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Loud popping in my apartment wall

avidrissman
avidrissman Member Posts: 20
Hello folks! Thanks for having me.

I live in a 7-floor apartment building in NYC. The building is heated with one-pipe steam. I own an apartment on the 4th floor. Apartments in my line have two radiators, one in the living room and one in the bedroom, fed by a riser in the wall that separates those two rooms.

Whenever the boiler is active, I get a loud popping sound in my wall, near my ceiling, where the steam riser is. The apartment above me hears the popping sound, but for them it is in the wall near the floor.

When I moved in, I took some videos of the popping. The popping has remained the same since I took those videos.





The popping is most intense overnight, with a pop roughly every 2–3 minutes. This means it’s incredibly disruptive to my sleep, and so that incentivizes me to figure this out. I bought a copy of The Lost Art Revisited and read it through. I visited my building’s boiler room in the hopes of matching reality to the book, but the piping was significantly more complicated than any of the diagrams.

The building’s management has been “investigating” the popping, but have been saying that water hammer and other noises are a fact of life, something that I’m refusing to accept. The building’s boiler is run at 5 psig, which is absurd, and given that they claim that the pressure “isn’t too high”, I honestly don’t believe any of their technical claims.

What is the next step here for me? Does anyone here have experience with noises of this kind and addressing them? I’d be very happy to pay for expertise and advice from an NYC based expert who can help make this quiet. In addition, in the spring I’m planning to run for the co-op board so that I can have some real power to get the steam system under control, but until then, if anyone has advice on what I can do I would greatly appreciate it.

Thank you.

Comments

  • nde
    nde Member Posts: 35
    edited March 24
    Steam noises like this are almost always traced to sagging internal pipe in wall. Occasionally is is a pipe rubbing a wall stud, etc. but usually sagging pipe with a little condensate pooling

    Sometimes you can raise the radiator at the end of the run slightly to get rid of the sag (sounds like the above apt), if not the the only fix is to open the wall and redo the runouts from the riser so they pitch correctly back to the riser. Given the work/cost of the "correct" fix many do just have to live with it. Good luck
    ethicalpaulavidrissman
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 17,148
    That could also be an expansion noise -- it doesn't sound quite like a water hammer to me. Does it -- or other noises -- continue at all after the boiler shuts off? If so, it's expansion. The pipe is rubbing on something.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    LS123luketheplumberavidrissman
  • ChicagoCooperator
    ChicagoCooperator Member Posts: 314
    As a board member (in a non-NYC co-op) I sympathize with you. Good luck with getting the board to cooperate, but if you become the tech person, you can save the shareholders some money and improve your homes.
  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 2,401
    I wonder if Jerry is inside the wall just watching Netflix? He might just be microwaving some popcorn
    Edward Young
    Retired HVAC Contractor from So. Jersey Shore.
    Cleaned & services first oil heating system at age 16
    LS123luketheplumberavidrissman
  • neilc
    neilc Member Posts: 1,474
    Try working with your neighbor upstairs and see if the rad(s) in the area can be raised up,
    remember, 1 pipe rads should pitch down slightly to their supply, and the valve should be fully open, no throttleing the supply valves. (I'm assuming 1 pipe rads)
    Also if the pipe thru the floor is rubbing, you can try shimming the pipe thru the floor with some plastic from a milk jug,
    I'm guessing a pipe grabbing and releasing on some plaster lath.
    post a picture of a typical rad.
    avidrissman
  • avidrissman
    avidrissman Member Posts: 20
    Thanks for your thoughts. Some replies.
    nde said:

    Sometimes you can raise the radiator at the end of the run slightly to get rid of the sag (sounds like the above apt)

    I'm on the 4th floor, and it's a 7 floor building. If I'm raising the radiator in 5, isn't that going to move the problem up a floor?
    nde said:

    if not the the only fix is to open the wall and redo the runouts from the riser so they pitch correctly back to the riser. Given the work/cost of the "correct" fix many do just have to live with it.

    The super brought in some heating people (dunno how much I trust them) who say the radiators in 5 are pitched correctly, but I don't know if they looked at the runouts. Meanwhile, I'm very willing to pay to make this go away. Living with it is Not. An. Option.

    That could also be an expansion noise -- it doesn't sound quite like a water hammer to me. Does it -- or other noises -- continue at all after the boiler shuts off? If so, it's expansion. The pipe is rubbing on something.

    I'm open to it not being water hammer. I'm not sure if it continues after the boiler shuts off; the boiler is in the basement so I don't know what its cycle looks like.

