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Jamie Hall

Jamie Hall

Joined on September 16, 2002

Last Post on July 20, 2014

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@ October 24, 2009 9:58 AM in Help Please with Piping and Pickup Factor for Unusual Setup.

the boiler itself, and the heat loss through the insulation (there always is some) the basement will probably be warm.  Whether it will be warm enough for you, I wouldn't care to say -- but if it isn't, you'll get much better results with putting in a deliberate heat source (lots of options) than depending on uncontrollable heat leakage from your steam pipes.

There are a number of options for insulating fittings like elbows and T's and unions and the like, depending on the type of insulation one is using for the pipes.  Some types have prefabricated covers.  Some types one can make a cover rather easily by cutting and joining the insulation pieces, or pieces from a section the next size up.  Just depends on what you are using and what's there -- and, often, your ingenuity.  The fiberglass and duct tape works, but it does tend to look a little tacky!  The insulation doesn't have to fit glove tight around fittings, although the tighter the better, of course.

Can't compare

@ October 24, 2009 9:51 AM in Pipe slope

sanitary waste drains with steam lines.  Apples and oranges.  The code requirements for sanitary waste drains are indeed there so that if there are solids, the velocities are high enough to move them.

The pitch for steam lines has been determined over the years -- more than a century -- to be adequate from the condensate to flow properly.  Note that counterflow has twice the pitch of parallel flow (and also note that a counterflow steam main should be a larger diameter).  If the pipes are installed and hung properly, no water should remain in them.  That's a big if: you would be astonished at how often I see both mains and returns with sags.

The consequence of not enough pitch is that condensate may not drain properly.  This may produce water hammer (sometimes quite spectacular water hammer) or even, in some really bad cases, no heat at all as the water sits there and the steam (or air, on a return) can't get by.

Not that uncommon

@ October 24, 2009 9:45 AM in Half Heated Radiators

to have some radiators heat only half way -- or less -- depending on how long the system has been firing and how big the radiator is and where and so on.  The real question is, if the system fires for a long time (long enough to start shutting off on pressure), do the radiators heat more?  If so, it is likely that additional venting either on the main feeding them (two pipe) or on the radiators themselves (one pipe) might help.

On the other hand, this may be quite normal -- hard to say without knowing more about the situation and circumstances.


@ October 23, 2009 7:51 PM in Capping off a Steam Pipe?

well, no -- though I've seen worse.  But no, you don't have to take the valve off.  What you've done is fine.

Wonder how much your superintendent could save if he maintained his system properly?  Sigh...

Most boilers

@ October 23, 2009 4:07 PM in Help Please with Piping and Pickup Factor for Unusual Setup.

have an EDR rating as well as a BTU rating; check both.  You're certainly on the right track -- except for one thing: those uninsulated mains in the basement.  You will get quite adequate basement heat after they are insulated.  But -- if you don't insulate them, you may have -- in fact, are rather likely to have -- some serious balancing and water hammer problems, because what happens is that a good bit of the steam will condense in the mains, rather than condensing where it belongs, in the radiators.  I have heard of situations where one or more radiators at the end of longer mains never got heat at all on normal runs, because the steam never made it past the uninsulated main.

Bottom line: get some good (preferably 1") fiberglass insulation for steam pipes --  it's easy to put on and install it.  You'll be a lot happier in the long run.

If you do, then your 1.33 to 1.5 pickup factor should work fine.  If still don't want to insulate, you should treat those exposed mains as radiation, and add their square footage in -- and then add the 1.33 to 1.5 pickup factor.

I might add that water hammer etc. problems are much less likely to be caused by oversizing a boiler -- unless it's really grossly oversized -- than they are by either poor near boiler piping -- or uninsulated or improperly pitched mains.

I know just what you mean!

@ October 23, 2009 3:56 PM in cast iron fin tube in steam systems

It's annoying to have a system which is supposed to work one way, working but set up more or less 'incorrectly'!  Been there...  The main line air vents you will need -- after all, the air has to get out of the pipes somewhere! -- but in a two pipe system, you should't need the vents on the radiators -- although, as you note, they won't hurt anything.  Just not elegant.  Suspect you're right on the service man gettng carried away...

You say there are no traps on the radiation?  Or is it that they aren't working?  Or does each radiator go to a wet return?

