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Save the Steam! Our Old Home Renovation Project!

Waldman86
Waldman86 Member Posts: 9
I apologize ahead of time for being long winded. My wife was left her family home that’s almost in disrepair. Built sometime in the early 19th century and later retrofitted with a coal fired two pipe steam system in the early 20th century, later converted to an oil fire boiler. We’re in the planning phase of a full gut renovation. We’ve decided on keeping the steam heat as a way to retain the personality of the house and I plan to tackle this project myself along with installing a fire sprinkler system. By trade I’m a sprinkler fitter (local 669) and while I’m a capable pipe fitter I really don’t know much about steam heat. All that said, I’m writing to get some direction on how to attack this project.

Here’s what I know, the boiler services both the steam heat and the hot water. The steam heat hasn’t been used in many years but the boiler has been used for the hot water until about 6 months ago when the house was left vacant. it’s a peerless, installed in 1995, I think. The house was split into a three-family home and a small commercial space that’s served as a post office for over 100 years. Three of the radiators were disconnected for God knows why and two of them were removed and thrown away at some point. The main part of the house which we plan to move into is a 4-bedroom, two-bathroom, three story area with radiators in every room except the kitchen, dining room, and one bedroom that had 2 radiators which were 2 of the radiators that had been removed, but which we plan to replace. We would also like to add radiators in the dining room and kitchen area so in the end we will have approx 15 radiators total. A couple days ago I fired up the system and replaced a few pipes that I could see were leaking. I can tell a few of the steam traps were either stuck shut or stuck open but I got all of them to open eventually and got heat to every radiator pretty quickly. While the house is fully gutted, I plan to replace all the piping piece by piece, remove any old asbestos insulation that’s left and reinsulate all system piping. Replace all the steam traps and the 5 vents on the mains in the basement. Replace all the radiator valves with thermostatic valves. Demolish the old brick chimney and run a new triple wall chimney pipe in its place, have the boiler serviced or replaced completely, and make any other upgraded that would help make the system more efficient.

Attached are pictures of the boiler, the header, steam traps, radiator valves, vents, and what I believe is some kind of balancer. So here’s the questions I’ve come up with so far.

1: Can anyone tell me if the “balancer” is installed correctly? To me it looks like its partially bypassed. Also, I can see some puke from the vent on the top of the balancer. Could I fix that by increasing the header size and piping the header with return bends in an attempt to slow the velocity of the steam? I took the plugs out of each drip leg on this device and there was very little debris or water in either leg.

2: Another thing I noticed is the return line coming from one side of the basement drops down from the ceiling to the floor level, runs across the basement floor and ties into the drain leg of the Hartford loop. Is the trapped water in the piping that’s below the level of the Hartford loop a problem? Should that pipe be run across the ceiling pitching towards the boiler and tie into another return pipe on the return side of the balancer? I replaced part of the pipe that ran across the floor and it was about 50 percent full of corrosion. Other piping I opened up that was hung along the ceiling was beautiful on the inside, but had pretty serious surface corrosion on the outside.

3: The pressure gauge on the front of the boiler shows approx. 16psi while the boiler is running. The pressuretrol is set at 1lbs. I’m guessing that indicates a broken pressuretrol or a broken gauge? Although if the pressure was over 15psi I would hope the relief valve would work, but like I said this boiler has not been serviced probably ever.

4: I’ve noticed 4 or 5 drip legs on the return lines with a nipple and cap. When I replace that piping would it be beneficial to install ball valves in those locations? And how often should those be drained?

5: Should I be thinking about trying to refurbish radiators? Outside of washing them out and painting them are there other steps to take?

6: Does anyone have an opinion on whether we should continue using the boiler to heat the hot water or designate that for the heating system only and install an electric hot water heater?

7: What other things should I be considering and plan for? Possibly a Heating Engineer to make sure the system is sized correctly? We’ll be replacing all windows and insulating the exterior walls which are not currently insulated. This house is very drafty, and I would think the original heating system was sized for a large, drafty, uninsulated house.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. From one Tradesman to another, your time and knowledge is greatly appreciated!












