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1940s House with Steam Heat - Spitting Vents and Banging

Hi all,

We moved into a new house in NJ earlier this year that has a single pipe steam heating system. In general the heating has been working ok aside from a couple of issues:

- Spitting from a radiator vent on the first floor. The vent is a Varivalve that was set all the way 'closed' and the radiator is the first one off the long main. I tried a different vent in the same position but got the same outcome which makes me think it's not the vent itself although from my reading I understand these can vent too fast.

- Banging in the pipes from the same radiator

- A couple of plugged radiators - not really an issue as such but ones we plan to 'turn on' again

- Sections of uninsulated main pipes meaning the basement gets very hot before the rest of the house.

I'm fairly comfortable with most tasks around the home so I'm initially looking to see if there are any straightforward DIY approaches I can take before calling in the pros. I've been reading these forums and Dan's book to get an initial idea of things.

A bit on the system itself with some pictures:

- I have two mains - one is approx. 50' long and the other is approx. 36' long.

- The 50' long main has what looks like a VentRite no 86. on it - I can't seem to find much about this online.

- The 36' long main finishes behind some drywall in a portion of the finished basement. I'm guessing I may need to cut the drywall to access a vent (if any) on this main.

- The Pressuretrol was originally set with a cut-in at around 4 and a differential of 1. From my observations the boiler would get up to around 5 on the gauge.

- I've lowered the Pressuretrol to cut-in at 0.5 with the differential still at 1. The issue I now have is that the boiler cycles off before the main vent is fully hot.

- Radiators themselves don't have a Service Valve that I can twist to check radiators are fully open. I'm guessing the 'nut' on the other side from the vent serves this purpose but haven't touched that.

- Radiators around the house have a mixture of valves - Gorton, Varivalve, Maid O'Mist, Hoffman.

Any guidance is much appreciated and if there's any more info that would be useful let me know.










Thanks!

Comments

  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 4,176
    edited November 2022
    Welcome fellow NJ steam homeowner!

    Good job lowering the pressure limit on your pressuretrol. It was no doubt raised by someone who was trying to reduce the cycling on pressure that was happening. That person didn't know what they were doing.

    It is cycling on pressure because it is likely massively oversized. This is unfortunately common.

    The cycling sounds like it's exacerbated by a lack of main venting. If you are cycling on pressure before steam gets to the main vents, the main vents are either not working, or they are too small. You will have to increase the number and/or size of vents. Look into the Gorton #2, it's pretty big and it tends to work. You can also try the Gorton #1 to save some money but it's quite a bit smaller in venting capacity. Or the Maid O Mist #1 which is nearly identical to the Gorton #1 but quite a bit cheaper.

    The "near boiler" piping doesn't look great, but I can't see it clearly enough in your photos to be able to say for sure. It could be causing water to get carried into your main which may be adding to your spitting problem, and also the banging which is called "water hammer".

    Some of those problems could also have been caused by too much pressure, so see if that improves with your now lower pressure.

    Read back in the threads in this forum to see how people answered similar questions to yours. You are about to learn a lot.

    Oh and get the book "We Got Steam Heat" or "Steam Heat: The Lost Art" from this very web site.
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 4,176
    PS: I'm seriously afraid to ask what is going on with your gauge glass
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
  • gt873923
    gt873923 Member Posts: 13
    Excellent, thank you for the quick and comprehensive reply!

    I'll give the Gorton #2 a go on the main vent to see if that improves things and I'm going to try and track down the vent on the other main possibly involving some drywall cutting.

    I'll see if I can grab some better pictures of the above boiler piping and sight glass tomorrow. I promise the sight glass isn't as bad as it looks in that picture! Must have been the lighting.

    I've already got myself a copy of "we've got steam heat" which I'm slowly making my way through. 

    Thanks! 
    ethicalpaul
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 4,176
    OK you're on your way! Definitely remove the drywall so you can have easy access to that main vent (if there turns out to be one there). You want them open and available for your inspection and for ease of replacement if required.

    The thing about your sight glass that freaked me out is it seems there's a pipe attached to the top of it
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 10,278
    Paul, I think that copper tube runs behind the sight glass.

