Severe Radiator Water Hammer

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Old 12-15-13, 08:00 PM
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Severe Radiator Water Hammer

Hello!

So I have a Oil/Steam heating system that was flooded over the summer by a contractor. I emptied out some of the water before i fired up the system this fall, but obviously it wasn't enough cause as soon as I started it I got severe water hammer from the pipes running through the basement and then the radiators. Some of the radiators were spewing water out of the radiator vents.

I recently replaced the two main vent valves next to the boiler, this helped get rid of most of the loud banging coming from the pipes. But I still had one radiator that was rapidly banging over and over again, if you know anything about music, imagine quarter notes at about 160bpm, loud bangs for about 6 minutes. So I had a plumber come over and check everything out, he said the pipes look fine and are pitched correctly, and we pitched two radiators (including the problem radiator) so they are angled towards the pipe. We also detached the radiators and emptied them out, the problem radiator had a bit of water in it, but the one on the floor directly below (which was also banging loudly but not the rapid fire kind) had a large amount of water in it, like it started flooding my floor immediately and took a lot of rags to clean up. So once we emptied those out i was hoping the problem would be gone. Wrong, 10 minutes after the plumber leaves the problem radiator starts doing it's rapid fire drum solo again, so i wait till it cools down and take it apart and empty more water out of it. It is STILL doing the rapid fire banging, and now the radiator that had the large amount of water in it (also should mention this radiator is directly below the problem radiator so i'm assuming they are sharing the same pipe line?) starts doing the rapid fire banging, so now i have two radiators doing it in unison on different floors of the house.

Does anybody know what the heck is going on here? How is large amounts of water getting into the radiators still? My water level on my boiler is fine, i've had that confirmed by my oil company and the plumber. I have a theory that sludge has built up in the radiators and is trapping water in there, but how would i go about cleaning that?

just a little more info on the banging, the system will fire on and in about 5 minutes the major banging of the pipes began (this has now stopped) after about 20 minutes of being on, the top floor radiator (and now it's cousin directly below it) will start its drum sonata for 5-10 min (though since we've emptied the radiators of the water it has been only about 3 minutes) once this ends all of the banging stops untill the system fires up again to reheat the radiators.

Any help would be much appreciated, the problem is driving me crazy as it has been waking me and my wife up at night, and the plumber didn't really seem to know what was going on and only helped a little.

Thanks!

Sam
 
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Old 12-15-13, 11:32 PM
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Go back and re-check the pitch of the radiators and all the horizontal piping. All
MUST be tilted back towards the boiler approximately 1/4 inch drop per foot of run. If you have any long horizontal runs make sure there is not a sag or "belly" between supports, if there is then additional supports or hangers may be necessary to maintain the proper pitch.

Check all your main-line vents and make sure all the main lines are adequately insulated.

Post back as we have a couple of people that are very knowledgeable regarding residential steam heating systems. Posting pictures (the more the better as long as they are in focus and well lit) might help in diagnosing the problem.
 
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Old 12-16-13, 11:46 AM
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After disconnecting a radiator, insert a stick about 2 feet long and about the thickness of a pencil into the inlet/outlet opening and swish it around a bit to dislodge any scale or sludge or sediment or honeycomb of rust.

Feel free to poke with reasonable force to get a reasonable ways into the radiator. A metal rod will actually work better than a wooden stick.

The alternately set the radiator down horizontally and squirt water (using a garden hose trigger nozzle) into the opening and lift the other end somewhat to drain it out, repeating a few times.

Also check as far as you can (using the stick) to be sure the feed pipe is clear. The valve has to be fully open (or fully closed) or else you will get a lot of hammering.

Water will always collect in the very bottom of the radiator up to the level of the bottom edge of the inlet/outlet opening. If you tilt the radiator up at a sharp angle to pour out "the last of the" water then after you set down and reconnect the radiator and run the system for awhile, you will find more water collected there if you per chance disconnect the radiator and upend it again.
 
