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Steam heat disaster

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metty
metty Member Posts: 4
I’ve seen some great tips on this site and I’m coming here as a desperate last resort to fix my disaster of a heating system. I’ve shelled out thousands to professionals but the problem still persists. I’d like to take some action on my own if I can to fix it. 

Issues that I’m having;
1) water hammer (sounds like it’s coming the right side wet return in picture). It happens a few minutes after the radiator starts up, gets violent, then goes away. 
2) vent on upstairs radiator is sucking in air and is very loud after it shuts down. I think this is normal but I was expecting it to be happening near the boiler
3) I’ve turned off the one of the radiators (baseboard copper pipe with fins) because it was literally shooting out water and covering the room with condensate


Some background….
I first called in professionals when the radiators were first spewing water. They drained the boiler and asked me to replace all my vents with varivalves which I did. That’s when the issue of water hammer really started.  Ive called them back again to address the sound this time in which they installed flush valves on both wet returns (and hartford loop) to push out crud in the pipes. This helped a little because it’s not as violent but the water hammer is still loud enough to wake us. Then it was back to square one because the radiators began shooting water again. I drained my boiler and it stopped but I had to close one of my radiators. Lastly, one of the brand new varivalves I bought went bad so I replace it with a Home Depot chrome #6 vent (main vents are Gorton #1). This is now sucking in a ton of air after the boiler shuts down and it’s waking us up at night.


Any and all help would be greatly appreciated. I can’t keep paying thousands of dollars to professionals for the issue to keep happening. 

Comments

  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,661
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    Not in any order... where are you located? It is possible we know someone close enough who really knows what they are doing to help you.

    In the meantime... what is the water level in the sight glass on the boiler? It should be somewhere in the middle third -- perhaps better near the top of that range. It looks like you have an autofeeder, but if you need to add a little water I think it looks as though there is a manual bypass.

    Second, what is the pressure setting on the pressuretrol -- the gray box on the upper left. The little index mark should be about halfway between the 0.5 and the 1.0 marks -- I can't see in the photo. There is a screw on top which you can use to move the index mark -- don't push on it by hand!

    Now a bit more complicated. Pay attention to the boiler, and see if it does shut off as soon as all the radiators are reasonably hot, or does it just keep running and running until the thermostat turns off? The thing is that the pipe connecting the pressuretrol to the boiler may be plugged, and not letting the pressuretrol sense the boiler pressure. This would allow the boiler to build too much pressure, which may account for the spitting vents (may not, too..)

    I can't see right away where the water hammer may be coming from, but I suspect it may be a pitch problem on the pipe connected to the drop from the vent to the right of the boiler. That pipe should slope continuously downward toward that vent and the drop pipe. You can check that with a level. That may not be it, though...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    exqheat
  • Danny Scully
    Danny Scully Member Posts: 1,430
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    Where are you located @metty
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,844
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    Boile is not piped right. Did these problems just start or have they been going on since the boiler was installed?
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 17,010
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    To begin with, the header is too small, it's copper instead of steel and the steam takeoffs come off the side instead of the top. This allows water to come up with the steam and enter the steam mains, where it will bang.

    The baseboard should be replaced with a proper radiator.

    Where are you located?
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
    exqheat
  • Mad Dog_2
    Mad Dog_2 Member Posts: 7,251
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    Seen Worse, but yes it could be better  Mad Dog 
  • exqheat
    exqheat Member Posts: 188
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    lift the cover off the pressuretrol and post a pictire of cut in and differential wheel. White wheel should be set at 1 or 2. You can tweak with performance, and to assure avoiding short cycling the boiler.
    John Cockerill Exquisite Heat www.exqheat.com Precisions boiler control from indoor reset.
  • Mustangman
    Mustangman Member Posts: 113
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    I live in PA. I was taught that steam piping needs to be black steel with cast iron threaded fittings. I am not saying that has any effect on what you have going on. However, solder joints can't take the extreme expansion and contraction and will give up. I have never seen hot water baseboard piped with steam. Not sure who put that system in but in my mind, they started off on the wrong foot with copper. Even the cast fittings are hard to get but, its what we use on steam. Why you ask? First, cast iron fittings do not streach like a malleable fitting. Less chance of leaks down the road when the fittings have been streached 100 times or so. The other reason, if you have to cut into a line with cast fittings.. all you need is a hammer. The edges of a cast fitting are much fatter than mallaeble. I can take 2 hammers and within a few swings, it cracks and you saved the threads. One hammer head goes on the opposite side of the fitting where you are swinging the hammer, and the other is your swinging hammer. A couple good swings and you got it. Try it with mallaeble and the hammer will bounce off and can injure you as it bounces off. Seen that movie, but fortunately I didn't star in that one.
    I don't want to hurt anyones feelings but from what I see, you may be ahead by just replacing the piping so its the right material and the right piping practice.
    Good luck
    Mad Dog_2
  • RTW
    RTW Member Posts: 72
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    I avoid commenting in this forum on a steam system using "copper pipes" as a header instead of black steel pipe knowing copper was used at the convenience of the installer instead of the proper steel black pipe that requires more effort. How do these rogue installers sleep at night? Question: how many pros on this site use "copper" headers and if so, what is the reasoning or advantage over black pipe? To be honest these installers using copper should be drawn and quartered. Regards RTW
    Mad Dog_2
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,970
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    The riser out of the boiler is also reduced, usually that isn't allowed but one would have to look at the manual. The size is important to let the steam slow down and water drop out of the steam flowing out of the boiler.

