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Joined on October 17, 2013

Last Post on April 2, 2014

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Tankless Water Heater in Gas-Fired Steam Boiler

@ October 21, 2013 10:05 AM in Tankless Water Heater in Gas-Fired Steam Boiler

I have a tankless coil insert for hot water in my oil-fired boiler and wanted to do the same with a new gas-fired boiler when I convert. I just had a contractor tell me that you can't do tankless with gas, but it looks like the Weil-McLain EG boilers support tankless with gas. Am I wrong? They definitely say the EG series does tankless, but is it only for propane? (Sorry if that's a dumb question.) I tried to call Weil-McLain to ask, but couldn't find a phone number. The contractor says he prefers Peerless, and it looks like the Series 63 do not support tankless, so maybe he's just not up on his Weil-McLain stuff.

I'd appreciate any comments. Thanks.


@ October 20, 2013 11:44 AM in Help with Calculating EDR

Thanks for the help. I was able to identify all of my radiators: seven Thatcher Gothics, one American Radiator Corto, and one American Radiator Peerless. Using old manuals, I double checked the numbers I got from the guides I listed above. I came up with 343.33 square feet. With insulated pipes and a 133% pickup, that's 457.78 square feet or 109,866.67 BTU/hour. With uninsulated pipes and a 150% pickup, that's 515.00 square feet or 123,600.00 BTU/hour.

If I look at the Weil-McLain EG boilers, it looks like I'd be good with the EG-45, which has 125 MBH D.O.E. heating capacity. That covers me with or without insulation.

Does that sound right?

If I wanted to replace the two radiators that previous occupants removed, that'll add another 100 square feet or so of radiation. With insulation, I'm up around 140,000 BTU/hour. At that point, I might want to move up to the EG-50, which gets me to 145 MBH.

Does it make sense to upsize the boiler like that to account for future additions? One contractor told me that newer boilers sometimes have two operating modes to let you expand like that. Anyone know more about that?


@ October 19, 2013 6:24 PM in Insulation

Thanks for the links. is the site I found earlier. Their prices seem pretty good and I'm glad to hear that people here use them.

I'm a little confused about insulating the elbows and tees. I thought PVC would melt on a hot steam pipe. What am I missing?

Is there ever a reason not to insulate? My uninsulated pipes are heating my unused basement, so that's a waste, but isn't some of that heat keeping my floors warm? If I insulate, will I see my fuel bills drop but then get complaints from my wife about cold floors? I suppose slippers are much cheaper than fuel...


@ October 19, 2013 1:12 PM in Insulation

Hi. I'm trying to get my one-pipe system up to a respectable level of functionality:

So, today, feeling motivated and somehwat knowledgeable, I searched around and found two plumbing supply shops in my area. I called one up: "Hey, you got 1 inch fiberglass insulation for steam pipes?" "Nope." "Darn."

Next: "Hey, you got 1 inch fiberglass insulation for steam pipes?" "Yup." "Cool, be right there."

I get there, ask for 12 sections of insulation for 2 inch pipe. (I figure I'll start with the easy pipes before I start insulating the small ones, the elbows, etc.) He comes back with insulation that's 1/2 inch thick. I said, "It's not 1 inch thick?" He says, "Nope, that's all we got." In a moment of self-doubt, I thought maybe when people say "1 inch thick" they mean "1/2 inch on one side + 1/2 inch on the other = 1 inch total." So, I buy them, but I don't feel good about it. I get to the parking lot, do some quick searching on here and convince myself that what I got is not what people mean when they say 1 inch insulation. So I go right back in and return it. I ask if they can order 1 inch. They say they've never heard of it, wouldn't know where to buy it, and that they've been selling this stuff for years and no one has complained. Hm. That kind of type sounds a lot like the knucklehead contractors that Dan talks about in his books. So who's the knucklehead: him or me?

Next, I went to the local home center and asked for pipe insulation. They showed me basically the same stuff that the plumbing supply place sold me, but the plumbing place charged me 30% more! I'm sure glad I returned it! This really surprised me. I know the big box home stores crush everyone with volume, but I thought I'd get a better deal at a place that specializes in this stuff. I realize I'm getting the homeowner price and not the contractor price, but, come on, 30% is a big difference! Am I naive?

