1,007
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    The level appears to be level. It needs to pitch a bit downward toward the valve
  • SteamingatMohawk
    SteamingatMohawk Member Posts: 1,007
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    Seven years, no maintenance, radiator vents "exploding"

    You mentioned this is a rental house. Think hard about your liability if something else goes wrong.

    I own a rental, too, and would not wait another day for someone credible to work on the system. But, then, I am risk averse.
  • lbeachmike
    lbeachmike Member Posts: 177
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    The level appears to be level. It needs to pitch a bit downward toward the valve

    Hi - I actually did add pitch. The first photo is when there was no pitch. The second photo is with a 3/4" block added to pitch it 1/4" per foot.
  • lbeachmike
    lbeachmike Member Posts: 177
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    Seven years, no maintenance, radiator vents "exploding"

    You mentioned this is a rental house. Think hard about your liability if something else goes wrong.

    I own a rental, too, and would not wait another day for someone credible to work on the system. But, then, I am risk averse.

    I've had both my plumbing company and heating company work on the boiler as mentioned. Neither recommended any further actions to me. I do have maintenance scheduled for the boiler to check the things recommended. But I'm unclear about the liability concern - what risks do I need to be concerned with that I may be unaware of? If was an an unconcerned landlord, I wouldn't be here posting questions on heatinghelp.
  • lbeachmike
    lbeachmike Member Posts: 177
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    Ah... no maintenance in 7 years? Then you're six years overdue. It's time... and it's going to be a job. Cleaning the fire side, setting and adjusting the burner, taking all the pigtails off and clearing -- or replacing them -- checking the taps into the boiler, doing the same for the sight glass, checking the adjustment of the pressuretrols... checking the low water cutoff for operation, checking the autofeeder for operation...

    Thanks Jamie. You've been super-helpful. How do I get the plumber or heating company to properly check all of the items you've mentioned? My plumber did mention checking the pressuretrol and pigtails as well as taking apart the burner. The low-water cutoff and autofeeder were already checked this year when the autofeeder was replaced.
  • lbeachmike
    lbeachmike Member Posts: 177
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    Ah... no maintenance in 7 years? Then you're six years overdue. It's time... and it's going to be a job. Cleaning the fire side, setting and adjusting the burner, taking all the pigtails off and clearing -- or replacing them -- checking the taps into the boiler, doing the same for the sight glass, checking the adjustment of the pressuretrols... checking the low water cutoff for operation, checking the autofeeder for operation...

    Thanks Jamie. You've been super-helpful. How do I get the plumber or heating company to properly check all of the items you've mentioned? My plumber did mention checking the pressuretrol and pigtails as well as taking apart the burner. The low-water cutoff and autofeeder were already checked this year when the autofeeder was replaced.
    It may also be worth noting that the boiler got very low mileage usage over the last seven years. The tenant was only there three days per week. The apartment stays very warm with zero heat and this guy liked it cold. On the other side of that is that he may not have given it enough use to shake out any issues.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,324
    Options

    Ah... no maintenance in 7 years? Then you're six years overdue. It's time... and it's going to be a job. Cleaning the fire side, setting and adjusting the burner, taking all the pigtails off and clearing -- or replacing them -- checking the taps into the boiler, doing the same for the sight glass, checking the adjustment of the pressuretrols... checking the low water cutoff for operation, checking the autofeeder for operation...

    Thanks Jamie. You've been super-helpful. How do I get the plumber or heating company to properly check all of the items you've mentioned? My plumber did mention checking the pressuretrol and pigtails as well as taking apart the burner. The low-water cutoff and autofeeder were already checked this year when the autofeeder was replaced.
    It may also be worth noting that the boiler got very low mileage usage over the last seven years. The tenant was only there three days per week. The apartment stays very warm with zero heat and this guy liked it cold. On the other side of that is that he may not have given it enough use to shake out any issues.
    Or... he may just not have noticed them! It's happened. A good heating person should know about what is needed in giving a boiler a thorough overhaul -- I'd ask them to clean the fireside and check and adjust the burners with instruments for best combustion (it just can't be done by eye...). Your plumber may be quite qualified to do it -- but expect whoever it is to take some time at the job. At least half a day, and maybe more.

