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NYC Apartment radiators gurgling (replaced air vent 3 times)

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JimSavy
JimSavy Member Posts: 24
edited November 2021 in Strictly Steam


Okay, I’m in an old New York City apartment with 2 cast iron radiators. Both heat nice enough, but man are they making annoying gurgling and whistling noises and I guess filling with water. Problem is the radiator in my bedroom is right by my ear, so it’s keeping me up at night.

I’m at the mercy of my landlords and since the pandemic they are attempting to pay for as little as possible. Guess I can’t blame them, but I fear this problem may require a real plumber / heater to open the rads and drain them of gunk / water.

But here’s where we’re at:

- I’m on the first floor at the back of the building, about two stories up from the boiler in the basement.

- First they came by and replaced the original air vents with Gortons. No change. Still gurgled, still whistled.

- Out of desperation for sleep, landlord temporarily turned the vent upside down in the bedroom. No noise, but also no heat. (Thankfully it was warm outside so it wasn’t as big an issue).

- Replaced the Gortons with Vari-Vales. So far these are probably the best when it comes to noise, and the bedroom, I have it almost off, but they’re still filling with water and gurgling. The tea kettle whistling has decreased at least. (Attached pic shows a screen shot of a water bubble escaping from the vent).

Yes the supply valves are open all the way. I’m just kind of at a loss. They don’t seem to want to open the rads to bleed them, hiring a plumber myself will probably cost a bit, so I fear this is as good as its going to get. 

But if anyone has any thoughts, please lemme know.

Comments

  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,739
    edited November 2021
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    I doubt the problem can be fixed in your apartment.  They are most likely running too high pressure, oversized boiler, and inadequate venting.  Putting that vent on and things improving slightly leads me to that conclusion because that is the most aggressive radiator vents on the market.

    There is a slope problem somewhere collecting water which is getting to your radiator.  The whistling you talk about is indicative of the system pressure being set too high, but the fact that the system can even get too high is indicative of oversized boiler and/or inadequate venting.

    The landlord needs to realize this is a system and just because you are having an issue doesn’t mean the problem can be fixed within your apartment.

    The only other thing you can verify in your apartment is make sure the radiators are sloped back towards the inlet valve so they are draining properly.

    There is no bleeding on a steam system, the water should freely gravity drain back to the boiler at all times.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
    JimSavy
  • JimSavy
    JimSavy Member Posts: 24
    edited November 2021
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    Thank you for the reply KC Jones.
    The radiators are slopped towards the inlet valve, though ever so slightly.
    Someone suggested that the radiators themselves should unscrewed with the big wrench and drained of whatever water, sludge, etc is inside. I mentioned that to them, and they weren’t all that interested.
    I have talked to my neighbors around me and none of them seem to be having this problem.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,323
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    No point in taking the radiators apart -- that's not the problem. The problem is somewhere else -- probably nearby -- in the piping, and the gurgling is the condensate trying to go one way in the pipe, trying to get back to the boiler, while the steam tries to go the other way, to get to the radiator.

    It might be the valve not fully open -- or damaged so it can't open all the way (let's hope not) -- or even the wrong type of valve (let's hope not on that, either). It might be a length of pipe under the floor pitched the wrong way. Lots of possibilities.

    None of it being helped by aggressive venting and, most likely, much too much pressure at the boiler.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    ethicalpaul
  • JohnNY
    JohnNY Member Posts: 3,231
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    Tell your landlord to hire me. I'll bill them directly and I'll fix your heat so you're not buying multiple air vents without any positive effect.
    Contact John "JohnNY" Cataneo, NYC Master Plumber, Lic 1784
    Consulting & Troubleshooting
    Heating in NYC or NJ.
    Classes
    JimSavyethicalpaulkcopp
  • JimSavy
    JimSavy Member Posts: 24
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    Thank you for the info. Sadly the landlords don’t seem interested in hiring anyone. Guess I’ll just have to learn to live with it for now. They have quieted down a bit and I guess given all the world’s problems, a gurgling radiator isn’t the worst thing.

    Just out of curiosity, how much, ballpark, do you think it would cost to fix these rads / boiler problems?
  • Erin Holohan Haskell
    Erin Holohan Haskell Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 2,289
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    JimSavy said:

    Just out of curiosity, how much, ballpark, do you think it would cost to fix these rads / boiler problems?

