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    Improve a Moderately Screwed Up Richardson Vapor System? (11 Posts)

  • DC_20011 DC_20011 @ 5:48 PM
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    Improve a Moderately Screwed Up Richardson Vapor System?


    Sorry for the length!  I'd like to increase the heating and efficiency of what I think is a Richardson 2-pipe vapor system.  I'm hoping The Wall can confirm the system type and help me solve a few strange issues.

    Here is a sketch and some photographs of the system:


    The system is in a 1919 brick townhouse that I've owned since 2008. It has clearly been modified, unmodified, and re-modified several times. There was a boiler replacement around 2002 resulting in the current Crown boiler -- 103,000 input, 84,000 output BTUs.  The boiler seems to be working well.  The boiler is running off a pressuretrol, not a vaporstat, and the pressuretrol is set at what looks like 1 or 1.5 psi. I have never experienced the boiler cycle stopping before the temperature is reached even with longer cycles in the real cold, so I don't think there is much pressure building in the system, if any (it might be vented to the outside....).


    1. The radiators all heat up, but not completely.  There is about a 4 to 5 degree difference between the warmer downstairs (thermostat location) and colder upstairs, despite the upstairs having larger supply piping.

    2. 5 of 6 radiators have Richardson type supply valves and water seal elbows, but also have Hoffman #40 or equivalent air vents that shouldn't be needed in this kind of system.  Some of the air vents push out quite a bit of air during each cycle, others not so much at all -- but they all heat. The Richardson elbows are installed eccentrically at the bottoms of the plugs, not in the center, but they really do look like Richardson water seal elbows.  Radiator #3 is another story -- its connections were hacked together with copper after a bathroom remodel at some point in the past.  Despite that, Radiator #3 actually heats really well, and its connection to the dry return doesn't get hot, so steam is not circulating. 

    3.  The dry returns junction has what I think is an old Hoffman #6 Quick Air Vent / Vacuum Valve (can't tell if its doing anything), but it also has a mystery pipe running to the chimney stack, and I have to assume  venting to the outside.  There is no evidence of a previous radiator that would have had a dry return in the chimney area.

    4.  Steam Main #1 does not connect to  Dry Return #1 except through the Radiators. However, the end of Steam Main #2 directly connects to Dry Return #2 through some kind of water seal loop with no trap or valve.  For whatever reason, it seems to work -- the Steam Main side of the loop is hot, but the Dry Return side is always cold.  In fact, the dry returns are always cold, so steam is not circulating through the dry returns.

    QUESTIONS / Help Needed:

    Based on reading, I think the plan would be switching to a vaporstat, cleaning the Richardson elbows, removing the radiator air  vents, adding vents to the ends of the steam mains, and replacing the Hoffmann #6 with a Gorton #2 or even a pair of them. However, I'm concerned about a few things:

    A.  What is that mystery  pipe leading to the chimney stack?  If it is atmospheric venting to the outside, what would that mean?  What should I do -- leave it? Cap it and replace the Hoffman #6 with a lot more venting at the Dry Returns Junction?

    B.  What is the purpose of the water seal loop at the end of Steam Main #2?  Should I sever the connection between Steam Main #2 and Dry Return #2 and then vent the end of Steam Main #2? Should I leave it as is?

    C.  Is everyone sure that these are Richardson Elbows? Is there any guide to servicing the air hole in the Richardson Elbows?  I don't see any way to get into them without taking the whole Dry Return line apart, and that's going to be an issue. Has running the system at potentially more than a couple ounces of pressure damaged the elbows at all?  Would using clean Richardson Elbows and no radiator vents help with equalizing the temperature between the floors-- will those vents efficiently handle the volume from the larger supply pipes to the upstairs?

    D. If the Richardson Elbow air holes are clogged, but still providing water seal and condensate return-- how bad is it to keep running the radiators with the Air Vents, and equalize the temperature by increasing the size of the air vents in the upstairs? Is that any kind of viable option to even out the system?

