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Vapor/vacuum system… what am I looking at?

Kevibee
Kevibee Member Posts: 16
My wife and I purchased an older farmhouse Circa 1810 with a vapor/vacuum system (I’m assuming).

what the hell am I looking at?

«1

Comments

  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 19,152
    I'm thinking that that photo is more of some wiring... some rather odd wiring...

    Which, having dealt with a few of these old places, wouldn't surprise me a bit. Which is not to say it might not be related to the heating. It might.

    Would you be able to post a few pictures of the boiler -- from far enough so we can make out the piping around it, and also some of its controls? Also at least one typical radiator -- and any connections to that?

    Does anything work? What is your fuel?
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Kevibee
    Kevibee Member Posts: 16
    Disregard the wiring, I’m asking about this valve(?) that’s connected to the return line above the boiler. It has “vapor vacuum heating Philadelphia co” on it.
    ayetchvacker
  • Kevibee
    Kevibee Member Posts: 16
    Also: 2 pipe system, oil heat, previous owner put in a new boiler a few years ago. 

    Circled in red is the valve(?) and the red arrow is drawn along the pipe connecting it to the return pipes.
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 5,740
    Does that run well? I'm thinking it needs to be on a vaporstat for those orifice 2 pipe radiators to work right without banging and other issues. Or to have the boiler really well matched to the system size.

    The device looks like maybe it had a chain attached to that lever that regulated the draft of the coal boiler. Are there pulleys on the ceiling near it?
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 5,740
    What does the casting say?
  • Kevibee
    Kevibee Member Posts: 16
    mattmia2 said:
    What does the casting say?
    “Vapor vacuum heating co Philadelphia”

    mattmia2 said:
    Does that run well? I'm thinking it needs to be on a vaporstat for those orifice 2 pipe radiators to work right without banging and other issues.
    The only issue I’m having is a cold radiator on the first floor. There’s 8 radiators on the first floor, 6 on the second and 1 on the third. 
  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 16,072
    I think it’s a vacuum vent from the days of coal. Is there another vent near the end of the main?
    Retired and loving it.
  • Kevibee
    Kevibee Member Posts: 16
    I think it’s a vacuum vent from the days of coal. Is there another vent near the end of the main?
    From what I can see, no.
  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 16,072
    Do you have a pic of the radiator that's not heating?
    Retired and loving it.
  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 16,072
    There's mention of the company in a 1911 edition of The Metal Worker magazine. Too bad we can't send for the brochure:

    https://books.google.com/books?id=t-c_AQAAMAAJ&pg=PA584&lpg=PA584&dq=Vapor+Vacuum+Heating+Company,+Philadelphia,+historical&source=bl&ots=0txUXgQW1O&sig=ACfU3U1hJP7bwTr7AUdgjqWQccuxyMxtAg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjs3cG_l9nzAhWudN8KHfCnCtAQ6AF6BAgJEAM#v=onepage&q=Vapor Vacuum Heating Company, Philadelphia, historical&f=false

    The older radiator valve with the handle is an original. You'd move the peg in the valve's bonnet to limit the steam entering the radiator. There's a variable orifice inside. If your radiator isn't working, that could be the problem.
    Retired and loving it.
    Kevibee
  • Kevibee
    Kevibee Member Posts: 16
    Do you have a pic of the radiator that's not heating?
    The one not heating is identical to the picture of the largest radiator. I found the supply pipe in the basement, it’s about 8’ long uninsulated and gets cold about halfway. The handle moves freely with similar resistance compared to the working rads
  • Kevibee
    Kevibee Member Posts: 16
    I’d post more pictures from the basement but they don’t quite do any justice to the layout; I’ve got water supply pipes, wiring, house vacuum piping, and a colony of spiders obscuring the steam pipes. It’s such a mess that it took me a while to trace what went where; it didn’t help that the supply line for the nonfunctioning radiator was on the opposite wall despite being above another steam pipe.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 19,152
    Sounds like fun. First, that uninsulated 8 foot runout isn't going to be helping one little bit. Second, make sure that the valve really is open. And third -- make darn sure that both the feed line and the return have no dips or sags in them and that they both slope back -- in the one case to the main, in the other to the return.

    It may seem odd, but lower pressure will almost certainly give you better distribution -- though it probably won't help your problem child. I would expect that system to run best on perhaps 4 to 8 ounces pressure, maximum.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Kevibee
    Kevibee Member Posts: 16
    It may seem odd, but lower pressure will almost certainly give you better distribution -- though it probably won't help your problem child. I would expect that system to run best on perhaps 4 to 8 ounces pressure, maximum.
    Well good news then; the pressure gauge hardly lifts off 0. However, I know that’s not saying much with the standard gauge.

