How to Flush the Return Lines on an Old Steam System
1. We use newspaper,red rosin paper and kitty litter. We are as careful as possible, butspills do happen. Because we know this, we also bring along aheavy-duty mop and wringer bucket. This, along with a good floorcleaner, enables us to leave the work area cleaner than we found it. Wehave found most clients are pleasantly surprised by our effort to keeptheir floors clean. It makes for repeat business!
2. Ifit's not already there, I'll pipe in a boiler drain and ball valve oneach leg of the wet return. This allows me to flush the line and directthe mess through a garden hose to a safe place outside the building.The cost of the few fittings is worth it. It shows customers that youcare about their system and keeping their home clean.
On new boiler installations, I install the boiler drains and valves as part of the installation.
3.I would suggest a couple ideas. Fit an adaptor to connect a pumpdischarge hose and run it to a safe location. Maybe hire your localdrain cleaner with a water jetter and big sucker truck.
4.A lot of speedy dry, a good vinyl tarp and a wet vac do the trick. Evenbetter, change those old drain valves to full-port ball valves and giveit a good flush.
5. We use a big shop vac to suck out thewater as we flush the return out. Just make sure you have a safe placeto empty the vac because that will make a mess too.
6. Attach a garden hose at a hose cock to an outside drain.
7.What we have done with one system, an old school built in 1911, was touse a sewer rooter service. The man inserts the cutter of the correctdiameter and cuts out the crud. As he pulls the cable back, we wipe itwith a rags, and as the glop is pulled out finally. we pull it into aring of rags, weaved loosely together to make a well. Then we suck upthe mess with a wet/dry vacuum by introducing some water as we go tomake the crud into a slurry.
If you have a really big,job as we did some time ago, think about hiring a sewage servicecompany. The vacuum is so strong that the operator can hold the nozzleat the pipe opening and suck the crap up before it can even leave thearea. Also, because the truck suction is designed for semi-solids, itwill take just about anything that is wet and can cause a vacuum at thenozzle to occur. It does not do a good job on dry material, however,and you have to wet down any friable material for it to be taken.
Oneperson I know used the ring off the diamond drill (the ring that takesaway the water as you cut). He used a vacuum on it, and it worked wellas long as it was made into a fairly watery mess. Any way you do, it isa lousy, dirty, crummy job – just the sort we all like to do,especially if you have a mouthy helper!
8. We try to talkthem into new piping below the water line, which costs about as much asa thorough cleaning will. Barring that, we'll either use heavy plasticto capture the boiler "ink" or a shop vac to keep the mess contained.New piping is the better method in most ancient replacement cases, anda cloth rag or duct tape stuffed in, or taped over, the old openinghelps avoid the old age dribbles.
Better yet, we invite their kids to the basement for finger painting on the plastered rec. room walls!
9.I’ve come across this many times. I started by draining out the boiler(I'm assuming that there is no drain cock on the return, right?). Next,I'd break the 'L' at the Hartford Loop, put in the suction hose from aPony pump, and suck out whatever you can. Now the options occur:
Option1: If there is enough play to pick up the return at that end, I'd doso, place a brick or something under it to give it some back pitch,crack the fitting, remove it and install a heel-tee with a drain cockand reconnect and continue with the job.
Option 2: Noplay in return (underground)? This is a pain. I'd chop the concrete orcut the floor just enough to expose the fitting and remove the debrisall around the riser coming up from the floor and remove that riser bycutting a notch at the threads, removing it, collapse the threads inthe fitting, unscrew the riser and installing a shorter riser with atee and a drain cock.
Option #3: If the return ishorizontal, but has no play, such as it won’t if it passes through apartition, and there is room, I'd crack the tee and use the riser thatwent to the Hartford Loop as a lever. I’d pull down, making thatvertical piece horizontal, and use gradually smaller (in Height)receivers such as roasting pans to get the water out. So you would pulldown, catch some water until the pan fills, then push it vertically,dump the water and then repeat as necessary. Usually a few old towelsat the very end are all that you’ll need.
Now naturally,you have to inform the customer that whenever you have to crack afitting it might damage another part of the return, but if that damagedoes occur, the return needed replacing anyway. Now, when I talk about"cracking the fitting" I'm saying to hold back against the force of thestriking hammer on the opposite side of the fitting with a heavierhammer. You know, for inch and a half and smaller, a 28-ounce hammerwith a three-pound back-up works well. If the return is larger, thenhold back with a sledge. The idea is to only create a crack in thefitting, not to bust out a piece of it. Just enough to produce ahairline crack, and then it will not offer any resistance. Hope thishelps.
10. If we need to avoid any spillage at all, we cuta piece of 6-mil heavy plastic to fit in the area. We place it so itgoes up any walls to a few inches in height and extend it out amore-than-adequate distance, based on the most water we estimate couldspill or splash. We always put plenty to play it safe. We buy the 6-milplastic in 20' wide x 50' or 100' long rolls and cut off whatever weneed. We can sometimes use the plastic more than once if it hasn't beencut in a bad spot for the next job. Some small cuts can be taped to bedamp-proof with duct tape.
Then we cut a line into theplastic to where any penetrations come out of the floor and make somecrisscross cuts there, being careful to make the outside diameter ofthese cuts a little smaller than the penetration so it fits tightly andwe tape it in place. Duct tape works well. Then we put down someabsorbent rags around where we will open the pipe We always keep aplentiful supply of rags in the shop and on every truck. We bring extrawhen we know were going to do a job that requires them.
Beforewe open the pipe, we make sure we have more than enough catch bucketsready to handle the flow, and we plan where we’re going to dump thebuckets, and we make sure we have a clear and protected path to thatspot. And we always do this with a two-man crew so that we have anextra pair of hands ready to keep the job as neat as possible, and tohelp swap out the full buckets for empty ones. Also, we don't fill thebuckets all the way to the top to prevent spillage.
After weredone, we dry any spillage and our boots before we start walking around,we clean up, and voila`, a satisfied customer is usually the result.
11.At the union or elbow, break apart the pipe and using the elbow andnipple, raise the pipe up so it can drain into a bucket. Use a shallowpan and pump if the return is very low, or simply replace the returnwith new pipe and save yourself the headache.