WMno57
«13

Comments

  • neilc
    neilc Member Posts: 2,096
    https://heatinghelp.com/store/detail/we-got-steam-heat-a-homeowners-guide-to-peaceful-coexistence
    you'll enjoy reading this,
    https://heatinghelp.com/store/

    post a picture of the return into the boiler,

    16psi is too high, way too high,
    either the gage is off or the pigtail and or Ptrol need service,
    in a later picture I see the gage back down to about 0,

    under the Ptrol is that looped pipe, the pigtail,
    it is likely clogged,
    remove the Ptrol and blow into the pigtail,
    it needs to breath freely into the boiler so the Ptrol can read boiler pressure,
    either snake the pigtail, or replace it, it may be too packed to free up,
    also determine that the piping under the pigtail is clear back into the boiler, (from the blow test above),
    or disassemble and clean or replace,
    as you reassemble, prime the pigtail with a few oz of water to form its trap,

    I'm not well versed on that loop and vent assembly,
    but I know it means you need low pressure,
    under 1 psi, or lower than that,
    others will chime in,

    known to beat dead horses
  • neilc
    neilc Member Posts: 2,096
    edited January 1
    I need to back up a bit,
    neilc said:


    16psi is too high, way too high,
    either the gage is off or the pigtail and or Ptrol need service,
    in a later picture I see the gage back down to about 0,

    test, and be prepared to replace that safety valve,
    lift its lever, and let it snap back closed,
    do this just as the boiler just starts to boil so you don't have 16psi steam coming at you, 0 ~ <1psi,
    be prepared to shut boiler off if valve does not reseat

    and it should be mounted with it's stem vertical, and the test lever on top,
    add a 90, and a drop to within 6 inches of the floor,
    known to beat dead horses
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 20,524
    edited January 1
    Beautiful!

    First comment. That thing you refer to as a "balancer" is a Hoffman Differential Loop. Oddly enough, it looks as though it is still installed and piped more or less correctly -- and, even odder, it still has the proper vent on it (the Hoffman #75). You would do very well to research it; it's described in The Lost Art of Steam Heating -- a copy of which you should have and which you can get either from the store on this site or from Amazon.

    It has one main function: it will limit the pressure differential between the dry returns and the steam mains to approximately 8 ounces, regardless of what the boiler does. This makes the entire system run much better, and limits wear and tear on the traps (in fact, traps on a Hoffman Equipped system such as this commonly go for a century or so without problems).

    Now. Having said that. All the dry returns -- the return pipes near the ceiling -- must tie together before they get to the Differential Loop. Further, at the far ends of the steam mains and their associated dry returns, there must be a crossover trap to allow air to go from the steam main to the dry return. There must also be either a water loop seal or, preferably, a drip from both the steam main and the dry return to a wet return -- and that connection to the wet return must be below the boiler water line.

    I notice in one photo a main vent -- another Hoffman -- at the end of what I hope is a steam main. It really shouldn't be there, but I don't see an associated dry return. It was probably added at some point, but if there is an associated dry return, it would be much better to replace it with a crossover trap and proper drips at that location (I do notice a wet return).

    Now to specific points. The first point. The discharge from the vent at the Differential Loop indicates that the boiler is operating at much too high a pressure. The only cure -- but it's a simple one and will make the whole system work much better -- is to install a vapourstat on the boiler set for a cutout of 7 OUNCES per square inch -- that's ounces, not pounds! -- and then check the piping to make sure all the dry returns, without exception, connect to the Differential Loop. The various piping changes you suggest will have no effect on it and are not required.

    The second point. That pipe that drops down and runs across the basement is a wet return, and it MUSR be kept at a level below the boiler water line. It is not a bit surprising that it has corrosion inside it, and it might not be a bad idea to replace it completely. It can be replaced in either copper or iron, whichever you prefer. It would help later on if you place plugged Ts at the ends where it turns up to a drip (at one end) and the Hartford Loop) at the other to make it easier to clean out later on. Most other piping -- anything above the water line -- is probably fine, although sometimes there may be a problem particularly at fittings. There is no need to replace it.

    The third point. The pressure gauge on the boiler is, very likely, useless. The pressuretrol can be kept as a safety backup, but as I mentioned above you must add (in series) a vapourstat which is set to properly control the pressure, as noted above. I would suggest that they be on independent pigtails, and that you add a low pressure gauge (0 to 3 psi) on the pigtail for the vapourstat, to see what the system is really doing.

    The fourth point. Replacing the drip caps with ball valves is a nice idea, but a bit overkill at least in my opinion. The drip legs shouldn't need attention more than a couple of times a decade...

    The fifth point. It's always nice to clean and perhaps repaint the radiators. They shouldn't need any attention inside, however.

    The sixth point. I don't have much of an opinion on the wisdom of using the boiler for domestic hot water; if it ain't broke, don't fix it. An electric hot water heater is going to cost a lot more to run, unless your electric rates are pretty low.