    Gt, you have a Cyclegard LWCO control on that boiler, it will shut down the burner to check the water level.
    What Model number is it?
  • gt873923
    gt873923 Member Posts: 13
    Thanks both.

    JUGHNE is correct the first picture was a bit misleading but the copper pipe (for old decommissioned baseboard heat) runs behind the sight glass. Here is a better picture:



    I was also able to cut a small hole in the drywall today to see what, if any, vents are on the shorter main. Based on what I can see the pipe transitions to a return right behind the drywall and there's no evidence of a main vent there or along the line which I'm guessing isn't great:



    @JUGHNE - the CycleGard is a CG400.

    Thanks!

  • dabrakeman
    dabrakeman Member Posts: 316
    Which main is the spitting radiator on?
    Also, if you are going to be unable to put a main vent on the end of that 36' main you may be able to put one at the end of the return (main extension) back at the boiler. Is this a one pipe system?
  • gt873923
    gt873923 Member Posts: 13
    Hi - the spitting radiator is actually off the main with the B&J VentRite (no 86?) vent (50' long) so could be related to that.

    Yeah, this is a one-pipe system. I have reasonable access to the smaller main a foot or so back from before it becomes a return (although probably not enough clearance for a Gorton #2) or end of the return at the boiler so either of those could be options. Tapping a pipe for a new vent would be new to me so could be beyond my skillset!

    Thanks!
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 7,150
    Where does the return go? The vent could be in the return or be added to the return.

    The near boiler piping could be the answer to your venting problem. The vent might just simply be clogged or the boiler might be throwing enough water in to the mains to close the vent.

    It also may not be shutting down on pressure but may be shutting down with the cycle guard. I think the lights indicate when it is shutting down to check the water level.
  • gt873923
    gt873923 Member Posts: 13
    Thanks! The return runs behind some finished wall in the basement, I have access along a few portions of it but can't see evidence of a vent where I can get access. Here's a picture of where it returns to the boiler where there looks to be a T with a cap on it:



    I have seen the CycleGard come on occasionally during a cycle but not every single time it runs from what I can tell.
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 10,278
    CG400 ????, what are the last 4 digits?
  • gt873923
    gt873923 Member Posts: 13
    @JUGHNE - as far as I can see there aren't any additional numbers on the unit other than the CG400. Here are a few pics of the outside and inside of the LWCO:





    Appreciate all the assistance so far! Going to give the current main vent a clean with vinegar tonight and order a large main (Gorton #2 or Big Mouth) as a replacement for that as an initial step.
  • gt873923
    gt873923 Member Posts: 13
    Is it the 45-410-26 on the bottom left on the outside maybe?
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 10,278
    Cyclegard will shut down your boiler for 60 seconds every 15 minutes, (one model for example).

    The idea is to stop foaming, if any, to determine that the LWCO probe is not being fooled by foam and not actual water.

    The ones I just removed have the internal clock running constantly so if boiler fires near the beginning of the test phase the boiler may just run a few minutes. Then it does it's check for water.

    This can give you the illusion that the pressure control actually cut the burner off.

    If you have a flue damper, it has to cycle that and then is added time down.
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 10,278
    edited November 2022
    I see yours is from 2003. Pushing 20 years in service.

    You can replace that with a Hydrolevel 55P, 120 volt. Comes with a new probe.
    LWCO only....no cycling as you have now.

    EDIT.................... it looks like you have a 24 volt LWCO and would need the Safegard 400...24 volt version.
  • Grallert
    Grallert Member Posts: 540

    PS: I'm seriously afraid to ask what is going on with your gauge glass

    It looks like the glass is completely full. Or is it just dirty?
  • gt873923
    gt873923 Member Posts: 13
    edited November 2022
    Thanks again all. 

    Been running a few more 'tests' over the last few days. @JUGHNE you were spot on. The LWCO does kick in every 10 mins or so for 90 seconds to test the level. From what I can also tell the Steam Main is venting but likely not fast enough as the steam is not reaching the end of the long main before the LWCO test kicks in meaning the boiler is firing for a long time (>20 mins) with the current pressuretrol setting before steam reaches the end. Going to give a larger vent a go than the VentRite 86 (still can't find any info on this model!). Interestingly the shorter main with no (obvious venting) heats much quicker. 

