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Meet My System (needs a tune up)

TXBDan Member Posts: 28
edited October 2015 in Strictly Steam
Hello all,

First, thanks for the great forum. I've learned a ton already and since reading I've become obsessed with my heating system. I've bought The Lost Art of Steam Heat as well as the Balancing Steam Systems PDF from the website. I've been reading up!

My wife and I bought this house a few months ago (1900s 1980sqft 2 story foursquare in Wakefield, MA) and our entering our first winter with it. The previous owners said the heating system generally works fine. There is blown insulation in all the exterior walls and new windows. In the summer, we could open the windows at night and close them during the day and keep a good 10F delta throughout the day.

What I'm working with:
The system is a one pipe steam heat system with old radiators. The boiler is a H.B. Smith BB14 (I assume this is pretty old?) with a Carlin G3B gas burner. The boiler also heats our hot water. I calculated my radiators to be a total EDR of 349.
First Floor:
  • LR: 60
  • Den: 36
  • Dining: 56
  • Kitchen: 56
  • Half Bath: 13
Second Floor:
  • Guest: 28
  • Office1: 32
  • Office2: 28
  • Master: 26
  • Bath: 14
Do these seem low? I may need to go back and double check. Almost all of the radiators have a Hoffman #41 and a Danfoss TRV. The upstairs radiators are set to 5

For near boiler piping, I have two 2" risers and a header that is 22" above the water line. The header is 4" and verticle. It plumbs up into a bullhead T to split between the two 2" main pipes. I read in the Lost Art of Steam Heat that this bullhead T might not be good. However, I see no fluctuations in the water level in the glass while its boiling.

One 2" main goes 20ft to the center of the back of the house where it splits into a 1.5" 11.5' then 1.25" for 2' more to the back right corner and to a 1.5" 15' pipe to the back left corner. The dry return is 1.25" and loops back where the main ends, 16' to the main vent where the pipe drops down to the wet return.

The second 2" main goes 10.5' to the center of the front of the house where it splits into 10' 1.5" pipe to the right and 9' 1.25" pipe to the left. The dry return is 13' of 1.25".

At each of the corner the "submains" feed a first floor radiator and have a 9' riser up to a second floor radiator. There are also bathroom radiators in the back center on both floors.

The mains are vented at the ends of the dry returns with some sort of USAV vent that is 4" tall and 1" in diameter. I can't make out a model number.

I'm in the process of insulating all the steam pipes with 1" fiberglass insulation.

The pressuretrol appears to be set at a 0.5psi cut-in. I'm not sure what the cut-out or delta is.

So what's the problem?
The problem is that I think the radiators are slow to heat and the upstairs is colder than the downstairs.

I did some timing:
T-0 Boiler lights up
T-1ish Header is too hot to touch
T-4:15 Main pipes (2"ers) are hot at the ends
T-7:05 Submain pipes (1.5"ers) are hot at the ends
T-15:00 Dry returns are hot at the ends where the main vents are (upstairs radiators still cold)
T-16:10 Boiler turns off

Since the main vents are down on the dry returns, how do I make sure steam gets up the risers quickly? the only vent up there is on the radiator at the end. Seems like I need something a lot bigger than a Hoffman #41

I filled out the excel sheet I found on here and it says I should be using Gorton #6 or #Cs. It also says for main vents I should use a Gorton #1. However, from the Balancing Steam Systems PDF, a Gorton #1 is only good for 0.33CFM at 1oz. My mains need to flow .828 and 0.690CFM to vent in 1minute which greater. Why is this recommendation so? I've attached the spreadsheet.

Is the current main vent location ok or should they be off elbows or higher up?

I've never seen the 30PSI gauge budge. Is this expected?

How does my drinking hot water system work? I see the temperature dial, is 180F reasonable?

My plan is to replace the main vents per recommendations first to see if things start moving quicker. After that i'll worry about the radiator vents, but i suspect I'll have to replace at least the upstairs vents with bigger ones.

Sorry for the massive post and many thanks for reading! Any input is welcome.


  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,094
    Couple of things I notice in your pictures. First the boiler is piped wrong, you don't have a vertical header you basically have no header. What you have as a "header" is a colliding header with the 4" pipe between the risers. You also don't have an equalizer and you don't have a Hartford loop, basically I can't see anything correct with that boiler piping. Also the mains should not be connected together, but rather come down to the header individually. The main venting you have is definitely not adequate. Best guess based on what you posted would be 2 Gorton #2 vents on the first main and a single Gorton #2 on the second. A good way to determine how much is to remove the vent, time how long it takes to heat the main with no vent then put as many vents on as sensible to get close to that number. I am sure more will comment, but that's what I can see at first look.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 19,154
    Even though the boiler piping is rather dubious, it's working. I'd leave it until I had to replace the boiler.

