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Programming single pipe steam to only run 2 long cycles per day

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New to single pipe steam and no matter how much tweaking or thermostat moving the large central heat boiler in this old 5k square foot Victorian single family home from the 1800's cannot be ran efficiently. 12 feet ceilings first floor and 10 feet ceilings the second and still original windows. (bad I know) Its an old coal boiler converted to LP via the Carlin burner mounted in the front. Its my understanding that's automatically working against me and conversions have a BTU loss from the start and with all valves open it runs too long. (plan to replace to a smaller more efficient LP boiler before next heating season)

Regardless, this is NOT my only source of heat and in the above freezing weather I do just fine with ventless lp fireplaces installed in 4 different balanced locations on the first floor. House is a comfortable mid 60's with all doors open and heat going up the large open design staircase. If I want it more toasty for watching TV at night I can just close a few doors.

When temps drop into the freezing zone as it has been the last few weeks I run the main boiler. Depending on what rads i have on and what temps I run the Tstat I get cycle times from 20 on and 20 off to 30 on and 40 off. I actually can hear the click of the stat when it calls for heat and the boiler run in the basement depending on where I am and write down my times. I dont think thats horrible considering my variables other than the damage to the wallet. No quick cycles and I have replaced main vents (Gorton #1 3/4 size) and always on patrol checking the radiator vents. Regardless I managed to burn through 200 gallons in just over a week of teens and 20s weather and so frustrated.

As you can imagine the basement is not sealed well at all and has the old stacked stone with dirt floor foundation. Not sure how long I can let the boiler sit off without fear of a freeze.

I came up with an idea today experimenting with the programable stat. At 8 am it spikes up from where it would normally be in the 60s (sometimes I have to adjust depending on aux heating nearby) range to 77 and the system cannot run for more than 1:15 minutes before the next program and I will be home just in case. Then there will not be another demand for heat until 8:pm and I can enjoy being in my recliner right next to a large radiator and there will be another hour and 15 minute extended cycle. Again, I will be home and awake and the system is long shut down before I go to bed. No fear of boiler and pipes freezing and the system only runs 2.5 hours a day as opposed to 10-12 hours a day. Less wear on ignition components as well.

I dont mind the positive temp swing and enjoy the smell of those radiators getting HOT all the way and dont see any dangers in this long of a cycle? starting out from totally cold as in not ran for days or weeks it takes about an hour to make steam. From a warm start it takes 20 minutes for the bottom of the last radiator on a main (2 mains) run to start to get hot to the touch at the valve.

If I am comfortable temp wise is there anything I am not thinking out here?

Comments

  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,310
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    Well... one thing which has nothing to do with the boiler. Don't replace those windows! Repair them if need be -- adjust the parting rails and stops, reputty, whatever -- and add inside or outside storm windows. The end result will be as tight as even the best brand new vinyl windows -- and last another century or so, instead of 10 years if you are lucky.

    Now to the boiler. In colder weather it is quite common for a boiler to fire up pretty much every hour. In fact, most folks set their modern thermostats to the one cycle per hour programming setting. This way they maintain an even temperature.

    Essentially what you are suggesting is two big setback and recover episodes every day. It is unlikely that this will save any significant amount of fuel. You'll be using about the same amount of fuel, give or take a bit, that you would if you ran the structure at a constant temperature halfway between your upper and lower temperatures -- with 60 an 77, somewhere around 68 or so all day. Further, instead of getting a warm start, you will be working from a cold start at the beginning of each recovery -- and that hour to make steam isn't very helpful.

    The old boiler is horribly inefficient (an hour to make steam is just insane); that probably accounts for somewhere around a third to perhaps as much as half of your fuel use. Switching to a new boiler, properly sized to your system, will save you fuel.

    Note, however, the properly sized: steam boilers are sized to the connected radiation. If you are in the habit of turning some radiators off sometimes, you may have difficulty from the boiler being too big -- when the radiators are off -- or too small -- when they are on. Neither works well.

