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110 year old 2 pipe steam system, help needed. Area code 68901

#1
I have 9 radiators like this one in my home. There are no longer any steam contractors in my area. I've read there should be a steam trap on each. The examples I have seen in articles aren't here?

#2 I have 3 main vents at the boiler. 2 of them close in just a couple of minutes. Last one takes more than 5 minutes to get steam to it. Sometimes thermostat shuts boiler down before it closes. Return pipes are installed 2/3 up on radiator, I have not seen examples of these radiators anywhere.

#3 There are many pipes that are abandoned in the structure.

I don't think the system is very efficient. I had a used Slant Fin GXH-275 DPZ installed to replace it's 1970s predecessor. It is set on 2 PSI. House is approximately 2,700 SF.

Any suggestions or ideas for improvement will be appreciated.

«1

Comments

  • PC7060
    PC7060 Member Posts: 295
    Hastings NE?   @JUGHNE is NE northwest of you but probably too far for a house call. 
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 2,869
    That is a one pipe vacuum vapor system. That pipe doesn't return the condensate, it only vents the radiator and holds a partial vacuum on the system with some sort of a vacuum pump in the basement.
    ethicalpaul
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 14,423
    PC7060 said:

    Hastings NE?   @JUGHNE is NE northwest of you but probably too far for a house call. 

    Give him a try.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 15,742
    Actually may not be that inefficient -- and certainly wasn't when it was installed. However, it wasn't all that common where it was installed, and I don't suppose there are all that many where you are.

    There should be -- somewhere in the basement -- a vacuum pump or an ejector to which all the small diameter pipes are connected. The idea was that the air would be pulled out of the system by that, which would help in getting the steam quickly and evenly to the radiators. Is such a critter still there? Can you find where the small pipes go?

    Also, it should be operated on much lower pressure. You'll probably need a vapourstat to control at the proper level. I regret that I don't know exactly what that should be, but I'd start at around 8 ounces per square inch cutout, and go up or down from there.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    mattmia2
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,263
    There has to be a way for the air to get out of the CI rads or nothing would heat.
    So something in the basement must be working. Any other problems other than what seems inefficiency?

    Could you show us where your air vents in the basement are located? They usually should not close that quickly.
    Pipes from floor to ceiling in the pictures please. And anything that resembles a pump as Jamie mentioned above.

    I was just in Grand Island today on a Honeydo trip....HobbyLobby. ;)

    Hastings NE, the birthplace of KoolAid!.....IIRC
    PC7060
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,456
    Certainly a lot of KoolAid is being consumed now. The inventor would never have imagined what would become of his invention!--NBC
    kenlmadTurbo DaveEdTheHeaterMan
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 15,742
    @JHamburger and @JUGHNE -- I'm wondering if maybe you have stumbled across a Paul system, far from home. It's in the Lost Art (no surprise there). The original system had a remarkably fancy arrangement in the basement, but it may have been modified; the general idea was to use a steam ejector to create a vacuum on the small diameter pipes.

    Replacement valves for the radiators are, I think, still available from Hoffman, believe it or not... but it may not need much replacement.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 2,869
    edited February 2
    BTW that is called a Paul system or one of its competitors:
    https://heatinghelp.com/dead-men-tales/the-paul-system-and-other-delightful-discoveries/
  • JHamburger
    JHamburger Member Posts: 1
    Only other issues are pipes pounding every time it pressures up, which is often.
    Main vents

    Return Pipes

    Return manifold at bottom

    Pressure controls


    Pardon the house keeping.

  • JHamburger
    JHamburger Member Posts: 1

    main vents
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,263
    Where do the small 1/4" pipes end up in the basement?
    And can you back up for more pictures of piping showing floor to ceiling?
  • JHamburger
    JHamburger Member Posts: 1




    As you can see one side of the house of the house comes together and comes under the "manifold and in. The other side seems to come into the risers below the valves. this side heats up faster.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 15,742
    There is some really creative piping in there... to put it mildly. I'd have to have eyes on to make sense out of it, I'm afraid.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • JHamburger
    JHamburger Member Posts: 1
    I did have a radiator reinstalled in a room that did not have one. The plumbers that piped it used copper. They connected it to current working lines. It gets heat from both directions but none get to the radiator. Originally this happened and I unhooked it and flushed it. It worked for a while and now it doesn't heat again. If there is water inside it, would that stop the steam?
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 15,742
    One end -- the high inlet end -- needs to be connected to one of the steam mains. The outlet -- the low end -- needs to be connected to a dry return via a trap. Alternatively, in your situation, it should be connected to a steam main at one end and provided with an air vent about two thirds of they way down at the other end.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • JHamburger
    JHamburger Member Posts: 1
    Please disregard the last comment about the reinstalled radiator. I think all the attention I have been giving the system lately, that maybe it is responding. I have another photo. I have no idea what is on the end of this pipe.
  • JHamburger
    JHamburger Member Posts: 1
    Jamie Hall,
    Are you saying the the small pipe up high is the inlet for the steam?
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,263
    The radiator shown in your first picture, looks like it is connected to the steam main on the left and then on the right end the small pipe connection up about 2/3 is where the air would be vented from.

