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Back half of house little to no heat

Hello everyone,

My wife and I recently got a historic home with a one-pipe steam radiator system and the winter season has been a learning lesson to say the least. The house hadn't been maintained for some time so a lot of things need(ed) to be done. Many of the radiators didn't have valves period, some had cheap ones, others were remnants of valves but nothing there. Here is some house info:
  • 4800SQft all brick construction built in 1877
  • Hudson Valley New York area
  • Boiler: Dunkirk PSB-8D
  • Main pipe(s) have Hoffman No. 75 main vents
  • Thermostat (older honeywell circular look and feel) almost always set to 60 degrees
The main thing I did to the system so far was get new steam vents for all 20 of the radiators in the home. I ended up getting the Varivalve Adjustable Valves (Don't crucify me, it was suggested by someone in the neighborhood and has helped a lot), re- tapped 4 of the radiators as I couldn't get some valves installed (explains why some didn't have them in the first place).

Since then I have adjusted many of the rooms and the front half of the home is nice and warm. The first and second floors get to temperature fairly decently (some rooms faster than others) but overall I'm happy here. 2 or 3 radiators are definitely the warmest out of the whole house though. Third floor is decent as well. The major concern is the addition to the home (early 1910's) -noted on the attached pdf

This portion of the house is just barely above the outside temperature (hovering around 40 degrees). This is the kitchen so it has been pretty rough cooking in there during this season. Information on that portion:
  • The line coming to this area is at its furthest ~65ft from the boiler
  • There are 6 radiators attached to this loop
  • One radiator got warm one this season but only when the thermostat was set to ~64 degrees
  • All 5 other radiators seem to be cold constantly.
  • One seems to potentially be "waterlogged" due to years of the previous owner closing the valve when she got too hot :/ It has been too cold to shut the system down to diagnose though
  • Most of the varivalves are set to wide open. This is likely wrong but I don't know any better. They are the furthest away from the system.
What I'm looking for is suggestions on what I can do to troubleshoot or better equip the system to get heat back there. Attached to this post are some of the photos of the system and a drawing of the layout of the house / main pipe system.
  • Solid red lines are main pipes. The main is I think 4in > 3in about mid way through, then branches down to 2in as it heads to the radiators
  • Dotted red lines are radiator lines
  • Black lines are return lines
I am happy to provide any and all information to help diagnose. I know this was a little wordy but there are a lot of bits that I'm still not sure how to convey via a piece of paper :)
Thank you!

Comments

  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,297
    No sketch posted
    kneiswen
  • kneiswen
    kneiswen Member Posts: 7
    Thank you! Missed the button for it on the original post. see attached
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 22,889
    How far into the addition do those two mains that go back there get hot? Do they get hot at all? I notice that you show a main vent -- Hoffman on one, not determined on the other -- on a steam main. Is that one of the addition mains? Does it get hot and see steam?

    And next question: have you checked, carefully, the pitch of those two mains going to the addition? Is it adequate and continuous? If it is continuous to the returns, are those returns at a high level, or are they at floor level or near it?
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,297
    If the counterflow main in the picture is the one feeding the addition it isn't dripped right and the water is killing the steam. Just guessing as I don't know if that is the pipe feeding the addition
  • bburd
    bburd Member Posts: 869
    edited February 2023
    Also it looks like the steam pipes are not insulated.  Insulation would help the steam reach the cooler end of the system.

    Those varivalve rad vents are notoriously fast, even when set to their minimum. Before doing anything more costly, I suggest you try slowing down the vents in the warmer rooms, to encourage the steam to head for the cooler ones.

    Bburd
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,691
    You need a ton more main venting.  You say 65’ of a combination of 4”,3” and 2” main to the cold part of the house.  I have about double the venting you have in total for a single Main of 2” that’s 25’ long.

    You need to look into an antler of Gorton #2 vents, I’d say 2-3 in the location shown in the left of your drawing and then another 1-2 on the spot on the right side of the drawing.  You may end up needing more, but definitely need to start somewhere.

    Are there main vents in the warm part of the house?  If not adding main venting to the cold part may have the effect of reversing the problem and you will probably need to add main venting there as well.

    I’m also curious about something.  You said you had to drill and tap holes for vents on some radiators that never had them.  So, could you post a picture of a typical radiator so we can see what you’ve got.  It seems quite odd that radiators that needed vents never had them.  Not saying there is a problem, just strikes me odd.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
  • kneiswen
    kneiswen Member Posts: 7
    Hello everyone! Thank you for the suggestions. I'm going to need some time to get some of that information but I'm happy to give some answers:
    bburd said:

    Also it looks like the steam pipes are not insulated.  Insulation would help the steam reach the cooler end of the system.