    I also plan to insulate the steam mains with fiberglass which currently only have a small amount of foam on a few places.

    @Grallert - the sight glass is just dirty! I'd estimate its around 2/3 full. 
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 15,755
    yorks6988 said:

    I now have a new problem, right before the boiler is going to fire up, it is ticking quite rapidly and the pressure gauge is fluctuating rapidly. This goes for about 30 seconds to a minute and then it settles down and starts to run fine.

    https://youtube.com/shorts/avKW2ayGOmQ

    At the end you can also see the water feed line shaking.
    Any idea what would be causing this?

    Dirty water. You need to flush it out.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
  • Gsmith
    Gsmith Member Posts: 417
    Has the pigtail below the pressuretrol been cleaned? Could be clogged giving pressuretrol bad readings and poor control.
  • gt873923
    gt873923 Member Posts: 13
    Hi all - apologies for delay, been working my way through these but got delayed due to the arrival of a baby in the house which limited my time a little! Heating has been working pretty well so far and got the pipes insulated, new main vent and replaced some of the vents on the rads as well. A little bit of water hammer still present (looks like pipe pitch) but better than before.

    I'm going to work on flushing the boiler and cleaning the pigtail today as I'm actually facing a new issue. Boiler has been losing water recently and refilling via the Auto feeder fairly recently. Originally I thought it was related to steam escaping from some vents but have discovered the boiler is dripping underneath:

    https://imgur.com/a/mRdHzGJ

    Is the boiler likely nearing the end or could this be something else? I'm likely going to give an NJ steam pro a call but wanted to see if there's anything else I can do in the meantime.
  • pecmsg
    pecmsg Member Posts: 3,536
    X-2 on @EzzyT & @clammy

    That dripping is very concerning. I wouldn't wait on making the call!
    mattmia2
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 7,150
    edited January 17
    If you are very lucky it might be something like a fitting or a tankless coil plate that is leaking but usually that is a section of the boiler itself or the connection between sections.
  • AdmiralYoda
    AdmiralYoda Member Posts: 535
    edited January 17
    Fingers crossed that it is just a fitting in need of attention, but if it is minor enough and can be watched carefully you may be able to limp along until the spring when the pro's have more time and you can probably get a better deal.

    One thing that you can do to help is to keep the pressure to a minimum. Less pressure equals less leaks.
    1. Put large Big-Mouth vents on the mains and make sure your radiator venting is dialed in.
    2. Set the Pressuretrol as low as it will physically go.
    3. Don't use a setback. Pick a single temperature and stick with it. This will reduce cycling on pressure.
    4. Lower your thermostat as low as you can to keep the boiler from firing up as often. (Tough with a baby!)
    5. The pro's may have better thoughts...but I know the big box stores sell "Boiler Liquid" by Oatey. If your boiler is going in the trash in the spring...adding this may help you limp along. I've never used it, but it probably shouldn't make your boiler leak more.
    Gsmith
  • gt873923
    gt873923 Member Posts: 13
    Excellent, thanks again all. Timing was definitely not ideal, was planning to call in one of the pros soon but was hoping I'd get through one winter at least to get a feel for how the system was working! I did fear the worst when my leak detector went off this morning.

    I gave the boiler a flush (some dirty water at the bottom) until the water was clean and cleaned the pigtail (very small amount of sludge but clear enough) anyway just for the practice if nothing else.

    @AdmiralYoda - will give your suggestions a try, thanks! I already switched out the long main vent for a Big Mouth. Interestingly the smaller main doesn't have a visible main vent so something I may need to rectify when the boiler is getting sorted.
  • Mad Dog_2
    Mad Dog_2 Member Posts: 3,885
    So...hows the steam rehab going?  Mad 🐕 Dog. 
  • gt873923
    gt873923 Member Posts: 13
    We are still getting heat which is the positive!

