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Jamie Hall

Jamie Hall

Joined on September 16, 2002

Last Post on April 19, 2014

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There's no free lunch...

@ April 19, 2014 10:18 AM in Can Air Source Heat Pump Sit under the house?

Your basement stays at 55 or thereabouts mostly because that is the mean annual temperature; granted, the chimney base helps.

Now... if you install an air source heat pump in the basement, keep in mind that what a heat pump does is pump heat from one place to another (hence the name...).  In this case from your basement to the rest of the house.  This means that while you are heating the rest of the house, the basement will get colder.

I'm not saying that it's not feasible -- but I am suggesting that you might find that pretty early in the winter you got the basement down to freezing, which might not be all that desirable.

You'd be better thinking about a ground source heat pump, if you have the land and the proper soil conditions.


@ April 18, 2014 9:16 PM in Steam check valve hammering

Got to admit I'd have to call someone considerably brighter than I am on this one... sorry!  Where in New England are you?  Maybe one of the guys under Find a Contractor in your state?

And yes,

@ April 18, 2014 5:42 PM in Three flashes, then okay again.

if the problem causing the error code is intermittent, and clears, then you may be able to reset and run without the code.  Until the problem reoccurs...

You really do want to find out why it occurred and get that fixed. 


@ April 18, 2014 5:36 PM in Steam check valve hammering

After some thought...

I guess my first question would be -- why is there a condensate receiver and pump at all?  In most cases with a residential system, the returns should be fast enough to manage by gravity without needing a reservoir or the extra headroom which such a setup provides.  Have you looked into that?  It occurs to me that it may have been a kludged response to some other problem with the system -- such as excessive pressure or bad traps.

If it turns out that the thing really is necessary for some reason, then the next question is to really be sure that it is the check valve which is rattling, and not a genuine water hammer at the Hartford loop.  That can be a little tricky to figure out.  If it is the check valve, though, you might try substituting a spring type valve; they sometimes close more reliably than a swing check.


@ April 18, 2014 3:58 PM in Steam Radiators???

I have seen those -- in an old mill building in a nearby town.  Work like a charm, except that the expansion roller supports are frozen on some of them so they have some rather impressive expansion noises.

Hear output charts?  Haven't a clue -- but they are pretty doggone simple, so I would think you could awfully close -- within a few percent, by simply measuring them up and calculating the actual surface area.  It's a bit tedious, but not that hard.  Then take your total square feet and multiply by our old familiar 240 and there you are in BTUh.

Not a bit surprised

@ April 17, 2014 11:18 AM in Need advice/ help for new heating system

that there may be some very odd plumbing indeed in your house as a result  of the zone split.  I have no desire to criticise the plumber who did your work -- he is doubtless a very good plumber indeed -- but heating systems are a little different from plumbing, unfortunately.

All is not lost, however.  "Steamhead" is located in Baltimore, and you could contact him directly; his specialty is steam, but he's very good at hydronic systems as well. 

What I would try to do for starters, though, is to see if you can get your master plumber to restore the system so that all the radiators heat.  Since he did the work to split the system, and it doesn't work that way, he really should be willing to put it back the way it was so it works.

Then the next thing to do is to trace out the piping for the various radiators, and see what connects to what and where -- and make a nice sketch of the system as it really is.  This may take some detective work on your part, but is really kind of fun once you get into it.

With the sketch in hand, you may be able to see how to split the system so it does work the way you want it to (you could scan the sketch and upload it here, so we could all take a look at it).  There should be a way to do it -- it just might not be obvious.

There is another solution, however: once you get your plumber to put the system back together so it all works, you can control individual radiators with what are called "thermostatically controlled radiator valves".  They aren't all that cheap (but a lot cheaper than a whole new system!), but they do give you the ability to control each room individually.  I'd seriously consider doing that, particularly if the plumbing is a bit odd.

More later...


@ April 16, 2014 9:56 PM in Should the water supply flowing into a steam boiler be cold water or hot water?

it's not as though you were feeding a whole lot of water -- or at least I hope you're not.  If you are really fanatical about blowing down a float type LWCO, you might -- might -- use as much as half a gallon a week... for that.  And normal operation should use much less (my decent size system has finally managed to get up to 7 gallons; took almost four years to use that much).