    I wonder if Jerry is inside the wall just watching Netflix? He might just be microwaving some popcorn.

    🍿
    neilc said:

    Try working with your neighbor upstairs and see if the rad(s) in the area can be raised up

    So my upstairs neighbor is in maybe one week every few months, and while my super finally has permission to go in there to poke at the radiator while they're out of town, getting cooperation with them isn't something I can rely on.

    --

    I'm thinking about what you wrote, Jamie, about the difference between it being water hammer and expansion noise. Is there a good way to tell short of tracking the boiler? The boiler room door is rarely locked, but short of running up and down four flights of stairs it's hard to know what the boiler is up to.

  • avidrissman
    avidrissman Member Posts: 20
    @Jamie Hall I saw you posted at https://forum.heatinghelp.com/discussion/163083/problems-with-1-pipe-steam-system:

    The tick tick is a lot harder. It's an expansion noise, almost certainly

    The “tick tick” is a sound I get too. It ticks really fast, almost like it’s creaking. If that’s an expansion noise then what’s the way forward? Shoving pieces of milk bottles down the gaps? Opening up the wall?
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 3,999
    vc with the boiler. or you could put a tee and a pressure gauge on a radiator if it is one pipe steam.

    You could possibly carefully remove the baseboard at the bottom of the wall in the apartment above you and look inside the wall to look at what is going on.
  • avidrissman
    avidrissman Member Posts: 20
    mattmia2 said:

    vc with the boiler. or you could put a tee and a pressure gauge on a radiator if it is one pipe steam.

    “vc” as in video chat? There’s no good cellphone reception in the basement, and it’s just me. I don’t have the skills to add piping to my radiator.
    mattmia2 said:

    You could possibly carefully remove the baseboard at the bottom of the wall in the apartment above you and look inside the wall to look at what is going on.

    That’s not my apartment so that would be a pretty hard sell.
  • nde
    nde Member Posts: 35
    You are fortunate the super seems willing to try and fix. It sounds to me like the runout from the main to your upper neighbor's rad (in your ceiling). What they can do is have access to the upper apt, then when tapping starts immediately slightly lift the neighbor's rad, does the ticking stop? If so then it is the runout but you cannot know for sure if sagging or rubbing. Use quarters to raise each leg up to 1/2-1 inch, does the noise stop? Raising the rad raises the runout vs the riser. I have fixed multiple tapping runouts to rads this way.

    VC= video camera. This might not help relative to whether level but if the pipe is rubbing wall or floor stud this might identify. If so then the fix is redoing runout but you have to open wall or ceiling/floor. I have one runout/rad with this problem. By raising it slightly more on one side (that is the non wall side in this case) greatly reduced, but did not stop, the noise. But in this case the tapping only lasts 20 seconds after steam hits that runout. That is why I thought yours could be sagging condensate since it repeats for a long period of time.

  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 3,999
    vc--video conference
  • chuckadoo
    chuckadoo Member Posts: 28
    Most apartment one piping that I have seen goes through the floor. And, run outs are usually very short. So, cutting your ceiling should reveal what you need to see. In a 7 story apt. All units should have the same layout, just cut directly above your radiators supply valve (in ceiling). The only wiring in ceiling should be the light fixture. If this area is close to switch, you can take a sharp chisel and hammer and outline a square large enough for your arm to reach in. Chisel deep enough to punch out square. Then reach inside to feel for wires in your cutting path (drywall saw). If it is wood framed walls, my guess the expansion noises would be in top plate of wall where riser goes through. I would shim this area and see if noises stop. If you don’t like drywall work, just put a peice of wood paneling over hole until you find someone to patch. Your super may even take it as a side job. With this hole cut you could also see if there is water damage in floor where you neighbors radiator sits. This may cause the radiator to sink into floor, changing the pitch of runout. If that is the case, your hoa should fix your drywall for you....and your neighbors radiator.
  • chuckadoo
    chuckadoo Member Posts: 28
    *Run outs through the floor, I mean. Risers in the walls. 
  • chuckadoo
    chuckadoo Member Posts: 28
    For loud popping sound. You could keep cutting up through your neighbors floor, and reach your hand through to make sure their valve isn’t throttled😂. (@neilc)
    EdTheHeaterManCanucker
  • LS123
    LS123 Member Posts: 403
    @avidrissman,
    i have attached two pictures where inlet side of the rads been lifted to decrease the sag in steam main pipe, and riser pipes after some work floor below. I believe someone in the forum had suggested that alll the steam inlet valves are fully open on every rad on the boiler. if not its possible partially closed inlet valve to accumulate condensate / water. Also check no temp control air vents are on any one of the rads in the building. Sometimes temp controlling air vents prevent all the water going out of the rads (based on a HH post, I learned that) Additionally, I live in north east CT.. during the winter it gets really cold and windy. If I were to leave the house for few days ( and leave the tstat to be 50F) when I return back home, I increase the temp to be 65F... I definitely hear pipe expanding noise.



