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Steam heat, well water, abestos, and the automatic refill counter reads 838...

KidNextDoor
KidNextDoor Member Posts: 10
End result, the little old lady known to the neighborhood as "Auntie" has no heat, no water, and no one to call, because as fate would have it, her only son is in the freaking hospital (and is not handy, like, at all) and I'm just the clueless kid who rakes leaves and takes the snakes out of her basement.

And I've come to realise that not only does Auntie seem to have rotten luck with all the "lovely young men" who come to fix things around the house, but that she really doesn't know any better.  And I'm worried this is going to be a whirlwind of contractors and don't want to see her taken advantage of.   

So, what's happened is there's leak in the steam system and presumably the constant draw on the well is what caused that tonstopnworking.  The plumber from the oil company came and immediately called the state EPA and scheduled his buddy to take care of some nearby damaged abestos... which, frustratingly, was in perfectly good condition before a different plumber from the oil company bashed it to smithereens with a pipe wrench back in November.


(... after he left the service water fill valve open and turned the entire place into a three-story hot water showerhouse.  The radiators stopped leaking once the pressure was relieved by the first joint off the boiler of the supply line becoming a steam pressure washer. To be fair, it's like 200 year old piping, and that joint was original and was showing signs of its age, but it had never been a problem - as evidenced by the very pristine newspapers from WWI that were thumbtacked to the diving wall directly beneath it - and the abestos insulation around it had been inspected and found to be in pristine condition.  The week of it's demise had been so cold there was already concern about pipes freezing, and the heat had already been off for several hours at that point while the system was drained for the original maintenance, so I totally get why the guy made do with rags and duct tape to muffle the leak enough to turn the boiler back on while he went to get parts.
Except he never came back, not that day, or, apparently, ever.  And here we are today, same leak but now with a dead well and significant water damage. So you can see why I'm a little nervous.)

The asbestos guy the guy from the oil company who came yesterday told Auntie to call apparently had nothing else on his schedule and is coming in an hour to start the abatement.  He gave her a very specific price ($2750) over the phone to do the entire basement, without even seeing it, which seemed a bit strange, and I'm concerned that it's going to balloon considerably as he "finds" things along the way.  Plus the whole fact that the rest of the abestos is undamaged and I though the general rule was it was safer to leave it in place, so that's a bit odd too.

But obviously that's already in motion so fingers crossed hope for the best, I guess. 

It's what comes next that I'm hoping for advice on.  Fixing the well without addressing the steam leak makes no sense, there's no water in the pipes to freeze, and everyone's pitching in to bring Auntie water and space heaters and hopefully we might convince her to take up an offer to a guest bedroom if it gets too cold. 

I guess what I'm looking for is some insight into what I'm dealing with, what should be done to do it right, and how the hell I find someone who knows what the hell they are doing in and gives a damn to do the right thing and not only fix the leak but take a look at the system as a whole in case there's other problems-in-waiting.

And, I know, professional courtesy, ya'll won't outright bash a fellow trade worker based on just my side of the story, so I won't bother asking your thoughts on whether the HVAC company has any responsibility to pay for any of this.  (I get it, Dad works custom automotive and cleans up a lot of messes made by other shops but never badmouths the other guy in front of the customer) But obviously some **** dun gone wrong, and if anyone has thoughts about how I should approach discussing it with the company and figuring out just what happened and why, it'd be appreciated.  

Thanks,

Your Friendly Neighborhood Basment Snake Catcher and Leaf Raker, Jayce.

Comments

  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,701
    I couldn't keep track of what work the "HVAC company" did in your story, but probably that doesn't matter...the answer is leave them in the past.

    Where is Auntie located?
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
  • Intplm.
    Intplm. Member Posts: 1,937
    edited March 6
    Hey there @KidNextDoor

    Good looking out for your neighbor.

    First thing. If it's not too late, do not let anyone touch the asbestos on the pipes. If it is not crumbling on its own. Crumbling, or rather "friable" is the term used if asbestos is a threat. So your thought as to leaving it alone is on the right track if it is not friable.

    Is the company doing the work an abatement company that is licensed? What are there required credentials in your area?

    Asbestos can be taped over and or incapsulated if its loose and this should be the responsibility of the person who damaged it.

    Your instincts to be skeptical are on target.