I paint

@ April 16, 2014 9:52 PM in Painting Cast Iron Baseboard Radiator – Baseray/Governale

my steam radiators with Benjamin Moore flat acrylic enamels -- same stuff I use on the walls (in fact, right out of the same can...).

Unlike Eric's experience, most of them were done in the time frame of 8 to 10 years ago, and I have not experienced any rusting, peeling, flaking, blistering or other problems.

But that is a very high quality acrylic...

Well, the obvious first question is...

@ April 15, 2014 3:00 PM in Need advice/ help for new heating system

why don't the existing radiators work?  There really isn't a whole lot that can go wrong with a radiator...

So if you could tell us why the existing radiators don't work, and what type of system you are working with (hot water or steam) we can get a lot farther along.

I've been heard to say

@ April 14, 2014 9:13 AM in Am I venting my mains too fast?

that you can't vent a main too fast...  although a #2 on a five foot main is, perhaps, overkill.  However, that by itself does not explain half an hour for a 50 foot branch.  5 to 10 minutes, max, would be more like it.  The venting you have should be adequate -- which leads me to wonder if there might be something else wrong with that branch.

Is it insulated?  Does it pitch properly and consistently for its full length?  Are there any restrictions (such as a valve, or a place where it gets smaller then larger) on it?

That's a lovely arrangement!

@ April 12, 2014 3:10 PM in What do you think of when somebody says Hydronics?

I can think of a number of big farms which could really benefit from that setup.  Have you contacted the ag. extension services in any of the bigger dairy states with the ideas?  It just might sell like hot cakes.

And dairy farmers deserve all the thanks they can get -- this place I run was a dairy farm, once, and I a dairy farmer on it.  Along about 40 years or so ago we added up all the costs and income, and realised what we sort of expected -- the price we could get for the milk didn't even quite pay for the local property tax (they not only tax the land and buildings, but the equipment and the herd as well).  Never mind anything for our work.  I still miss farming...

Size your boiler

@ April 11, 2014 6:33 PM in Help with Sizing a Boiler

based on the EDR rating of the boiler.  It is way too much hassle to run through all the conversions and pickup factors etc.  They are already included in the EDR rating -- and you have the information you need for that.

And no, you don't need to adjust the EDR for the uninsulated risers (although it would be nice to insulate them, but it isn't necessary).  You DO need to insulate your mains, however.

You need to match the boiler size to the EDR as closely as you can; slightly oversize is not as bad as slightly undersize.  Short cycling on pressure really isn't that inefficient -- and in any case will only happen if your boiler is significantly oversize (say 10 percent or more) and you can't down fire it, or your main venting is poor, or you are coming back out of a deep (say more than 5 degree F) setback.

Well then...

@ April 9, 2014 5:42 PM in Using condensate pump to shut off Maytag MGF1RC furnace

can't say I totally blame you about being concerned about the heat going out when you are not there -- although there are a number of other, much more likely reasons why it might do so than a condensate pump failure.  I would very very strongly recommend that if you are going to be away in the winter for a significant length of time that you either have a trusted individual who will (really will) check your house for such problems on a daily basis, and do something about the problem if there is one -- and figure out what to do when there is a power failure -- or that you drain the house plumbing and shut off the water when you go away.

If the condensate can freely drain -- for instance, onto the floor -- without backing up into the breaching or the combustion chamber, I suppose you could get away with it.  I would not be willing to bypass that particularly safety (or any other safety for that matter) and I'd be kind of surprised if you could find a contractor who would do it, either.

I might point out that the resulting puddle would be pretty strong acid, and would not be good for the concrete floor, to put it mildly...

No need to abandon

@ April 9, 2014 4:01 PM in Is my steam boiler way oversized?

the steam heat!

Removing sections is a bit of a hassle -- I wouldn't call it a do it yourself project, by any stretch.  However, it certainly isn't impossible.  A good steam contractor (look in Find a Contractor, by State for one near you -- or just tell us where you are and we may know someone) could do it, and at the same time tidy up the near boiler piping and, if you find you have access to natural gas, install a gas burner.  All at the same time...

I can't find

@ April 9, 2014 3:58 PM in Using condensate pump to shut off Maytag MGF1RC furnace

that particular furnace.  However... if it is rated at 92.1%, then it pretty well has to be a condensing furnace.  And if it is a condensing furnace, it will indeed produce a fair amount of condensate when it is running.  Comparable to the amount of fuel it burns, in fact.