    Those varivalve rad vents are notoriously fast, even when set to their minimum. Before doing anything more costly, I suggest you try slowing down the vents in the warmer rooms, to encourage the steam to head for the cooler ones.

    - I have slowed down most of the ones that are hotter than the others. I'll see if I can get some even slower vents. any suggestions? I also understood that the Varivalves are fast but I learned that AFTER I bought $400 of varivalves. Oops. :'(
    - Insulation is definitely an actionable item I can start on asap. Thanks for that!
    KC_Jones said:

    You need a ton more main venting.  You say 65’ of a combination of 4”,3” and 2” main to the cold part of the house.  I have about double the venting you have in total for a single Main of 2” that’s 25’ long.

    You need to look into an antler of Gorton #2 vents, I’d say 2-3 in the location shown in the left of your drawing and then another 1-2 on the spot on the right side of the drawing.  You may end up needing more, but definitely need to start somewhere.

    Are there main vents in the warm part of the house?  If not adding main venting to the cold part may have the effect of reversing the problem and you will probably need to add main venting there as well.

    I’m also curious about something.  You said you had to drill and tap holes for vents on some radiators that never had them.  So, could you post a picture of a typical radiator so we can see what you’ve got.  It seems quite odd that radiators that needed vents never had them.  Not saying there is a problem, just strikes me odd.

    - There is no doubt that something is "wrong" here. We inherited this system, as is tradition, and we're piecing together as much as we can, so I appreciate the questions
    - Main venting in the warm part... I'll need to go check the crawl space. I'm not certain that there are main vents going up to that 3rd floor area (mansard style roofing), Stay tuned.
    - When you're describing the "left" vs "right" is this in the addition area, or direct left area near the boiler? Just want to confirm we're at the same location.
    - Happy to post some pictures. To further clarify, they definitely HAD vents at some point. The female threads on the rads were pretty badly rusted/didn't exist any longer. The new varivalves wouldn't catch which led me to re-tapping them. Once I got the tap in there it cleared the way and allowed the vents to screw in. There are a plethora of different radiators throughout the house. I've updated the original drawing with the entire floorplan of the house and names of the rads corresponding to the pictures attached and excel. Sorry for tall the attachments.
  • bburd
    bburd Member Posts: 869
    @kneiswen Vent-Rite is a good adjustable vent, but most people here like Gortons, which come in different venting rates, or Maid-o'-Mist which is similar to Gorton and comes with multiple venting orifices of different sizes.

    Bburd
    kneiswen
  • kneiswen
    kneiswen Member Posts: 7

    How far into the addition do those two mains that go back there get hot? Do they get hot at all? I notice that you show a main vent -- Hoffman on one, not determined on the other -- on a steam main. Is that one of the addition mains? Does it get hot and see steam?

    And next question: have you checked, carefully, the pitch of those two mains going to the addition? Is it adequate and continuous? If it is continuous to the returns, are those returns at a high level, or are they at floor level or near it?

    - How far into the addition? Honestly, not far. As far as I can tell, I have been able to track the heat up to the very beginning of the addition. I can feel very hot heat going up to the first radiators but nothing past that and nothing actually at the radiators themselves, weirdly.
    - Pitch - I have not checked the pitch at all. I've had a few plumbers who seemed to know their stuff for steam mention that it didn't initially look out of pitch. I'll need to do this and I'll get back.

    Thanks for the suggestions!
  • kneiswen
    kneiswen Member Posts: 7

    If the counterflow main in the picture is the one feeding the addition it isn't dripped right and the water is killing the steam. Just guessing as I don't know if that is the pipe feeding the addition

    - Based on the basement floorplan (re-attached here) can you let me know what the counterflow main is? If it's the section at the very top of the file, then yes it's the only thing that's heating that addition.

    I replied back to another person on here who also asked if it was pitched correctly. I'm uncertain at the moment but will get to work figuring that out. Thanks!
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,691
    I must not be understanding what you have going on. You said this:
    "This portion of the house is just barely above the outside temperature (hovering around 40 degrees). This is the kitchen so it has been pretty rough cooking in there during this season. Information on that portion:
    The line coming to this area is at its furthest ~65ft from the boiler"

    In your drawing I see the kitchen and I see you calling out main vents on those lines as being the Hoffman vents. If that is the kitchen, those are the main vents for that area and they are woefully inadequate.

