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What is this in the attic?

brandonf Member Posts: 205
Hey folks, 

I didnt have a ladder tall enough to get into the attic but I noticed this thing that has been up there for at least a half a century. Any clue what it could be?

Thanks in advance. 

New England triple decker built around 1900. 
Homeowner, Entrepreneur, Mechanic, Electrician,

"The toes you step on today are connected to the butt you'll have to kiss tomorrow". ---Vincent "Buddy" Cianci


  • Larry Weingarten
    Larry Weingarten Member Posts: 3,247
    Hi, I think I see two valves, one open and the other closed. Those go to sweat copper 90s (so not too old). In Great Britain they often have a "cistern" in the attic. It fills like a toilet tank and provides a touch of pressure to domestic fixtures in the house. Any chance this is a cistern for potable water in your place and the cold supply to it is closed off? More photos from the other side and above would confirm whether that is a tank or...?

    Yours, Larry
    mattmia2rick in AlaskaEdTheHeaterManDougo
  • HomerJSmith
    HomerJSmith Member Posts: 2,406
    edited October 2022
    In the olden days and 1900 is olden, people cooked with wood or coal stoves. Some of these kitchen stoves had a small water heater built into them and water would circulate thru thermal action from the firebox and heat the small water heater providing hot water at the stove.

    Perhaps, there is a tank above the two valves in the attic and hot water would moves from the stove to the attic tank, thru thermal action, and then piped to a faucet somewhere like a bathroom. hmmm

    Homer, sounds like a pipe dream! That's what I'm saying, it's all in the piping.
  • Tom in Maine
    Tom in Maine Member Posts: 23
    Looks like a domestic water tank. There would be a cistern in the basement that held rainwater which would be pumped up to the attic so there was pressure at the taps. Had a house like this with a beautiful copper tank in the attic in its own closet. This was in Bangor Maine. The pipes went to the fixtures with no insulation just a rough, loose pine enclosure. Nothing was insulated so it never froze in the day. Needless to say, that changed.
    Tom Gocze
  • fbartol21
    fbartol21 Member Posts: 7
    I can't put the pieces together but there is a tap into the chimney. So...
  • fbartol21
    fbartol21 Member Posts: 7
    Oh, yeah. Everyone in RI loved "Buddy" hairpiece and all!
  • JM_9
    JM_9 Member Posts: 5
    Made from scrap wood thrown together and the color of the vertical 2x4 extending from ceiling joist says 1960's. No water tank as the poor framing would not support the weight and wood age suggests something else (In a freezing attic?) Ceiling joist looks cut so whatever was suspended may have connected to the conditioned space below the attic. Looks like a metal chimney flue cap which I'm not sure was part of whatever was suspended.- Could those valves have been gas but no sign of pipes. "Looks to me like a uninsulated balloon-framed triple with outrageous heating costs!!" Most NE states have energy programs like MASS Saves that include insulation incentives- pour in the attic cellulose and dense pack the wall cavities
  • BobDog42
    BobDog42 Member Posts: 2
    It may be the remnants of what my Father used to call a “Water Box.” As it was explained to me, it was located in the Attic to provide a “head”…to pressurize the home’s water system and was usually placed very near the Chimney, which allowed a supply line to be snaked up into the Attic easily from the Cellar…in the older houses in Boston there was usually space between the Bricks and the surrounding wood as a Chimney sometimes became somewhat warm and may have been considered a fire hazard? The original Water System that the house was connected to couldn’t always provide an adequate supply so the Box would fill, albeit slowly, and stand ready to supply the house when needed. Furthermore being adjacent to the Chimney chase it directed overflows, etc, to the Cellar which didn’t always work. It was made of Wood and mounted on the side of the Chimney…it was also Lead lined…which might explain why I have an extra finger on my left foot. I digress…the Box’s water level was controlled by a float controlled valve…that occasionally stuck allowing the Box to overflow! I came home from Camp once to find a large piece of Horse Hair Plaster ceiling in my Bed. The House was re-plumbed shortly thereafter!
  • Stet
    Stet Member Posts: 37
    edited October 2022
    I believe Larry is in the right track here. The cistern tank in the attic was part of the old hot water systems before relief valves and closed tanks. The tank was filled with a valve similar to a toilet ballcock which kept a water level to supply a tank and kerosene coil heater in the basement. The pressure created by the tank in the attic is the highest pressure the system would see. When the hot water expanded, it would flow back into the attic tank. If the system overheated, the same would happen, preventing a rupture of the tank. No Relief valve needed.
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,469
    edited October 2022
    It looks like a cistern of some sort, but probably for potable or nonpotable water to store a slow or low or no pressure supply, not dhw. It looks like there is copper or lead sheet warped around the top edge.
  • JM_9
    JM_9 Member Posts: 5
    No, not a cistern or water box.. Just look at the scrap wood, poor framing, and wood color that tells you none of it original to the house. If it were as many think you would see a very different structure designed to support the weight. It is a flimsy support put up in the 60's to support "something" connected to ceiling as the joists were cut. Where the cut copper pipes go might offer a clue
  • gmcinnes
    gmcinnes Member Posts: 118
    They were still installing attic cisterns in the 70s in the UK. Mostly for hot water.

    Famously that's why there are no mixer faucets in the UK. Unlike the cold, hot water is considered not potable, so never the twain shall meet.

    When I was a kid there was a dead bird in our attic cistern. Yum.
  • FrankB101
    FrankB101 Member Posts: 16
    Not sure if it applies here but they used to put hot water heating system expansion tanks in the attics. I just a few months ago removed one and install an extrol tank next to the boiler for a customer doing some remodeling.