    The seventh point. I don't think a heating engineer is going to be much help. On the other hand, a really good steam man -- there are a few, really -- might well be. Check "find a contactor" on this site, or simply tell us where you are and we may know someone nearby.

    This point does bring up two others, however. First place, steam boilers are sized in accordance with the radiation which they are powering, not the heat loss of the house (the radiators might be sized that way -- but the boiler is sized based on the radiation). That is often overlooked. Of course all the improvements you can make in air sealing and insulation will reduce the cost of heating -- but they don't affect the boiler size. Second point: you mention replacing all exterior windows. Well... um... the odds are that it will be cheaper and a good deal more effective to repair the existing windows and add storm windows, unless you plan to pay for absolutely top quality new windows. This is particularly true if they date from the original construction of the house -- properly repaired, they will last a lot longer than anything but the very top end replacements, and be every bit as draught free.

    And one last point. The system which was originally installed was one of the best, most efficient steam heating systems of the day -- and to this day. But -- it does not take kindly to "improvements". Before you start rearranging any of the piping -- or adding new radiators, which is easy enough to do right -- be sure that you understand what every pipe and fitting and widget is doing. I -- and others on the Wall -- will be happy to help you with this or any other questions!
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    CLamb
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 10,331
    1. In addition to the We Got Steam Heat, you may want to pick up the Lost Art of Steam Heating-revisited.
    It will explain your "balancer" which is a Hoffman Differential Loop.
    Jamie Hall, here on the wall, IIRC has one on his steam system.
    He might show up anytime.

    2. Any return line that is below the boiler water line will remain full of water.
    The trapped water is exactly that, a water loop trap to keep steam from entering the returns.
    Details in the Lost Art will tell you weather or not you can raise that to the ceiling.
    You will always need a wet return at the boiler as it connects into the Hartford Loop.
    If you repipe the wet returns, isolation valves with hose bibs at each end will make it easy to flush the piping without a mess.
    Any piping above the water line is usually very clean as long as no water sits in it.

    3. Take heed of Neilc's advice for the control system......very important.
    Look at the tag on the relief valve, it should be 15 PSI max.

    4. Drip leg caps; I have opened some after 50-60 years and they were almost full of sediment. Now I might check those same drips every 3-4 years.
    If one is busy collecting debris, then maybe the expense of a ball valve.

    5. Cast iron radiators, I would use them first and check for leaks.
    If not connected then plug and pressure test with water up to maybe 15 PSI.
    Your system should be certainly running under 2 PSI and probably in the low ounces per sq inch.

    6. You might consider a Heat Pump water heater that would sit in the basement near the boiler area. Some here have one and seem content. Depends upon how many people, baths etc.
    Maybe rebates available?

    7. IMO, if you study the books mentioned above, they are both a good read, hard to put down, and as you become intimate with your steam system, radiators, house envelope etc., you will be ahead of any "Heating Engineer" you might throw money at. (I would say that for 95% of the time).

    You could do a heat loss calculation for your house.
    Although steam boiler sizing is based on the connected radiation and not heat loss.
    The heat loss study will show you the benefits of updating the house envelope.
    Are all "improvements" worthwhile for ROI?

    And you can see the major heat loss for you will be air infiltration, IMO.

    What are the two green tanks outside?
  • Mad Dog_2
    Mad Dog_2 Member Posts: 3,942
    I'll be glad to help guide you as well as I did the EXACT same thing 20 years ago. Old Farmhouse  gut renovation, antique steam vapor system from scratch w Historic Scrolled Radiators, Central AC, Radiant in basement slab and all tile bathrooms  AND fire 🔥 sprinkler throughout.  Here to help..   Mad 🐕 Dog. 
    neilc
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 10,331
    Just a comment: It is best to keep your questions under this existing posting.
    Some people make a first posting and then another different post asking what they believe are another subject. Then neither get much attention.

    Your header "Save The Steam!" is a good flag and somewhat of a "call to arms" for this site.
    mattmia2
  • Mad Dog_2
    Mad Dog_2 Member Posts: 3,942
    Besides Dan's Books I had 3 Steam Experts and wethead friends advise me;
    Steamhead, Noel Murdough RIP, and Mark Hunt.  
  • Waldman86
    Waldman86 Member Posts: 9
    @neilc Thank you for your information. I will definitely check if the pigtail is clogged and I'll buy a new safety relief valve and install how you said.
  • Waldman86
    Waldman86 Member Posts: 9
    @Jamie Hall Thanks for the information. From what your saying I dont believe there are any crossover traps on the mains. there are the hoffman #75 3/4" vents on the end of every main in the basement. In total there are 5 vents in the basement, one of which is on the hoffman differential device. I can get more pictures the next time i go to the property. Would it be of benefit to replace all the main line vents with crossover traps? I believe the associated dry returns have fittings with plugs near where the current vents are located, im guessing at some point that was the location for the crossovers.