    Thanks in advance for any help on any topic!  I hope you find the system interesting.  I know I have!
  • Jamie Hall Jamie Hall @ 7:51 PM
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    With any luck...

    one of the real experts on the Wall will reply!  But, on the theory that fools rush in... a few comments.

    On the radiators all heating up, but not completely.  Do they all heat completely on a very long recovery?  Or is this all the time?  If the latter, it is quite possible that the valves are a little too closed on the ones that don't heat all the way.  The objective of the exercise was to set those valves so that the radiator would heat enough -- but no more.

    Related to that: does the lack of heat upstairs relate to radiators too small for the spaces?  Or do they not heat completely?  Or are all those radiators off one main, and the others off a different one?

    The radiators with air vents suggest that the Richardson elbow vent hole may be clogged.  And it doesn't look, from the pictures, as though there is an easy way to get at them.  This is worthy of further exploration.  On the other hand, do the radiators with the air vents all go into a return which is itself inadequately vented -- or not vented at all?  If so, that's the place to start.

    That is a water seal loop between main #2 and return #2.  It also functions as a drip for condensate from main #2.  Leave it be, but keep your pressure down.

    It certainly wouldn't hurt to switch to a vapourstat.

    It also wouldn't hurt to replace that old Hoffman with a couple of Gorton #2s.

    That pipe up the chimney may very well be a vent.  Perhaps originally, the vent.  If what you are trying to do is get air out, and you have a way to keep steam from getting to the returns, why not?  Simple, no moving parts...  It probably isn't hurting anything to leave it as is, but if you were to cap it, you might want to add one or two more Gorton#2s to take up the slack!

    As I said above, leave the water seal loop.  However, in this setup it probably wouldn't hurt to add main vents at the ends of both steam mains (some vapour systems don't use them; it looks as though this one could benefit, though).

    And I'm not sure those are Richardsons.  Which is why I hope a genuine expert chimes in!  But the only thing running the system at too high a pressure might have done is to blow the water seals -- but if the valves are set right, no steam will get there anyway.

    Just some thoughts...

    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England.

    Hoffman Equipped System (all original except boiler), Weil-McClain 580, 2.75 gph Carlin, Vapourstat 0.5 -- 6.0 ounces per square inch
  • Steamhead Steamhead @ 8:29 PM
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    Might be an Orifice a.k.a. Tudor system

    the water seal points to the Tudor, and those elbows look like standard open return elbows. Check this out:
    "Reducing our country's energy consumption, one system at a time"

    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists

    Oil & Gas Burner Service

    Baltimore, MD (USA) and consulting anywhere.
  • Jamie Hall Jamie Hall @ 8:37 PM
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    I was hoping

    you would chime in!  Thank you!

    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England.

    Hoffman Equipped System (all original except boiler), Weil-McClain 580, 2.75 gph Carlin, Vapourstat 0.5 -- 6.0 ounces per square inch
  • DC_20011 DC_20011 @ 7:57 PM
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    Jamie: That's what I'm thinking. Somehow the steam is not reaching the returns, but the condensate is returning, so I don't think it's so bad to just increase the venting on the supply side. I think part of why the radiators don't heat all the way is because the system has the supply pipe and the air valves on opposite sides of the tops of the radiators, so I'm thinking the radiators just don't get 'full' before the air vents close. Maybe I can move the vents lower on the rads.

    Steamhead: That is really interesting. The diagram on page five matches my system's main piping almost exactly. My risers are larger than indicated in that article (mostly 3/4 supply, 1/2 return), and I don't have the special supply valves, but the water seal loop and atmospheric vent really match. A few questions:

    If the mystery pipe is an atmospheric vent, why would someone have put in that Hoffman vent/vacuum valve? Maybe the outside vent got covered somehow? It seems really strange because I think that valve is supposed to stop any outside air from re-entering, but it's hooked up to a pipe that would defeat the purpose. Is there any other kind of system that might have had a pipe in the flue for some reason?