Keep the one pipe steam

@ October 23, 2009 11:28 AM in one pipe steam system ,boiler replacement

but do get the books from this site ("A Steamy Deal") as you may find that your system needs some tuning and maintenance.

There are a number of very good gas fired boilers out there; the main thing in picking a boiler brand, in my humble opinion, is to get one which is sold and serviced by a local professional whom you like and can deal with, and then make sure that it is installed and piped correctly.

If you are fortunate, you may find a professional who does steam (try find a pro, on this site).  If not, educating a professional isn't that hard!  And sizing a steam boiler is really easy: it's done on the basis of the installed radiation in the building, not on the building heat loss, so it's a matter of going around and adding up what you have in the way of radiators, and figuring the load from that (the books mentioned above will help with that).

That old boiler doesn't owe you anything, nor does the burner -- which sounds as though it may have problems anyway.

Only comment I'd have

@ October 23, 2009 11:23 AM in Insulating floor of a 3-season porch

is that Icynene, though an open cell type foam, is air and moisture impermeable -- and seals uncommonly tightly.  Which is part of what you want.

Here we go...

@ October 21, 2009 8:07 PM in STEAM HEATING PROBLEM

The Hoffman return trap was a neat way to avoid flooding the dry returns without having much headroom.  You have to give a lot of credit to Simpson, the guy who invented it.  Here's the library link: [url=]
Clever, those Hoffman guys (the system in the building I superintend has a big Hoffman differential loop in it -- another one of those clever contraptions.  I'm still not sure exactly how the thing works -- but it does.).

Anyway.  Back at the ranch -- I still think a nice Gorton somewhere handy will do the job for you.  Without hurting anything.


@ October 21, 2009 7:21 PM in STEAM HEATING PROBLEM

The Gortons are air vents -- but they are also, unlike the Hoffman you have, vacuum relief vents.  The condensate should still return without trouble, unless I have completely misinterpreted something (which is always possible...).  Vacuum systems were wonderful in the days of coal, when the boiler could still keep creating steam at lower temperatures under a vacuum, but they didn't rely on the vacuum to pull condensate back to the boiler; they were still basically a gravity return system.

Let me go check the Hoffman catalogue here (it's in the library) for more infor...

Certainly sounds

@ October 21, 2009 7:15 PM in Steam Rad Problem

as though something is trapping water somewhere, but it isn't likely to be the radiator itself -- although a little more pitch to the return probably wouldn't hurt.  Is there a horizontal bit somewhere in the return line which might have gotten pitched backwards?

This sounds like one of the systems for which the steam into the radiator was controlled by an orifice or other restriction on the inlet or outlet.  Did that get changed?  Or?

It does sound

@ October 21, 2009 2:27 PM in STEAM HEATING PROBLEM

as though as the system is cooling that somehow air is having trouble getting back into the mains and returns.  A true vacuum system (rare, these days!) has vents which do not let air back in -- or at least not much to speak of.  But, the air having been vented out when the system starts, it has to get back in when the system stops.

What changes in the venting were made when the new boiler was put in?

One approach which might solve the problem pronto would be to find a handy spot on the dry return where you can stick a Gorton #2 and put it on -- can't hurt anything, and might just get rid of the glug...

As they say locally

@ October 21, 2009 2:19 PM in Please help me with my steam heat system for a 3-story building!


First off, your pressure is too high.  Try setting the lower pressuretrol to around 1.5, which is as low as it will go reliably, with a differential of about 1.  The way it's set now, it's possible that it will never turn back on, once it's turned off.  The one with the reset button can be left alone for the moment; it's there for safety.  You can veryify that the pressuretrol is working the way you want by turning the system on with a high setting on the thermostat; unless you have a really bad leak somewhere (or the boiler is badly undersized) eventually the pressure will begin to rise and you will see the mercury switch begin to tilt.  It should tilt over, and the burner should stop.  Then gradually it should tilt back, and the burner start again (I love the old p'trols where you can see what's happening!).  You shouldn't see the round dial (pressure gauge) move much, if any.  If you see the gauge move beyond 2, or the boiler is shut off by the other p'trol, the one you're playing with isn't working, and that will need to be fixed -- the sooner the better.  Let us know.

The various comments on insulation are right on the money -- that 45 foot uninsulated main could well be what's killing you, particularly it it is the one that feeds part or all of the third floor (you didn't menton).  1 inch of insulation is enough, though.

in my humble...