    Would tapping the return valve help? The one diagram I found shows a ball check that I’m assuming is stuck. See picture below:


  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 12,149
    Take the valve and the return elbow off the problem radiator and clean them and re-install. Check the piping for pitch
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 15,429
    The "Vapor Vacuum Heating Co" was the company that marketed the Kriebel system. This system is covered in chapter 15 of "Lost Art".

    This means that the radiator return elbows have "bafflers" in them, and the one on the cold radiator may be stuck. A couple of sharp raps should free it.

    The device shown in the pics may be a variation of the Kriebel air vent. @Kevibee , where does the pipe from that device connect to?
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
    Kevibee
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 5,740
    If you don't find sagging piping that is trapping water, look for those radiators where they replaced the metering valve with a standard valve supplying too much steam and getting steam in the returns. Maybe feel the returns to see if any are really hot or close some or all of the radiators with the new valves and see if you can control the steam in the returns. The ones where the valves were replaced need an orifice plate in the supply to perform the same function as the metering valve or they will be supplied with more steam than they can condense and it will end up in the return which can block the venting of other radiators.
    Kevibee
  • Kevibee
    Kevibee Member Posts: 16
    Steamhead said: The device shown in the pics may be a variation of the Kriebel air vent. @Kevibee , where does the pipe from that device connect to?
    The pipe connects into the vertical off the dry return above the boiler. I’ll try to snag a better picture tonight or draw a diagram after work
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 15,429
    edited October 2021
    Kevibee said:

    The pipe connects into the vertical off the dry return above the boiler. I’ll try to snag a better picture tonight or draw a diagram after work

    OK, so that is definitely the vent. If you don't already have it, get a copy of "The Lost Art of Steam Heating", here:

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

    On most Vapor systems, there is only one vent location. This did away with the need for air vents on the radiators. The overhead ("dry") returns carry the air back to the vent, along with the condensate which was returned to the boiler.

    Where are you located?
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
    Erin Holohan Haskell
  • Kevibee
    Kevibee Member Posts: 16
    @Steamhead I’m located in Dublin, PA. I just ordered that book, didn’t realize Dan was already in the thread, ha
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 15,429
    edited October 2021
    Kevibee said:

    @Steamhead I’m located in Dublin, PA. I just ordered that book, didn’t realize Dan was already in the thread, ha

    Right above Philly. If you need a pro, see if Pompetti will come up that far:

    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/pompetti-heating-and-air-conditioning-inc
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
    Kevibee
  • Kevibee
    Kevibee Member Posts: 16
    Alright I think I may have found my issue. The previous owner had new fuel tanks installed and the feed lines for the tanks were installed right under the return pipe for my nonfunctioning radiator. In the picture, the copper line is the return, it’s about 2 inches higher than it should be.

    thoughts?


  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 15,429
    Make sure the return slopes down all the way from the radiator to the dry return main.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
  • Kevibee
    Kevibee Member Posts: 16
    Steamhead said:
    Make sure the return slopes down all the way from the radiator to the dry return main.
    It used to, I have to get the pipe shortened so it’s not sitting on my fuel tank fill pipe. The return slopes down to the midway point then back up to the point I have pictured above. 

    Whoever installed the fuel tanks moved the return line up, so now it’s a U shape instead of a downward slope
    mattmia2
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 15,429
    Fix that and it should work. Let us know how you make out.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
    Kevibee
  • Kevibee
    Kevibee Member Posts: 16
    mattmia2 said:
    What does the casting say?
    I got a better look at the casting tonight, it says patented 1908 on the opposite side of the company name
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 5,740
    so the copper pipe is the return from that radiator and it slopes down toward the camera and the radiator return itself is behind the camera so that ell is higher than it used to be?
  • Kevibee
    Kevibee Member Posts: 16
    mattmia2 said:
    so the copper pipe is the return from that radiator and it slopes down toward the camera and the radiator return itself is behind the camera so that ell is higher than it used to be?
    Exactly. I don’t think the fuel tank installers knew it was a return line or that it would cause an issue. All of this is above the fuel tanks and between floor joists, so next to impossible to get a decent picture.
  • Kevibee
    Kevibee Member Posts: 16
    edited December 2021


    I got some more pictures of the vent, I’ve gone through the recommended book and read through a bunch of forum posts but haven’t seen anything close to one of these. 

    I fired my boiler a few minutes ago and could feel cold air coming out of the little flapper at the bottom that you can see on the second picture. On top there seems to be an adjustment nut(s).

    it takes about 15 minutes from a cold start for steam to hit the radiators and start filling them. My average run cycle is about 25 minutes on and 50ish minutes off to maintain temp.