    As for the wet return, i need to look better now that i know what it is but i think two of the dry returns tie together on the other side of the basement before they drop down into that wet return. i think the next time im there ill draw an isometric sketch of the basement and post it.

    Im ordering the books now so hopefully ill speak this language more clearly in the near future!

    Thanks again.
  • Mad Dog_2
    Mad Dog_2 Member Posts: 3,942
    edited January 2
    Depends how far you want to go.  Are the radiators "fancy" with scrolling 🤔?,  if not, you may want to install the Burnham Classic Victorian Radiators. I have two in my system. One Dan gave me that was in his Storefront Heating Museum in Bethpage..  Isle of Long.  Theyre beautiful. Also, once u insulate, the old rads will be oversized. You need to start with a proper heat loss, then you can size your steam piping and radiators.  You don't need the "balancer"   cut it out and mount on boiler room wall as a Tribute.  See how the existing boiler sizes up to the load after the heat loss and EDR load are figured out.  You CAN do all TRVs but mostly won't be necessary.  I use two  in my home only because I used 150 yr old radiators and some were oversized. I had them all sandblasted.  Fire 🔥 Sprinks.... I had the great Mark Bromman PE  of Chicago (PM Engineer Columnist and great guy...DA Bears!  )size and design my system and draw up plans.  U can go w CPVC but I don't care for plastic and did all in Silver brazed Copper tubing, no corrosion and joints won't melt in a fire until 1200 degrees...CPVC and 95-5 wouldnt hold up that long. Came out great.  What else....thinking. I'm very excited about this. U won't regret it and will get reeeel good with The Steam. Mad 🐕 Dog
  • Waldman86
    Waldman86 Member Posts: 9
    @JUGHNE the Green tanks are for propane heaters that my father-in-law had installed years ago. He didn't want to use the steam heat for some reason. I would guess bc he didn't understand how to maintain the system. let's put it this way, we would be in a better place if he and my brother-in-law hadn't tried to "fix" anything over the years. We have a lot of "fixes" to unfix during this project.
  • Mad Dog_2
    Mad Dog_2 Member Posts: 3,942
    You wanna do this once and have a 100 year or more system. All new Header, Near boiler piping, mains and returns.  You CAN go two pipe if you want or keep it real simple so that a plumber 50 years from now can easily fix it.  I have all one pipe with one large Radiators that is two pipe. I used no traps - real old school. Used a loop seal in basement.  Also. I LOVE Apollo (USA) ball valves but they really don't belong anywhere on steam.  The Teflon Rings inside melt. Use gate valves. Mad Dog
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 20,524
    Waldman86 said:

    @Jamie Hall Thanks for the information. From what your saying I dont believe there are any crossover traps on the mains. there are the hoffman #75 3/4" vents on the end of every main in the basement. In total there are 5 vents in the basement, one of which is on the hoffman differential device. I can get more pictures the next time i go to the property. Would it be of benefit to replace all the main line vents with crossover traps? I believe the associated dry returns have fittings with plugs near where the current vents are located, im guessing at some point that was the location for the crossovers.

    As for the wet return, i need to look better now that i know what it is but i think two of the dry returns tie together on the other side of the basement before they drop down into that wet return. i think the next time im there ill draw an isometric sketch of the basement and post it.

    Im ordering the books now so hopefully ill speak this language more clearly in the near future!

    Thanks again.

    Interesting. The presence of main vents out in the system -- and plugs on the associated dry returns -- suggests very much that at some point someone did some "updating" without understanding how the system operated. Now having said that...is it worth replacing them with crossover traps? That depends on whether you want to retain the functionality of the Differential Loop in protecting the system from overpressure. If there are vents out in the wilderness, the Differential Loop won't be able to protect the system as well, if at all. Is this good or bad? Well, with a nice well maintained vapourstat on its own pigtail, properly adjusted, frankly it's probably unnecessary. If those two dry returns you mention on the other side of the basement don't also tie back as dry returns or one joint dry return, however, they must -- instead -- have main vents on them. They either have to be vented where they are, or at the Differential Loop.