    We can't talk pricing here, @JimSavy. Thanks.
    President
    HeatingHelp.com
    JimSavy
  • JimSavy
    JimSavy Member Posts: 24
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    Understood, thanks.
  • STEAM DOCTOR
    STEAM DOCTOR Member Posts: 1,973
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    Reminds me of a conversation that I had with 5 year old (at the time) daughter. I had an infected toe and was taking oral medication. My daughter was bewildered. How would putting something in my mouth,  help my toe. I asked her "when you have an ear infection,  don't you take medicine in your mouth"? She looked at me like I was crazy and said "that's different,  the mouth is right next to the ear". Sure you understand the comparison. 
  • JimSavy
    JimSavy Member Posts: 24
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    Landlord put in a Varivalve to help control the radiator in my bedroom. Unfortunately even in the most closed position it still gets way too hot. I tried the old "Turn the vent upside down" trick but it doesn't seem to work with these vents (or is there another way)?

    While I'm at it, what are you thoughts on the old "Turn the supply valve off" way of turning off a radiator? I know you're supposed to wait until the radiator cools down and there's no steam going in but is that just the easiest way of doing things?
  • Erin Holohan Haskell
    Erin Holohan Haskell Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 2,289
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    Thanks @JimSavy. I've combined your two posts here as well.
    President
    HeatingHelp.com
  • JimSavy
    JimSavy Member Posts: 24
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    I was debating just including this on this thread, but figured there might be people with specific questions about varivalves and a separate thread would make for easy look-up.
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,478
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    Did they check the level on that radiator to make sure it was pitched toward the inlet pipe so water could flow out?

    Did they try lifting the whole radiator up to overcome any settling in the pipes under the floor?

    I don't believe the varivalve has a float so turning the vent upside down won't work. They also vent much faster than most vents and finessing the low range settings is said to be problematic. Using one where the complaint is to much heat is probably not wise.

    i would try a Maid o Mist #4or Gorton #4 because they have slow venting rates and will shut off if it is turned upside down. The old vent on the floor looks like a USAV vent and they are a poor quality vent that is not a good choice. If you want to shut that radiator completely off you could remove the vent (make sure steam is off!) and replace it with a 1/8" threaded NPT plug. In any case teflon tape should be be applied to the threads before screwing it in.

    Bob
    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
    JimSavy
  • STEAM DOCTOR
    STEAM DOCTOR Member Posts: 1,973
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    You can always throw an old blanket over the radiators 
    JimSavyethicalpaul
  • JimSavy
    JimSavy Member Posts: 24
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    Hey all, here’s an update:
    Now I’m definitely sure it’s a building problem and not relegated to the radiators because there’s a pipe in the wall leading up to the next floor that has gradually started banging and dripping louder and louder. My neighbors have noticed this as well. And once again, the landlords seem not only lackadaisical about it but insisting that there’s nothing they can do and it’s just old pipes in an old building. Apparently my neighbor made the landlord check the boiler. He sent one of his lackeys down one day, but it wasn’t on at the time, so the guy left without checking it.
    It’s all super frustrating.
    I am going to assume there is a fix for this and it’s not just “old pipes in an old building”.
    I wish they’d just get a professional to come out and give the heating system some love but... ya know... money.
    shyheim
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,323
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    Well, you're quite right that there are almost certainly fixes for your problem. You are also quite right in supposing that it's a combination of boiler and piping. You are also quite right that money is involved... at which point, you sort of come up to a wall.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    JimSavy
  • pecmsg
    pecmsg Member Posts: 4,861
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    JimSavy said:


    It’s all super frustrating.
    I am going to assume there is a fix for this and it’s not just “old pipes in an old building”.

    I wish they’d just get a professional to come out and give the heating system some love but... ya know... money.
    Old Pipes Live Matter, and there nothing wrong with them.
    Call the city and complain!

    X-Mass is coming maybe your wish will come true!
    BobCJimSavy
  • neilc
    neilc Member Posts: 2,703
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    ask all these neighbors if their radiator valves are all the way open,
    they all need to be all the way open,
    the valves on that riser, maybe one or more need to be checked that they haven't broke and disconnected their disc, mimicking a closed vale
    known to beat dead horses
    JimSavy
  • JimSavy
    JimSavy Member Posts: 24
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    Update: The landlord came to check my supply valve, opened it up, tightened it, said there was nothing wrong with it. Showed him where the clanking noise was coming from in the pipe in the wall, said they’d have to knock out the wall and check the pipe itself. Asked him about the boiler, he said there’s nothing wrong with the boiler, pressure is not too high. 
    Situation still unresolved.
    - Pipe is still clanking
    - Air vents are still gurgling
    I’ve kind of given up hope at this point...
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,739
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    If the people who are tasked to diagnose and/or fix things do not have the knowledge for such a task, then they shouldn't have been given that task. It sounds like the Landlord doesn't know what they are doing.

