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Jamie Hall

Jamie Hall

Joined on September 16, 2002

Last Post on August 21, 2014

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Murphy, good buddy...

@ December 8, 2008 8:33 PM in Steam leak

leaking onto the floor is not normal. No way, no how. It is most likely that there is a cracked section in the boiler, and it is almost impossible to fix that -- much better off with a new one. The home inspection chap should have found that; whether you have any recourse or not I wouldn't know -- I'm a building super, not a lawyer! Do post your location and we'll see if there are any pro's in your area -- there might well be.

I use

@ November 26, 2008 9:09 PM in Cad Drawing

DesignCAD 3D Max 18 -- AutoCAD compatible, 3D, has parametrics for piping if you're into that, a really good library of fittings available... And costs $99 from I've used it for years, professionaly.

not sure where you are located, but...

@ November 26, 2008 9:07 PM in Propane, heating oil ...choices?

around here (southern New England) natural gas is about the same as oil and propane is anywhere from two to three times as much, per BTU. My boiler (steam), which is pretty typical, runs on oil at about 84% efficiency; even a top of the line mod-con won't run enough higher to ever recover the cost of the propane!

And I, on the other hand,

@ November 26, 2008 9:04 PM in cad programs

Use DesignCAD 3D Max 18; reads all the drawing files, is 3-D, has a lovely built in parameter system if you're into that sort of thing, does everything that AutoCAD will do -- except break the bank. $99.00, last I looked. ( for info) I've used it for years, by the way, for everything from a multi-million dollar wastewater treatment plant to (don't laugh) my model railroad!

I wuoldn't use the term

@ November 23, 2008 3:51 PM in A few steam questions

'antiquated', never mind obsolete. A good steam heating system will still equal a good hydronic, every time. Problem is finding someone who can actually work on one without messing it up -- which is why you find what were perfectly good steam systems converted to hydronic. If you can generate a few guys who understand steam heat, I'd say to go for it!

I might add to Rob's comments

@ November 22, 2008 3:57 PM in A few steam questions

yes, steam traps of all kinds (including boiler return) for home heating -- never mind commercial and industrial -- are still easily available. No problem. Steam heating systems both domestic and commercial are very much alive and well. Vapour systems likewise (I have one and love it). Not too many new ones being built (although look around this site and you find some) because they tend to be a bit more expensive to install, and finding someone who even knows how to thread and spin pipe, never mind design and install a steam system is pretty hard to do. Do get Dan's books -- you will surely find them handy as a reference, and one of them (A Pocketfull of Steam Problems) might be cheap enough to have the students buy... Have at it!

if it really is a union

@ November 21, 2008 1:17 PM in Radiators leaking at the union

which it certainly should be... I have seen condensate drip from unions on steam systems where the union isn't together quite square, or drawn up quite tight. Do take it apart and clean it, but if the faces of the union are damaged you may have a bad time sealing it (I have been known to use red RTV silicone, but that's a kludge - if the faces are smooth, don't). Sometimes helps to wiggle the radiator just a bit when pulling the union together...

It seems a bit odd

@ November 21, 2008 1:09 PM in A Steamy Mess

that lowering the pressure setting would stop steam from rising to the second or third floors -- lowering the pressure in an hydronic system might, but not steam. However, steam can only go into places which air can get out of. Are there vents on the individual radiators? If not, the way air gets out is through the traps and into the dry return(s). From there it should be able to get to a main vent somewhere. However, if some piping got changed at some point, it is possible that there is a low point in the dry return which doesn't have a drip. Water could get trapped in there. Now depending on how low the low point is, at low pressure the system might not be able to force air around that water, whereas it might be able to at a higher pressure. Although with some banging... ! I would be inclined to trace the piping very very carefully, starting at the boiler, thinking like steam, air, and water. For instance: Air and water can go through a trap (that's working right), but not steam. Air can go through a vent, but neither steam nor water. Water cannot go uphill! Neither air nor steam can get through a water pocket. And post some pictures!