    @LS123
    Steam Heat Enthusiast
    " Trust But Verify " Suzanne Massie, an American scholar
  • LS123
    LS123 Member Posts: 403
    @avidrissman , by the way... are you able to find out frequency of each heat cycles? I am assuming that your rads are facing outside walls... if we know frequency of heat cycles, how cold outside and if the noise is less on a warmer day like today...
    @LS123
    Steam Heat Enthusiast
    " Trust But Verify " Suzanne Massie, an American scholar
  • ChicagoCooperator
    ChicagoCooperator Member Posts: 314
    I'm guessing that a 7 story building in NYC doesn't have wood floor joists (at least I would assume). More likely concrete or clay tile (or if old enough brick vaults).
  • avidrissman
    avidrissman Member Posts: 20
    LS123 said:

    @avidrissman , by the way... are you able to find out frequency of each heat cycles? I am assuming that your rads are facing outside walls... if we know frequency of heat cycles, how cold outside and if the noise is less on a warmer day like today...

    I don’t have the frequency of heating cycles. I do know frequency of popping (https://gist.github.com/avidrissman/fcb19df6b7552f0732c55d6c7b402255) which is about every two minutes during the day when it’s popping and about once a minute during the night when it’s popping.
    LS123 said:


    i have attached two pictures where inlet side of the rads been lifted to decrease the sag in steam main pipe, and riser pipes after some work floor below.

    That’s interesting. I can ask about that.

    I'm guessing that a 7 story building in NYC doesn't have wood floor joists (at least I would assume). More likely concrete or clay tile (or if old enough brick vaults).

    I believe my building does. It’s easily from the 1910s-20s. It’s an old warehouse, so the construction is steel columns holding up huge wooden beams that the joists are connected to. This is a picture of the exterior wall and you can see the wooden beam holding the joists:



    ---

    Right now it’s 80°F out and the boiler is turned off, so I don’t know how much of these ideas can be put into practice. We’ll see if the popping returns this season.

    The super did go into all the apartments and check the pitches, and that all the valves were open, and that all the radiator vents worked.

    The idea that perhaps the pipe is sagging and that the radiator can be lifted is a possibility. I will raise that with my super.
  • avidrissman
    avidrissman Member Posts: 20
    chuckadoo said:

    Most apartment one piping that I have seen goes through the floor. And, run outs are usually very short.

    By “runout” you mean the piping between the radiator and the riser? For me at least, they show up as a pipe coming up through the floor, and somehow they’re connecting to the riser deep in my floor:





  • LS123
    LS123 Member Posts: 403
    one way to find out heat cycles based on your description is.
    1) start a timer when you radiators getting hot (or when they star making the noise)
    2) Stop the timer when the noise stops after rads are hot (this may give approximate time, since even-though Tstat stops the boiler steam may be still being pushed in to the mains / rads.
    3) Next time heat starts, time gap will give you approximate time, how long it take for heat cycle.

    *Reason I asked for heat cycle, if the pipes are getting really cold between heat cycles.
    ** What is the approximate temp in the boiler room when it is not running? Boiler room, steam main pipes should be kept insulated. you would save fuel because steam generated during a new cycle would not have to use steam to heat up the main pipes.
    @LS123
    Steam Heat Enthusiast
    " Trust But Verify " Suzanne Massie, an American scholar
  • avidrissman
    avidrissman Member Posts: 20
    LS123 said:

    2) Stop the timer when the noise stops after rads are hot

    I’m not sure the noise goes away while the radiators are hot.
    LS123 said:

    ** What is the approximate temp in the boiler room when it is not running?

    The last time I went in there when the boiler wasn’t running, it was pretty warm, like 90°? The building is an old brick building, so it retains a lot of heat.

    Also, to what extent would running the system at 5 psig exacerbate this? I’m still trying to fight to get that lower.
  • LS123
    LS123 Member Posts: 403
    hi,
    so just to get approximate time of heat cycle, keep running the stop watch until you would no longer hear the noise when heating is completed. Repeat the same steps for one more cycle. Heat cycles going to varies depending how cold out side. pipes in side walls etc.