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Old 12-16-13, 07:57 PM
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Thank you guys so much for your responses. I've checked the main pipes and they seemed to be pitched correctly (but i am far from an expert). Are there more than two main-vent valves? I'm assuming we are talking about the ones that are coming off the pipes from the boiler and not ones connected to the radiator? I've replaced two of those and it helped with some of the larger pipe bangs that we were getting, but no the radiator noise.

I'm going to include a whole bunch of pictures of our my system. Mainly the boiler and the main layout and then highlighting the problem pipes as well as the problem radiators. I'm sorry if some are coming out crooked for some reason it's doing that, the files i'm uploading are not like that. PLease let me know if you want more pictures of different details or more information in general, I would love the help to get to the bottom of this. I can also try to include video.

Thanks!

Sam

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Old 12-16-13, 08:13 PM
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Here are some video links

the problem radiator:
radiator drums - YouTube

the boiler and following the pipes in one direction:
IMG 2784 - YouTube

the boiler and pipes in the other direction
IMG 2783 - YouTube
 
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Old 12-16-13, 08:49 PM
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G,
Is this a new installation, did it bang like this before he flooded it.
Your water looks dirty and a little high. Is it surging at all. A lot of movement in the glass when it runs.

The rad that is banging comes off of what line off the boiler. The straight pipe off the tee or the pipe that comes off the elbow. Due all the rads heat all the way through.

Why I'm asking is because your near boiler piping could be better.
It's very important to insulate your pipes, especially near the boiler. The short version is to keep the steam as long as possible. The minute the steam hits the pipes it starts to condence and once that happens it never reaches the rads and it's wasted energy.

Let's start with that.
 
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Old 12-17-13, 06:08 AM
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So we bought this house in July, it had been completely gutted down to the studs and remodeled. The boiler is basically new (the oil company came and said that they'd never seen such a clean boiler before) Not sure about the radiators but they may be new as well, the piping looks older though when the plumber came he said that the piping to the problem radiator looked new which makes sense because it was a two family and he converted it into a one single family which probably means he had to run some new lines. As for this problem happening before, all I know is that when we came through the house for the inspection the heat was running and it wasn't banging at all. But we never turned it on untill after another contractor flooded the system so I really have nothing to compare it against.

The water is dirty, I recently tried to empty some out cause I remembered that my inspector said every week to try to get the dirty water out of there, well I empty alot out and it as all very black and dirty and then I remembered the plumber saying that it was not good to keep putting new water in there so I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do and I stopped.

Yes the water is surging when the boiler is on, basically disappears when it's running and then slowly fills back up (occasionally going up and down but not very extreme) and then returns to the normal level when it turns off.

I will say that I've had my low water cut off switch on with the water not being much lower than it is currently, so i don't know if i can run it much lower.

The problem radiator, i think, is coming off of the straight pipe with the tee, then when it hits the wall that pipe splits into three different pipes into the wall.

Despite the banging the Radiators are heating all the way through and get really hot, ironically the banging is awfull but the heat we've been getting has been really good.

Please let me know if you need any more info or more detailed pictures.

Thanks!
 
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Old 12-17-13, 06:32 AM
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You need to skim the boiler.....

Is there a skim port on the side?

Also I assume you checked the rads that they are all pitched correctly?
 
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Old 12-17-13, 09:23 AM
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Perhaps a treatment of this might help?
SQUICK Steam Boiler Cleaner/Inhibitor
 
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Old 12-17-13, 09:48 AM
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Yes the radiators we are having problems with are pitched correctly. How do you skim the boiler? what does the skim port look like? What does skimming it do exactly?

Thanks

Sam
 
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Old 12-17-13, 10:00 AM
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So the boiler has a valve at the bottom of the manual fill pipe next to the boiler and then there is one at the bottom of the boiler underneath the gun that I have used to empty water out of it when it was flooded. Is one of those the skim port?

Also I read that symptons of needing to skimming are violent fluctuated of the water in the tube on the boiler, which isn't really happening, though the water does disappear when the boiler is runing and moves up a down a bit. As well as the boiler shutting on and off quickly which it doesn't do, as well as the rads not fully heating up which is also not a problem for us. It says nothing about the water hammer. I don't know anything about this but am willing to give anything a try, i'm just curious as to how the skimming will help.