    And last -- I might point out that a large central boiler in a big old Victorian (well, half of it is colonial (1780), the other half Victorian) can be run efficiently... if it's a newer boiler. For comparison, Cedric replaced a very large H.B. Smith boiler. That old boiler took 5 gallons of oil per hour to heat the place. Cedric takes 2 and three quarters -- a bit of a difference.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    MilanD
  • nicholas bonham-carter
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    Agree with Jamie, that setbacks of less than 24 hours are the work of the Devil.
    You are probably under (main) vented, with only a Gorton #1 in place. If you have a low pressure gauge, you can see when the steam pushes the air out at less than 2 ounces, shortening the burn times.
    You could put some TRV’s on the radiators you use infrequently, or just turn the vent upside down, which locks the air inside the rad.
    Do a retime, from cold, and note the timing of:
    1.Start of steaming-(hot header)
    2.Time to main vent closing, or steam hot.
    You may find the hour is mostly taken up with squeeeeezing the air out of the constipated little Gorton #1–NBC
    MilanD
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,842
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    I'm sure you're under-vented. Also, the boiler may not have been converted properly- there are ways to do it that will make it more efficient. But it will never be as efficient as a newer boiler.

    Where are you located?
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
  • AdmiralYoda
    AdmiralYoda Member Posts: 627
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    My house was built in 1899 and the first thing I did was replace the single pane windows with vinyl dual pane, Low-E, Argon filled windows. Worst thing I did. The amount of noise that comes through these windows is astounding.

    The single pane windows may not have been original to the house but they were high quality and well made. No curvy glass.

    We live on a busy road and with the original windows all we heard was the low frequency "whooooomp" of cars going by and it wasn't too bad. With the new ones we hear high frequency sound and it is much louder, and annoying. It sounds like a window is always open somewhere.

    In hind sight I would have installed quality exterior storm windows and made some internal gasketed 1/4" Plexiglass inserts. Companies like Indow and SoundProofWindows make them, but I'm handy and think I could do it myself.

    It would have cost much less than the vinyl replacement windows and it would have had MUCH better thermal and noise performance than the best replacement windows out there today.

    Okay, on to your boiler
    Set backs are tough. If the system is designed properly...your boiler will run for some amount of time and your radiators will all be really hot and filled with steam. If your boiler is sized correctly it will keep running for a long time until the thermostat is satisfied. This is a waste of fuel as your radiators are full and hot yet you are still burning fuel.

    Worse, and most common, your boiler is oversized and once the radiators are full of steam pressure builds and your Pressuretrol or Vaporstat kicks in and then the system ends up short cycling on pressure. Again wasting fuel as the boiler is cranking while the radiators are already hot.

    In my experience (and many others) it is best to just leave it at a set temperature. Less work for your boiler, and probably less costly.
  • NYSteamGuy
    NYSteamGuy Member Posts: 2
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    Thank you so much guys for the fast responses on this. I need to clear up a few things I did not explain correctly. This is not the only source of heat I have but instead of constant drain and refills (and having to leave faucets drizzling) I am trying to run it the minimal to avoid freeze and still have it at my fingertips if I need it. I chose 77 as a temp spike from a programmable stat in a place where I can close the door with no fireplace heat hitting stat far from windows. Figured 77 was a sure bet to run out of time before I ever achieved it. "smaller" 15x14 tv room with 12 foot ceiling.

    That being said...... my first 1:15 min cycle after about 5 hours of down time, I only gained 7 degrees. I was up in the night and read someone post about timing the steam travel. After 4.5 hours down time there was minimal feel of any warmth from the boiler or piping. So I will call that a lukewarm start. In 10 minutes the header was hot to the touch. In 20 minutes the main was starting to heat about 10 feet away but it took 35 minutes for the vents to get warm aprox 40-50 ft from boiler via the run of the pipe. No signs of trapped air or hammering noises. I was daring and removed mains once with system running to check for trapped air long before there was any warmth near them. Radiators were heating in 40 minutes and for the most part hot in 1 hour. I find that on these longer cycles radiators that are difficult work just fine.

    Does this support my conclusion I am undersized due to BTU loss from the conversion?