    I got some boiler liquid yesterday but haven't used it yet. I decided to give the system another drain today and spotted that the sight glass wasn't fully draining even though the system was empty. I loosened up the valve and nut on the sight glass and was able to get some of the crud and more water out so I suspect the water level was reading a bit higher than what was actually in the boiler.

    I cleared up a lot of the crud on the floor around the boiler to get a better idea of how bad the leak is. Strangely so far, after refilling the boiler and firing again I haven't seen any leaks in the same place as before so it could be a fairly slow leak which I'll monitor closely over the next few days.

    Even if we can ride it out over the rest of the winter I suspect this boiler wasn't maintained or installed great (e.g. copper pipes off the boiler) before I bought the house so is likely on its it's way out anyway and will get one of the steam experts mentioned above in soon to take a more thorough look and possibly a new boiler.

    Thanks!
  • Big Ed_4
    Big Ed_4 Member Posts: 2,061
    Yes insulate the steam mains, you will be amazed on the change of your system...
    I have enough experience to know , that I dont know it all
  • gt873923
    gt873923 Member Posts: 13
    The slow drip underneath has unfortunately returned after being dry for around 2 days. Not convinced it was anything I did (draining boiler, clearing some sludge etc.) or just a result of running the boiler a more consistently for a couple of days.

    I suspect we'll still be OK to get through this heating season for a replacement in the warmer weather.

  • Big Ed_4
    Big Ed_4 Member Posts: 2,061
    Running a steam system without supply pipe insulation is like spitting in the wind ....
    I have enough experience to know , that I dont know it all
  • gt873923
    gt873923 Member Posts: 13
    Thanks @Big Ed_4. Yeah definitely agree. Was one of the first things I read about when finding out more about steam and noticed there was no insulation on mine!

    I got some fiberglass pipe insulation a few months back and insulated the two mains then. Unfortunately this dripping has happened more recently post insulation install.

    Aside from the insulation, the only other thing I've "changed" since buying the house is adding valves in cold areas to two radiators that were previously plugged.
  • Big Ed_4
    Big Ed_4 Member Posts: 2,061
    Finish the insulation job , near boiler too . Watch it sing .
    I have enough experience to know , that I dont know it all
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 7,150
    The leak may be right at the water line so it leaks as steam or water depending on exactly how much it is filled
  • Snowmelt
    Snowmelt Member Posts: 1,383
    I use sent you a private message
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 4,176
    Respectfully, insulating the steam mains isn't going to make a bit of difference to the overall performance of the system--it will keep a bit of heat out of the basement, that's it.

    We still haven't seen pictures of the near boiler piping, but I fear there is no header at all. No amount of insulation is going to solve that.

    The amount of EDR from exposed pipe is minimal, it's just math
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
    mattmia2
  • Big Ed_4
    Big Ed_4 Member Posts: 2,061
    edited January 24
    In a low pressure system the water temperature is very close from gas to gas . It is important to heat up the supply pipe and keeping it at a temperature to carry the steam to the far end radiators in the house , We want to heat up the radiators at the same time for comfort . Today without insulation we are trying to a achieve comfort with venting and wet steam without increasing pressure .
    I have enough experience to know , that I dont know it all
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 13,876
    Big Ed_4 said:

    In a low pressure system the water temperature is very close from gas to gas . It is important to heat up the supply pipe and keeping it at a temperature to carry the steam to the far end radiators in the house , We want to heat up the radiators at the same time for comfort . Today without insulation we are trying to a achieve comfort with venting and wet steam without increasing pressure .

    You need to remove a lot of energy to turn 212F steam back into 212F water.
    Temperature isn't really an issue here. There's a tremendous amount of btu's packed into that steam.
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
    mattmia2
  • Big Ed_4
    Big Ed_4 Member Posts: 2,061
    Yes , and we want to direct that energy upstairs into the radiators peacefully and evenly . The hotter the better until it enters the radiator works the best .
    I have enough experience to know , that I dont know it all
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 13,876
    Big Ed_4 said:
    Yes , and we want to direct that energy upstairs into the radiators peacefully and evenly . The hotter the better until it enters the radiator works the best .
    It's not going to be any hotter or cooler from insulation.  It's either going to be steam or water.  We do not super heat steam on residential systems.
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
    mattmia2