You don't want that condensate to back up somewhere -- it has to drain to something, and if it can't drain by gravity, then you have to pump it somewhere.  Therefore, if the pump quits, you really do want the thing to shut down before it floods itself.

Welcome to the wonderful world of condensing furnaces and boilers.

What type of system is this?  Hot air?  Hydronic?  If it's hydronic, you can at least protect the heating system, albeit with some nuisance and complexity.

Cedric I had an overhead

@ April 7, 2014 7:58 PM in Benefits of 2-pipe vs single

line -- single -- about 30 feet.  It was an almighty pain to get primed when the oil company ran me out of oil (automatic delivery doesn't always mean they get there in time...).  When we put Cedric II in we trenched the oil line across the basement floor, as Charles has suggested, and it primes much more easily now!

Of course, as Charles may recall, trenching that line in wasn't quite as simple as it looked as though it was going to be...

It sounds

@ April 5, 2014 3:48 PM in old steam system replacement

as though for some reason you are not contemplating updating the steam system as one of your strategies.  May I ask why?

It is true that a really well installed system such as your have described (either option) can have a greater efficiency than a steam system -- by a rather small margin (a modern steam system will run around 86%; an equally modern hydronic can run around 94%.  But -- what is the payback?  You should run the numbers yourself -- but I expect you may find that over the lifetime of the equipment upgrading the steam system will be no more expensive than a whole new system.  In fact, it may well be less.

Unless you are sold on ripping out the steam for some philosophical reason, I recommend that you get some quotes from reliable and experienced contractors on each possible option, including expected energy usage and including all expenses (all energy plus equipment depreciation and maintenance, etc.) and then doing a very very careful cost benefit examination.  You may be surprised...

The heating

@ April 3, 2014 2:48 PM in steam novice

really will work better on about 2 psi.  Quicker, more even, and that's what things are built for.

But that doesn't mean that you can't distribute the steam at a higher pressure -- 8 psi is not unreasonable.  There are some good reasons for doing that, in fact.  What you will need, though, is reliable pressure reducing valves for each building.  On/off valves won't do it.  There are several manufacturers which make these valves, in an array of styles and sizes and ranges.  Sparco and Armstrong come to mind, but I'm sure there are others...

It is so rare

@ April 3, 2014 9:31 AM in Radiator cracking

for a cast iron radiator to crack that having more than one go -- in the same setting -- is really peculiar.

First question: is it really the casting that has cracked?  It isn't one of the nipples?

If it is one of the nipples, there are two thoughts which occur to me: first, if this is a really long radiator, are the tension bars drawn up tight enough, if it has them?  One doesn't want them too tight -- they can go sproing, which is annoying, but they must be tight enough to prevent movement between sections.  The other thought is a little odd -- is the floor this thing sits on sturdy and really a plane?  If the radiator is sitting more heavily on two diagonally opposite legs, it would put a twisting stress on the nipples, and one might quite easily decide to leak.

Or it could just be bad karma...

Water hammer

@ April 3, 2014 9:26 AM in Copper Joint that leaks in main pipe Solution please

can generate overpressures quite sufficient to actually break pipe -- never mind joints.  I quite agree that the best way to handle this one is to change that copper out and put in iron.

But you say you can't do anything about the water hammer.  Why not?  Water hammer isn't an inevitable part of any plumbing system -- whether it's residential or 60 inch municipal mains.  Don't give up on that -- you control the system, you should spend some time to figure out where the water hammer is coming from and fix it.

Quite true

@ April 1, 2014 9:21 PM in Thermal Expansion Tank

a pressure reducing valve or a backflow preventer or a check valve -- anything that prevents flow back from the system.

As Steamhead said

@ April 1, 2014 8:37 PM in Value of converting oil/steam to modcon gas?

but with a bit more.  You may, very likely depending on prices, save some money converting the existing boiler, if it is fairly recent, to gas.  If it is an older boiler, you will also save some money installing a new gas fired boiler.  What you will NOT do is save anything by taking all the steam out and going to hydronic or hydro-aire; in fact, it is unlikely that you would ever be able to save enough on the slightly higher efficiency of a mod-con to pay for the conversion, even if you are adding ducted air conditioning.

Just the way it is.
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