    This would be refered to a 1 pipe radiator, the only thing different is there is no steam vent on the right end,
    that small pipe was to vent air out of the rad by some means or another.

    The small pipe where does it go to from the rad, I'm guessing down thru the floor...yes?
    Then in the basement where does it connect to the piping down there?

    How long have you lived in the house and have you always had problems?

    Roughly how many feet of pipe go from the boiler to the place where the vents are located?

    Are the 3 vents each on separate pipes or do they share 1 or 2 pipes?

    Is it a small basement that you can not back up for wider pictures?
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 15,742
    I'm thinking that that small pipe in the picture with the unidentifiable widget on the end of a pipe is one of the old air vent pipes from upstairs to somewhere downstairs... follow it back!

    On your system, the steam should enter the radiator in a medium size pipe low at one end of the radiator -- probably with a valve on it. On the other end, part way up, should be a connection to a small pipe which vanishes probably through the floor. On the new radiator which your plumber installed, the steam still should come in one end low -- but on the other end there should be a standard steam type air vent, about two thirds of the way down from the top.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • JHamburger
    JHamburger Member Posts: 1
    Young Plumber, good eyes. It is neither, it is fiber from a piece of insulation that was outlawed fifty years ago.
  • JHamburger
    JHamburger Member Posts: 1


    I hope the boiler pictures help.


    A close up of the side of the radiator right side. All of the radiators are similar.

    I have lived here 20 years. All the current radiators were in use here.
    Every heating season is different than the last. When I first moved in, I had to replace quite a few pieces of pipe. Some split and some just rotted away. Last year I started using additive to clean out the pipe and boiler, it did make a difference.

    Now, I think I need to rebuild the shut offs to the radiators. Some will not close completely.
    I will be retiring soon and need to downsize. The second floor is not a welcome trip anymore.
  • JHamburger
    JHamburger Member Posts: 1
    PS
    The pipe insulation was not done by a professional.
  • JHamburger
    JHamburger Member Posts: 1
    I would have to teat out lath and plaster to follow the pipe above the vent. There is another one cut off laying just beside that one, again between the joist.
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,263
    So when the heat is on on a cold day how far across the typical radiator does it get really hot?

    So for the small pipes from the radiators, you have not found the ends of them in the basement?

    If you could get a picture of the right hand side of the boiler showing all the piping you can that might be helpful.

    I notice a NE boiler inspection number on the front of the boiler.
    I usually do not see them on residential units in this state.
    Was this a commercial property at one time?
  • JHamburger
    JHamburger Member Posts: 1
    On a cold day almost all typically get hot all the way across. Are they supposed to stay hot, before the boiler kicks back on? They seem to cool down and then heat back up with pounding. A few years back The pounding was hardly noticeable.

    The small pipes turn into bigger pipes as they all collectively join and come back to the pipes that tie into the uprights below the vents, except the ones that run across the ground over to the upright piping with the vents.

    Yes, it was originally installed in a commercial property. I am the second owner.

    I hope you can make sense of the following pictures, there is a lot going on and I can't get very far away.




    I think my biggest problem is that it doesn't hold pressure very long. There must be fittings leaking in the system,

    Thanks for your help.
  • JHamburger
    JHamburger Member Posts: 1

  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 15,742
    It won't hold pressure long. It can't. As soon as the steam condenses, which it will do very fast, the pressure has to drop back down.

    Clearly if your radiators are heating, the air is escaping in those small pipes. The question is -- where is it going? Which we still don't know...

    The pounding may be pressure related. Make sure that your steam pressure is controlled low enough -- for a Paul system (or similar), however hacked it may have been, it won't need more than 1 psi and won't be happy over 2 psi, unless there are steam to air or water heat exchangers somewhere which need a higher pressure (highly unlikely).

    It may also be partly due to pipes sagging or losing their pitch over time -- that's not good for any steam system.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    mattmia2My570
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,263
    My best guess is that the steam comes into the rad and pushes the air out thru the smaller upper pipes, down to the basement pipes and the air bubbling up thru the wet returns eventually comes up and out of the basement air vents.

    Then when the boiler shuts off there is water trapped in the rads. It can not drain because the vents will not let the air back into the rads as the water standing in the wet returns are trapping air return back up the small pipes.
    The whole thing acts like a check valve....the air will get pushed thru but cannot return to the rad because of the standing columns of water in the drop pipes. And the basement vents (Hoffman 75's) may not open again to vent air until they cool off.

    The water held in the rads is then hit with steam on the next cycle and water hammer happens.

    Your original system would of had a device (inducer or pump) to produce a vacuum on the small pipes to pull the air out of the rads so the steam would be pulled there quickly.
    Probably when the boiler was changed years ago that inducer device was removed because of failure and/or ignorance on the part of the installer. That unusual pipe fitting with the plug may have been part of the vacuum inducer
    This design is very rare and certainly rare and unseen in NE.

