new home owner, 100 years old house, one pipe steam radiator system...

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Old 01-21-12, 09:26 PM
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Angry new home owner, 100 years old house, one pipe steam radiator system...

ONE PIPE STEAM HEATER (Radiators)
100 years old COLONIAL 2 floors
PROBLEM: when we turn gas fireplace (very high 80) in the basement, (t stat in first floor) on the second floor, bedrooms...the radiators won't start, freezing on second floor...or takes very long to warm up over an hour...works on the first floor...if fireplace is off works fine...???


I am a mother of two small children and my husband also has two teen boys and I am about to either kill him or divorce him because since day one we are having major issues making all three levels work at the same time.

I hope someone can share some ideas with me, if it makes sense what I am going through. Or if I am going crazy.

I will start defending myself that I never owned a house before and know nothing about heating systems. We bought this 100 years old colonial 2 years ago, and have been trying to figure out the heating system since nobody seems to know or want to get it done... better than us. Spoke to several plumbers and nobody got it done.

It is a two story house with a basement (family room where my husbands teens hang most of the time, there is a fireplace (gas) dow there.) First floor living area and second floor bedrooms.

OUR PROBLEM IS: when they turn on the fireplace in the basement, they turn the thing so high the temperature ranges around 80 can you believe this...up stairs in the bedrooms guess what happens the heater refuses to work, this only happens if the fireplace is on and high...I keep telling my husband what I heard from few people that I think the temp is so high in the basement and the first floor gets pretty confortable too, that the system understands that there is no need to start, but up stairs in the bedrooms is freezing about 65, since my little ones can't keep their blankets on and they are always sick. I don't know what too do, but I just want to find out if I make sense on this.

He tells me it's not related, but we had a whole winter of hell telling the teens to keep it at a level and they keep raising it up, on the dial between the low and high they leave at about 75% if I make myself clear between half and the end, when I find that if you put about 25 or 30% it will keep the temp at about 74.

Numerous fights after, and a lots of stress being called crazy, my husband a civil engineer can't seem to understand how it works or doesn't want to and me a CRAZY mom thank God with a higher IQ either am going crazy trying to survive the winter with less astma attacks.

PLEASE if you understand a little bit, or work with it, let me know your opinion, times are very difficult financially speaking to everybody and I am trying not to spend money on this, we already figure it out how to change the valves, bleed the system, change the termalcouple and clean the level gauge, the system seems to work fine besides this issue and the water level keeps going up sometimes which we know that key that lets the water in must be broken and lets water in even when closed...

I forgot to mention that the boiler is in the basement and the thermostat is in the first floor but no thermostat in the second floor.
 

Last edited by RCS handy mom; 01-21-12 at 10:38 PM.
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Old 01-21-12, 09:41 PM
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Tell us more about the heating system. From what you descibe it may be steam??? And you would have radiators?

Make and model of boiler?

Anyway I would say just move the t stat to the second floor for the time being. Or move it to the coolest room on the first floor. This will insure the heat kicks on.

Mike NJ
 
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Old 01-21-12, 10:25 PM
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Hi Mike,

It is steam I do have very old radiators...I would have to check the info on the boiler...
Thanks for the idea of moving the t stat to the second floor.

I appreciate!
 
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Old 01-21-12, 10:34 PM
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Yeah its the cheapeast way. Put the t stat where its colder although the 1st floor will probably get hottor then it is with the basement fireplace on.

You probably need a better solution but that will get you by.

You could turn off some rads on the first floor where its too hot. That is if the valves still work. But you risk the chance of the valves breaking. Then you will have other bigger troubles on your hands. They can break closed then you will have no heat from that rad until the valve gets replaced.