I'm sure Brad

@ November 18, 2008 12:06 PM in Why is My Pressure so High?

will come back on this one, but I happened to see it. First, lowering the pressure as much as possible will get you heat faster -- and will make very little difference on the cycling after running a long time. Increasing the differential would make a small difference to the cycling at the end of the run time. That said, sounds to me as though you are about as low as you can go with a Pressuretrol. The cycling near the end of the run is almost inevitable, particularly on colder days or recovering from a setback. The long first part of the run is spent getting all the pipes and radiators really full of steam. At some point, everything is full of steam -- and all the traps close. At that point, there is nowhere for the steam made by the boiler to go except condensing in the radiators -- and the condensation in the radiators is not as fast as the capacity of the boiler to make steam (really can't get around that without a modulating boiler), as the boiler has to be big enough to fill everything in the first place. Anyway, when the traps all close, the pressure will rise remarkably fast -- literally less than a minute, usually, from practically none to shutoff. Then, after a few minutes, enough steam has condensed to lower the pressure to your cutin, and off you go again. Quite normal. Don't worry -- be happy! That help?

Well, it depends

@ November 15, 2008 3:53 PM in Turn Gas Furnace On vs Electric Ceramic Heaters in Rooms Used?

We don't do a lot of scorched air around here, Ja, but just so you won't think we're ignoring you... Whether you are saving money or not depends on your electric rates and, to a certain extent, how well you can control which rooms get heat from your old furnace. There may be some dampers on the air ducts or registers which let you shut off certain areas -- in which case, unless you're electricity is really cheap, you may be better off running the furnace. On the other hand... if the furnace is really old, you may not be! Hard to say. What one can say is that tightening up the house -- fixing air leaks, putting storm windows on if you don't have them, insulating where you can -- that sort of thing -- will save you money and make you a lot more comfortable. And one last thought: be careful of those electric heaters: they can set stuff on fire. Nothing -- but nothing -- flammable within at least 3 feet in any direction except the floor they sit on.

I might add

@ November 14, 2008 9:23 AM in How hot should the condensate line in the boiler get?

that condensate pipes, even at 180, are way too hot to put a hand on. Get a good thermometer, as Brad says, before you panic...

no surprise...

@ November 14, 2008 9:10 AM in Two Pipe Guidance

Steamhead is right. First thing to do you are doing: get the pressure down. That is critical in any vapour system. However, you have a another problem: those valves which were replaced probably don't have orifices in them! The orifices were critical to this type of system, in that they only allowed as much steam to pass as could be condensed by the radiator. In your present situation, those nice hot radiators are getting more steam than they need, and that is getting into the dry return a sailing merrily out the vent -- which is what that pipe to the attic is. That vent pipe is fine. Next project is to throttle the various radiators so that each one gets only enough steam to get it hot. The outlet elbow should not be hot; Warm, perhaps, but not hot. If it is hot, close the radiator valve some and try again (not all radiator valves throttle nicely... one can hope that these do). Radiators which are getting half hot aren't really a problem, and I wouldn't worry about them until you get the radiators which are really really hot throttled down. May take some tinkering, but after a while you'll have a lovely vapour system, and the water and heating bills should come down nicely. Just warn the owner to keep his hands off the radiator valves once you get them set!

but if you are thinking of wood

@ November 12, 2008 8:40 PM in Radiant Heat run by water heater trouble

check your local air quality regulations; in some parts of Colorado they are pretty tough on wood heat (for good reason)


