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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2009
    Location
    Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
    Posts
    14

    Default 1st home and steam heat

    My husband and I just bought a home built in 1931. This house was kept well over the years. Not too many upgrades have occur (everything thing on the out side has been overhauled, windows, siding, roof and new garage) but the house has retained it's charm with original plaster walls, beautiful oak hardwood floors, large moldings and pretty fireplace with a wood burner in the basement.

    Now as you can imagine there are some quarks such as some slanting floors, hairline plaster cracks, etc. But the biggest thing is the steam heat... The boiler is new (less than 5 years old) but we have all the original radiators. We finally turned the heat on since the inspection and yes hiss, hiss spit, spit. Reading about the one pipe system I have decided to replace the steam vents. Downstairs we have the automatic steam values that are looking pretty old and in need of replacing. Upstairs we have the Hoffman 1A air valves which adjust and look in much better shape but still need replaced. What the advantage to adjustable air vents? Are they more quiet? Is there a reason they are on the second floor in every bedroom (the bathroom on the second floor does not have the adjustable air vent)?

    When I went to the hardware store they just kind of looked at me with the expression "you still have steam heat." They really couldn't answer my questions and directed me to a store that still carried them. I still got the same look from them and even though they carried the product they couldn't answer my questions either... I really don't want to have a HVAC guy come over just for some steam valves.. Any suggestions?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Posts
    556

    Default Re: 1st home and steam heat

    mchema:

    You're doing the right thing!!

    Read up as much as you can on how steam heat works & try to get the maximum benefit from your present system---if after one heating season you contemplate & can afford to update or change the heating system, then you can decide at that time---I would recommend you look at baseboard type forced hot water if you are seriously considering a change.

    There is still a wide application for steam heat, especially in commerical venues, and especially in older, large cities---New York City is the leader, but Boston, Cleveland, Chicago & other large northern cities also maintain a presence, especially in large apartment complexes.

    Since you are very close to Cleveland, you will find a wide number of parts houses and service support spe******ts who still work daily on steam systems---but don't ignore Akron---consult the Yellow Pages in both cities under "Heating Supplies---parts" for heating supply houses that carry steam components---most of them will now sell to homeowners as well as contractors.

    Steam heat requires a certain amount of maintenance on a weekly basis: 1) you should "blow down" the boiler water once a week from the drain faucet (open the drain faucet into a bucket & vent 1/2 to 1 gallon) to maintain a reasonably clear color to the water in the sight glass at the front of the boiler; 2) the sight glass should be maintained at the 1/2 full level & should be checked for this regularly during the week--you may have to work a valve to add more water to the boiler to get it up to the 1/2 mark in the sight glass.

    Since steam heat is considered an OPEN SYSTEM (open to the atmosphere) there is no way to prevent the accumulation of rust & dirt from clogging the system---the components are made of cast iron & steel, and are subject to rusting---whenever the system comes on, these rust particles are forced toward the branch and radiator vents and eventually clog them up, and the system loses efficiency and must be cleaned as best as possible.

    When heat is needed in a steam boiler, the burner fires & heats the boiler water to 212 degrees at low pressure of about 1 psi---this live steam rushes toward the radiators, pushing the air ahead of it (the hissing)---once the steam hits the vents, there is a little brass bellows inside the vents containing an ounce of alcohol that expands & pushes a little needle valve that closes the vent aperture, the live steam heats the radiator to approx. 200 degrees--once the system cools down, the needle valves open again as the alcohol contracts--if there is spitting during heating it means the needle valve in the vent is dirty, but can usually be cleaned with immersion in vinegar in a pot on the stove at low heat.

    Number 1 Hoffman adjustable valves are designed to PROPORTION, or have some control of the upstairs bedroom rads so that too much or too little heat is not produced in the bedrooms---but the major problem remains with both adustable or non-adjustable valves is keeping the system clean by regular "blow downs" and valve cleanings.

    The premier site for homeowner's who have steam heat is Dan Holohan's heating help site, below----he has numerous interesting and helpful articles and tips on how to maintain a one-pipe steam system---when you get to the main page at his site, click onto at the top of the page "systems" & select STEAM.

    You will find an article there entitled "Problems that plague all steam systems"----additional articles address one-pipe steam systems and tips---don't miss the B&G article---excellent.

    There is an excellent article by Dan Holohan at Old House Journal on cleaning & balancing vents (don't forget the MAIN VENTS).

    Also Google "tips on balancing one-pipe systems" by Bell & Gossett---B&G has been making steam & hydronic components for many years & is very knowledgeable.

