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Help with in-wall convectors in Westchester

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BM2
BM2 Member Posts: 10
Hi everybody,

First time poster, long time reader. My family moved to Westchester, NY in October and I was "dazzled" by the unusual heating system. It's 2-pipe steam system with in-wall convectors througout most of the house.

Here's a photo of one of the convectors, mercifully behind a wood panel I could remove. All the others are embedded in plaster under windows and virtually impossible to access.



It seems the previous owners must have been perpetually uncomfortable because we were miserable the first time we fired up the heat. Every room was either too cold or too hot. I was pretty sure I couldn't peacefully coexist with steam heat.

Based on this forum and elsewhere I purchased Dan Holohan's "We Got Steam Heat" and I felt there was hope. I learned a lot, I made some changes to the system based after reading his book and here are the ones which appeared to made a difference:
  • Reducing pressuretrol pressure from 4 + 1 to 0.5 + 1
  • Reducing drafts from windows and doors using (primarily) Mortite rope caulk
  • Putting aluminum foil over the convectors which got hot too quickly
  • Insulating (most) of the exposed steam supply piping in the basement
  • Installing a Honeywell Prestige IAQ thermostat which averaged readings from 2 places in the house
After doing the above, we've been comfortable through the winter, but at some cost. Oh, you're probably now wondering about the boiler. The house was built in 1930, it's around 6,000 square ft, and the boiler was replaced in 1994 as you can see from the tag:



Yes, that's right, 546,000 BTU input rating. My February 2021 30-day gas bill was 1,100 therms! So we're comfortable enough but doing pooly on efficiency.

Hopefully you found my system description interesting but I think our next steps are with efficiency and repairs, and require professional help. I'm hoping to find local contractors who espouse Dan's knowledge and quality ethic that can help us with the following:
  • Air penetration in the home (gaps in brick, flashing, etc.). Whatever is eating all the BTUs.
  • Leaky radiators (see photo below--that damage is from steam piping someplace)
  • Some radiators hiss (a steam leak?)
  • Some radiators don't get hot (probably not the steam pressure--Dan taught me that)
  • Boiler getting rusty--might be end of life?
  • Other approaches to consider to modernize and improve the heating in the home


Thanks for reading and thanks for this forum!

Comments

  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,704
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    1367 sq ft of steam! Do you know the sq ft of your radiation yet (EDR)?

    Good work so far! Show us the near boiler piping 🙏🏻
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
  • clammy
    clammy Member Posts: 3,112
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    Your going to need to really evaluate the whole system . Issues with over heating and lousy distribution on 2 pipe systems usually falls on failed radiator traps ,bad crossover traps and bad main and dry return venting and do not discount lack of pipe insulation and last but not least bad near boiler piping and improperly sized equipment .
    For starters if you understand for the most part what your looking at ,supply main ,dry return for starters then you should check your end of your steam mains and see how long they take for steam to reach the ends of the mains . Check your dry returns from each radiator and the return main . At no point should the dry return be hot if so then you have a bad trap or traps which on 2 pipe system is the death of steam distribution.
    If the system has not been maintained properly your gonna have to either rebuild or replace traps upgrade and improve main and dry return venting . Repair all system leaks and drips .Also it would be wise to clean the water side of the boiler and flush out wet returns . This is suppose to happen at least once a century lol .
    There,s a lot to consider when it comes to larger older homes w older steam systems and issue that follow due to long time deferment of maintenance and a lack knowledge when it comes to trouble shooting and proper repair of these older systems . Usually a lot of the issue aside from traps and venting come from improper sizing and poor near boiler piping that always make a system that was a rolls Royce when new a old worm out yugo . At 436 mbtu output and 6000 sq ft your over 70 btu s per sq ft I think you need a edr performed on all your convectors to confirm boiler size .
    Peace and good luck clammy
    R.A. Calmbacher L.L.C. HVAC
    NJ Master HVAC Lic.
    Mahwah, NJ
    Specializing in steam and hydronic heating
    ethicalpaul
  • BM2
    BM2 Member Posts: 10
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    Thanks for the feedback thus far. Here are some photos of the near boiler piping:




    I agree completely with what clammy is saying. I think I'm at the limit of basic homeowner improvements which is why I'm seeking professional help.