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Old 12-17-13, 10:09 AM
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One more thing i want to add.

Before the plumber came and we replaced the main vent valves and disconnected the radiators and dumped a bunch of water out of them, the two problem radiators were spewing water out of their vents every time the they started with the water hammer. I figured this was because since they were flooded they were still full of water and that was the steam that was forcing them out, thus once we emptied them out they would stop spewing water. That proved to be incorrect, they are still spewing water from their vents, so obviously emptying the water out from them didn't really solve that problem.

Just wanted to throw that clue out there to see if it can help with find a cure.
 
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Old 12-17-13, 10:20 AM
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The skim port is above the water line of the boiler.

Just for curiousity sake, I would like to know the settings of your PressurTrol... at least the one on the front labeled "CUT IN" and if you are so inclined, slide the cover off and let us know the setting on the white wheel inside the pressurtrol.

It sounds to me as if you have 'slow returns'...

You said:

the water does disappear when the boiler is runing
If you've got steam going up and condensing, and then not returning in a timely fashion back to the boiler... then the water feeder may be sensing low water and adding more...

That drumming sounds a little slower than 160 bpm... I'm going with 120 ...
 
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Old 12-17-13, 10:44 AM
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ok just making sure i know what your talking about, is the grey box on the left the pressuretrol your talking about? I can take the cover off this?

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Old 12-17-13, 10:55 AM
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is the grey box on the left the pressuretrol
Yes, it is.

I'm curious because I want to make sure that at least part of the problem is not do to 'knucklehead' settings.

The cover is easily removed. Loosen (you don't need to remove, it's slotted) the screw on the front and slide up and off.
 
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Old 12-17-13, 11:16 AM
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Here is your maintainence manual.

The skim port is on the front behind the electrical conduit..

You may be able to utilize the relief valve tapping on the back by adding a ball valve... Take a pic...

http://www.weil-mclain.com/en/assets...1-830_1202.pdf

As far as troopers suggestion to check the pressure trol I would remove the pigtail and make sure its clear also...

Pressure trol should be set 1.5psi I believe...

Additionally with the slow returns, what auto feeder do you have? You may need to change the dip switches to a longer wait time before filling... The default is 2 minutes from what I know....

Possibly set to 5 minutes.. This makes sure the condensate have enough time to return to the boiler.
 

Last edited by lawrosa; 12-17-13 at 11:52 AM.
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Old 12-17-13, 11:42 AM
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Pressure trol should be set 1.5psi I believe...
Depends on which setting you are talking about... there are two, one outside and one insided.

Typically outside should be all the way down, 0.5 PSI and the inside 1.5 PSI would be acceptable.
 
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Old 12-17-13, 11:56 AM
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The water surges and disappears because it is dirty and if it's never been skimmed still has the oil from the castings inside. Draining the water will not help. It must be skimmed from the top.
What happens is the oil from the cast iron sections being made floats on top of the water and doesn't allow the steam to leave easily. By draining the boiler from the bottom you're leaving the oil on the boiler walls as the water drains, and then when it's refilled just picks up the oil again as it's filling.

Your header( horizontal pipe with the tee) should be a minimum of 24" above the water line to insure dry steam.
Next, there should have been 2 tees off the header instead of 1 and the other main being fed from that.
INSULATE the pipes to keep the steam as steam.

The main line vents should have been on the main line where they can vent the air quickly so the condensate can return quickly. The main vents should be about 15-18" from the end and 6" high.
Your vent is on a tee at the end of the return so that's where the line vents and the water can't drain until the steam is out and the steam can't move until the air is out.

All these things lead to slow condensate draining and a noisy system.
Also as Trooper mentioned, the pressuretrol being set to high also slows down the steam.
You want 2 lbs. Max. CUT OUT = CUT IN + DIFFERENTIAL. If your control is additive.

I'll leave with that for now.
 
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Old 12-17-13, 05:56 PM
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Ok lots of good information, not gonna lie though some of it is over my head. I am very much a novice at this. For example I see that there is something behind the electrical panel on the front of the boiler, but it's not easy to get to and doesn't really look like a valve, but i believe that it is the skim valve, just not sure i trust my self to remove that stuff to get to it.