    On liability -- the biggest one, short of actually having the thing spring a major leak and ruining stuff -- is running having it actually fail to run, and leaving a tenant cold. Some tenants are forgiving. Some... not so much. That's the biggest I can think of -- @SteamingatMohawk has a lot of experience as a landlord, and may have some others.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • lbeachmike
    lbeachmike Member Posts: 177
    Options

    Ah... no maintenance in 7 years? Then you're six years overdue. It's time... and it's going to be a job. Cleaning the fire side, setting and adjusting the burner, taking all the pigtails off and clearing -- or replacing them -- checking the taps into the boiler, doing the same for the sight glass, checking the adjustment of the pressuretrols... checking the low water cutoff for operation, checking the autofeeder for operation...

    Thanks Jamie. You've been super-helpful. How do I get the plumber or heating company to properly check all of the items you've mentioned? My plumber did mention checking the pressuretrol and pigtails as well as taking apart the burner. The low-water cutoff and autofeeder were already checked this year when the autofeeder was replaced.
    It may also be worth noting that the boiler got very low mileage usage over the last seven years. The tenant was only there three days per week. The apartment stays very warm with zero heat and this guy liked it cold. On the other side of that is that he may not have given it enough use to shake out any issues.
    Or... he may just not have noticed them! It's happened. A good heating person should know about what is needed in giving a boiler a thorough overhaul -- I'd ask them to clean the fireside and check and adjust the burners with instruments for best combustion (it just can't be done by eye...). Your plumber may be quite qualified to do it -- but expect whoever it is to take some time at the job. At least half a day, and maybe more.

    On liability -- the biggest one, short of actually having the thing spring a major leak and ruining stuff -- is running having it actually fail to run, and leaving a tenant cold. Some tenants are forgiving. Some... not so much. That's the biggest I can think of -- @SteamingatMohawk has a lot of experience as a landlord, and may have some others.
    I have a 24x7 heating company that usually responds within the hour. I've used them before in emergencies. I certainly do not want to leave anybody without heat. It is extremely stressful to me to have anybody have any issue at all - as much so as I enjoy the income, I really want my tenants to enjoy living in one of my apartments.

    I would love for somebody on here to prove otherwise, but it is not easy to find the class of plumbing/heating company that you suggest. The amount my plumber said he would charge for the boiler maintenance is certainly not four hours of work. It is at best 1.5 hours. And the heating company I use, considered to be one of the better heating companies around here, didn't even call out any of these potential issues. They've been to the house twice during the last year.

    I've been through more plumbers than I can count before the current "long-term relationship" I have. Electricians have been no different. GC's have been no different.
    These are all licensed guys. You should see some of the garbage work licensed guys have done for me. It's incomprehensible. Just getting people to show up is a challenge. Everybody here is too busy - they have more work than they can handle. I end up doing a ton of research and end up knowing more about what people are supposed to be doing than the people who are actually doing the work.
  • SteamingatMohawk
    SteamingatMohawk Member Posts: 1,007
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    @Jamie Hall Thanks for the support.

    @lbeachmike Being a landlord is a bit different from owning your own house. There are all kinds of tenants, mostly good, some horrible. That being said, if a tenant expresses concern about "exploding" radiator vents (even if it's tangential to talking about the heating situation) and mentions it to the wrong person, there could be repercussions if comments/complaints are made to the wrong people, e.g., code officials. In the worst case, legal "threats" about jeopardizing tenant safety could be made. I know this may seem far fetched, but you don't want to risk your financial situation. That's why I always urge caution. There's personal history in all this.

    My first house in the late 60s was a two family we lived in.

    In the late 80s, I owned a house my son lived in while in college and rented out 3 bedrooms. There was an unknown problem with the baseboard hot water heating system and the expansion tank seam blew apart, hurtling the tank through a wall into the living room. The house was condemned until repairs were made and the house inspected. When I bought the house I had already had 15+ years experience with baseboard heat in new houses and did not even consider having any inspection/testing done to make 100.000% sure the system was OK. Bad decision...obviously.