    If your boiler room gets to 90F, I would still look in to insulating the main pipes, so you are not heating the basement for no good reason, unless it needs to be heated that high for a reason.

    In regards to Boiler PSI (1) it may be set up to be that way by a pro for a reason Or (2) someone may have though higher the PSI, faster the apartments gets hot.

    *** If it is reason 2, then you need a steam pro to get the boiler setting looked at set correct pressure.

    ** Most houses run on 0.1 - max 2 PSI. My place don't reach more than 0.5 PSI. But the rads are hot more than hot enough.

    *** If I am not mistaken, I have read or heard that the whole Empire State Building gets heated with 2 PSI (hopefully this is right and I am not confused or got mixed up with another building)
    @LS123
    Steam Heat Enthusiast
    " Trust But Verify " Suzanne Massie, an American scholar
  • avidrissman
    avidrissman Member Posts: 20
    LS123 said:


    so just to get approximate time of heat cycle, keep running the stop watch until you would no longer hear the noise when heating is completed.

    Right now this is beyond my ability. The boiler is four floors down, so I don’t have knowledge of it cycling.
    LS123 said:

    If your boiler room gets to 90F, I would still look in to insulating the main pipes

    That is good advice. Right now I am just an apartment owner with zero power. I’m planning to run for the board, and that will be one of just a few issues that will need to be addressed.
    LS123 said:

    In regards to Boiler PSI (1) it may be set up to be that way by a pro for a reason Or (2) someone may have though higher the PSI, faster the apartments gets hot.

    This is something that I’m actively fighting for. Given that we don’t even have a current valid certificate of operation for our boiler, I’m leaning heavily towards incompetence.
  • LS123
    LS123 Member Posts: 403
    Not every heating and cooling Pros / Companies have extended knowledge about steam heating systems.There is a find a contractor section on heatinghelp.com. Link below... Best!
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/
    @LS123
    Steam Heat Enthusiast
    " Trust But Verify " Suzanne Massie, an American scholar
  • neilc
    neilc Member Posts: 1,474

    chuckadoo said:

    Most apartment one piping that I have seen goes through the floor. And, run outs are usually very short.

    By “runout” you mean the piping between the radiator and the riser? For me at least, they show up as a pipe coming up through the floor, and somehow they’re connecting to the riser deep in my floor:





    these pictures , , , !
    are these the offenders ?
    if so,
    see where the pipe is tight against the wood flooring ?
    in the second pic it looks like there is room enough to try the plastic milk jug trick, slide a 3 inch strip between the pipe and where it's touching flooring, it's ok to push or pry gently to make space for the plastic slide shim,
    the first picture looks tighter, maybe you fit a slip there also, maybe not,
    I "almost" suggest a careful application of jeweler's saw or coping saw blade to free up that hole a bit,
    you would be trying to cut wood, not the steel pipe.

    but I think you said you hear this overhead, not at our feet,
    get friendly with the upstairs neighbor,\

    also, maybe invite the super to read this thread,
    he / she sounds potentially cooperative,
    maybe the thread can talk them into turning down that pressure , , ,
  • avidrissman
    avidrissman Member Posts: 20
    neilc said:


    are these the offenders ?

    No, these are the pipes in my apartment, as an illustration of how the connections to the riser look. I have big cast iron radiators; in the apartment above me they have the original radiators from the ’60s that are in this box.
    neilc said:


    get friendly with the upstairs neighbor,

    The upstairs neighbor is constantly out of town, and she’s not in. The super is allowed in for diagnosing this.
    neilc said:

    also, maybe invite the super to read this thread,
    he / she sounds potentially cooperative,
    maybe the thread can talk them into turning down that pressure , , ,

    He’s fairly cooperative, but right now if the heating company recommends otherwise then I doubt that he’s the one I have to convince.

    This is why I’m running for the board of the co-op in a few months. As a cranky apartment-owner, I have the power to annoy the management company and the super. As a cranky board member, I’m hoping to be able to accomplish much more :)
  • neilc
    neilc Member Posts: 1,474
    edited March 27

    in the apartment above me they have the original radiators from the ’60s that are in this box.

    picture ?

    , , , win that board seat

  • avidrissman
    avidrissman Member Posts: 20
    neilc said:


    picture ?