Ok so i took the readings from the pressurtrol, as far as i can tell, and i'm including multiple pictures of this so you guys can tell me if i'm wrong or not) the outside measure reads 1. The inside white wheel reads 2? I think i don't really know how to read it, but i've taken lots of pictures of it so maybe you guys have a better idea what you're looking at. I'm also including more detailed pictures of the pipes come right off the boiler as well as a video of what happens to the water in the clear tube when the burner kicks on.

Let me just give you a quick description of what seems to be happening. The water in the tube is clear and OK, the burner kicks on... after about a minute the water in the tube starts slowly moving up and down and some dirt from above starts falling into it, eventually the water moves up and down more, but gradually moving lower and lower in the tube and becomes murky and brown, untill it cannot be seen any more. After about a minute of not being seen, the burner turns off and the Intermitient Level Test light comes on the water cut-ff box, after about another minute the Low Water light comes on so they are both on for a second, then the level test light goes off. After another minute the water in the tube slowly creeps back up (still brown and murky) and then the low water light goes off, the burner kicks back on and the cycle repeats itslef. I've included links to the water level when it first kicks on as well as when it starts again after stopping for about 2 minutes.

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Water right when it kicks on
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72JVtgHYL-g water after it stops because of low water
Boiler water 2 - YouTube
 
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Old 12-17-13, 06:46 PM
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IMO you need to skim forst then take it from there... Put a valve at the skim port or you may utilize the relief valve port.. You did noy take a pic of relief valve...

You had new pipe work so I say you have oils..

This shows vid shows a rough idea.. You need to get the boiler hot, not boiling. Then raise the water to the skim port to get the top layer of water out... Hence skimming... Thats the stuff you need to get out...

Also after that is done if you have a slow return you need to change setting in the auto feed... Skim first and see what happens............

Just my opinion... Not a long time steam guy ....


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ydzKcBKOVc
 
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Old 12-17-13, 06:49 PM
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Old 12-17-13, 06:52 PM
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Let's start with the pressuretrol.
Turn your dial on the face to .5 (all the way down), next, set the wheel @ 1.5. I can't tell by the pics but there must be a marker on there somewhere. That will give you a 2 lb. cutout pressure if it gets that high.

I'm guessing your boiler is a 3 or 4 section.
The piping sizes should be 2-1/2" for the riser & header and 1-1/2" for the equalizer.
I don't see any Hartford Loop in the back to accept your returns and without that loop is one reason why your water disappears back into the return line.

Weil McLain is very specific about how to pipe a steam boiler and the installer fell very short of the mark.

If you don't have your manual go on line and check out the proper way to pipe the boiler and the troubleshooting and you will find all your problems are due to poor installation.

As lawrosa pointed out the skim tapping is behind the conduit. The electrician should have never put that there. It's not a valve, it's an 1-1/2" tapping that must be piped to skim the boiler.

I realize this is a lot to take in. Your best bet is to go to PEXSUPPLY.COM and find your boiler and download the user manual to see all the information, and compare it to what you have unless you have your book.
 

Last edited by NJT; 01-03-15 at 07:05 PM.
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Old 12-17-13, 07:34 PM
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I can't tell by the pics but there must be a marker on there somewhere.
The 'mark' on those is kinda lame actually. It's that line coming down from the screw, and in the pics, that control is set for "1" PSI. Which is 'OK'... but as Spott says, turn the front setting down to 0.5

This will give cut-in of 0.5 and cut-out of 1.5

Again, OK... you could go as high as 1.5 on the inside dial, but if 1 works, leave it be.
 
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Old 12-17-13, 08:19 PM
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Much appreciate the information, looks like i've got some larger issue's that i wasn't anticipating on my hands. I have the manual and will compare it to what i have set up currently.

Here is some pics of the back of the boiler per lawrosa's request. Do you see a way to hook it up so i can skim it?

Also I was looking at my inner dial on the pressuretrol and i think it's set at 1, atleast that's what number is visible when you look at it from above, as in the pictures below.Name:  photo 1.jpg
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Old 12-17-13, 08:31 PM
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That tee with the elbow is a faint attempt at a Hartford Loop. The tee is supposed to be 2" minimum and 4" maximum below the water line instead of at the bottom and each of your returns connects individually. That's a piping nightmare back there.
 