    I know it may be anathema to this forum, but if I'm going to start opening up my walls, would it make sense to add hot water coils to my Unico system and decommission steam entirely? A scary undertaking, but perhaps better than keeping the steam on life support?
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,843
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    I think these are your in-wall convectors:

    https://heatinghelp.com/heating-museum/herman-nelson-invisible-radiators/

    There's nothing on your system that's not fixable- even the improper near-boiler piping. Fix the steam.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
    ethicalpaul
  • ChicagoCooperator
    ChicagoCooperator Member Posts: 355
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    Do your convectors have dampers in the outlets? I have a similar system (Trane Concealed Heaters) and the dampers were what was meant to control the output in the individual rooms.
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,704
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    The near boiler piping could be pushing water into your system...or it could be working fine, but it's not right.
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,324
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    If that poor thing was running at 4 plus psi, you may well have failed traps -- as Clammy suggested. Fortunately, they're not hard to check. They only fail in one of two ways -- closed or open. It the trap is failed closed, that convector will heat poorly if at all (if it's a crossover trap failed closed, steam will be slow getting to the end of the main). If the trap is failed open, the return will be very hot -- steam hot, or very neat it. While the convector in question will heat, others on the same return line will heat poorly.

    There are ways in which a failed open trap can be remedied without getting at the trap itself. However, it may turn out that there are also ways you can get at the traps without having to take the house apart!

    Overall, though, your best bang for the buck is going to be tightening up the envelope. Draughts (Mortite is good stuff -- but it won't last). Storm windows and repairing the main windows (much cheaper than the ones sold as replacements -- and in the long run more satisfactory). Insulation where and as you can -- insulation is sometimes not that easy to do.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,544
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    @BM2

    The equalizer pipe that drops down from the boiler header has a tee in it with maybe a 2 1/2 " pipe coming off t a 45 degree angle.Where does that pipe go? I suspect it is a dry return incorrectly connected above the boiler water line
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,324
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    Good eye, @EBEBRATT-Ed . I missed that. If you're right -- and it surely looks that way -- that's not going to be helping at all...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • clammy
    clammy Member Posts: 3,112
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    If You think your gas bills are high unless you have a heat lose done and a properly sized coil the hydro coil may not give you enough btu s to heat on design day . The boiler is piped terrible and as others have stated it pretty close on the equilizer pipe. I would image just alone from the near boiler piping that the system will perform poorly and be expensive to operate due to near boiler piping and production of steam . This is extremely common and only shows how forgiving steam is to a point . A properly installed boiler with the correct near boiler piping will out perform what’s there now and will cost less to operate . But as in most larger older home it’s always some thing that’s neglected being no one see it’s and it’s only used a few months plus the kitchen and yard is what people see and that’s what really matters . In closing just remember that that system worked fine until some unknowing knuckle head installed that boiler and mis piped it and aside from that I doubt any one has replaced traps or even thought about it ,again beyond common and the wealthiest seem to never enjoy paying for repairs or required maintenance until it’s 10 outside and a gun is to there head and it’s 50 inside that a common thread and following that how much . I ve seen Ho remove there steam add heat pumps and electric back up only to find higher bills and less comfort . Find a real steam guy and have them go over the system w a fine comb besides the boiler all that really goes wrong is traps clogged piping and de knuckle heading things . I ve always felt on larger homes w steam that it is usually the most economical to keep it do the repairs and enjoy or spend a ton of money and be uncomfortable and have less money in your pocket and something that will never out live a steam system and will always require some maintenance like every thing in life needs a little attention every once in a while And lack of insulation on the piping does not help anything only makes things worst Peace and good luck clammy
    R.A. Calmbacher L.L.C. HVAC
    NJ Master HVAC Lic.
    Mahwah, NJ
    Specializing in steam and hydronic heating
    Grallert