    With a Tudor type system wouldn't I be getting steam reaching the dry returns at some point after the radiator vents closed? The article says that with close attention to the pressure the radiators should only get what they need, but it seems like I must have some kind of steam trap at the rads, because the dry returns just never heat up. Looking closely, I see that the pipes meeting the return elbows from the radiators are totally threaded, which doesn't look like the Richardson elbows, but I think something must be stopping the steam.

    If it is a Tudor type system, what options might I have for getting more heat to my upstairs radiators? Is just adding more supply side venting a reasonable idea, or would you suggest getting rid of the vents on the radiators and trying to get the system to operate as intended?

    Thanks again!
  • Steamhead Steamhead @ 9:03 PM
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    That old Hoffman #6 vent

    may be the culprit, assuming the pipe it's on doesn't go into the chimney or outside. It never had much venting capacity in the first place, and the ones I've seen are usually stuck closed or just barely open. That one has leaked too, so it's had some abuse.

    Remove the vent and start the boiler. If the system fills with steam more quickly, maybe even getting the steam into the returns, get a Gorton #2 to replace the Hoffman #6. Then remove the radiator vents- they don't belong on this type of system- and put 1/8" pipe plugs in the openings.

    Where is this system located?
    "Reducing our country's energy consumption, one system at a time"

    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists

    Oil & Gas Burner Service

    Baltimore, MD (USA) and consulting anywhere.
    This post was edited by an admin on October 27, 2013 9:04 PM.
  • DC_20011 DC_20011 @ 10:38 PM
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    Good Start

    Steamhead:  That sounds like a good place to start, I'll give it a try this week. 

    I'm in Northwest Washington, DC --  just north of the Columbia Heights neighborhood.  There are a lot of Wardman-style rowhouses here from between 1918 - 1924 that were built with this type of system.  Most have been replaced, but I've seen a few others still in operation.
  • Steamhead Steamhead @ 12:06 AM
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    Not too far

    this sounds like a system we worked on in that area some time ago. It was in NW,  though I don't remember exactly where. DC is one of the very few areas where my sense of direction doesn't always work.

    If you need a pro, we usually refer DC area calls to Dan Foley of Foley Mechanical. But if he's tied up like we are you may need to wait a while.
    "Reducing our country's energy consumption, one system at a time"

    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists

    Oil & Gas Burner Service

    Baltimore, MD (USA) and consulting anywhere.
    This post was edited by an admin on October 28, 2013 12:09 AM.
  • DC_20011 DC_20011 @ 7:12 PM
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    Interesting result

    Yesterday I ran the system as is, from a starting temperature of 71 up to 73 (its been in the low 60s and sunny).  The closest radiator was hot at the supply valve in 7m30s, and the two furthest were hot at the supply valve in about 12m30s.  The cycle reached 73 degrees in 19m30s.  The radiator vent at the closest radiator didn't seem to vent at all, while the furthest two vented audibly for most of the cycle.

    Today, I removed the Hoffman #6 and set the thermostat to go from 72 up to 74.  The closest radiator didn't get hot at the valve until 11m30s, and the furthest two didn't get hot until 16m15s.  So about 4 minutes LONGER in each case.  None of the radiator vents seemed to vent at all.

    At the pipe where the Hoffman was removed, I felt some puffs of air, but it was more like "breathing" than venting. 

    I stopped the cycle around 20 minutes because I didn't really want to heat the house to 74 for no reason. At that point the tops of the rads were hot, but still heating up slower than with the Hoffman #6 attached.

    I will say that the header was very slightly warm to the touch when I started the system yesterday, and cool to the touch today, but I don't think that could make 4 minutes difference. 

    I'll try it both ways again this week to confirm.
  • Steamhead Steamhead @ 9:38 PM
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    Something else is happening there

    to cause such a strange time difference.

    Did you start your timing when the burner first came on, or when it first began producing steam?
    "Reducing our country's energy consumption, one system at a time"

    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists

    Oil & Gas Burner Service

    Baltimore, MD (USA) and consulting anywhere.
  • DC_20011 DC_20011 @ 10:35 PM
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    When the burner first came on.

    How would I tell when it's first producing steam?
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