    Copper isn't used because it expands more with temp than steel and is soldered so it can't give at the threaded joints as it expands. Steel also is less conductive so it retains more heat and condenses less steam.

    Is there some sort of sleeve on the sight glass or is that a film of oil floating on the water? I can't tell in that picture. If it is oil that will cause the boiler to surge and throw water in to the mains. If there is oil in the boiler it needs to be skimmed using the skim ports near the top of the boiler, not drained.
  • metty
    metty Member Posts: 4
    edited April 4
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    I'm very happy to hear great feedback from you all. I'll try to answer the questions in one post since I cannot respond to individual comments.

    @Jamie Hall
    1) I'm located in Nutley NJ

    2) The water in the sight glass is usually right at the "water line" or just below. I do have a manual feeder
    and there was one instance where I had to add it this way. However, the auto-feeder has been filling it usually right to the "water line".

    3) The pressuretrol is set to 2. I'll paste a picture underneath. I can try setting it lower if needed.

    4) The boiler used to short cycle quite a bit before I called the professionals for a second time. I feel like it still does but as bad as it used to.

    5) On both wet returns, it's not a continuous slope down. At the last turn before it gets to hartford loop, its sloped slightly upward.



    @Danny Scully and @Steamhead
    1) I'm located in Nutley NJ


    @EBEBRATT-Ed
    1) I've only been in this house for two years and I can't remember how it was last year. The fact I can't remember last year probably means it just started this year.

    @mattmia2
    1) The black thing is a sleeve to show where the water line is more clearly. THe water is also a slightly pink color due to the cleaner that the last guy added to the system to help clean out whole system.


    Below are some pictures of the pressuretrol box.

    I do understand that it should be black iron pipes and not copper. Its not just the boiler but whoever flipped this house a few years ago took shortcuts everywhere (our kitchen, floors, etc). We have a kid on the way and I'm looking for a way to reduce the sound so it doesn't wake him up. We plan on eventually getting a bigger house so not sure if I want to repipe everything just yet (unless that seems to be the main reason for the issues).

    The baseboard radiators are another issue. I removed one earlier and a ton of water poured out (I believe from a bad pitch). I may at a minimum change these to proper radiators.

    And for those who are curious, I also pasted a picture of the radiator I removed. I need to sweat a new fitting on the right side after I can find something similar.


  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 17,010
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    metty said:

    .......... We plan on eventually getting a bigger house so not sure if I want to repipe everything just yet (unless that seems to be the main reason for the issues).

    The baseboard radiators are another issue. I removed one earlier and a ton of water poured out (I believe from a bad pitch). I may at a minimum change these to proper radiators.

    And for those who are curious, I also pasted a picture of the radiator I removed. I need to sweat a new fitting on the right side after I can find something similar.

    You really should get all this straightened out before you sell. No one wants to buy a house that has a banging heat system.

    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,661
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    "5) On both wet returns, it's not a continuous slope down. At the last turn before it gets to hartford loop, its sloped slightly upward."

    Anything you can do about that? Fix the slope so it's continuous all the way? That may well be your early in the cycle banging right there..

    On the copper -- leave it, as I said above. Particularly if you are not planning to stay that long.

