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1890 Oswego NY Victorian House Museum, second big problem: leaking radiators

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NealJ
NealJ Member Posts: 43
We have one radiator disconnected, which I assume was for leaks, and another radiator that started dripping last year. Anyone know someone that restores these? Anyone have any experience taking them apart and resealing the joints? Any suggestions appreciated. Just taking them down from the ceiling will be a project!




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  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,739
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    Are they only heating the basement? If so, I'd question the necessity to keep them. If they aren't heating the basement, what are they heating? Grilles in the floor?

    Based on what I see there, I don't see them being salvageable. The corrosion is most likely what's causing the leaks.

    The appear to have tie rods which would typically indicate push nipples. Those are tapered nipples that are press fit between sections to connect them, its a friction fit. There really isn't sealant on them and that's why I say these may be goners.

    Those would be considered fairly rare and challenging to replace on a good day. yard sale type websites, Facebook marketplace, radiator salvage, antique salvage all would be your friend here.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
    Long Beach Ed
  • NealJ
    NealJ Member Posts: 43
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    Thanks. These two have had their enclosures removed (before my time). typically all of the ceiling radiators have wooden enclosures with fresh air openings in the bottom and warm air rises through the radiators through floor grates in the floor above or wall ducts going to wall grates in the rooms above. I may try to pull the radiator that is already disconnected and see if I can take it apart. I’m always willing to take a shot when it is already junk.
    CLamb
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,739
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    NealJ said:

    I’m always willing to take a shot when it is already junk.

    You and me both. You only have something to gain!

    That is definitely a tough one though.

    Just as an FYI, it's possible there were ducts to the outside at some point. That was a thing for a while on large higher end houses. They duct that outside and it runs on continuous fresh air. I do not recall what era that was popular in. Possibly post Spanish Flu era as fresh air got really popular after that.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
  • CLamb
    CLamb Member Posts: 281
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    Is this just a part of a heating system or is it also a historic artifact? If it is an artifact how much money is it worthwhile to spend restoring or replacing it with an identical piece? One could take it apart and then build up the corroded areas with welds and then machine them to specs. One could also use a good one to make a mold for a new casting. But both of these solutions require a lot of effort and money.
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,669
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    Since those are indirect radiators it would probably be most cost effective to replace them with direct radiators in the rooms they heat rather than trying to repair them or find appropriate salvaged indirect radiators.
  • NealJ
    NealJ Member Posts: 43
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    Yes, they all had fresh air intakes, but they’re gone now. All of the signs (stains, wall penetrations, one one duct) are still there. At some point they were removed/disconnected and now they use basement air. My first project was installing a sump pump and two large dehumidifiers in the basement. They were dumping first floor dehumidifiers twice a day for years and no one questioned where the humidity was coming from (!). I have the house dried out now and dealing with the heating system that they all thought was fine. I took a tour of the Biltmore Estate (a Vanderbilt estate) in Asheville SC last summer. Same heating there, horizontal radiators in ducts supplied with outside fresh air. Only theirs work.
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,739
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    Everyone wants to think it's fine until it's not. I'm involved with 2 historic buildings in our town, one steam one hot water. The steam one I wrote a 20 page report about the deficiencies (had some education in it too) right after the "best company in town" replaced the boiler and "charged no labor". They did exactly nothing with all the information I gave them Boiler is using tons of water and will be dead in under 10 years if I was guessing.

    The other one just has seriously uneven heating, to the point the AC runs while the heat is on. Same company works on that one.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
  • bburd
    bburd Member Posts: 917
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    Altering a historic building is tricky, but you might consider ducting return air from the upper floors to those radiators instead of relying on drawing air from the basement. Some sheet metal work and old style wall or floor grilles would do it. That would keep most of the basement humidity and odors in the basement.

    Bburd
    NealJ
  • NealJ
    NealJ Member Posts: 43
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    bburd said:

    Altering a historic building is tricky, but you might consider ducting return air from the upper floors to those radiators instead of relying on drawing air from the basement. Some sheet metal work and old style wall or floor grilles would do it. That would keep most of the basement humidity and odors in the basement.

    I thought of that, but I needed to solve the humidity problem anyway as it was deteriorating the old brick work in the basement (load bearing walls!). We are all volunteers and there is no money. We’re out there begging for grants like everyone else. This forum has boosted my education quickly! I really appreciate everyone chiming in!
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,324
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    Those are sad. When there are one or two joints it really isn't too daunting to contemplate repair. With all of them leaking like that...

