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Dead Men Tales: The Missing Chimney

HeatingHelp Administrator Posts: 634
edited August 2021 in THE MAIN WALL

The Missing Chimney

In this episode, Dan Holohan explores the old heating system in a Fifth Avenue mansion in search of a missing chimney and shares how a blizzard shaped NYC’s heating history.

Listen and subscribe here.

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  • Larry Weingarten
    Larry Weingarten Member Posts: 3,226
    Hi @DanHolohan , Is your middle name Sherlock? o:) I particularly like what you said at the end about learning!

    Yours, Larry
  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 16,487
    Thanks, Larry!
    Retired and loving it.
  • joea99
    joea99 Member Posts: 72
    Nice story. Except heated air does not rise "by gravity", but against gravity, being "lighter" than cooler air. I suppose you could argue that the cooler air in the return duct helps by falling due to gravity and creating a slight vacuum at the top of the ducts, but that would be quite a stretch.
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,470
    I grew up in a project south of Boston, this had been buit to house returning GI's and indigent families aster WWII. It was nothing like the projects of today, we were out 0n a peninsula that was between a river and the bay. There were well over 100 kids in our section of those 4 family house so getting up a team to play ball was never a problem.

    There was a field, a marsh and the ocean behind the houses across the street. there was also a fair sized hill we used to sled down. Few of us had Flexible fliers but we had knockoffs that worked almost as well. If it was a moon high tide the marsh at the base of that hill would flood in some areas, if you weren't careful you would zoom down that hill onto ice that covered the salt water marsh and the sled runners would cut through the ice and you ended up in 6-8" of freezing salt water. You'd head home strip off your outer clothes and put them on the steam radiators to dry out.

    The steam was provided by a big steam boiler that fed about 120 apartments in that area of the project. Their were two boilers in the boiler house to feed steam into the 12" pipes that fed steam into the district, we used to dray targets onto the asbestos that covered the pipes in the cellar and use it for a dart board. The older ares had oil fired steam boilers in the basements of those 4 family houses.

    For a kid that was a great place to grow up, the beach was across the street so you could go swimming whenever you wanted, there was always an adult around to keep you from doing anything really stupid. God help you if someone else's mother reported what you did to your parents - you were not asked about what happened, you were assumed guilty and suffered immediate consequences. Everything was forgotten the next day and you started off with a fresh slate.
    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • roncook
    roncook Member Posts: 8
    Another great story Dan!!
  • dopey27177
    dopey27177 Member Posts: 887
    Dan the story is really good.

    Thanks to New York Seam starting a business in 1888 many buildings in New York City were able to install heating plants in Manhattan without installing boiler plants.

    Today there are several thousand buildings that use HPS for production of domestic hot water and heating.

    This includes the New York City Housing Authority where 35 high rise buildings and 20 low rise buildings are supplied by Con Edison.

    How do I know, as a supervisor of plumbers from 1980 to 1988 I serviced these buildings with my staff.

  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 16,487
    Thanks for the comments, guys. Much appreciated!
    Retired and loving it.
  • advhtg
    advhtg Member Posts: 4
    Great story - I spent two years in NY aged twenty and always felt that there was no means to picture what went on in the millionaires' homes. I have a couple of questions:

    Is there a good reading route to understand steam heating? I have an instinct that for homes it's never going to die away completely. I specialise in the UK with the design of domestic installations of wood burning stoves, co-joined with a Natural Gas boiler's and solar thermal collectors. The stoves can be used during a power cut and so must have 28mm diameter gravity-driven pipework and radiators & hot water attached to them, so that a thermosiphon starts itself up while the electric circulators are out of action.

    But I sense that these wood burners could also operate with steam distribution instead of water. Is this a dead end consideration. I wouldn't know where to start with modern steam in 2021. Any ideas guys?
  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 16,487
    @advhtg, thanks for asking. I've written some books about steam heating that you'll find in this site's store. You can also start a thread here on The Wall and share your thoughts. The smartest steam people are here every day.
    Retired and loving it.
  • jumper
    jumper Member Posts: 2,206
    I wonder if there's a district heating system anywhere that circulates very hot water to produce steam in the buildings the system serves?
  • dopey27177
    dopey27177 Member Posts: 887
    edited August 2021
    To: Jumper

    The answer is not likely

    Iceland has geothermal hot water and circulates this through district heating.

    No need for steam. Super heated hot water is piped into the buildings for heating and domestic hot water production. Although there may process plants in iceland

    For a utility or factory to super heated water to then through a heat exchanger is extremely costly.

    There may on site power plants that use the super heated water to produce steam to operate generators.

    Have not seen a plant like this, but taking pressurized hot water (220 and above) when entering a flash tank at atmospheric pressure the water will flash into steam.

    Example: Let say you steam pressure at 10 psi, that is steam at 240 degrees F.

    You would need a vessel (flash tank) with a relief valve set above your desired steam pressure to contain the steam. The piping leaving the vessel will go to the point of need.

    The only place you can get this is from a very large geothermal source like yellows tone park or some places in California.


    In 1969, the Laxá Power Company constructed the country´s first geothermal power plant in the Lake Mývatn area, the 3 MW Bjarnarflag plant (now upgraded to 5 MW). Now owned by the National Power Company, Landsvirkjun, this plant is still producing steam for district heating, electricity and waters for the geothermal spa on Lake Mývatn. Nearby, the Landsvirkjun operates the Krafla geothermal power plant that came online in 1977 with 30 MW installed capacity, with another 30 MW added in 1997. There are five other geothermal plants situated around the country; the 75 MW Svartsengi owned by HS Orka, 120 MW Nesjavellir station owned by Reykjavík Energy, 2 MW at Húsavík owned by Húsavík Energy, 100 MW at the Reykjanes plant owned by HS Orka, and the 213 MW Hellisheiði Power Plant owned by Reykjavík Energy. The 90 MW Theistareykir Geothermal Project has been added in the northeast, not far from Krafla, with the first unit of 45 MW in 2017 and the second 45 MW in 2018.