    What am I misunderstanding when you say:
    "Main venting in the warm part.."
    Which to me is contradictory to your previous statements and the drawings you provided.

    In this diagram the main vents circled service all the mains from the boiler to that point. In your description those pipes are servicing the kitchen, and the second diagram you posted it shows what seems to be a stove and such in that area.


    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 22,889
    Further question, and a suggestion. If I look at your drawing carefully, there appears to be just one main line going from the older part of the house under what I take to be an entry way and on into the addition. Is that correct? If so, that's the first place I'd start seriously looking for a problem. That must be counterflow, and it takes a lot of steam, so it needs to be fairly strongly pitched. A low spot there, or where the mains splint into two lines for the kitchen area, would really be a problem.

    The other question. What happens in the kitchen area if you simply take one of those "main" vents off and run the boiler (have someone down there to turn it off if things get out of hand!)
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • kneiswen
    kneiswen Member Posts: 7
    KC_Jones said:

    I must not be understanding what you have going on. You said this:
    "This portion of the house is just barely above the outside temperature (hovering around 40 degrees). This is the kitchen so it has been pretty rough cooking in there during this season. Information on that portion:
    The line coming to this area is at its furthest ~65ft from the boiler"

    In your drawing I see the kitchen and I see you calling out main vents on those lines as being the Hoffman vents. If that is the kitchen, those are the main vents for that area and they are woefully inadequate.

    What am I misunderstanding when you say:
    "Main venting in the warm part.."
    Which to me is contradictory to your previous statements and the drawings you provided.

    In this diagram the main vents circled service all the mains from the boiler to that point. In your description those pipes are servicing the kitchen, and the second diagram you posted it shows what seems to be a stove and such in that area.


    -- Thanks for the reply. I think the issue here is a lack of understanding of terminology from my side, so my apologies. I'm quickly absorbing the terms and concepts but I'm still very new to owning/using a steam systems.
    -- Regarding the overall misunderstanding on my side, you are correct. The area circled in that exact diagram, while in the basement, is the area where the kitchen/office/"bonus" room are. This also is the area mentioned where there are two Hoffman No 75 vents as listed. I don't see any other vents like them anywhere else so if it is woefully inadequate that's great information to have. This very well could be an actionable item.
    -- The "warm part" confusion was just an answer to your earlier question regarding "Are there main vents in the warm part of the house?". The answer, as you were aware, is no. There is no venting in the front half from my attic/crawlspace exploration I just did. All piping that I can see/follow that goes to the third floor of the "front/main" portion of the home stops at the radiators. There does not seem to be venting of any sort between or beyond. Hard to know if there is anything in the walls but it seems unlikely.
    --- If, as you said, the entire system needs more venting (antler/bigger vents/whatever) then this is likely a path we can work with/on. Reading through some other posts regarding antlers and what not... Do you have any suggested reading/amount of venting I should be looking into?

  • kneiswen
    kneiswen Member Posts: 7

    Further question, and a suggestion. If I look at your drawing carefully, there appears to be just one main line going from the older part of the house under what I take to be an entry way and on into the addition. Is that correct? If so, that's the first place I'd start seriously looking for a problem. That must be counterflow, and it takes a lot of steam, so it needs to be fairly strongly pitched. A low spot there, or where the mains splint into two lines for the kitchen area, would really be a problem.

    The other question. What happens in the kitchen area if you simply take one of those "main" vents off and run the boiler (have someone down there to turn it off if things get out of hand!)

    - Your reading of the diagram is correct. There is only 1 main line going from the older part of the house to the addition. I've gone ahead and grabbed some photos from that specific spot as well as a slightly edited diagram with photo locations. I see the main coming in from the brick area, dropping, then splitting to the right "main", left "main, and FL1-Back-1. Is the sudden drop supposed to be there?
    - To the question about taking one of those main vents off, I'll need to do this with a friend when I get the chance. This may take some time but good suggestion.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 22,889
    Has it EVER worked? With that drop there, I'd be mightily surprised if it had ever worked well, if at all. Is there any way for condensate to get around that drop? Any condensate returns from out in the wilderness, for instance?
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • dabrakeman
    dabrakeman Member Posts: 522
    So what is the pitch of the main as it continues after the "drop" in picture 2? Hopefully it has shifted to parallel flow and then there would have to be a main extension going back to the boiler after the last radiator to return the condensate. If they pitched the main after the drop still as counterflow (rising pipe as runs towards the radiator) then the drop has formed a block.