    Theoretically it's possible. Practical? Probably not. Since they are historically significant, however, my inclination -- speaking as a caretaker etc. for an historic house museum -- I would take them out of service and take all but one of them down, and then prepare a thorough documentaion -- probably with some signs and labels -- for that one. Clean it up nicely, paint it, and leave it be.

    A caution on putting new radiators in the rooms they used to heat, however. First place, do do it. But do a heat loss on the room and make sure that the radiators you put in are reasonably balanced in size with the rest of the radiation in the house (that is to say, if all of the house seems to have radiators which are half again as big as they "need" to be, your new ones need to be oversized, too). This is doubly necessary in this instance, as those old ceiling convectors have a much higher EDR than you expect just based on their dimensions as compared to a "normal" radiator of that size. They are much more akin, in heat transfer capability, to the sections of a pin type boiler.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    mattmia2NealJ
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,739
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    NealJ said:


    This forum has boosted my education quickly!

    You will be more knowledgeable than the local contractors fairly quickly, I'm not joking. One word of advice, once you understand what is going on, don't let them tell you different. The fact that a pro had the pressurtrol set so high is clear evidence of not having the most basic understanding of steam.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
    mattmia2CLamb
  • bburd
    bburd Member Posts: 917
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    Let’s remember, however, that those indirect radiators were sized to heat outside air, not room temperature return air. With the outside air ducts disconnected, the heating capacity can be reduced proportionately.

    The first step before major heating alterations is to calculate the heat loss of the house, then compare that to the sizes of the existing radiators.

    Bburd
    NealJLong Beach Ed
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,324
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    bburd said:

    Let’s remember, however, that those indirect radiators were sized to heat outside air, not room temperature return air. With the outside air ducts disconnected, the heating capacity can be reduced proportionately.

    The first step before major heating alterations is to calculate the heat loss of the house, then compare that to the sizes of the existing radiators.

    The comment on sizing being for outside air is quite correct -- but even accounting for that they are huge. As I said, the trick is going to be to make sure that the new radiators are as much oversize for the job as the existing ones in other spaces are. Otherwise you will have balancing problems you probably will not be able to overcome.

    On @KC_Jones 's comment on becoming the expert. He's absolutely correct -- and it won't just be in the steam heating. It will apply to all aspects of this structure. Learn. Get as much from The Wall as you can, and from other real craftsmen, and the stand your ground against the idiots. Been there, done that.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    NealJmattmia2
  • NealJ
    NealJ Member Posts: 43
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    “On @KC_Jones 's comment on becoming the expert. He's absolutely correct -- and it won't just be in the steam heating. It will apply to all aspects of this structure. Learn. Get as much from The Wall as you can, and from other real craftsmen, and the stand your ground against the idiots. Been there, done that.”

    I’ve spent the last 18 months becoming an ‘expert’ on window restorations. They knew they had 2 windows that had come apart. I found 3 more when I did a full house window survey (76 windows in the main house). Hard to heat a house when there were up to 20” gaps to the outside when a window rail failed and the glass fell out of position. I got 5 done the first year and two more this year. I have a long way to go. Now I have to become a steam expert as well. At least I have a background in industrial piping systems (1,000 psig @ 550 Degrees F steam. 10 million lbs of steam an hour. That would be a boiling water reactor).

    Long Beach EdCLamb
  • neilc
    neilc Member Posts: 2,703
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    those leaks might stop when you set the Ptrol down to reasonable,
    that grey 9 should get set to the bottom of the scale,
    link your other thread in here
    known to beat dead horses
  • NealJ
    NealJ Member Posts: 43
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    Thanks. I’ve ordered the book from the store. I’m reluctant to change any operating controls until I’m absolutely sure of what I’m doing, which may take a while. I’m learning, but there’s a lot to learn.
  • neilc
    neilc Member Posts: 2,703
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    run that main indicator down to 0.5, or 1,
    worst that happens is a hour or 2 later you run it back up to 9(NOT),
    otherwise you're a hero and the rads stop dripping
    known to beat dead horses
    NealJ
  • veteransteamhvac
    veteransteamhvac Member Posts: 73
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    Yes, those are them. The exact same as in the 1890's house whose steam boiler and radiators/convectors I help maintain. I have been working over the past month or so trying to seal a few steam leaks that had developed between sections. Not an easy task at all when the leak is between those little pointed extensions between sections. I have been using oakum and various tools to push it into place. I would say I have been about 95% successful. We are now at the point where there is no condensate leaking (just a few drops at the beginning of the cycle) and a very slight hiss of escaping steam.