    The pipes shouldn't make noise, the vents shouldn't either. I don't see what opening walls will find, other than confirming the landlord's lack of knowledge. Saying there is nothing wrong with the boiler pressure is meaningless, need to know what it's actually running at, again if they aren't knowledgeable how do they know?

    In all seriousness, send the landlord a link to this thread and we'd be happy to discuss the situation with them, if they are reasonable. If they are not reasonable, they will just put us on blast with some "I've been doing this for X years" crap.

    I watched some youtube videos of a guy who took care of a buildings steam heating system, some people loved him, he didn't know much and needed to hang around this website and learn. He was on youtube, so he must know what he's doing, right? ;)
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
    JimSavy
  • JimSavy
    JimSavy Member Posts: 24
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    I think the expectation to the “I've been doing this for X years" comment is too true. Believe me I would love to bring in ANYONE to come fix this issue but I guess I’m stuck with banging pipes.
    I’m debating just putting the gorton back on my bedroom radiator, turning it upside down and leaving it off but I dunno if that will just make the banging and clanking even worse...
  • JimSavy
    JimSavy Member Posts: 24
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    UPDATE: So I had a decent chat with my landlord. He's going to look into the boiler, come back with info on what it's running at, water levels, etc.
    In the meantime, he said to see if I can pinpoint where the water hammer is, which I've narrowed down to somewhere between the pipe leading up to the next floor and the radiator itself (I assume there's a pipe between them). I do understand that the source of this hammer could be coming from the boiler itself, but my bedroom radiator isn't experiencing it and after asking all my neighbors, it doesn't seem like anyone else is either.
    I ended up recording it as the heat came on and figured I'd share it here (the hammer comes in at 0:42). If you're wondering why I'm focusing on the air conditioner, I was trying to put the phone directly in the middle of the wall where the pipe is and the radiator to pinpoint where in the line it's coming from. It's hard to tell.
    Anyway here's the video:
    https://drive.google.com/file/d/1rlVOAvDivxUvPRIIuqu6pSnd0I127pvQ/view
    You can also hear after the hammer happens, the hissing of the air vent gets interrupted and soon there's gurgling of water. I have video of that as well:
    https://drive.google.com/file/d/1I3ZbVlxpfVSbDimgvu1j-ZYzJrAlaM0U/view?usp=sharing
    Anyway, hope someone reading this might be able to make some deductions. In the meantime, my landlord will come back with boiler info.
    P.S. A HUGE thank you to everyone who's been pitching into this discussion, not only is it helping me find a solution but I feel like I'm learning a lot.
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,739
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    The "banging" in the first sounds like expansion noise, but to confirm, does it do it at the beginning then pretty much go quiet until the next cycle? If so, that is certainly expansion noise. That would be a pipe(s) or fitting rubbing against something (typically wood) in the building. The building could have settled, or piping was moved, placing it in contact with the wood causing that noise.

    The gurgling and hissing is almost definitely wet steam and high pressure. That is typically the result of bad piping somewhere, could be at the boiler, could be elsewhere. If the piping was rerouted at some point that could be suspect if it wasn't done properly.

    Basically there is water laying somewhere it doesn't need to be. Either improper slope, sagging, extremely poor near boiler piping are the usual suspects.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
    JimSavy
  • JimSavy
    JimSavy Member Posts: 24
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    Yeah more or less, it’s the beginning, when the heat comes on. The vent lets out some air for half a minute or so and then that banging starts up. I should mention they did some heavy remodeling work on this place before we moved in. I guess a pipe could have moved somewhere.
    So I guess the only real way to fix this is to tear up the floor (or wall) and fix the pipe... ugh.
  • JimSavy
    JimSavy Member Posts: 24
    edited January 2022
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    Waterlogged vents? If I removed a radiator vent to replace and the original one is logged with water, so much so that it continues to leak water days after I’ve removed it, what does that mean? The landlord says that’s normal.
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,739
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    JimSavy said:

    Waterlogged vents? If I removed a radiator vent to replace and the original one is logged with water, so much so that it continues to leak water days after I’ve removed it, what does that mean? The landlord says that’s normal.

