steam radiator problems


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Old 02-01-23, 11:39 AM
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steam radiator problems

I thought for sure that there'd be plenty of threads about this but searching "steam radiator" didn't find any for some reason. I have a single zone oil-fueled boiler and steam radiators, 5 on the first floor and 5 on the second. I vaguely remeber some years ago that "balancing" the system was more art than science, but my plumber at the time recommended Varivalve valves and they've worked mostly fine since.

Recently my wife complained that the bedroom was cold and that the radiator was cold to the touch. I checked it and it was warm if not hot. Last night she had the same complaint and this time the radiator was, in fact, cold, and all the rest of the upstairs radiators were warm. I removed the valve and immediately felt a puff of cold air come out of the radiator. I blew through the valve, which was wide open, and felt no obstruction or any resistance. I remember that the old type of valve we replaced would seem blocked when I'd blow into them.

So I left the vent/valve off for a while as the air blowing out of the radiator was starting to warm, and I went about my business in another upstairs room. and before long I was freezing, but that bedroom radiator with the vent valve removed was still a little warm, so I put it back in. The thermostat is downstairs where it's sunny so I had to goose it 73 degrees to get it to call for heat; only two of the five upstairs radiators are warm to the touch, both on the same west side of the house. Downstairs they all seem fine (warm).
 
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Old 02-01-23, 03:35 PM
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Vari valves are good valves and unlike others fully adjustable. It sounds like your stat is shutting the boiler down before the rooms heat. If it were just the vents, when you removed them the rad would heat up immediately if the boiler was still running.

Your pressuretrol should be set for no more than 2 psi after all the settings are made. You can try closing the downstairs vent some to slow the heat there and open upstairs all the way to allow steam to get there. Balancing the system is everything with steam.
 
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Old 02-01-23, 05:38 PM
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Since it sounds like you have a one pipe steam system so there should be a main line vent at the end of the steam main in the basement. It's purpose is to quickly vent the main and allow the radiator vents do there job, just venting the vertical piping to the radiator.
Balancing a steam radiator is not hard or even a science. It does not matter where the radiator is in the home but the size of the radiator. Larger radiators vent faster and smaller vent slower.
Here is a link to balancing one pipe steam systems - Balancing Steam System
 
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Old 02-02-23, 05:24 AM
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spott
Your pressuretrol should be set for no more than 2 psi after all the settings are made.
I've never touched that. Both settings are just under 2.


rbeck
there should be a main line vent at the end of the steam main in the basement.
This must be it, and it got painted many years ago when the semi-finished basement was sprayed. I wonder if that's a problem..... Could there be another one somewhere? Pipes leave the boiler headed east and west; this is on the wesr side before the pipes lead to the radiators on that side of the house. The pipes to the west split with the one headed south going through the garage where there's a radiator I forgot about on the ceiling (under the living room floor). There isn't another vent on the ones headed north but I'll check the garage today. [edit] Here's the garage radiator; is that the vent for it?

vent?

is this 30 sections??

I'll inventory the radiators by number of sections, as the balancing guide you linked says to do (thanks for that).

One thing I did do yesterday was swap the vent valves on the SW bedroom that had been cold and the SE office that was warm. This morning the bedroom radiator was hot and the office radiator was cold in the sections nearest the vent, somewhat warmer on the valve side.

Somewhat off-topic but I'm going away for the weekend today and we're expecting low temps below zero on Friday/Saturday. Ijust had a wifi-connected thermostat installed last week and had set it for 60 while we were away last weekend. Before heading home I set it to 70 and it got there in a few hours with outdoor temps in the 30's. A home heating expert on the news last night recommended leaving thermostats at 70 (!) during this cold snap, in addition to leaving faucets at a drip. Before I got the wifi 'stat I would leave the house at 66 while away. Do you think that 60 or 66 is too low while I'm away this weekend?

 

Last edited by eddieo45; 02-02-23 at 05:58 AM.
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Old 02-02-23, 11:02 AM
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I see that you are nearby. I am staying home this weekend but based on my experience in my house with such cold weather I plan to override my 65 degree setbacks to at least 68 and maybe even 70 Friday night. I also plan to leave sink cabinet doors open.