    The other thing I’ve noticed is my radiators fill on an angle, the first few fins will be hot almost to the bottom whereas the last one will only be the top few inches and in between you can draw a line from the lowest to the highest hot spots to see where they’ll feel hot.

    Should I look into more venting? Would I be able to convert to a modern vent?
  • Kevibee
    Kevibee Member Posts: 16
    Updating the thread a bit for anyone that finds a similar valve on their 2 pipe setup.

    From what I can gather, I’m running 90% of the original piping from 1908 when it was installed into the house with 10% (a few copper runs going to ‘new to the house’ radiators) being from the renovations in the 90s. 

    Ive lubricated the cast mechanism and the flapper at the bottom of the body that I’ve pictured a few times in the thread. 

    There’s a little lever on the end of the relief that’s spring loaded; it was extremely stiff to operate. Now it moves nicely; I was able to move it a little before but since I’ve sprayed it down it’s much easier. I’m guessing it’s kinda like the needle in a carburetor but with air pressure; the vent is always “open” but can open more if pressure builds to regulate venting.

    The flapper wasn’t sitting against the machined surface before I lubed up the hinge, and now it sits flush. In between cycles the flapper takes quite a bit of force to break suction whereas before it wasn’t holding a vacuum at all. This is why the needle is always “open” even if it’s only a bit.

    My cycles have cut down significantly from about 25 minutes on and 50 off to around 15 on and 50+ off. Outside temp has been in the mid 20s all week. Venting has improved so much that even the radiator in the kitchen is getting steam to the supply valve despite the sagging return line.
    ethicalpaulreggicross_skierayetchvacker
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,312
    Amazing what some TLC can accomplish.
    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • reggi
    reggi Member Posts: 188
    Kevibee said:
    Updating the thread a bit for anyone that finds a similar valve on their 2 pipe setup
    Cool... little after the fact but... the patents are in .pdf
    Nice work sticking with it !



    One way to get familiar something you know nothing about is to ask a really smart person a really stupid question
    cross_skierayetchvackerHap_Hazzard
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 15,429
    Nice find, @reggi ! That looks like @Kevibee 's vent, and it does show an earlier patent date.

    @Erin Holohan Haskell , can this go in the Museum?
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
    reggi
  • Erin Holohan Haskell
    Erin Holohan Haskell Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 1,889
    Yes, it can, @Steamhead. Nice find, @reggi. Thank you!
    President
    HeatingHelp.com
    reggi
  • reggi
    reggi Member Posts: 188
    Steamhead said:
    Nice find, @reggi ! That looks like @Kevibee 's vent, and it does show an earlier patent date. @Erin Holohan Haskell , can this go in the Museum?
    It sure does... I wonder how the rest of it is piped .. 

    One way to get familiar something you know nothing about is to ask a really smart person a really stupid question
  • reggi
    reggi Member Posts: 188
    Yes, it can, @Steamhead. Nice find, @reggi. Thank you!
    @Erin Holohan Haskell  LoL... After I went to the "Online Library" and found the Kriebel information and posted it I was moseying about on your site and found @gerri gill had them listed since 2014 so technically they were here already when I brought them in from the outside... Gotta give @gerry gill the original credit...I just refound the same information out there that  OP did years ago....
    One way to get familiar something you know nothing about is to ask a really smart person a really stupid question
  • Erin Holohan Haskell
    Erin Holohan Haskell Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 1,889
    Well, how about that?! :D Thanks for spotting it.
    President
    HeatingHelp.com
  • reggi
    reggi Member Posts: 188
    @Steamhead @Erin Holohan Haskell
    Hey..I knew I had this somewhere.. pretty sure it's not common but if you already have it I won't bother copying it..I know you have a Huge Collection but this is just because we're on the subject....lmk....
    One way to get familiar something you know nothing about is to ask a really smart person a really stupid question
    ayetchvacker
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 15,429
    I think that would be a great addition to the Museum, especially if the whole thing was copied- @Erin Holohan Haskell ?
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
    luketheplumbercross_skierreggi
  • reggi
    reggi Member Posts: 188
    edited February 14
    Steamhead said:
    I think that would be a great addition to the Museum, especially if the whole thing was copied- @Erin Holohan Haskell ?
    Well good... I'll fire' up the scanner and do it proper tomorrow and attach it here.. the whole thing (  There even might be places in the back of the book from 112+ years ago near you that needs a Pro that understands them ) 😉
    One way to get familiar something you know nothing about is to ask a really smart person a really stupid question