    When I renovated my apartment 6 years ago they threw out the old radiators. I believe my neighbor upstairs still has two of this style:



    The suggestion earlier to put shims underneath the radiator is something I want to try, if I can figure out how to do it with this style of radiator.
    neilc said:

    win that board seat

    Thanks!
  • neilc
    neilc Member Posts: 1,474
    that's a box over an interior element,
    you would need to open the box and see what the element is rested on, and the pipe thru the floor,
    or,
    your cast rads, just lift or rock gently and a square under each of the 4 feet
  • bburd
    bburd Member Posts: 210
    edited March 27
    @avidrissman, I know you said you believe the noise is coming from the piping above your apartment. But looking at the pictures you posted of your own cast-iron radiators, they do not appear to be properly supported on all legs. That would put stress on the piping, which could shift the position of the riser as well as the runout and possibly bring them into closer contact with the wood structure, causing or worsening expansion noise. It’s all connected.

    Cast iron radiators are much heavier than the cabinet convectors shown in the picture of the other apartment.

    Bburd
  • ChicagoCooperator
    ChicagoCooperator Member Posts: 314
    Ah, so it's an old loft building converted to residential, I was figuring typical residential construction (like post WWI). Do you know if your heating system is original to the building or from a later date? The convectors aren't that old and probably replaced cast iron or pipe radiators. I know some people don't agree with me, but builders have cut corners for years and heating systems sometimes were part of that.
    luketheplumber
  • avidrissman
    avidrissman Member Posts: 20
    bburd said:

    @avidrissman, I know you said you believe the noise is coming from the piping above your apartment. But looking at the pictures you posted of your own cast-iron radiators, they do not appear to be properly supported on all legs.

    Thats... a really good point, though I am fairly convinced that it is not related. There was a saga of incompetence with the radiators, and the iron radiators that I have aren’t the radiators that were installed when I took those original videos at the top of this thread.

    Nevertheless, your point is well-taken. I need to reevaluate my support situation for these radiators.

    Do you know if your heating system is original to the building or from a later date?

    The original building was a warehouse; the heating system was installed when it was converted to apartments in the ’60s or ’70s.
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 3,999
    If the flooring is right up against the pipe like it is in your apartment that could be the noise right there. the wood should have some clearance for the pipe to move or it is going to slip and stick against the wood as it expands and make ticking/popping noises. there should be a bigger hole and an escutcheon.
    bburd
  • LS123
    LS123 Member Posts: 403
    @avidrissman , As @bburd mentioned, you would need to support one of the rads correctly. Pic attached with high lighted. I have not seen any steam rad set up like the one in the picture you posted. I am guessing the steam inlet pipe is supporting the one side of the rad, and its weight. These rads are heavy and need correct support. Steam pipe should not carry the partial weight of the rad.

    As @mattmia2 mentioned inlet pipe going to the both rads should be wider. Steam inlet pipes need to be "bigger hole and an escutcheon" As it is, right now there are no room for the steam pipes to expand and move. The way I made room for the pipes was used a small drill to make few wholes so I could get a very small, thin rep saw to make the hole wider for the steam inlet pipe.

    Also having someone (pro) check the boiler max pressure 5 PSI settings and may need to be lower max PSI
    Best!

    @LS123
    Steam Heat Enthusiast
    " Trust But Verify " Suzanne Massie, an American scholar
  • avidrissman
    avidrissman Member Posts: 20
    LS123 said:

    you would need to support one of the rads correctly. Pic attached with high lighted. I have not seen any steam rad set up like the one in the picture you posted.

    That is a project that needs to be done, and that will have to wait for summer. I was thinking about this and see two options:

    1. The OCS BWH1 brackets to hang the current radiator on the wall, or
    2. Switching to Charleston Pro steel radiators.

    I’m not yet decided on which approach is best.
    LS123 said:

    inlet pipe going to the both rads should be wider. Steam inlet pipes need to be "bigger hole and an escutcheon"

    How much space does one need around the inlet pipe? I’m wondering if that can be done with me and my dremel now (though I’m scared of damaging the pipe) or if that should wait until the summer when the radiator is removed to be worked on.
  • LS123
    LS123 Member Posts: 403
    Well last few days we did not have to use much heat. Mine has about 1/2 centimeter all around the steam inlet pipe. some of my rads have more than 1/2 cm. all uneven holes are covered by escutcheon. It might be worth while waiting for off heating season if you prefer to work on them later. Best!
    @LS123
    Steam Heat Enthusiast
    " Trust But Verify " Suzanne Massie, an American scholar