    An isometric drawing would be lovely!
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Mad Dog_2
    Mad Dog_2 Member Posts: 3,942
    edited January 1
    Once you decide whether you're going to salvage some of the system, or start from scratch (which I recommend because you're gut renovating this house and the piping is well over 100 years old. Do you want to be cutting out leaking sections of pipe 5-10 years from now when everything is nice and painted? You want to do this once enjoy for the next 100 yrs. After 22 years, all I've changed is the #67 LWCO and a few Gorton Rad vents), we can focus in on what needs to be done. Mad Dog
  • Mad Dog_2
    Mad Dog_2 Member Posts: 3,942
    Also, if your going to have ANY tile or concrete floors Radiant is the ONLY choice (comfort & Efficiency wise). Use a small seperate boiler or water heater dedicated for that only and maybe an indirect HWH, but a seperate stand alone water heater is simple and nice too. Mad Dog
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 15,769
    @Waldman86 , I looked up Sprinkler Fitters local 669 and saw it's in Columbia. Are you still in MD?
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
  • Waldman86
    Waldman86 Member Posts: 9
    @Steamhead Our national office is in MD. We're a notion wide local, I'm district 19 which is in the Hudson Valley, New York. The house we're renovating is in Sullivan County NY specifically.
  • Waldman86
    Waldman86 Member Posts: 9
    @Mad Dog_2 I plan to replace all the pipe piece by piece. I dont want to change much if anything, just replace whats there with new pipe. its like you said, i want to do this once and only once. Luckily since i work in the sprinkler industry and have always been with the same contractor i can get all the pipe at cost.
  • Mad Dog_2
    Mad Dog_2 Member Posts: 3,942
    edited January 2
    The large two pipe one..Nason Radiator?? Came out of a very old Farmhouse and Farm in Upper Brookville Gold Coast Long Island NY. The Flue radiator near the back door was a gift compliments of my good friend Steamhead. He drove it up from Maryland! The sandblasting was only about $400.00 for like 13 rads and it brought out the original detail. Mad Dog
  • Mad Dog_2
    Mad Dog_2 Member Posts: 3,942
    edited January 2
    My house was built around 1899 and was the original farm in the area. The Two Story Barn still stands where the horses and chickens and pigs

    gs were kept
    Long Beach EdWMno57
  • Mad Dog_2
    Mad Dog_2 Member Posts: 3,942
    That's The best Father-in-law a man could have. Without Opa Don, would've never got 'er done. Mad Dog
  • Waldman86
    Waldman86 Member Posts: 9
    @Mad Dog_2 wow, gorgeous. Our Radiators are fairly plain, not ornate like yours. Those are beautiful.
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 15,769
    Waldman86 said:

    @Steamhead Our national office is in MD. We're a notion wide local, I'm district 19 which is in the Hudson Valley, New York. The house we're renovating is in Sullivan County NY specifically.

    I've visited that area. Beautiful country.

    This is a Hoffman "Controlled Heat" Vapor system, like the one @Jamie Hall manages. Vapor was the Cadillac of heating in its day, and is still one of the best systems out there.

    Regarding the vent on the Differential Loop, the #75 is Hoffman's largest current offering, but it doesn't have nearly the air throughput as the original #10 or #11 vents that were furnished with Loops. Since the steam can't move through the system unless the air can vent, you want to use the biggest vent you can find. That's the Gorton #2, which we use on all our Hoffman systems.

    Originally there were radiator traps connected between the ends of the steam mains and the dry returns. These were usually the same as those on the radiators- Hoffman #8 from the looks of it. I'd use Barnes & Jones 1/2" Big Mouth traps here, since they're easily the fastest ones available. With these vents and traps, the steam will fill the mains quickly, so all the radiators will have steam available to them at about the same time.

    For more information on this system, get this book:

    https://heatinghelp.com/store/detail/the-lost-art-of-steam-heating-revisited

    You'll find your system in chapter 15.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
  • Mad Dog_2
    Mad Dog_2 Member Posts: 3,942
    edited January 1
    Black pipe for sprinks? 
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 20,524
    Hmm... interesting and possibly a little disappointing.

    As much as I hate to say this, if you are going to go to the trouble of tearing out all the old piping, I'm not at all sure that I'd even consider replacing it with what would amount to an all new steam system. I know, that's heresy. There are several reasons for me to say that, but at that point you are not restoring anything. You are building an all-new system with antique trim -- a very different proposition. I would very likely investigate an air to water heat pump (Carrier, for example, makes several in the likely size range you would need) and use a combination of radiant floors and baseboard heating. I'll grant that in your area you are pushing the limits of performance of an air source heat pump system, but it will work.