    Brownstoner is a website hosted by NYC residents most of whom have steam heat----use their SEARCH box to find steam heat articles: Google "The sweet sound of radiator silence" and also Google "Plumbing tips: Maintaining your boiler".

    http://www.heatinghelp.com
    http://www.houseinprogress.net/archives/000288.html
    http://www.oldhousejournal.com/care_.../magazine/1016
    http://www.boilerroom.com/homeforum.html
    http://www.brownstoner.com
    Last edited by NashuaTech; 09-30-2009 at 06:15 PM.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Sep 2009
    Location
    Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
    Posts
    14

    Default Re: 1st home and steam heat

    Thanks for all this wonderful advice... I'm super excited to read all of this... I cleaned one of the steam valves but I truly believe they are too far gone... It really didn't make a difference in sound or performance... Thanks again sooo much...

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Sep 2009
    Location
    Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
    Posts
    14

    Default Re: 1st home and steam heat

    Oh I forgot to ask... will be be able to keep our boiler for the baseboard type forced hot water system you mentioned...? Like I said the boiler is not old at all and truth be told I like the comfort of steam/hot water heat... plus we have lines already running through (although I know more pipes will be needed). Will there be less destruction to the walls b/c forced air vents won't need to be put in...?

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Posts
    556

    Default Re: 1st home and steam heat

    mchema:

    As previously noted, try your steam system for one heating season & then decide if you want to opt for a change.

    A number of people who have never had steam heat before fall in love with it because the radiators produce what's called a "fat", full-bodied heat that has to be experienced in the winter to be appreciated---this type of enjoyable heat can't be experienced by other forms of heating systems now being used, although forced hot water heat with radiators comes close--the maintenance & annual fuel costs are the downsides.

    A forced hot water system would require a new boiler ($1500 to $3000) and new piping & baseboard elements, which would follow the piping arrangement that the steam piping now has, but with much smaller piping--so the walls & floors would not be damaged--often a special PEX plastic piping is run thru the walls & floors for connections.

    Often, the radiators used for steam, cannot be used for FHW, so they are removed in favor of baseboard, or even radiant heat in some cases.

    A new FHW system may cost $5k to $8k with a complete change in piping. rads & boiler needed---the upside is increased convenience, less maintenance & a more efficient heating system that would mean less fuel costs annually since FHW systems are 85% to 95% efficient & steam is usually much lower in efficiency.

    If AC in the summer is desired, FHW is often combined with mini-split AC systems by Sanyo & others ($4k-$5k) that require that no ducts need be installed throughout the house.
    Last edited by NashuaTech; 09-30-2009 at 12:10 AM.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Sep 2009
    Location
    Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
    Posts
    14

    Default Re: 1st home and steam heat

    I just found the main vents in the basement. They are pretty nasty looking. I believe that all the vents in the heating system need replaced... I didn't even know there were main vents... I think that would do wonders for the hiss and spit plus it will make in much more efficient... I always love an adventure... Hence the old house! Always something new to learn and research...

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Location
    Taxachusetts
    Posts
    136

    Default Re: 1st home and steam heat

    There should be a number on the main vents, try to replace with the same #. If the new one fails quickly it is probably undersized. I prefer Vent-rite vents and also enjoy there adjustable vents for individual rads. When I bought my house it had a 1930's oil steam boiler converted with a gas gun, super inefficient. I knew I wanted to keep the steam, so I installed a new burnham revolution boiler, replaced every vent (main and individual), replaced every radiator valve shut-off (most if not all leaked), cleaned and repainted the rads, and installed a programmable hydrolevel water feed with led display. My monthly gas bill was reduced over 50% in heating months and the boiler has only used 13 gallons of water in 4 years with no bangs. FHW however is much easier to maintain. I do find Nashua Tech's estimate for a changeover to be on the low side but I live in Mass where everything costs more. Good Luck

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Sep 2009
    Location
    Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
    Posts
    14

    Default Re: 1st home and steam heat

    Shaun,

    I was wondering why you preferred the Vent-rite vents. Have you had any experience with Gorton or Hoffman? I have been hunting around to see other people options on the vents. thanks

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Location
    Derry, NH
    Posts
    61

    Default Re: 1st home and steam heat

    I have steam, and grew up with it.
    The air vents should be of good quality and cleaned out occasionally with vinegar.

    I like varivalves.

    They are small and trouble free but have used others with success.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Location
    Derry, NH
    Posts
    61

    Default Re: 1st home and steam heat

    Another tip. Do not over paint your radiators as paint is an insulator and a few too many coats can adversely affect the transfer of heat.

    Always strip of the sometimes huge amount of layers on older radiators to get back to the original transference.

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