Mike NJ
 
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Old 01-21-12, 10:50 PM
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Thank you much for sharing, Mike...I am not a plumber but had a pretty good idea, just wondering and looking for help with maybe some ideas like yours, I wonder how difficult it is to put the tstat on the second floor, I imagine there is a wire...about 20 years ago I did my high school + technical school in Eletricity...done my house once...I am going to hit my husband in the head right now with a big frying pan, he is mad at me...saying there is no relation between the fireplace and cold bedrooms...I am not touching the rads/valves they are very old and I am pretty sure they don't work anymore...I am having a blast with this...if I can figure out this heating myself, since I do most of the handy work at home I will be a happy woman...THANKSSSSSS
 
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Old 01-21-12, 11:05 PM
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Mike,

One last question, I swear!

Would you understand why the radiator in the first floor would be working/heating and the ones on the second floor don't...for about hour and a half, it was could upstairs I go down it's almost 80, damn fireplace in the basement on, hot as hell there... the living room where the tstat is warm with the radiators working, but I waited for about hour and a half and no activity in the bedrooms, after I found out how hot it was down stairs and turned down then hour and a helf later it worked up stairs, but on the first floor never stopped working??? do you have any guess what is going on?

I won't take you time anymore....THANK YOU!!!

I will defenitely try to move the t stat to second floor the only puzzle I have in my head is the contractor guy telling me 2 years ago I am not 100% sure about that one is that the thermostat here in my house was in the basement even though to control is in my living room...???????not sure what he meant bby that.
 
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Old 01-21-12, 11:26 PM
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First, your husband is an idiot.

Second, while moving the thermostat might work and might even be necessary I suspect the problem is the air vents on the upstairs radiators are not working properly. There are several different styles but the most common look like this.


(Image courtesy of grainger.com)

These are supposed to open to let air out of the radiator and close when the steam gets to the radiator. If they are stuck closed then the air cannot escape and the radiator will not heat. Some are adjustable and this is the kind you should have on all the radiators. Adjust the ones the furthest from the boiler to the widest opening and the ones closer to the boiler with smaller openings.

You might be able to clean the existing air valves by removing them and boiling them in a strong vinegar solution but generally they will need to be replaced if plugged.

The air valves do not need to be wrenched in any more than hand tight and vertical. There is very little pressure on a one-pipe steam system and generally the lower the pressure the better the system runs. There are other things as well but try the air vents first.
 
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Old 01-22-12, 07:35 AM
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Yes handy mom. Foillow Furds advice with the air vents on the rads. The rads farther away should be open more then the rads closest to the boiler.

Not sure what type of vents you have. Take pics and post. It will help.

Also I was not aware that the rads on the upper floors were not heating at all. I guess I should have asked.

So if you turn the heat up the 1st floor heats but no rads on the second floor do? Or is it just a few rads?

Also if there was any renovation and the rads where removed and replaced for say painting, the rads need to be re pitched back. This lets the condensation drain back to the boiler. There should be possibly little shims on the vent side of the rads, not the valve side. They should be under the two feet on that side. That lifts the rad enough for the water to drain back. If not pitched the water in the rad blocks the steam.

Nickles are good to use.......

Also you may not have air vents and have a two pipe system???

Let us know

Steam Piping and System Sensor Location


Old House Journal Online Traditional Products



Mike NJ
 
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Old 01-22-12, 10:35 AM
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While I don't share Furd's tact, I agree in principle.

By the way, you said this:

puzzle I have in my head is the contractor guy telling me 2 years ago I am not 100% sure about that one is that the thermostat here in my house was in the basement even though to control is in my living room
I'm going to give the guy the benefit of the doubt that you may not be remembering correctly what he said, but if he said that, he's an idiot too! [oops, there goes my Sunday morning tactfulness!

When it is so hot downstairs in the basement, even IF the thermostat in the living room calls for heat, it probably isn't calling long enough for the steam to make it to the second floor before the thermostat satisfies, since it is being supplemented by the heat driving up from the basement.

Exactly what Furd says, you need FASTER venting on the second floor in this case.