    Now, having said that, there is absolutely no excuse for tearing out any of the old piping which is above the water line, unless you want to for aesthetics. Unlike any modern material and system, those old steam and dry return lines will last another century or two just as they are.

    Granted, replacing the wet return lines is probably not a bad idea. You may also find that there are a few minor corrections to other piping which are needed, but it is likely that there is nothing significant involved. At some point you may find you need a new boiler, but if that one is not leaking, that's not yet. You do need a vapourstat controller for the one you have, of course.

    I'll grant -- quite happily -- that there are different ways of looking at things, and I restore things when I possibly can, and only rip out the old to install the new when there is a safety reason to do so (electrical wiring, commonly, for example), or when the new functions so much better than the old that it makes overwhelming sense (domestic plumbing fittings, such as faucets, for example) or when it has flat out failed (those wet returns of yours, for example -- and sometimes beams and the like (but there I always use original type timber and joining methods)). This is not everyone's preference, and it may not be yours.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    mattmia2
  • pecmsg
    pecmsg Member Posts: 3,574
    Waldman86 said:

    @Mad Dog_2 I plan to replace all the pipe piece by piece. I dont want to change much if anything, just replace whats there with new pipe. its like you said, i want to do this once and only once. Luckily since i work in the sprinkler industry and have always been with the same contractor i can get all the pipe at cost.

    Do you think todays recycled steel pipe is better than the pipe made 100 years ago?

    The 100-year-old pipe in my house was a pleasure to thread compared to the crap that's on the market today.

    One thing I'm worried about is once you're done with insulating, changing windows and doors every radiator in every room will be oversized for its location.
  • Long Beach Ed
    Long Beach Ed Member Posts: 1,108
    edited January 1
    I'll quickly say that the system doesn't appear to be messed up, as so many are. We've done many "restoration" jobs like the one you are considering. With your skill, it should be easy for you. Naturally, before doing anything you have to decide exactly what you are seeking to accomplish and outline the scope of your work.

    All the rental buildings we own have their original steam heating systems. On all of them we've repiped the wet returns and replaced all the controls. Where radiator valves were defective they were replaced. All the vents are replaced. Any poorly executed additions were corrected. That's it. The steam piping generally is fine as are the fittings and unions, although many are approaching 100 years old.

    Replacing every piece of pipe would be a waste of time and energy. As pecmsg suggests, that old stuff was much better than many of its modern replacements. Just fix what's badly worn. Start with an education. Buy a book or hire a consultant. Repipe the returns in steel or copper, as you prefer. Replace your traps. That differential loop has no moving parts and will outlive us. Your steam piping looks generally fine. If you have money to burn you can sandblast and powder coat the radiators.

    Mad Dog's the best there is, and he's doing his own place too. Can't go wrong with his advice.

    Devote your time to galvanized and cast iron waste lines and the stuff that will bite you. Your steam system, with a few days careful work, will be fine for another lifetime.
    mattmia2
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 20,524
    Obfiously I am in complete agreement with @pecmsg and @Long Beach Ed above. Keep the steam -- and keep the old black iron pipes.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    mattmia2
  • Mad Dog_2
    Mad Dog_2 Member Posts: 3,942
    I used to have the same opinion about the old  black pipe in the roughly 90-100 yr old houses and buildings i worked in for years...rarely saw a leak.   That is, until I worked in buildings with original piping pushing 140-150 years old that starting showing leaks. I'm not sure how old his house is but it sounds like it could be in that range. As much as I'd love to say it, they will probably start leaking at the threads in the next 50 years.  Is yesterday's steel and Iron better?  No doubt, but Companies like Wheatland (USA) is still high quality.  If you want to piecemeal the system back, That's cool, but I'd hate to see him breaking sheetrock in 5-10 yrs to have to cut out pipe that could have been changed now.  Wet returns should absolutely be changed when over 50 years.  Furthermore, I love the old return traps and Hoffmann Differential loops more than anyone that I save them and have mounted them for honor and posterity,  but they don't do anything now since they went off coal 80 yrs ago.  I also don't see the wisdom in sand blasting plain radiators. You're not going to reveal any greater detail.  He said he wants to keep it historical and that is what I did With my house.   Forced Air and Heat pumps are not aesthetically-Historical.  Atleast radiant is hidden in a tile floor.  Nothing to offend the period look.  
    His radiators are DEFINITELY going to be oversized after he insulates and puts in new windows.  TRVs are NOT Historical either.
    This is why I suggested what I did.