    As for the well. Ask for a written report as to what is wrong with the well. Is the water bad? Ok, show the test results. Is the well damaged/ collapsing? Great. How did you find this?

    Get an explanation in writing how this was causing the leak on the heating system.
    Most often well water would show evidence of leaks on the domestic plumbing before a heating system would.

    If the well water is in need of treatment then that would be a separate issue.




    KidNextDoor
  • yellowdog
    yellowdog Member Posts: 157
    Stop all work immediately, buy her some electric heaters and listen to the advice you will get from this forum. Again, do not let people start working in her basement!
    Intplm.KidNextDoor
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,701
    The way home prices are today, have her list it for sale as-is and move into a nice condo or senior housing
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
    KidNextDoor
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,272
    First question here. Auntie does need qualified professional help. Where are you located? We may very well know someone who we can rely on who is close enough to at least consult on site, if not work on the job.

    As mentioned above -- It is very likely that the asbestos is best left alone and encapsulated. Not that hard to do, but the asbestos remediation folks do love to scare people and then hand them a large bill. Get them out of there until someone who isn't a salesperson can look at the problem.

    The well. Wells can be damaged by prolonged over pumping, but that's not all that common. It is much more likely that the pump failed than that the well failed -- but to investigate that you don't want a plumber, you want a reliable well driller. They do exist, but can be a little hard to find...

    The steam system. Again, you don't want a plumber. You also don't want an "HVAC" technician. You need someone who at least has some idea as to how steam heat works. It would appear that you may indeed have a significant leak, but a steam man should have be able to find it -- and, more to the point, suggest what needs to be done to fix the situation and get the heat back on. Again, where are you -- we may know someone.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    Intplm.KidNextDoor
  • KidNextDoor
    KidNextDoor Member Posts: 10
    Wow you guys are amazing and fast! 

    Rapid fire question answering, location is MetroWest Massachusetts

    The asbestos rules are crazy here including needing permits from the EPA, who I know was one of the people Auntie was on the phone with, so that's a good sign, I guess.

    Well folks won't come until the abestos problem is fixed, but they said they could do same or next day as soon as it was.
  • KidNextDoor
    KidNextDoor Member Posts: 10
    Unfortunately, the abestos guys are already there; if I had my way, I'd have barricaded the doors and not let anyone in but without a concrete plan I had no chance of convincing anyone that just going with what the guy said might not be the best option.  He had answers for everything and promised Auntie it would be all taken care of, and, well, I've earned my handyman merit badge, seen This Old House reruns, and read things on the internet.

    As for if anyone knows someone in the area who's willing to come take a look, that would be absolutely amazing, but I'm not sure I could convince Auntie to pay, and would feel bad asking her to on account it's my idea. I don't have much in the way of money, but I will totally babysit or tutor or design you some slick letterhead or clean gutters or even trim the claws of your mother-in-law's cranky mean old cat! 
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,823
    @KidNextDoor , I'm not familiar with MA geography, but if MetroWest means near Boston, start here:

    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/new-england-steamworks/
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
    KidNextDoor
  • KidNextDoor
    KidNextDoor Member Posts: 10
    My bad on the vague geographic terminology, yes, metro West is near Boston.  

    I looked up the asbestos guys, they do come up as having a current Abestos Contractor license with the state, so that's a start!
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,272
    Steamhead said:

    @KidNextDoor , I'm not familiar with MA geography, but if MetroWest means near Boston, start here:

    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/new-england-steamworks/

    Yep.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • KidNextDoor
    KidNextDoor Member Posts: 10
    Never thought the mess the snow plow guy makes of the lawn would come in handy, but I feel so much less like a creeper putting sod back where it belongs while watching the abestos crew!  Five guys, they're cleaning up, or some of them are cleaning and two are loitering trying to look busy, lol.

    And another guy who's car is still radiating heat so hasn't been here long, better dressed with a hard hat and gizmos that look like they're probably for taking air samples.   

    He doesn't seem displeased, I'm seeing plastic tarps with zippers, tyvek suits, and lots of black contractor trash bags tied closed. 
  • Intplm.
    Intplm. Member Posts: 1,937
    Sounds like they are legit.
    KidNextDoor
  • KidNextDoor
    KidNextDoor Member Posts: 10
    So the abestos is now out, all of it, and while there's some indications the price isn't settled, they left with a check to the tune of the quoted amount so that's a concern for another day.  Also apparently the inspection results and certificate and all that aren't available for several days, so there's no paperwork or anything which seems weird for something so regulated.  Beyond that they seemed to be legit and nothing about what I saw of their work jumped out as a problem.