    And... Nutley, NJ. If you would like a really top notch steam guy, send a PM to either @EzzyT or @clammy . You have two of the very best. (just click on the name to bring up a way to send them a personal message).
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,970
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    there are ways to pipe fin tube as 2 pipe on a 1 pipe system, that is the only way to make that work. replacing it with a cast iron radiator would be even better.

    if the header is too small for that boiler it is going to throw water up in to the system. the sideways tees also will, piping the boiler properly might be the only solution.

    too much additive in the water will cause it to foam and throw water in the mains for that reason.

    i think the varivents are pretty fast even on their lowest setting so especially if you have wet steam the fast venting will pull more water in to the radiators. you want to vent the mains quickly, not as much so for the radiators.

    if the returns get hot quickly but the radiators aren't hot yet that is a pretty good clue that liquid water heated by the boiler is being thrown in to the mains and circulating through the returns
  • metty
    metty Member Posts: 4
    edited April 8
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    @Jamie Hall and @mattmia2 thank you both again for your help. I learned some really great tips.

    I can try resweating the joints to get the wet returns to be continuously downward sloping. Hopefully, it at least reduces the noise. Also, I did notice that the wet return is getting pretty hot compared to some of the radiators.

    Lastly, I bought a Gorton #2 to replace the #1 on the right side (which goes through most of the house). Not sure if it will make a difference but these are things I can at least do before reaching out to someone to possibly repipe it.

  • Lyle {pheloa} Carter
    Lyle {pheloa} Carter Member Posts: 59
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    I am in agreement with Jamie. The copper piping is not the best way to do these systems. However, in this case, I don't think it has anything to do with your problem, so at this point I wouldn't concern myself with it. Varivalves are great steam valves, Because of their design, they will not close against water. The the more common steam valve will act as a float and seal the valve if it fills with water. I would replace the valve on the fin tube radiation with an adjustable Gorton on its slowest setting gradually increasing the setting day by day until the problem comes back and then back off. This method has worked for me in the past with fin tube piped as a one pipe on a steam system.
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,481
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    Finned convectors produce a lot of condensate and if the internal pipe is to small that can be a real problem. On single pipe steam 1/2" pipe probably won't work, 3/4" needs good slope on the comvector and slow venting to slow the condensation rate.

    Bob
    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
    Mad Dog_2
  • clammy
    clammy Member Posts: 3,115
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    Just wondering aside from lower the pressuretrol have you flushed the boiler out and made sure that the boilers water side passes where not filled w mud . Looking from the pics it does not look like they would have added a tee to the return inlet to the boiler nor left a full port ball valve on the front lower plug so the water side could be wanded out . As hard as one might believe a steam boiler filled w mud never performer well adding vari vents and changing main vents usually do nothing ,its a poor answer from your service provider and seems to be a blanket statement sorry . . I would hope that who ever has been service your boiler has at least check and clean the pigtail ,the sight glass assembly and removed the safety valve and checked its piping ,they tend to get clogged and blocked and most never check ..
    Being your service provider added some flush valves i,m wondering if they bothered to really flush and clean the boiler or check anything else being they left that pressuretroll setting higher then needed which is usually the issue when main vent spew water .The sight glass looks a bit dirty unless they have add chemicals to which too much of some additives tend to increase ph and cause issues which did not exist before some times priming and foaming will occur and further production of wet steam which usually don,t make anything better and can sometimes be the root of issues . Cause and effect .
    peace and good luck clammy
    R.A. Calmbacher L.L.C. HVAC
    NJ Master HVAC Lic.
    Mahwah, NJ
    Specializing in steam and hydronic heating
    mattmia2Mad Dog_2
  • metty
    metty Member Posts: 4
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    Thank you all again for your help on this. I haven’t checked in on this thread in a while but the clanging seemed to have resolved after I reconnected the tubes fin.


    it does suck in air once the heat shuts down which I still need to resolve but I will try to reach out to a few people mentioned above.

  • SteamingatMohawk
    SteamingatMohawk Member Posts: 1,025
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    @metty You posted: "They drained the boiler and asked me to replace all my vents with varivalves which I did. That’s when the issue of water hammer really started. "

    Being new to steam heat, it is critical that you understand the venting capability of the available vent valves, main vents as well as radiator vents.

    Heat Timer Varivalves do not shut off venting at the minimum setting. The table is from a report available on HH at https://www.heatinghelp.com/systems-help-center/balancing-steam-systems-using-a-vent-capacity-chart/ At the end of the report, there is a short article on overventing.

    What are the settings you have for your radiator vents? The general theory is vent the mains quickly and the radiators slowly.

    Here is a chart I did a couple of years ago to compare the venting capabilities of the more common radiator vent valves: https://www.heatinghelp.com/systems-help-center/vent-valve-comparison/

    I realize I am late to the discussion, but learning more about venting can't hurt.