Since you will be away it might be a good idea to close your main house valve (unless your steam system needs continuous makeup) and leave faucets open to avoid freeze induced pressure build up. On a recent Ask This Old House episode, Rich Trethewey showed how a frozen pipe could build up pressure to burst even with the water shut off (can't find a link.)

I would say 60 is too low and 66 may be borderline.
 
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Old 02-02-23, 11:19 AM
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rbeck
there should be a main line vent at the end of the steam main in the basement.

eddieo45
​​​​​​​This must be it, and it got painted many years ago when the semi-finished basement was sprayed. I wonder if that's a problem..... ​​​​​​​
pic got removed during an edit....

​​​​​​​
 
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Old 02-02-23, 01:03 PM
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I plan to override my 65 degree setbacks to at least 68 and maybe even 70 Friday night. I also plan to leave sink cabinet doors open....I would say 60 is too low and 66 may be borderline.
What about tonight? At what point "Friday night", given that starts at midnight tonight, do you plan to raise your setting?
 
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Old 02-02-23, 01:29 PM
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To me tonight is Thursday night. The winter warning is for 10 am Friday until 1 pm Saturday. I will override my setbacks at 7 pm on Friday when they would otherwise be on. The normal schedule will resume automatically at 7 am Saturday.
 
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Old 02-02-23, 01:47 PM
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spott, rbeck, 2john02458 I might just be paranoid but I have run out oil twice, two years in a row. I'm on automatic delivery and however they calculate "heat days" they misjudged my second (I think) delivery of the winter. Both times discovered on a Sunday after being away for the weekend, and both times the on-call guy spent time on the boiler before deciding to check the tank, which is in the garage. I later reasoned that during the fall I wait as long as possible to put the heat on, but once it's on I keep is at 70 all day and 67 at night. The tank gauge is circular, so Empty looks a lot like Full. I just checked my deliveries and on 1/11 I got $915 worth; prior to that the most recent delivery was 5/9. If I was filled up on 1/11 isn't it highly unlikely the tank is Full now? Last year I had deliveries on 1/25 and 2/28 so I'm afraid that I may be due.

 
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Old 02-02-23, 03:38 PM
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Call the oil company and explain the situation. There are no hard & fast rules for automatic delivery. Tell them you want monthly deliveries during the heating season and more often if necessary. Call tomorrow before you leave and ask for an emergency delivery since you did not get one in December and your January delivery is overdue.

You could try calling tonight.
 
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Old 02-03-23, 09:03 PM
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All the above info is good. Looks like the steam pressure settings are OK.
I would not set back to far tonight as stated above.
We did have a milder winter this year but I would still definitely be concerned with your oil level.
Heating degree days is a good way to calculate oil deliveries. The problem is when life styles change like a higher thermostat settings, more hot water usage if applies, additions to the home, or the oil company tries to push the fill-ups to high for higher delivery levels.
The main line vent that is painted shut is a main line vent but probably to small. It should be replaced and any others you find.
The picture with the captions is this 30 sections, is that return where the vent is attached to the bottom of the radiator? Is there a radiator vent on that radiator? It is not a 30 section, that is a wall radiator, measure the height, and width of the squares. Here is a link to size them. Wall Radiators
If that is a main line vent on that standpipe it should also be replaced. It looks like it is broken or maybe a style I have never seen.
The tank gauge, try pulling the red metal cap off the gage and see if it spins around to an accurate reading.
 
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Old 02-05-23, 01:44 PM
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Varivalves are no good in my experience. I purchased 5 of them from supplyhouse. Installed 2. Within 2 weeks, both are dead. They stayed shut. Couldn't release air. No heat.

The thing about steam air vents is that you have to carefully test them. It's not enough that the first time you installed them. They work. They push out air and then close and you think the air vents are good. Sometimes, in my experience, they push out air the first time and then they close. And then after a few calls for heat, air gets stuck inside the pipe and the vents stop pushing out air.

I had 2 Gortons one main vent one #5 that opened too soon after boiler stopped firing?
 
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Old 02-05-23, 01:50 PM
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"Here's the garage radiator; is that the vent for it?"
Main vent usually is located at the end of the main line just before it drops vertical down to a wet return. This wet return will be connected to the boiler.
 