    The best possible and practical move at this point might be to disconnect the small pipes, cap them and then install air vents on each radiator.

    How high of pressure does the boiler run at when running??
    When off does the gauge return to zero?

    Your upper pressure control is the mercury bulb type and needs to be level, there is a small pendulum hanging inside it as a plumb bob for leveling purposes. You can see it thru the plastic front on the right inside portion.

    The lower pressure control (grey box) has an adjustment wheel inside. It should be set to 1.
    Your pigtail may need cleaning, if partially plugged it will affect the pressure controls and run the pressure too high possibly contributing to your water hammer.

    There is a check valve in the wet return, (down near the dirt), it could be sludged up causing problems also.

    To the right of the boiler there looks to be a doorway, if you stood there perhaps you could get a picture of that side of the boiler so we could see the sight glass.

    There is book that would be very useful, written for the homeowner, and very informative. It is called "We Got Steam Heat!" available here in the book store or Amazon. Good easy reading.
    MilanD
  • JHamburger
    JHamburger Member Posts: 1


    The picture with gauges is while running, after leveling pressuretrol.
    Before leveling and on higher settings (2 psi) it was running around 5psi.
    The gauge does go to zero when off.
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,263
    You can clean/check your pigtail by removing the gauge, screw in a 1/4" nipple, slip a piece of hose over that nipple and blowing with your mouth into the hose.
    Make sure the boiler is off and do not use compressed air.
    You should be able to blow thru the hose fairly easily after pushing the little bit of water in the pigtail back into the boiler. Refill the loop with water when done.
    If it is plugged you must disassemble the fittings and clean out.

    Your control still looks to be leaning to the right. Can you see the mark inside that the arrow should hang over when level?
    The pigtail loop should be rotated 90 degrees from where it is now, when it heats up, the curl of the pigtail will flex left to right. If you rotate it then it will flex front to back.

    The horizontal pipe going into the "Hartford Loop" is very long. With that length you can get water hammering. It should be the shortest nipple possible. It should be just below the water level.

    This is all explained in the book that was mentioned above.
  • JHamburger
    JHamburger Member Posts: 1
    I actually moved it further to the right to make it hang over the mark. Is it a white painted mark?
  • JHamburger
    JHamburger Member Posts: 1
    The boiler does make a bumping vibration as its starting. Must be the hammering you speak of.
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,263
    Just put a level on the side of the control to check.
    If it is hanging plumb then maybe your boiler is not level on the ground.
    The large riser pipe is what I was comparing it to.

    The start up noise could be scale inside the boiler. When was it last drained and flushed?
  • JHamburger
    JHamburger Member Posts: 1
    The book is on order. Below the water level?
  • JHamburger
    JHamburger Member Posts: 1
    Another strange thing this season. The boiler was empty to start with, not kidding.
    I had flushed it out twice last season. When I filled it first time this year it was such clear clean water after running, I was amazed. Then I drained again and added the rust prohibitive and filled again.
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,263
    The point where your condensate water returns to the boiler needs to be under water and not meet up with steam. The Hartford Loop in connected into the vertical drop from the header, full of steam and condensing water to drain down the vertical equalizer pipe that connects to the bottom of the boiler. The return water connection should be below the sight glass water line which is also the water height in the equalizer.
    If water and steam meet there is a collision producing noise/hammer.

    The book will clear this up, after you study it, come back with more questions.
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,263
    Do you know where the water went over the summer?

    Are all your return pipes that lay on the floor or below, connected together so the water in them has to move up the riser pipe going into the boiler return?
  • JHamburger
    JHamburger Member Posts: 1
    #1. I have no idea where the water went. This has never happened before.
    #2. The ones I can see.

    I am not aware of any underground. Is that something that was done?
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,263
    It was common to bury return lines underground, these were the first to rot thru as they were always full of condensate water and subject to corrosion from the outside by concrete or cinder fill under the concrete.

    When you get your book you can see "buried wet returns" and the Hartford Loop and see if your water could leave the boiler over the summer by draining into wet returns.
    If all the water gets into the boiler thru the Hartford Loop then it can not drain out uphill and then down into your wet returns.

    On one job there was boiler that kept losing water. It turned out that there was a long hose connected to the boiler drain (hose bib) that was not shutting completely off.
    With the hose in the floor drain across the room the dribbling water leak was not noticed.
    Look for something like that in your system.
  • JHamburger
    JHamburger Member Posts: 1
    I have finally gone through the book recommended. I have not changed anything except for pressuretrol settings. That makes it run on lower pressure as recommended.

    The site glass part has me very worried. The water movement is extremely different than the 3/4" movement noted in the book. It rises to the top and stays there before falling as the boiler runs. It seems to be boiling as it falls back close to where it started. It has always done this. Would there be any recommendations for this issue?

    From what you have said earlier there are several piping issues, that I may wait until warmer weather, unless the pigtail problem would alleviate the rise of the water in the sight glass.

    I'm very glad we got through the last week of the bitter cold.
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