Ask Me Anything • Licensed Master Plumber

MP:

Should steam radiator vents be changed on some regular schedule or only when a vent become defective (spitting water or just very noisy etc)


a few days ago our boiler would not turn on.  After checking it out, it appeared the water level in the glass cylinder on the side was far overfull.  So we took out a few buckets of water and it restarted.  As I've monitored it the past few days, the level in the cylinder is gradually rising.  What might be causing this, and is it something we should be concerned about?

here's the sequence of photos over the past few days.


ml1 said:

a few days ago our boiler would not turn on.  After checking it out, it appeared the water level in the glass cylinder on the side was far overfull.  So we took out a few buckets of water and it restarted.  As I've monitored it the past few days, the level in the cylinder is gradually rising.  What might be causing this, and is it something we should be concerned about?

here's the sequence of photos over the past few days.

first off, I think you need to have the water drained and refilled. Looks dirty. 
Let’s hear what the master plumber says, but from my experience your automatic feed is malfunctioning. 


I had that problem this fall.  Turned out to be a leak in the boiler.  Plumber replaced a few faulty parts and boiler is now working well.  


ml1 said:

a few days ago our boiler would not turn on.  After checking it out, it appeared the water level in the glass cylinder on the side was far overfull.  So we took out a few buckets of water and it restarted.  As I've monitored it the past few days, the level in the cylinder is gradually rising.  What might be causing this, and is it something we should be concerned about?

here's the sequence of photos over the past few days.

Stand back and take a wide shot of the boiler from the front and side. It sounds like you've got a slow (partially clogged) return pipe or the valve you use to fill the boiler may not be shutting off completely. 


Thanks. I'm not sure why the water is so brown. We had regular maintenance in October and I have taken a bucket of water out a couple of times since. 


ml1 said:

Thanks. I'm not sure why the water is so brown. We had regular maintenance in October and I have taken a bucket of water out a couple of times since. 

so you do have an automatic water feeder. They do go bad occasionally. 
do you drain those two pipes  way down at the bottom there with the red handle? Sediment can build up in that pipe because it’s the lowest part of the system. If you have been draining the lower pipes and the water is still filling up slowly over the fill line, my guess would be to bypass it and see what happens. 


Rather than blame the feeder, which people are inexplicably wont to do, it's most often a problem with the functions of the low water cut off that need to be addressed. 

Aside from that, the bypass valve (yellow, horizontal handle) next to the automatic water feeder is also prone to passing through slightly. If there is a valve upstream of the feeder, closer to the main piping in the ceiling, close that one and see if it doesn't solve your rising water level problem. 


What's the best procedure for turning off and then turning back on the water to the whole house without creating too much pressure in the pipes?  We turn off the water whenever we go away, and when we turn it back on, the pipes sound like they're about to bust.  Should we leave the faucets open?  Should we start opening from the basement first?  

Thanks!!


civis said:

What's the best procedure for turning off and then turning back on the water to the whole house without creating too much pressure in the pipes?  We turn off the water whenever we go away, and when we turn it back on, the pipes sound like they're about to bust.  Should we leave the faucets open?  Should we start opening from the basement first?  

Thanks!!

When you turn it off, don't allow the water to drain from the pipes (don't turn anything on). When you turn it back on the system should already be full and pressurized which would make the whole procedure of reactivating it quiet and uneventful. If you hear water rushing in when you turn on the main then you've got a leak somewhere. So you gotta find and fix that. 

Just turn it on slowly over the course of 30-60 seconds or so. You don't want to any create water hammer. 


How do I get the last steam radiator off the main line to heat fastest? It is in the room where the thermostat is and "I think" it would help decrease the variation of temperature in the house.


My experience with our steam radiator system is that when we removed the old asbestos insulation (about twenty-five years ago.)  and put in the better fiberglass insulation, that the radiators worked much better in getting the heat to the rooms that needed it.   One radiator that seldom got hot is now working and gets hot.  Too much heat had been lost in the basement.    So, aside from the proper steam valves and proper working furnace, the insulation of steam pipes is very important.  


rhw said:

How do I get the last steam radiator off the main line to heat fastest? It is in the room where the thermostat is and "I think" it would help decrease the variation of temperature in the house.

There are several things you can do but the low hanging fruit is to install a new or faster air vent on the radiator. You could even add a second air vent. Usually, the name of the game with balancing a network of radiators is finding the right air vent that gets the job done. 


Specifically what vent would you recommend?


rhw said:

Specifically what vent would you recommend?

You can try the fastest one, the Gorton model D, but that may be overkill and I don't know what you've got there now. 


Thanks. Current one says Vent-Rite. Has adjustment but not sure it hasn't been spun around too many times.


Slightly off topic, but apparently I’m the only one who fell a little in love with a Master Plumber who used “which” and “wont” correctly in a really well-constructed paragraph?


Heynj said:

Slightly off topic, but apparently I’m the only one who fell a little in love with a Master Plumber who used “which” and “wont” correctly in a really well-constructed paragraph?

Jeez. I felt like I was showing off with "inexplicably". Ya never know...


