The Golden Rules of Hydronic Heating
That's the title of one of our most popular books. "Golden Rules" is a little handbook that contains all sorts of hard-to-find charts, tables, conversion formulas and rules of thumb, which when properly applied, can help you face tough steam- and hot-water heating challenges. Also in the booklet, and briefly stated, are these seventeen truths. These are The Golden Rules of Hydronic Heating, upon which I shall now briefly elaborate:
There's more to life than combustion. Don't be a Flamehead!
Ever notice how most of us head for the boiler room first? I figure this is a vestige left over the days when we all lived in caves. You feel safe when you can get underground and build a fire, right? The trouble with being a Flamehead, though, is that the answer to your problem often lies out there in the building. More likely than not, it has something to do with the piping. So get out of the boiler room and poke around. See the system, not just the symptoms.
If you can't find the time to do it right, you'll never find the time to do it twice.
Think about this Golden Rule the next time you're tempted to take a shortcut. Manufacturers print those instructions for a reason, and if you choose to ignore them, you're probably going to get a callback or two...or three. Got time for callbacks?
Never do work for your relatives, your church or your synagogue. These jobs will never work.
You know why?
1. You do these jobs for free, or for next to no money, and
2. You're working for the people who are most likely to break your chops and drive you nuts when the slightest thing goes wrong. And by the way, this is the reason why most heating professionals have the worst imaginable heating systems in their own homes and offices.
On most days, the urge to oversize is greater than the sex drive.
Like the first Golden Rule, this one is also genetic. Most heating professionals are born with this recessive gene that mutates and expands like microwave popcorn whenever it's time to do a heat loss calculation or size a boiler, burner or circulator.
Just when you think you've got it all figured out...you don't.
Most of us learn everything we need to know during the first five years we're in the business. The next five years, we spend believing we know it all, and telling anyone who will listen how smart we are, and what an idiot the boss is. If we stick around beyond ten years, however, we begin to realize we're actually as dumb as rocks.
Mother Nature makes no allowances for ignorance or budgets.
You have my permission to quote this one the next time you're speaking to the board members of a cooperative apartment building.
The problem and the solution are rarely in the same room. Get out of the boiler room and be nosey.
This is especially true of steam heating systems. Steam likes to play a slight-of-hand game with you. It sends you running one way when the real cause of the problem is the other way. If you hear a noise on the second floor, look in the basement for the answer. If the condensate isn't returning to the boiler, wander out into the piping system because that's probably where you'll find your answer. Again, look to the system, not just the symptoms.
The best tools a troubleshooter can carry are a very bright flashlight and a very open mind.
Do you ever figure out what's wrong with the job before you even get there? You make up your mind while you're still in your truck, and then you set out to prove you're right, even though you may be wrong. Bright flashlights can help you look, but only if you're willing to see.
High pressure goes to low pressure...always.
This is what makes steam flow from the boiler to the radiators. It's also what makes hot water turn this way or that every time it encounters a tee. If there's not enough pressure difference between two points, the fluid or gas (whether it’s steam or hot air) won't move, and you'll wind up with a no-heat call.
One in-coming phone call will always generate a minimum of five out-going phone calls.
If you'd actually like to accomplish something during the course of a day, never pick up the telephone, especially if you're on your way out the door. Touch that phone and you will never see the light of day.
When troubleshooting, always round up the usual suspects: air, dirt and improper piping.
I was thinking about some of the nasty and spooky jobs I've visited over the years. The cause of the problem in nearly every case was air, dirt or improper piping. Most of these nightmares could have been avoided if the installer had read the directions, remembered that air is everywhere, and flushed the system before starting it up. It is so easy to stay out of trouble, it really is.
You can have it good. You can have it fast. You can have it cheap. Pick two.
This is my all-time favorite Golden Rule. So much truth to it!
The Laws of Physics will always override the Laws of Economics.
However, the Laws of Economics will usually prevail in the short run.
If you bleed a radiator and you don't get any air, it ain't an air problem. Stop bleeding!
Open a hole in a closed hydronic system and water will flow from it. Let it flow long enough and you will drag hot water up from the boiler. This does not mean you solved your problem, unless, of course, you plan to leave the hole open permanently. If you don't get air, it ain't an air problem. This is one of life's great truths.
When you do something stupid in heating, you will always be rewarded in a small way. This leads you to do other stupid things.
If you keep bleeding the radiator, it will get hot eventually. That's your reward for being dopey. In a similar way, when you raise the steam pressure, you'll compress the air that's trapped in the pipes. The steam will appear to move a bit further down the line. That's your reward! You'll feel so good that you'll raise the pressure even higher, along with the fuel bills. The system won't work any better, but you'll be smiling like the village idiot.
When it comes to steam heating, if it makes sense, don't do it!
For instance, if you want the steam to move more quickly lower the pressure, don't raise it. It works because it doesn't make sense. So crank it down!
The two correct questions to any heating question you will ever be asked:
- It depends.
- Let me get back to you, okay?
Number One, when properly delivered, makes you appear sincere. Number Two, which is to be used only when Number One fails, gets you out of the neighborhood.