@ October 21, 2009 9:54 AM in How close to boiler to insulate pipes?

opinion, if it's hot, insulate it -- unless it's just too darn complicated to get the insulation around!  Then it's not worth the effort...

I might add

@ October 20, 2009 3:47 PM in STEAM HEAT PROBLEMS

that if you have to refill the boiler often -- even as much as once a week -- you have a leak somewhere.  That's a separate issue, but you should find it and fix it.

Steam heat

@ October 20, 2009 3:46 PM in STEAM HEAT PROBLEMS

by itself is very unlikely to cause a respiratory problem, except very rarely new paint on the radiators can -- but that you would smell, for sure, and you don't mention that.

Low humidity can cause or aggravate some types of respiratory problems; as Nick said, get a good hygrometer and see where you are.  If it's dry, the guys have it -- pans on the radiators or a good humidifier.  And keep it clean.

If the problems began after you moved into the house, there are so many other things which could be the problem -- and are much more likely to be the problem -- you may have some difficulty finding out what's what.  Good luck!

sized and pitched

@ October 20, 2009 3:41 PM in Mixing counter flow and parallel flow

correctly, don't see why not.

Can't think why

@ October 20, 2009 3:40 PM in Please help me with my steam heat system for a 3-story building!

no one turns up in the New York area -- I know there are guys in that area.

That being said the first thing I would suspect is a venting problem.  When the books come, figure out what kind of steam system you have (not that hard -- the books guide you) and then see what is called for in terms of vents and traps and the like.  Then post as much information as you can here on the Wall -- even though we may not be able to get on site, you'll be happily surprised at how much can be done with questions and the help here, and a good plumber and the books!


@ October 20, 2009 9:46 AM in quick main vent questions

I don't find the attachment (that may be just me), but the idea of two vents on the dry returns just before they switch to wet sounds appropriate.  As I noted earlier, make darn sure that the dry return is high enough to stay dry where the vent is installed -- you should have at least 18 inches to 2 feet above the boiler water line, as a minimum, and be running very low pressure.  Otherwise you'll wreck the nice new vents...

You can use it, sure...

@ October 20, 2009 9:42 AM in coal

but there is a good reason why it faded out for residential and even fairly large commercial use: it's very hard to control properly.  From the overall environmental standpoint, too, unless you have some kind of filter or precipitator on the stack, coal is a disaster, even when burning under optimum conditions.  Under less than optimum conditions... argh.  You may find that there are local ordinances or regulations restricting it; I don't know the situation in Queens, NY, but I can tell you that in Edinburgh, Scotland, for example, it is flat out forbidden.

Paint and radiators

@ October 20, 2009 9:36 AM in Ready Strip safe for Cast Iron Steam Radiators ?

Most high quality, low or no VOC paints will work OK, provided the surface is clean (that is, not greasy and no flaking or loose rust).  They won't last as long, or adhere as tightly (particularly to problem surfaces) as some of the specific metal enamels will -- but those tend to have fume problems.  The best I can suggest for you is to strip the radiators, clean them thoroughly, use a top-quality primer (there are several brands on the market; a good paint store will be able to recommend which primer should be used for which finish coat)(Paint Store.  Don't count on a big box or hardware store for advice!  You can also check the manufacturer's own web site).  Let the primer dry as recommended and then put on the finish coat.  I would note that these paints aren't cheap, but they are worth what you pay for them.

Don't ignore a feeling of respiratory distress.  If you've heated those things up that many times, there may well be a problem and there's no sense in making things difficult for yourself or anyone else.

Er... uh... a picture?

@ October 19, 2009 6:37 PM in quick main vent questions

Maybe a picture would help?  Or a sketch?

But a vent, to be effective, needs to be beyond the last radiator riser takeoff.  However, since it is venting air, it doesn't have to be at the end of the line (in fact, for protection of the vent, it is common for it to be a short distance before the end of the line).

I take it there is no independent dry return picking up the other returns and going back, dry, to the boiler and then dropping down?  Some systems are piped that way, some aren't.

But to get back to what I think you said, the vent or vents at the end does not have to be below all the other dry returns; it could be anywhere so long as it is after the last radiator takeoff on any of the lines.  In fact, you don't want it too low: keep in mind that when pressure builds in the boiler, the water level in that vertical pipe is going to rise -- and the last thing you want is for the vent to go under water.