I am going to recommend some reading material for you (and hubby, if he consents). This book should be required reading for every homeowner with a steam heating system.

Heating Help

This is a very well written book and won't confuzzle you with all the technical details... just the plain common sense... even humorous!

Go down to the basement and find your "Pressurtrol" control on the boiler. A small square box sitting on a 'pigtail' piece of tubing. Tell us what it is set at.
 

Last edited by NJT; 01-22-12 at 12:04 PM. Reason: Fixed link
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Old 01-22-12, 11:43 AM
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Trooper's link might be dead. The book he's recommending (and I wholeheartedly second), is

We Got Steam Heat a Homeowners Guide To Peaceful Coexistence

by Dan Holohan. Google it and you will find on several online stores.
 
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Old 01-22-12, 05:46 PM
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add a door going down into the basement to seal the heat rise,relocate the stat on the 1st flr to another interior wall probably only a 2-wire pull.once the first floor heats up normally that heat will rise up into the 2nd flr.you have to get that fireplace heat away from that exsisting stat.do you have a model/style on the stat..mercury,mechanical,electronic
 
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Old 01-22-12, 09:44 PM
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Hi Furd, thanks for you input, we did exchange some of the valves where we were having problems, but not upstairs yet...I bought this VARIVALVES, they allow you to open or close...they cost about 20 bucks each...I wonder if the one you showed is better or more or less expensive...after doing a lot of reading I read from several people that all the valves shoud be open...last year we had a lot of banging in the pipes, not anymore...I am in the process of reading all the posts...I will try to change the valves in the bedrooms next few days I will post back to let you all know what happens...

THANK YOU for your time and attention.
 
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Old 01-22-12, 10:07 PM
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Hi Mike, sorry it took me so long to answer...first thank you for the two links loved the first one and the second two, we did buy that book...

I am pretty sure I have a one pipe heating system...

what are the vents are they in the radiator structure by itself or it's the valve that lets the air out?

I have diferent rads all over the house, don't be happy about it they are all OLD very old, some in my living room, can't be reached because they built this furniture around and have been painted over and over...I am not sure how to do it...anyways we had diferent valves to close and open the air...we had a small bath that didn't warm well, so we bought varivalves about 4 by now and switched some around the house...I will buy them all new, I wonder if it makes diference in quality and eficience...depending in price and brand, sure it does, those varivalves cost me 20 bucks each on a plumbing store...

the rads on the second (last floor - bedrooms) won't work or takes a long time or many cicles to work when the fireplace in the basement is on and high, about almost 80 ( my three big guys love to toast while we freeze to death upstairs me and the two little ones ) once I realize usually when it's too late and bring the temp down it took almost two hours for them to work I kept checking and all the first floor rads were working but the second floor didn't, like the steam wasn't strong enought to reach upstairs...we have never done anything about tilting the rads we did read about but anytime we try to move or tilt, it's like not going anywhere no space to move/tilt. I will try that too again.

THANK YOU THANK YOU

soon I will be fixing old heating systems...start a business kkkkkkkkkkkk
 
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Old 01-22-12, 10:33 PM
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Hi NJ Trooper,

First of all THANK YOU FOR THE SENSE OF HUMOR, sooooooo important!!!
And second, hubby did buy the book and read all on his way to work...try to read my previous posts I just answered the other posts to complement...it's been a slow process and as much as there is still a lot to do we did learn a little and started to figure it out...changes some of the valves on the radiators, change the thermocouple twice already...the loud banging nose stoped...but this issue with the excessive heat from the fireplace that seems to do what you said:
"When it is so hot downstairs in the basement, even IF the thermostat in the living room calls for heat, it probably isn't calling long enough for the steam to make it to the second floor before the thermostat satisfies, since it is being supplemented by the heat driving up from the basement."