    As another option, he could go with all Burnham Classic Victorian scrolled Radiators on hot water zones with ODR, so you  have modern efficiency, zoning control and great comfort
    With a great historical look.  Mad 🐕 Dog



    Long Beach Ed
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 15,769
    I'd say, with that version of the Differential Loop and the column-type radiator in the pic (assuming they're all or mostly that type), that this system was installed around 1923-25. Later installations would have used large-tube rads such as the American Corto or National Aero, and the #18 as opposed to the #8 trap, and as the decade approached its end, the later version of the Loop.

    Earlier installations would have used an Equalizing Loop instead of the Differential Loop. Go here for more on this:

    https://heatinghelp.com/heating-museum/hoffman-venting-valves-for-every-purpose/

    @Waldman86 , does this line up with the known history of the house?
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
    PC7060
  • Long Beach Ed
    Long Beach Ed Member Posts: 1,108
    edited January 2
    ...All depends on how much you want to do, your overall plan and your budget in time and money. You must establish that first and that will guide your scope of work.

    Twenty year plan? Fifty year?

    Just because you can do something doesn't mean you have to.

    I rent a bunch of steam heated apartments here. I've sold many of them after 30 years of ownership. Selecting the work to do and not to do was one of the most critical financials decisions to make. I did well. Never had a heating failure. Ever.
    WMno57
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 20,524
    @Mad Dog_2 , @pecmsg , @Steamhead , @JUGHNE and others -- this discussion is exactly why I wrote what I did. First, I completely agree with Frank (no surprise there!) that this system probably dates from the early '20s. Second, it is not really quite true that the Differential Loop serves no purpose on a modern oil system. While it is nowhere near as essential as it was on a coal boiler, it still serves -- quite well -- as a backup in the somewhat unlikely but not unheard of event that the vapourstat does not shut off the boiler, and it will effectively prevent damage to the traps. It does no harm in such a situation to keep it. And I agree that it is possible to obtain modern black iron pipe which is almost as heavy and as good as the original pipes -- but there the question is, if it ain't broke... the thing to watch there is not corrosion from the interior of the pipe, but severe corrosion on the exterior, which does sometimes happen, or the occasional threaded joint (always on a dry return) which has started to leak. Those are easily repaired.

    However, all that said, the expense of tearing all the old stuff out and replacing it with top end new material is not inconsiderable, and the question arises -- is that the best way to do it? Is that the best way to expend the capital? And that involves not only the function of the system, but the aesthetics -- and, in today's New York State regulatory environment, some regulatory concerns. On purely aesthetic grounds, I personally object to putting in a whole new system and then dressing it up with old radiators etc. to make it look "authentic", but that is an aesthetic judgement which others may disagree with quite legitimately. (I have the same problem, only far more so, with removing sound plaster and replacing it with drywall). Then there is the regulatory environment. It appears that New York State may be moving towards a flat out prohibition on new fuel burning heating installations. It is by no means clear, as I write this, when and to what extent this well affect replacing existing equipment, but the possibility is that it will, and this needs to be considered as well. This, combined with other considerations as we have been discussing, is what makes true restoration something of a nightmare -- and may make it quite impossible in the future.

    The decision as to what course to take rests, as it should, on the owner of the property (except for listed properties, where it may not rest entirely there, but that is not the case here), and he or she needs to weight carefully all the aspects. What are they doing? What is the goal? What is the budget? What other constraints may be present? It is not a simple decision, and all possibilities must be considered, even the more outlandish, if only to be sure that the chosen course really is the best one for the situation.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • WMno57
    WMno57 Member Posts: 669
    Might want to spend more of your limited time and money at first on air conditioning. You could even have a heat pump with that, which could fit with the oversized radiators. AC for summer, HP for spring and fall. Steam for winter.
    I have a 1916 home with original 2.5" pipes for gravity hot water heat. No leakers yet.
    Interesting project. Good luck and please keep us posted.

  • WMno57
    WMno57 Member Posts: 669
    Watch out for scope changes in your project. As the project manager, when you are communicating with your stakeholders (your wife) remember these words, "Honey, we'll address that in Phase Two".
  • PC7060
    PC7060 Member Posts: 913
    edited January 2
    Following up on @WMno57 advice; just wrapped up a 5 year restoration/ renovation of a 1928 house and I reminded myself regularly that “perfect is the enemy of good”!