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Old 12-17-13, 09:16 PM
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I agree with Spott, the person that piped that boiler didn't have a clue. I am bit surprised they even used steel piping instead of copper, about the ONLY thing they did correctly.

You will need to move the electrical junction box and in the process extend the flexible conduit to the pressure control AND properly attach the screw-in box adapter. Install the proper fittings and valve in the tapping for the surface blow (skimmer) line. Ideally, the boiler should be "boiled out" with a grease removing compound and then washed with clean water. This should have been done by the original installer but with the other mistakes I'm quite sure it wasn't. The "pigtail" (siphon) between the boiler proper and the pressure gauge and pressuretrol is improperly installed as well.

And as long as you are fixing it up proper you might as well add a decent drain valve to the gauge glass. I can see a good half-day's work for a competent steamfitter, more if he is less than competent.

I also urge you to buy the book We Got Steam Heat by Dan Holohan. It is available from either Amazon or from Mr. Holohan's website for about $25. It will be the best money you will ever spend on your heating system. Just do a Google using We Got Steam Heat as the search term.
 
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Old 12-17-13, 10:04 PM
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Furd,
What I used to do instead of moving the electrical box was bring conduit to the side of the boiler into a a box and then feed that with greenfield.

I don't know what Weil McLain was thinking putting that box there or they could have put the skim tapping in the back, away from the electrical.

I didn't notice the pigtail. Isn't that a beauty.
Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse.
 
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Old 12-17-13, 10:07 PM
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I don't know what Weil McLain was thinking putting that box there or they could have put the skim tapping in the back, away from the electrical.
Spott..........FYI the electrician putt that box there........
 
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Old 12-17-13, 10:18 PM
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larosa,
That comes stock like that from Weil McLain.
The last steam job I did was a Weil McLain and they come with that box installed.

On a hot water boiler they come the same way and with a circulator on the supply, right off the boiler so if you want toput an expansion tank before it on the supply you have to remove it.
 
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Old 12-17-13, 10:25 PM
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I think maybe they don't expect that most guys will run conduit from the ceiling down.

The fact that it's there at all tells me that the boiler was NEVER skimmed in the first place!

Yeah, that pigtail is a classic!
 
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Old 12-17-13, 10:30 PM
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In all fairness to the electrician, he would have no way of knowing.
I hate to keep throwing the installer under the bus but maybe he's not to old to learn another trade.
 
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Old 12-17-13, 10:41 PM
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Just use the port on back at relief valve....... Easy to do... Add a valve....

And yes. Box there. electrician added the conduit...........


 
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Old 12-17-13, 10:48 PM
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Okay, detailed instructions. Replace the 90 degree elbow with a tee. Install the safety valve in the same configuration and then add a valve on the remaining port of the tee for the surface blow. Keep a plug in the valve when not actually skimming.
 
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Old 12-18-13, 10:50 AM
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Well it certainly seems like i've got alot on my hands. More work than I am capable of doing myself. Anybody know a trust worthy steam guy in the boston area?

I assume doing all this (i.e installing the piping correctly) will solve the water hammer issue? Because other than that our heating is working very well.

Also I lowered the outside pressuretrol to .5 and atleast last night the drum solo in the one radiator did not happen... I will let you know how it goes today.
 
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Old 12-19-13, 01:37 AM
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We cannot make personal recommendations on the open forum but Boston (New England, really) is the heart of residential steam heating systems so finding a competent technician should not be all that difficult.

That notwithstanding and taking into consideration that we are in the middle of the heating season, I would suggest a tiered approach. If you have any handyman skills you can change out the piping at the safety valve to allow for a surface blow connection as has been described. The only tools you will need are a 14 inch and an 18 inch pipe wrench. The materials are readily available and the time, even for a beginner, shouldn't be more than a half a day's work. Install that modification and skim the boiler a few times and that alone may be enough to get you through the winter in relative peace and quiet. THEN you can look for a competent pipefitter to do the proper job next summer.
 
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