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Old 02-05-23, 02:58 PM
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Sometimes, in my experience, they push out air the first time and then they close. And then after a few calls for heat, air gets stuck inside the pipe and the vents stop pushing out air
This does not mean the vent is not good dependent on what happens on the next cycle. There is a thing called "drop away pressure". Two things closes the vent, steam or pressure. If the pressurtrol setting is set incorrectly and steam hits the vent to close it, the pressure must drop to about 0.5 psi to reopen the vent. If the pressure stays above 0.5 psi the vent will not reopen.
Sorry no pictures
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Old 02-05-23, 05:40 PM
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"This does not mean the vent is not good dependent on what happens on the next cycle."
I think you need to read my post carefully. I said after a few cycles of calling for heat. I don't know how many it took. I suspect too much water got into the air vents causing this to happen. My pressuretrol is set at 2 psi and diff 1.5. So the boiler settings are normal.

I had 2 Gorton vents that immediately opened right after the boiler stopped firing. So they are defective!
 
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Old 02-06-23, 08:10 AM
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I had 2 Gorton vents that immediately opened right after the boiler stopped firing. So they are defective!
Again, dependent on steam pressure, was it even open or was the pressure close to 1/2 psi.
If we keep large amounts of water out of the vents they normally last 5+ years.
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Old 02-07-23, 03:47 PM
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"Again, dependent on steam pressure, was it even open or was the pressure close to 1/2 psi."
LOL...Let's just say my boiler shuts off on over pressure. Meaning that the pressuretrol shuts the boiler down when boiler reaches 2 psi. Before you come back and tell me it depends again, please read a thread i started called: "steam one pipe air vents....good vs bad." In it i explained with real life experience and not cut and paste from some literature (LOL) that one gorton vent was definitely not working efficiently. To the untrained public, maybe it does work. But my experience is that it doesn't work efficiency. That means it doesn't work in my eyes. And yes i am returning it to supply house. I learn a lesson not to buy air vents from supply house. There will always be bad vents with supply house. I bought 2 gortons from my local supply company and both were good. So i don't know what the deal is with supply house. I don't think they know how to do business. Too much hassle buying and returning. That's the end of my rant. Please don't get me started with short cycling which i think it's a good thing and can save me money on fuel costs. But apparently, over pressure is a bad thing when it comes to steam boilers? what? Who came up with this idea? Must be a fool.
 
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Old 02-14-23, 12:24 PM
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Different vent manufacturers vents vary according to vent rate, max pressure to close and drop down pressures to re-open. All close when steam gets in the vents and they cool down they re-open.
But apparently, over pressure is a bad thing when it comes to steam boilers? what? Who came up with this idea? Must be a fool.
Such a silly statement that only a fool would believe. Vents all close and do not re-open until pressure drops (if they need to re-open). Excessive steam pressure increases fuel consumption. Each pound of pressure is an exponential fuel increase than the previous pound to produce and the flow of steam flow slows down as pressure increases.
 
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Old 02-14-23, 04:01 PM
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"Different vent manufacturers vents vary according to vent rate, max pressure to close and drop down pressures to re-open. All close when steam gets in the vents and they cool down they re-open."
LOL...i see that you're coming back for more abuse. Sure i'll give it to ya. Do you know what's wrong with that statement? You assume that the vents actually work! And actually work to its exact specifications. Let me tell ya, in the real world, that doesn't happen. Please read it carefully otherwise more abuse coming.

"Excessive steam pressure increases fuel consumption. Each pound of pressure is an exponential fuel increase than the previous pound to produce and the flow of steam flow slows down as pressure increases."
I have 2 psi and short cycling. When i say over pressure that means short cycling. Please read it carefully otherwise more abuse coming.
 
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Old 02-15-23, 09:59 AM
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Abuse all you want with your limited understanding of steam vents and boiler operation.
New steam vents that are not working properly as you claim you had is probably half as much as I have experienced in 45 years working on a plethora of steam boilers weekly in the trades.
Overpressure can be a cause of, but not limited to reasons for short cycling.
You did not mention if your 2 psi setting on the control is even accurate. Dependent on your control model they can be off by a few psi high or low and the same with the gage.
If in fact the boiler is actually shutting down at 2 psi the boiler could be oversized as many are.

 
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Old 02-17-23, 01:31 PM
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"New steam vents that are not working properly as you claim you had is probably half as much as I have experienced in 45 years working on a plethora of steam boilers weekly in the trades."

With this statement, you lost the argument. Need to move on pops. Don't know why? Just ask. I will tell you.
 
 

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