    Worry about the next 20 years and limit the readout (and cost) to just the essential fixes and upgrades. Those pipes will outlive you; spend the money on insulation, air sealing and air conditioning!
    Long Beach Ed
  • Waldman86
    Waldman86 Member Posts: 9
    Gentleman, Thank you all for the input. There's a whole lot to unpack here, so much I didn't realize I'd even have to consider and that "now that you mention it" feeling has me really thinking about this. I ordered "Greening Steam" "We got steam heat" and "The Art of Steam Heating Revisited" earlier today and they arrive later this week. Really looking forward to the reads.

    @Jamie Hall @Long Beach Ed @Mad Dog_2 It never occurred to me that replacement wasn't restoration and that's a good point. I think at this moment I'm leaning toward replacement of anything that's in the walls. The exposed pipe in the basement can be repaired or replaced anytime so that's something to consider. As for the overall goal for the long term, my wife and I are both mid 30's with a 4-month-old daughter and are too far into our careers and too comfortable to move from the area any time soon. We'll likely live there until retirement at least. I think my wife would like to keep the house in her family line and if we leave it to our daughter, she would be the 4th generation. We owe nothing on the house and have no real timeline because we live in my condo and have everything we need here for now. The budget on the other hand will play a factor. which brings up another great point @Jamie Hall is that New York appears to be heading into a direction away from oil. So, will the ROI even pay off in the long run? I don't know. What I do know, is that I'm drawn to this old steam system like so many of the century old Fire sprinkler systems I service. I'm Intrigued and I feel a duty to keep it and maintain it. It feels like it has life, and it served so many for so long that it's earned its keep. New York State be damned, we'll save this system!

    @pecmsg @Long Beach Ed I share the same sentiment about the pipe which is odd bc that's another thing I hadn't considered yet. It's been my experience in the sprinkler world that 5th year internal inspections on systems from the early 20th century usually reveals beautiful pipe and systems that were installed much more recently are corroded and often require replacement. Ironically, I find that wet sprinkler pipe is usually the pipe that's in better condition and it's the dry sprinkler pipe that corrodes much more quickly. Typically, we get 10 years from a dry sprinkler system piping before we can expect pinhole leaks and internal obstruction. So, it's interesting to me that steam pipe appears to be the other way around.

    @Steamhead to be totally honest, I don't know much of the history before the late 1940's other than a few old photos and some "he said she said" I know for sure the original system was a coal fired system bc the coal chute was there when my father in-law was a child.

    My wife and I would really like to thank everyone so far. She's laughing at me all day today saying that I'm "geeking out" over this steam system and that I found "my kind of social media". From the heart, we really appreciate all of your time. We're considering everything you've all said so far.
    Long Beach EdPC7060
  • Mad Dog_2
    Mad Dog_2 Member Posts: 3,942
    edited January 2
    Point taken..However, I'd rather see him spend construction money on the heart and soul of the house ..the bones...rather than on Granite countertops landscaping, et cetera.  You'll never regret 😌 years of warmth and comfort for your fambly.  As much as the Gov't energy lobby wants to get rid of existing fossil fuel-burning equipment, it ain't gonna happen....not THAT soon.  They could say tommorow that they are "mandating" that Everyone must give up their house 🏠 and move to a colony on Mars by 2035, but its so impractical and undoable that it won't happen as much as they will-it.  Mad Dog
    Long Beach Ed
  • Mad Dog_2
    Mad Dog_2 Member Posts: 3,942
    My goal with my antique  vapor system and pretty much any plumbing or heating installation that I've done over the last 40 years, is to install simplicity and dummy-proof systems that ANY plumber, 75 years from now will easily be able to fix and figure out.  Plumbers of the last 35-40 years don't know what to make of the Air eliminating traps and Hoffmann Diff. Loop of the vapor era.  Can you imagine how puzzled the average plumber will be flummoxed going foward?  Today's boiler Installation instructions near boiler piping diagrams don't illustrate how such appurtenances should be connected.  Guys barely read those manual, let alone read The Lost Art.
    I like to value-engineer for everyman.  Mad 🐕 Dog 
  • Mad Dog_2
    Mad Dog_2 Member Posts: 3,942
    edited January 2
    You're in love with The Steam with all its beauty and  charm.  I'm with you.  Like an old wrap around front porch to sip whiskey on a fall night  or an ice cold Budweiser or lemonade in the hot summer, and my favorite thing, drink coffee out on the porch during a brutal downpour!   These Old Homes exude character and you owe to it and its past and present to restore and keep in tact as much as you can with some very doable but not contrarian upgrades.  Enjoy the books. I have worn out atleast 7 copies of the Lost Art and I give We Got Steam Heat out on all my steam consultations.   Everytime I reread Dan's Legendary books, I go deeper in to the knowledge well of understanding.  Mad Dog