    This house has about 7-8 of these basement ceiling through floor convectors. 3 are still operational, 2 are shut off due to leaks and 2 are disconnected entirely. We have been trying to make as many fixes as possible without seriously entertaining the thought of dropping the convectors from the ceiling. I worry that any excess motions will just loosen more connections between sections and make the situation worse.

    As far as I know the house doesn't have a double sided convector such as in the pictures you posted above. All of the units in this house have the feed along one side and while there is some very minor corrosion it is nothing like what your picture shows. Initially, the system here was probably similarly shrouded and then outside convection air was fed into the basement. But at some point ductwork was added to enclose the entire system along with a thermostatically controlled fan to push air across the convectors.

    I will try to post some pictures of the convectors here, they will show that the systems are the same (even the pipes and valves look the same!)

    It's not overstating the obvious that these things are monsters and weigh a lot! I would be very careful about any efforts to move or lower them. As a warning, one of the convectors in this house has caused one of the 1st floor joists to crack and drop down about 3 inches. You can imagine that these are solid, old growth 2x12 joists. How the convector didn't fall to the floor I don't know.

    I'm happy to follow up with you on everything I know about working with these specific convectors. That includes making sure the vents are working and finding the traps.

  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,669
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    I would use the mercury one as the operating control and set the gray one at maybe 2 psi or so
    NealJ
  • AdmiralYoda
    AdmiralYoda Member Posts: 629
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    @NealJ There is no real risk to lowering the pressure. 9-10 psi is alot of pressure for a steam system. It would also be a good idea to get a low pressure gauge, something like 0-3psi to start with. The 30psi gauges required by code are notoriously useless at the low range of the scale.

    Some "pro" in the past probably jacked up pressure to overcome some insufficiency. It is a brute force method and is no good for the system.

    Many pro's on here are operating in ounces per square inch, rather than psi.
    NealJ
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,062
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    Matt, that HG control may be a manual reset high pressure control.
    mattmia2
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,669
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    JUGHNE said:

    Matt, that HG control may be a manual reset high pressure control.

    Never mind. I didn't notice it didn't have a differential scale, it is meant to be the safety. Use the gray one as the operating control.
    NealJ
  • NealJ
    NealJ Member Posts: 43
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    I'm happy to follow up with you on everything I know about working with these specific convectors. That includes making sure the vents are working and finding the traps.

    These are all things I’ll be working on, but have not found any sign of any steam traps. I certainly would have seen them in the basement or near radiators. Is it possible they might be in a wall or ceiling behind some access panel? Under what conditions would they have installed a trap? I’ve been assuming that there are no steam traps.
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,062
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    If a 1 pipe convector/rad there may not be a trap.
    Inlet valve should be on the low end of the unit.

    Thermostatic trap would usually be on the outlet of any radiation if 2 pipe system.

    Float and thermostatic traps (F&T's) would typically be at the end of a main or return.

    May not be needed if no pump to feed the boiler, that would be gravity return to boiler.
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,739
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    Given the age of the building, a 2 pipe air vent system is a distinct possibility.

    Have you posted pictures of a typical radiator yet? I don't recall.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
  • NealJ
    NealJ Member Posts: 43
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    KC_Jones said:

    Given the age of the building, a 2 pipe air vent system is a distinct possibility.

    Have you posted pictures of a typical radiator yet? I don't recall.

    I haven’t at this point. Most have “modern” covers over them. All but two are 2-pipe, and there is nothing on the outlet but a right angle globe valve (or inlet for that matter). Inlets are 1-1/2” pipe, outlets are 1-1/4” pipe. I’ve checked the level on the two single pipe radiators, and they are both either level or pitched towards the pipe connection.
  • NealJ
    NealJ Member Posts: 43
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    JUGHNE said:

    If a 1 pipe convector/rad there may not be a trap.
    Inlet valve should be on the low end of the unit.

    Thermostatic trap would usually be on the outlet of any radiation if 2 pipe system.

    Float and thermostatic traps (F&T's) would typically be at the end of a main or return.

    May not be needed if no pump to feed the boiler, that would be gravity return to boiler.

    No thermostatic traps that I can find, and nothing on the end of any main. there is no pump for condensate. All returns are pitched back to the boiler.
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,062
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    As KC said, this sounds like a 2 pipe vented system.
    2 valves, different sizes of pipe with an air vent on each rad.
    Perhaps the outlet/return pipe is dropped down to a wet return.
    Can you see that for each rad?

    Page 382 of The Lost Art...revisited.
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,739
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    If it has valves on both ends and the pipe size is only one size different it’s surely a 2 pipe air vent system, those are the classic signs.

    It’s technically more like a 1 pipe than regular two pipe.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15