    I took note of another issue I assume to be minor. The cast condensate line not far from the main vents has been severed and spliced back together with what appears to be a car radiator hose. However, this is for the most part kinked. Pipe is getting rusty. The sight glass on boiler is very clean with clear water around 1/4 up. Minimal bounce to the level. Signs of minor water leak near boiler also that comes and goes if you add sealer. Maybe the cleanliness of the water indicates there is a large amount of fresh water always going in further hindering efficiency?

    I am so glad to find this group of people who actually get it when it comes to single pipe steam! I would never want to heat this home any other way!
  • AdmiralYoda
    AdmiralYoda Member Posts: 627
    edited February 2021
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    After your radiators begin to get hot, yet the thermostat is far from satisfied....will the boiler shut off for a period of time and then restart, doing this repeatedly every "xx" minutes?

    Do you know what pressure your boiler is operating at? Lots of basics for these pro's to think about....but it sounds like it would be worthwhile for a pro to come take a look. You need to know if its burning fuel correctly, if its caked up around the heat exchangers, etc.

    The fact that your boiler is leaking is NOT good. Do you have an automatic water feeder or do you add it manually? If the boiler were to suddenly leak excessively and you didn't know it you could end up dry firing it, which is really not good.

    Last thought. My 1899 house has a fieldstone basement and is not sealed very well. For one winter I heated exclusively using our wood stove. I had a remote thermometer placed in the draftiest spot in the basement and even when the outdoor temp was below 0 the basement never got below 40. The coldest I ever saw it was 37 for a brief time during a couple days of -10's at night and 0 during the day. You might want to put a thermometer down there to get a better idea of the temperature.
  • NYSteamGuy
    NYSteamGuy Member Posts: 2
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    After your radiators begin to get hot, yet the thermostat is far from satisfied....will the boiler shut off for a period of time and then restart, doing this repeatedly every "xx" minutes?

    Do you know what pressure your boiler is operating at? Lots of basics for these pro's to think about....but it sounds like it would be worthwhile for a pro to come take a look. You need to know if its burning fuel correctly, if its caked up around the heat exchangers, etc.

    The fact that your boiler is leaking is NOT good. Do you have an automatic water feeder or do you add it manually? If the boiler were to suddenly leak excessively and you didn't know it you could end up dry firing it, which is really not good.

    Last thought. My 1899 house has a fieldstone basement and is not sealed very well. For one winter I heated exclusively using our wood stove. I had a remote thermometer placed in the draftiest spot in the basement and even when the outdoor temp was below 0 the basement never got below 40. The coldest I ever saw it was 37 for a brief time during a couple days of -10's at night and 0 during the day. You might want to put a thermometer down there to get a better idea of the temperature.

    Yes, It has automatic feed but I still check a few times a day and have a home security camera aimed at boiler as well. Should there be too much movement it would notify me but I can also check in as well live feed and see the flame right from my cell phone on demand. Basement has got cold enough once this season so far to freeze up kitchen sink because I forget to leave dripping and left cabinet doors closed and boiler was shut down. This season I waited until mid January to even fire it up.

    As far as cycles If I totally leave it alone and forget and force myself not to care about fuel usage it will cycle 30 minutes on and 30 minutes off with no short cycles. To me that translates to 12 hours a day of run time so an hour here is nothing in comparison. I am basically using the T stat programs as a timer knowing the temp demands wont be met before time is up.

    Inefficiency problem has to be a combination of not enough BTU and the constant introduction of new water. I also should add the piping is pretty complex as there used to be another oil fired unit next to the coal one but long since removed and capped off. The steam doesn't seem to have a direct shot and lots of angles and bends in the mains. I am very eager to replace the boiler this summer. If not for living alone and working from home with aux heat source, I dont think I would trust this unit this season. it was normal in the 80's for my parents to use 10k gallons a season back when the house was fully being used at a toasty 70 around the clock. That's just not feasible with todays prices. :neutral:
  • AdmiralYoda
    AdmiralYoda Member Posts: 627
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    I think you need to use the "find a contractor" link on this site to find a knowledgeable steam expert. Any local/plumbing company will tell you they work on steam...and because of them many pro's on this website make a good living undoing what the local guys have wrongly done.