    You should essentially never get water out of a vent. I've had it happen maybe twice in 7 years and it was due to a couple drops getting stuck in that vent and not allowing it to close from steam. That said, I got a drop or two of water.

    To get volumes of water out of a vent there is a piping issue in the building that is either allowing water to get where it's not supposed to be, or not allowing the water (condensate) to drain back to where it needs to go.

    Your landlord is absolutely wrong. The problem is, that's all the landlord probably knows, improperly functioning steam, so has wrongly made the assumption that's how it's supposed to be.

    We don't know what we don't know.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
  • JimSavy
    JimSavy Member Posts: 24
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    Well it’s been a year, things don’t seem to be much better. There’s loud banging at 5am every morning and the apartment has been swelteringly hot, even with the windows wide open. It’s like living in a sauna. Even stranger, my bedroom radiator, which has an air vent turned upside down (to keep it off) is filling up with heat?!

    I did manage to get a few pics of the boiler and here’s what the levels say:



    Asked the landlord to turn down the heat, we’ll see what he says.
  • neilc
    neilc Member Posts: 2,703
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    if you get back down to the boiler room,
    try and get a wider shot of the grey Ptrol, and the pigtail under it, and where it connects to the boiler,
    ask Maintenance when they serviced the pigtail last,
    and post a shot of the sightglass, the glass tube with water in it,
    and watch that pressure gage when the boiler is firing, does it climb higher than what's shown above?
    known to beat dead horses
    JimSavy
  • JimSavy
    JimSavy Member Posts: 24
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    I can’t seem to see the sightglass anywhere?
  • pedmec
    pedmec Member Posts: 975
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    Find where the riser is and see if it has a riser drip. This would be a tee at the bottom of the riser that handles the condensate from the radiators. It allows the condensate to drain straight down into the wet return. This leaves the runout available to carry steam only. The riser drip will become plugged and then the condensate will start to stack up in the riser drip until in backs up into the runout and wrecks havoc. you could put your hand on the the lower end(quickly) of the riser drip to see if you get a lower temperature toward the bottom. if you can put your hand on it then it is plugged. its safer if you can shot it with a infrared gun.
    JimSavy
  • pedmec
    pedmec Member Posts: 975
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    here is a hack drawing if it helps


    JimSavy
  • bburd
    bburd Member Posts: 917
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    The sight glass is located between the low-water cut off and the aquastat.

    Bburd
    JimSavy
  • JimSavy
    JimSavy Member Posts: 24
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    Got it!
    honestly I thought this was a solid pipe at first
  • JimSavy
    JimSavy Member Posts: 24
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    P.S. Is the pressurtrol supposed to be at 10PSI? I was told it should be like 2 or under?
  • AdmiralYoda
    AdmiralYoda Member Posts: 629
    edited November 2022
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    10psi...does this run a steam locomotive??? The other pressuretroll seems to be set correctly but still.
    For hardly any money they could install a low pressure gauge on the pressuretrol stack, make sure it is cleaned out and adjust the pressuretroll waaaaay down. Those pigtails are probably filthy.

    And that sight glass?!?!?!? When was this boiler last serviced....when it was installed decades ago?
    JimSavy
  • neilc
    neilc Member Posts: 2,703
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    I can't tell the water line in the sightglass,
    can you?
    I'm guessing that boiler is over full / flooding,
    and that's wet9ter steam, and pissy radiators,


    the grey Ptrol is the operating pressure, and looks set about right,
    there is a wheel inside, under that cover, it should be set to 1, might be worth checking,
    10 on the manual reset, oh well,

    boiler needs to TLC
    and I'll always agree pigtails want service
    known to beat dead horses
    JimSavy
  • JimSavy
    JimSavy Member Posts: 24
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    I guess I’m just confused why the pressuretrol (the clear box) is set to 10 - shouldn’t it be set much lower?
  • bburd
    bburd Member Posts: 917
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    JimSavy said:
    I guess I’m just confused why the pressuretrol (the clear box) is set to 10 - shouldn’t it be set much lower?
    Yes. The primary or operating pressuretrol should be set at no more than 2 psi cut out. 1.5 is usually better, and vapor systems run on ounces of pressure.

    The secondary pressuretrol exists to stop the burner if the primary one cannot. It should be set higher, perhaps 5 psi cut out. Usually the secondary pressuretrol is manual reset, so if it does trip, the heat will stop working. You don’t want nuisance tripping on that control.

    Bburd