So on my list I have:

Change valves, try to tilt radiator, open the ones further more than the ones close...try to move the thermostat to the second floor.

on top of that I am ashamed to say that the pressure thing isn't responsive which I know is bad, we need to get a new one and change too, and hope the house won't blow because the pressure is super high and we don't have a clue, we called a plumber, and he didn't even noticed that so from now on I am my own plumber...

there is one more little thing going on, I know I need a plumber but the water level sometimes goes up, I suspect the little control the we open to complete the water isn't working properly and not closing 100% so lets water in even if we think is closed... so we drain the water and when is closed no problem, so that's something else it needs to be changed...

so are we lost cause...we have 4 kids, (19, 17, 5 and 2, my husband counts too right) one job, a very high mortgage, 6 trees fell down the last two years and did some damage, believe me those are not cheap to get rid of it...if I can't manage this old heating system I will trow my towel down, if I can manage my two little very active monsters (oops mu sweet children) I better understand how it works because we learned that there is always something going on can you imagine calling a professional every time and paying couple hundred bucks every single time...I guess there is just too much going on...let's see if I win this fight.

THANK YOU!!!
 
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Old 01-22-12, 10:36 PM
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Hi xiphias,

we did buy it and also read it!!!

Thansk for the help.
 
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Old 01-22-12, 10:40 PM
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Hi sminker,

The idea about the door is perfect I have been wondering myself for many other reasons, the stat is a cheap round I think is honeywhell, not sure how is written, I had some contractors doing some work before we move in and they change it to this...I am sure I would be better off changing this thing...wonder which type and brand?

Thankk you!!!
 
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Old 01-22-12, 11:00 PM
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The water fluctuation I believe is because the boiler water needs to be skimmed. There is a layer of oil, grase, and other things I believe that cause this surge.

I am not a steam guy but the fact that you also say your pressure trol is messed up and or high pressure leads me to beleave a pro should be called in.

I dont think its something to take lightly. Its dangerous IMO.

And that gas heater in the basement. Are there CO detectors in the home? How does that unit vent?

You know you can wake up dead right?????

I am thinking children and saftey. Low levels of CO cause developmental issues with children.

My two cents. Its just that it may not be the heat you should really be worried about but possibly CO.

Hopefully some of the steam pros can chime in with better info then I can offer.

Mike NJ
 
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Old 01-23-12, 12:31 AM
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My background is commercial and industrial sized steam equipment but I do know a few things about residential systems. One thing is that in a residential system there is almost no pressure so just because you can't see movement on the pressure gauge doesn't necessarily mean it is broken or not working.

There are many different types and styles of radiator vents and there are also mainline vents. The radiator vents come in both adjustable and non-adjustable types. I can't offer any advice on brand or prices, commercial/industrial systems don't use radiator vents and residential steam systems in my area are all but non-existent; the last one I saw was in 1976.

If you can take several pictures of the boiler and surrounding piping along with pictures of the radiators from all angles and upload them to a photo hosting site such as photobucket.com and then post the URL of the album we can all see what you are fighting. We have several people on this forum with extensive residential steam experience. There is no reason why you can't have an operating system and do the work special to steam yourself. You will want to bring someone in to service the burner as it takes specialized equipment that is too expensive for the non-pro in most cases.
 
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Old 01-23-12, 04:41 AM
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adding to the problem would be the painting of the rads over the years which actually insulated the rads.something else super cold walls behind them also 212F steam rising in,and a 40F stone cold wall guess where the heat goes first (sheet 1/2" foil faced styrafoam)slipped between them.that reference to the stat in basement...probably was at one time there then the first and second chilled out.if there are couchs or curtains in front of a rad you are basically shutting it off with no air rising on it
 
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Old 01-24-12, 08:07 PM
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Furd your answer was perfect it gave me peace of mind on the possibility that our pressure might be right, it is such a simple system and seems to work not bad, your might be right. I am going to do some work and get someone to the some changes I will let you know the results, Thanks you!
 
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