I’m currently running an oil fired Peerless boiler, installed in 1968. It’s running at around 82% efficiency . It’s dropped from around 85-86 over the last few years. I believe it has a BTU rating of 144k. It’s a 3 bedroom 1.5 center hall colonial 1924 1788sqft. What would the approximate $$$ be knowing I’d have to convert to gas, remove tank, install new flu liner. I’m guessing 12-15k am I in the ballpark?


dano said:

I’m currently running an oil fired Peerless boiler, installed in 1968. It’s running at around 82% efficiency . It’s dropped from around 85-86 over the last few years. I believe it has a BTU rating of 144k. It’s a 3 bedroom 1.5 center hall colonial 1924 1788sqft. What would the approximate $$$ be knowing I’d have to convert to gas, remove tank, install new flu liner. I’m guessing 12-15k am I in the ballpark?

You're low by about $3-5K. You've got a typical ~150,000 BTU boiler to replace plus the extras you mention.  I'm not going to get into pricing here but chimney relining is often a wild card, but start thinking $4,000. Removing the oil tank lately is anywhere from $500-$1,000, and you've got gas piping to run. Where you'll do best to sharpen this pencil is to have a proper EDR calculation of the steam heating system done. Maybe you don't need such a big boiler, and if you've got a gas water heater already, then maybe you can save some money on the gas piping if it's already in place. Good luck. You'll be glad you did the work once it's over. 


Thanks Master… I’ll certainly reach out when the time comes. Makes sense to do the calculations. I’ve got original double hungs which I’ve kept in working order over the years, and I’m sure no insulation between the exterior walls , so not the tightest house on the block LOL


dano said:

Thanks Master… I’ll certainly reach out when the time comes. Makes sense to do the calculations. I’ve got original double hungs which I’ve kept in working order over the years, and I’m sure no insulation between the exterior walls , so not the tightest house on the block
LOL

None of that matters with steam. The boiler gets sized to fill the pipes and radiators with steam. The radiators are what are sized to the heat loss and demands of the room, but once in place, it's the sum of the radiators' surface area that determine the boiler size. In other words, if the home's envelope has changed enough to warrant replacing the radiators with smaller ones, that is the only way it would affect the boiler size. 

 


Interesting …. 9 rads in total, all original.


You are building a new home in SOMA. How would you heat and cool it? What is your dream setup (money aside) and what is your best mid-range option.


maps said:

You are building a new home in SOMA. How would you heat and cool it? What is your dream setup (money aside) and what is your best mid-range option.

Is this a question to me? I don't know much about cooling but I'm fairly in love with mini-splits for air conditioning. I rented a place that had both heating and cooling with Mitsubishi units and I enjoyed the gentle, quiet a/c all summer. In winter, the heat was terrible and couldn't keep up below 40°. The landlord kept the old radiators in place for that and they would warm up when the outside temperature got to 35°. 

Many engineers' plans that come to my company for pricing include a similar setup: mini-split a/c with some form of water-boiler-based heating for cold days. I'm seeing a lot of radiant floor heating being that second stage of heat, and radiators/convectors under large windows to keep them free of condensation. 

I hope this helps. 


I'm skeptical that mini-splits would work very well in our house's layout. The locations of walls, doors and windows pretty much fight against more than one room benefiting from a unit. I once lived in a home where a wall air conditioner was located in a staircase between the first and second floor. That unit could pleasantly cool about 1/3 of the house.


There is more than one way to do a mini split.  I have my second and third floor done with mini splits.  The third floor has one ceiling cassette and nothing on the walls.   On the second floor I had a ceiling mounted  hidden unit put in that blows into 6" ductwork that spiders out to each room on the floor.  No wall units there, either.


master_plvmber said:

maps said:

You are building a new home in SOMA. How would you heat and cool it? What is your dream setup (money aside) and what is your best mid-range option.

Is this a question to me? 

Yes, I want to build a new home and was wondering if you had any thoughts on various radiant heat options that would be put into a new build. Radiant floors, modern baseboard, or modern radiators. Heat pump vs steam? Can a heat pump cool? Is a heat pump water based? I currently have forced air which just has me longing for the days that I had radiators.


maps said:

master_plvmber said:

maps said:

You are building a new home in SOMA. How would you heat and cool it? What is your dream setup (money aside) and what is your best mid-range option.

Is this a question to me? 

Yes, I want to build a new home and was wondering if you had any thoughts on various radiant heat options that would be put into a new build. Radiant floors, modern baseboard, or modern radiators. Heat pump vs steam? Can a heat pump cool? Is a heat pump water based? I currently have forced air which just has me longing for the days that I had radiators.

@maps

Interesting -- There is probably a lot of personal preference. I always hated radiators (the space they take up in a room, burning myself on them as a kid, and you can't put much on them, or things melt if you forget to take them off in the winter), the creepy boilers in basements, the banging, the leaks, the lack of control over which rooms got too hot, and which stayed too cold, how long it took the house to warm up from cold, etc.  

I now have 2-zone (upstairs and downstairs) forced air for heat and AC, with good vent covers, and love it. It's so quiet, I control which rooms get more or less air, and I'm always comfortable.


The other day I was cutting through a Summit side street and saw a first - well-digging equipment working in the yard of a new McMansion (that happened to replace a Victorian I always thought was gorgeous, but that’s another topic). I was so curious I stopped to ask - they were putting in a geothermal heating and cooling system. 


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