    Especially if you are going to get a new boiler, it needs to be sized correctly based on the EDR of the radiators in your house....not the heat loss of the building. And it should 100% be piped correctly to prevent future issues as this is a common problem from non-steam experts. It would be good for a pro to evaluate your main and radiator venting needs and also address the funky piping from a now missing 2nd boiler.

    Lots of moving parts here. Those way more knowledgeable will hopefully jump in soon.
    ksd99
  • delta T
    delta T Member Posts: 884
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    From what you have described so far, I suspect that your main venting is inadequate. A single Gorton #1 is not a ton of venting. It all depends on the pipe size and length of the runs, but I would take a flying guess that you need something more like 2 Gorton #2's or more for main venting. The more main venting you have the faster steam travels through the mains. The general mantra is vent mains fast and radiators slow.
    I would suggest as others have that you search here for a contractor local to you to come look at the system. Could be other issues as well.
  • NYSteamGuy
    NYSteamGuy Member Posts: 2
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    delta T said:

    From what you have described so far, I suspect that your main venting is inadequate. A single Gorton #1 is not a ton of venting. It all depends on the pipe size and length of the runs, but I would take a flying guess that you need something more like 2 Gorton #2's or more for main venting. The more main venting you have the faster steam travels through the mains. The general mantra is vent mains fast and radiators slow.
    I would suggest as others have that you search here for a contractor local to you to come look at the system. Could be other issues as well.

    Thanks! Thats another good point I keep forgetting to address. It was my understanding that due to the 3/4 fitting the Gorton 2 was not an option. However, I am hearing about the antler / tree setup and wondered if I should go to local hardware store and make it so each of the 2 mains has 2 number one gortons via plumbing fittings / adapters, etc. Back in the 60's my Grandfather welded in a massive crank wheel type knife valve above the boiler that can turn off an entire main or adjust flow as needed. Because all but 3 rad's are running off the opposite main I have this only open a 3rd if I had to guess and the steam arrives to the end around the same time. Completely closing this valve allows me flexibility to have one main open and still run the system.

    As far as that extra piping, I may just install a steam backup boiler in its place. I am finding very inexpensive takout used units online and have contacted a few local guys that I am in the market as well.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,310
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    Mounting a Gorton #2 is just a matter of finding the right bushings or reducers. Why it uses the smaller size, I don't know -- but it does, and it doesn't affect its venting rate.

    Be very aware -- both in opening and closing a main and in selecting another boiler -- that a steam boiler only works well if it is accurately sized to the radiation with which it is connected. An interesting assortment of problems shows up when the mismatch in size is poor.

    Also, if you decide to close a main off completely, not only do you then have a big mismatch between the boiler and the radiation, but you must also be aware that unless the valve used is absolutely steam tight steam will get in there. Not much, maybe, but it will -- and over time condensate can build up in the line unless there is a positive way to return it to the boiler. That is harder to arrange than it sounds, as the pressures on the two sides of the valve will be different and the usual gravity flow arrangements will work poorly, if they work at all.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • NYSteamGuy
    NYSteamGuy Member Posts: 2
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    update: Things are MUCH better now. I did the tree thing out of a combination of galvanized 3/4 pipe fittings and I now have 2 Gorton number 1 vents on the larger main that I am running now. Just to be safe on the main I blocked off with the crank wheel valve I also blocked off the 3/4 inch main opening as well.
    I actually had half hot radiators in 40 minutes this time from a 8 hour cold start. Seems like each cycle I made a small change so I cant give accurate times yet but so far all 9 rads on the main I am using are open and working. 5 on first floor and 4 on 2nd.

    Question, does anybody know what a Hoffman 4 is? Seems like a larger better built valve. I found it in a box of junk in the basement. I may swap it out with one of the gorton 1 on my tree if it vents better. This thing has to be 20 years old but again, appears excellent shape with shiny chrome. There may even be more of them kicking around.