So by now I'm frustrated and go back home. I search online for "1 inch thick fiberglass pipe insulation" and find a bunch of places that sell it for even cheaper than the home center even with shipping charges. Great!

Is 1 inch still the recommendation for steam pipes? I think my biggest pipes are 2 inch internal diameter, although I haven't measured everything yet so there may be some bigger ones in the system. 1 1/2 inch is 75% more expensive that 1 inch and 2 inch is 155% more expensive. Yikes. What do the pros think?


@ October 18, 2013 10:12 PM in thermastats for steam heat

Lots of good information. Thank you.

Contractors Won't Do It

@ October 18, 2013 6:51 PM in What's Wrong With These Pictures?

The contractor today said he wouldn't do the conversion because Utica says it isn't supported. He's the only one who has been to the house and seen the system. The only contractor from this site who has gotten back to me said he wouldn't do it because it wasn't safe. I'm having a really hard time getting him to get back to me to set up an appointment.

Another local guy told me over the phone he'd do the conversion without even asking anything about the boiler. He even gave me a ballpark price without knowing anything about the system at all! When I asked if he needed the model number, he said it didn't matter because they're all the same.

I'm getting a lot of great information here but I'm having trouble translating it to the real world because I haven't found the right contractor yet.

The Vents

@ October 18, 2013 6:44 PM in What's Wrong With These Pictures?

I'll assume the horizontal copper pipe is the header and the rusted horizontal pipe at the top is the main. The main does a loop around three walls (the exterior walls) of half of the basement. At the end of that loop is the top vent. It has a 90 degree bend down and then another 90 degree bend horizontal. That's where the second, lower vent is. The lower vent is on a four-way joint: one up to the lower vent, one through the elbows to the upper vent, one down through another 90 degree elbow to the small black pipe that runs under the stairs and back to the right side of the boiler, and one through the wall to the other side of the house. On the other side of the house, the piping runs around the exterior walls. There are no vents on that side.

I Was Afraid You'd Say That

@ October 18, 2013 6:28 PM in What's Wrong With These Pictures?

It's a Utica SFH4150ST. I do have the manual, but the boiler is getting replaced soon anyway because I'm switching from oil to gas. I was hoping the old pipes were okay and that just the new copper stuff was bad. Can anyone recommend a good steam guy in Southeastern Massachusetts (or Rhode Island)? I've tried contacting a few of them from the Find a Contractor page, but either haven't heard back, they aren't motivated enough to set up a proper appointment, or they don't service my area. I talked to a local heating contractor today and he said a few of the right things (like that he wouldn't have used all that copper), but I'd really like to find someone who knows a lot about this stuff and can work with me to resolve the issues.

What's Wrong With These Pictures?

@ October 18, 2013 5:17 PM in What's Wrong With These Pictures?

Here are some pictures of my near-boiler piping. Based on a couple days of research, I see a few problems already. I'm sure someone more experienced will notice even more.

First up, the risers and the header (I think it's the header) are copper. The riser in the back leaks a little bit of water sometimes. After reading a little about this stuff, now I know why. There's also a lot of soldered joints in the risers. Even I know that can't be good.

Second, you can see that the risers connect to a header AND to a copper pipe that goes directly to one of my radiators. It can't be good to tap into the header like that, can it? Also, there is no vent on that line at all. That means I have to rely on the vent at the radiator to let out the air. This particular radiator gurgles and spits like a maniac.

Third, there are lot of tee joints. Is that bad?

Finally, the only two main vents are right next to each other. That seems odd to me, but I'm new to this.

What do other people see?

What's a Setback?

@ October 18, 2013 12:31 PM in thermastats for steam heat

Hi. Can someone explain what a setback is? I was considering replacing my ancient Texaco-branded Honeywell mercury thermostat with a Nest thermostat, but it sounds like they aren't right for my one-pipe system. Is a setback when you have different temperature settings throughout the day?