@ November 12, 2008 8:50 AM in programmable thermostat, steam radiators

That kind of overshoot is a bit extreme... to put it mildly. You don't say what the existing thermostat is, but if it one of the older ones which need an anticipator setting, that could be it. Having said that, a new programmable (but get a good one -- don't go big box cheap!) will help, pretty darn near guaranteed. On the subject of setback, there's been a lot of discussion on that -- and the best consensus seems to be that setting a steam/cast iron radiator system back more than about 5 degrees F is going to use more energy in the recovery than you'll save from the setback. To give you an idea on times when things are working well: my place, some 7,000 sq. ft. heated area, recovers from a 5 degree setback in about 20 minutes from when steam hits the radiators with an outside temperature of 30; at 0 it takes about 23 minutes. No overshoot to speak of with a Honeywell VisionPro...

the real trick

@ November 10, 2008 9:09 AM in steam radiation

and it isn't all that easy is to make sure that the radiation available in each space being heated is in the same ratio to the heat loss from that space in each room in the house -- that is, if the radiator in, say, the living room appears to be twice as big as it needs to be, but the radiators in all the other rooms are also twice as big as they need to be, all will be well (steam does an amazing job of self-balancing). However... if you have twice as much radiation in one room as you need, and the rest of the house is just as much as necessary, then that one room will be too hot (conversely, if it's half as much it will be too cold, etc.). The calculations for heat loss from each room aren't that hard -- just tedious. Have fun!

At first sight...

@ November 10, 2008 8:55 AM in Fixed Leaks, Two-Pipe Steam Heat System Goes Haywire

but hopefully someone more knowledgeable in controls will chime in -- it looks as though one of those controls is the cut in pressure and the other cut out pressure. The cut out pressure is the pressure at which the burner will stop running; that one should ideally be about 1 psi, but those old units are unreliable at less than about 2... do your best. The other should be labelled 'cut out' and is the pressure at which the burner will restart; set that one as low as it will reliably go -- which may take some fiddling. Better yet, get your plumber to get a Honeywell Vapourstat and install it with a T off one of the existing pigtails (make sure the pigtails are clear!) and wire it in instead; set it to 1 psi cutout and a differential of 0.5. Can't hurt (although they aren't cheap) and just might help... a lot.

I use

@ November 8, 2008 9:34 PM in smartdraw, visio or autocad lt for mech. drawings?

DesignCad 3D Max18 (I've used it for everything from a $10,000,000 waste water treatment plant to my plans for my own house to (don't laugh) my HO model railroad) -- price is very very reasonable, it's AutoCad compatible (but doesn't cost like AutoCad). Very very stable, very easy to learn... available from (they're the ones that make it).

one thing to watch

@ November 8, 2008 9:25 PM in Efficiency - Heating whole house vs half a house...

is that the unheated rooms must stay above the dew point, or you'll get condensation in there and possibly mold.

touch pads

@ November 6, 2008 12:08 PM in Vision Pro 8500 Dead to the Touch Thermostat

there is a very good reason that touch screen systems only have a one year warranty: the mean time between failure on them isn't a whole lot longer than that. Try to find a thermostat which uses push buttons for control, rather than a touch screen.

Carlin 900nnn series controls dying

@ November 5, 2008 9:28 AM in Carlin 900nnn series control

Any ideas on why a Carlin 900nnn series control for an oil-fired hot water heater would be dying? I've replace 2 of them in the last 3 months on a job -- ground looks good, neutral's good, power's no worse than any around here (Connecticut -- pretty lousy power, but not that lousy I would think). The original control was a 90000C which lasted 2 years; it died, replaced it with a 90000B (which is all I had on the truck) which lasted 3 months; just replace that with a 90200...

not quite

@ November 1, 2008 6:16 PM in Steam Trap on Radiator

at the lightbulb level, but not too far from it -- there are stores on-line (State Supply? I forget at the moment) which, given the model of the trap -- which you have -- offer replacement innards (float, seats, themostatic mechanism, the works). You unscrew the top (that's where it can get interesting), pop out the old, pop in the new...

well now...

@ October 30, 2008 6:29 PM in Radiator sounds like rainwater in a downspout

do you hear the gurgle right from the start? Or does it wait until steam hits the radiator? I still think that it's the condensate... but I've been wrong before!