    The venting now... do get those bigger main vents on. It will make a world of difference in this application. If you still have trouble getting steam to the upstairs radiators, and changing the vents (slow downstairs, faster up stairs) hasn't helped, you may be able to add vents at the tops of the risers -- but that's a fairly drastic solution.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,312
    It sounds like you need at least one Gorton #2 on the long main and 2ea #1's on the short main but I'm a little confused on the location of the vents. Can you draw up a simple sketch of the mains showing the vents?

    At some point the near boiler piping should be redone, it is badly misconfigured and will make wet steam. Make sure any main that splits has some slope so water can find it's way back to the boiler.

    Any radiator with a long piping run may need more venting. I like the maid o mist 5L's because they come with 5 different orifices so they can easily be adjusted. Swapping vents can get pricey, these make it easy and cheap.

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003DV3AGE?keywords=maiomist 5l&qid=1445391112&ref_=sr_1_sc_1&sr=8-1-spell

    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • TXBDan
    TXBDan Member Posts: 28
    Thanks for the input. I was having trouble matching the piping diagrams in the book to this thing...

    Bob, in Pic #4 you can see the full dry return and the main vent for one main (back of house). Pic #5 shows the two main vents together and Pic #6 shows the dry return and main at the front of the house.
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 9,824
    I am impressed to see 2 (two) 2X2X4 bullhead tees on one boiler! The money for those boys could have gone towards even a proper header. I'm thinking your piping isn't in any book. But it would be quite an effort to get this all up to the book, as mentioned above.....someday.

    Those look like neat old main vents. Do you have a name and # on them, not that it matters, just old guy curiosity. As stated you should upgrade them to Gorton # 2's. However get some fittings and piping between that end of line 90 ell. Just some horizontal piping from that existing elbow to your new vents would help protect them. Just so that horizontal pipe slopes to drain into the return.

    I have taken notice (and we all should) of the range of inputs of that Carlin G3B power burner. 60,000 up to 180,000 BTUH. Is this changeable with a single orifice? I am only familiar with a "Adams Speedflame" which will go from 300,000 to 800,000 BTUH with the options of 1 of 2 different orifices installed in the union connecting the burner to the supply and then adjusting the pressure from 2 to 5" WC to get everything in between. Never have seen this brand mentioned on the Wall.
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,312
    edited October 2015
    I see the vents now and they are much too small for your needs. They look like they were sized for a coal burning boiler. I agree with @JUGHNE the the first order of business is upgrading those vents. Fixing that piping can be left for later when you have built up a war chest to work with (it's not going to be cheap).

    When you do get to repipe the boiler I would get a dropped header with the deader being at least one size larger than the boiler risers and don't let them use anything but full size boiler risers. Also note the connections to the mains occur after the boiler risers attach to the mains, not between them.

    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • TXBDan
    TXBDan Member Posts: 28
    edited October 2015
    I read through the near piping chapter of The Lost Art of Steam Heat last night and its becoming clear. Between rereading that and the effort of taking the pics to really look at my system I can see exactly what you guys are saying. No real header, no equalizer, no Hartford loop, and a bullhead T. Nice!

    The OCD in me wants this fixed ASAP, but my wife wisely reminded me that it won't be cheap and winter is quickly approaching. It'll have to wait till the spring at the earliest.

    BobC, I like the diagram you show, I can picture that clearly in my basement. Ugh!

    Well, first things first, the main vents. Since they shouldn't be straight above the drop to the wet returns and should have an elbow, I'm thinking I should build a little antler for each that could hold two 1/2" vents if need be. I'll start with one Gorton #2 per main.

    As you can see in Picture #10, the elbow is 1.25" pipe, but has a reducer for the vents. There is a tack of reducer bushings.

    I measured the OD of the vent's threads and found them around 5/8" which through searching I think is a 3/8" pipe thread.

    The next bushing down measured 7/8" which I think is a 1/2" pipe thread.

    I forgot to measure the bottom bushing that threads into the elbow. Guessing by the picture, I'd think the bottom bushing's thread's OD is 9/8" which I think is 3/4" pipe. Does that look reasonable?

    I think the "Antler" type would fit well in my setup as shown in this thread: http://forum.heatinghelp.com/discussion/127856/main-vent-installation

    So I'd use 3/4" pipe for the antler with 3/4-1/2-3/4 T's. http://www.supplyhouse.com/Ward-FBTE3-4x3-4x1-2-3-4-x-3-4-x-1-2-Black-Tee-688000-p

    Or maybe I should just use 1/2" pipe. Some quick searching found that 1/2" can support two Gorton #2s.

    How much space is required between T's to fit two Gorton #2s (potentially) side by side?

    Should I tape and dope the interfaces? This will be a fun little project.
  • TXBDan
    TXBDan Member Posts: 28
    I got the Gorton #1 main vents installed today. I piped them with 1/2" pipe and raised them up about a foot and jogged them over for protection as well. I used only cheap Teflon tape and as far as I could tell there weren't any leaks on the first fire up.

    I forgot to time it, but the heat definitely moved through the main pipes faster. I could also feel the air venting out of them. It was 74F out today so I'll give them a good run when it gets cold again this weekend.