Dead Men's Steam School

@ October 17, 2013 11:16 PM in Dead Men's Steam School

Hi. Who is the intended audience for the Dead Men's Steam School? Are homeowners welcome or is it intended for professionals? I have a one-pipe system that needs some help. I have one of Dan's books on its way, but I'm wondering if my best bet is attending the upcoming seminar in Massachusetts.


@ October 17, 2013 9:59 PM in Help with Calculating EDR

Thanks, Bob and Dave. It's reassuring to have someone double check your math!

Why aren't the pipes factored into the equation? Is it assumed that the pipes are insulated well enough that the steam isn't condensing in them and therefore they don't contribute to the square footage? My pipes aren't insulated, but that is something I want to do soon. I have a feeling they were insulated with asbestos at one time but some previous owner took it out and never replaced it.

Once I have my total EDR, how do I pick a boiler? Let's say my total is 350 and a manufacturer offers two boiler models: one that does 400 and another that does 450. Will the 400 cover it or should I go up to the 450 for a little more wiggle room? Is there a rule of thumb to follow here?

Thanks again.

Help with Calculating EDR

@ October 17, 2013 6:13 PM in Help with Calculating EDR

Hi. I've started down the path of switching my one-pipe steam system from oil to gas. I have contractor number one coming tomorrow morning, but my copy of "We Got Steam Heat" is still in transit. I was hoping to get a little help figuring out whether my current boiler is appropriately sized for my house. That will help me figure out whether I should try to upgrade what I have or whether I should install a new boiler.

I've consulted these guides for calculating EDR:

The problem is that I get different results with each one.

I have nine radiators total. Eight of them look the same to my untrained eye, but some say "Gothic," others say "Thatcher," there's at least one "Corto," and another says "American Radiator." The house is from the 1800s, so it's likely that they are all pretty old. I think these are tube type radiators, although I'm not sure. The last radiator is a column type.

I'm hoping someone can help me size one of my radiators and then I can handle the rest. The big one in my kitchen has 23 sections. Each section has 5 tubes and is 17 inches tall. The tubes are 1.5 inches by 1 inch. If I include the height of the legs, the total height is 20 inches.

The guide from Columbia Heating Supply doesn't give a number for a 17 inch, 5 tube section. Should I be counting the legs when I measure the height? The closest height in the chart is 20 inches, which is the height including the legs, so maybe that's okay. The 20 inch, 5 tube section is 2.67 square foot EDR. That times 23 sections is 61.41 square foot EDR.

Typing in 17 inch height, 1.50 inch tubes, 5 tubes, 23 sections into the U.S. Boiler guide gives me 10.63 square feet per section and 244.38 square feet total. Using 20 inch height gives 287.50. Why is it so far off from the previous calculation?

Finally, the guide from here has me figure out if I have columns, tubes, or thin tubes. I definitely have 5 columns/tubes and the width is definitely 8 inches. I guess 8 3/4 inches is close enough, meaning I have tubes (style 2). Again, there's no 17 inch value given, so I'll round up to 20 inches, which is 2.6 square feet of radiation per section for 59.8 square feet of radiation total. That's close enough to the first number, but is it right?

My current boiler is a Utica SFH4150ST. The plate says:
Output BTU/hour: 170,000
Input BTU/hour: 210,000
Heating capacity: 170,100
Steam ft^2: 531

If I use the Columbia Heating Supply guide or the guide from here, I get about 350 square feet total. That means my boiler is a little too big. I think two radiators have been removed within the last decade or so to accommodate some renovations, so maybe the overage reflects that.

If I use U.S. Boiler, I get 1400 square feet total, which would mean my boiler is way too small. We get pretty decent heating in general, albeit with some hot and cold spots, so I have to assume U.S. Boiler's guide is just wrong.

If I go with the 350 square foot number, is the 531 square foot of the current boiler about right or is it over enough that I should consider a smaller boiler? Basically, what's the right amount of cushion? Note that I haven't measured any of the steam pipes; should I? Also, the boiler has a tankless water heater coil insert. Does that change my calculations at all?

Thanks for any help.
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