    I now have a two family converted into 4 units I have owned since 1989 that I don't live in and have paid a lot of attention to the system, including correcting past changes that didn't help the system work better. Heating Help has been a tremendous source of valuable information. Dan and Erin are wonderful and supportive people.

    I just hope to help you make your decisions with your eyes wide open, not alarm you too much. A personal liability policy may not cover a claim of negligence.

    Now you know why I try to urge being so careful.

    Be safe...not sorry.
    BobCLarry Weingarten
  • STEAM DOCTOR
    STEAM DOCTOR Member Posts: 1,973
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    @lbeachmike. Sorry for the trouble that you are going through. I think we can summarise easily. 1. Every boiler, yours included,  needs maintenance by someone competent.  2. Your vent issue is due to the vent being glorified garbage. Of course heat timer will blame everything and everyone, besides for their own product. Only one vent had an issue. There is an obvious reason. There is/was something wrong with the vent. You are not having system wide symptoms because you do not have a critical system wide problem. 
    lbeachmike
  • lbeachmike
    lbeachmike Member Posts: 177
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    @lbeachmike. Sorry for the trouble that you are going through. I think we can summarise easily. 1. Every boiler, yours included,  needs maintenance by someone competent.  2. Your vent issue is due to the vent being glorified garbage. Of course heat timer will blame everything and everyone, besides for their own product. Only one vent had an issue. There is an obvious reason. There is/was something wrong with the vent. You are not having system wide symptoms because you do not have a critical system wide problem. 

    Hey Steam Doc - Thanks for that input! That was actually my initial inclination, but heat timer tech support seemed extremely knowledgeable and had convinced me otherwise.

    Is it at all possible that the lack of pitch at that radiator was also to blame?

    Which steam vent do you recommend I use at this radiator to avoid vent-related problems?
  • STEAM DOCTOR
    STEAM DOCTOR Member Posts: 1,973
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    I personally like Gorton. 
  • lbeachmike
    lbeachmike Member Posts: 177
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    I personally like Gorton. 

    Thanks. Which Gorton is suggested at the radiator? I'm also going to PM you to see if you do work in my town.
  • STEAM DOCTOR
    STEAM DOCTOR Member Posts: 1,973
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    If your mains are vented properly, then  Gorton #4 or #5. 
  • lbeachmike
    lbeachmike Member Posts: 177
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    If your mains are vented properly, then  Gorton #4 or #5. 

    There is no vent I have ever been able to find on the main. Does that change your recommendation for what to put at the radiator?
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,324
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    If your mains are vented properly, then  Gorton #4 or #5. 

    There is no vent I have ever been able to find on the main. Does that change your recommendation for what to put at the radiator?
    Um... no. What it does do is make me recommend that you find a location on the main and put a vent there. Remember that for one pipe steam, the main vents are there to get steam quickly, evenly and uniformly (as much as possible) to all the radiators. The radiator vents are there to control the heat output from the radiators. The two functions do not always mix well.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    STEAM DOCTOR
  • lbeachmike
    lbeachmike Member Posts: 177
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    If your mains are vented properly, then  Gorton #4 or #5. 

    There is no vent I have ever been able to find on the main. Does that change your recommendation for what to put at the radiator?
    Um... no. What it does do is make me recommend that you find a location on the main and put a vent there. Remember that for one pipe steam, the main vents are there to get steam quickly, evenly and uniformly (as much as possible) to all the radiators. The radiator vents are there to control the heat output from the radiators. The two functions do not always mix well.
    :smile: I understand there should be a vent on the main. Per previous advice on this forum, I added one for the other unit's boiler, which takes a good amount of time to deliver steam to the second floor. I spared no expense and put a Barnes on Jones big mouth on there. It changed nothing discernible, other than the fact that it looks and sounds really cool! We were living there, so I had first-hand comparison of before and after.

    In the case of the first floor, the delivery of heat works great from my own experience working in there during the tenant turnover. So unless there is any other reason other than potential faster delivery time, it doesn't seem that there is any ROI to adding the main vent. I'd be inclined to add it because I like things to be done the right way, but it doesn't seem worth doing.

    How do I choose between a Gorton #4 or #5 for the radiator vent?