    The well company is coming tomorrow morning, and they are listed on the state database of license well drillers.  Oddly none of the wells on Auntie's propery show up in the state inventory, so I hope that wont cause trouble.  From what everyone's said, the goal should be some sort of report of the well condition, pump, tank condition etc. 

    Which leaves the broken steam pipe.  A perk of all the abestos coming off is we now know its one of only two spots of the original 1860s piping that shows any sign of its age.  Both spots are localised to joints adjacent to prime spots for someone to bump into; the one next to the boiler, and another over by the oil tank. Seems that left undisturbed the pipes will last indefinitely?  That's pretty encouraging!

    For now Auntie is still stubbornly staying put, but between all the people in and out and the basement bulkhead being open all day and the forecasted dip in the temperature for tomorrow night I anticipate she'll see sense.

    Probably something else I meant to say but I've forgotten...




  • Larry Weingarten
    Larry Weingarten Member Posts: 3,285
    Hmmm, Electric blanket? ;)

    Yours, Larry
    KidNextDoor
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,823
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
  • KidNextDoor
    KidNextDoor Member Posts: 10
    The more I read the more it seems like the place where things were going to go most wrong and cause the most follow-on trouble is the abestos, and I was so hyper focused on the heat and water that I let the safety toxic scare hype convince me that it wasn't a battle to even look into fighting.

    Will there be problems with pipes freezing in the crawl spaces?  Will the steam even make it to the third floor or is the whole system now totally thrown out of whack?  Maybe this is all stuff someone else thought of already or stuff that doesn't need thinking of but how the hell is anyone supposed to know what they don't know and most of all how can I know that the person I'm paying to know the things I don't know knows all the things I don't even know I need someone else to know?!

    Pardon the existential crisis. Still wrapping my head around the reality that apparently one has to be an expert just to hire an expert.  It's a pretty terrifying thought, on the whole.

    Anyways, the folks Auntie has had doing all the boiler plumbing stuff are all through the heating oil company, and I can't find information about the individual technicians and their licensing, but I'm gonna assume they're generalists who dabble in everything and that finding someone more specialized is a better bet.  Just wish doing so didnt feel like such a high stakes game of eenie-meenie-minie-moe!
  • KidNextDoor
    KidNextDoor Member Posts: 10
    @Steamhead - It's actually flipping through the NE SteamWorks website that triggered the "oh **** I've already let this get majorly screwed up" realization. Plan is to call them bright and early in the morning and try not to sound too much like a clueless idiot.

    @Larry Weingarten I'm embarassed to say the heated blanket never crossed my mind!  D'oh!  

    @ everyone else, you guys are all awesome, thank you for taking the time to read and reply and for your kindness and wisdom!
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,622
    The steam heat was almost certainly a retrofit around the turn of the century or later.

    Usually steam pipes above the water line rot out because the boiler is throwing water up in to the mains and the water rots the pipe out or possible a low spot where water is incorrectly collecting. Pipes below the water line rot out but pipes above the water line usually don't in a properly working system.
  • KidNextDoor
    KidNextDoor Member Posts: 10
    @mattmia2 my brain didnt follow the logic but I'm juggling too many things at once.  It sounds like essentially pipes rot if they aren't in the proper configuration/angle/position?  Is that something thats fixable?  

    Auntie just informed me the oil company is sending someone over to look at the pipe to get parts so their plumber can try to come fix it later today.  I'd think any plumber could handle a pipe well enough, but what you said makes me think theres probably an underlying cause that needs to be addressed so it's not just going to rot out again?
  • KidNextDoor
    KidNextDoor Member Posts: 10
    Heres a picture of the location of the hole in relation to the boiler (furnace? Am I even using the right word?)
     
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,272
    Get Ryan ( @New England SteamWorks ) and his jolly crew over there. They'll get you straightened out for a fair price in good time. I've seen their work, and they're among the very best.

    The steam lines will need to be insulated again. No big deal, but a nuisance.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,701
    I'd think any plumber could handle a pipe well enough


    Oh would you? I wouldn't
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
    New England SteamWorksmattmia2KidNextDoor