Heating Systems Q and A #1

Repairman looking at a furnace
  • 1 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 0-15,000

Q. Is it okay for baseboard heating to loop completely around the upstairs of a cape? For instance; Instead of the copper piping going under the floor between rooms, it goes right through all the walls into each room. The copper piping is covered completely by a dummy baseboard where heating elements aren't. What can I do about the crackling sound I get when the heat turns on?

A. It's done that way a lot of times. This way you don't have as many air pockets to fight. All baseboard heaters make noise, and you'll have to find out what's causing it. Somewhere the pipe is too tight in the wood, and grows as it gets hot. They are hard to find sometimes. The hangers on the pipe might be too tight.

Q. I want to minimize the heat loss in the winter through the vent of my steam boiler. During a cold winter day, there has to be a huge amount of somewhat heated house air from the basement that rushes up the boiler vent into the chimney, along with some pilot exhaust, during the 'down' times of the heating cycle of my steam fired boiler. Is there any device I can put in my vent that will minimize the heat loss during these down times? I am thinking the vent could be open partially during the down times and fully open when the burner is on?

A. Use a motorized stack vent damper. It has an end switch that makes the boiler after being energized. An easier concern is to envelope your burner with a fresh outdoor air supply. Kits are available that attach to your burner unit and go through the wall, much like a dryer vent. This way, when the burner starts, it doesn't pull in cold air through all the cracks in the house, causing you to have to heat that air again to overcome the loss.

Q. I have a Honeywell thermostat model t87f. I have a forced hot water system that is about 29 years old. The thermostat is level. It seems to go four degrees or so higher than what I have it set at before the heat stops. When the top temperature reaches the bottom temperature it starts, so there isn't a problem starting in time. It just goes too high before the heat stops. Is there any way to stop it earlier?

A. What you have is called overshoot. It is when the heat left in the radiators causes the room temperature to rise after the thermostat is satisfied. All you may need to do is adjust the heat anticipator in the thermostat.

Pull off the outer ring and look at the lower right side of the thermostat. You will see a scale of numbers and a sliding gold pointer. Move the pointer up toward the top to .4 or less and see how it works. What it does is generate a small amount of heat while there is a call for heat and trick the thermostat into turning off a little sooner (or a lot sooner) than it would otherwise. Its purpose is to prevent the situation you now have.

Q. I need to get a new boiler. I spoke to a number of people, Weil McClain, Peerless, Utica, but it's too confusing. Is there a good place to go to find a comparison of different brands, pros/cons, ratings, etc.?

A. The short answer to your question is No. I don't see much difference between all the brands you mentioned. Check out energykinetics.com for more confusion. It is a system that uses every energy saving and safety item you could hope to build into your system and makes more hot water than you can shake a stick at. Everything else is just a boiler.

repairman looking at a boiler

Q. My furnace is making a buzzing noise even when it is off. I went into the attic today and I heard an electrical buzzing noise coming from the furnace. I never noticed the noise before. It is not very loud but loud enough to be annoying. Does anyone have any ideas as to what this could be and is it safe to leave the power on to the furnace?

A. Go into the furnace and find the power transformer. See if that's not the problem. Put some rubber under it. Tighten the screws that hold it or try to back them off. Sometimes you just have to get a new one to stop the buzz.

Q. I live in Southern California and generally like the house cool, so I only have to use the heat about a total of two weeks a year. I have an older Rheem rgaa-0800 furnace, and decided this morning to turn off the pilot light. It seems like a big waste of gas to run the pilot light the other 11 1/2 months of the year. My question is, is there any problem with doing this?

A. Go for it. The only time we recommend keeping it on is when it's in a basement and there is no AC on the unit. It doesn't rust with the pilot light on all the time, if you don't have AC.

Q. I discovered a leak in the pipe connecting my '62 oil furnace and my '86 Ford glass-lined aqua booster. (Yes, I know both are very old and will be replaced soon.) I have done some plumbing, replacing outdoor spigots and sweating them back together. I want to know if this is something I can do myself? How and in what order do I drain the tank, drain the furnace, turn off the furnace, etc.?

The leak is at a joint between two pieces of ½ inch copper pipe. The pipe is hot, and I believe this pipe, the lower one of the two between the booster and furnace, brings hot furnace water to the tank. There is a drain about four inches away from the leak, on the booster side.

A. Turn off the boiler, turn off the city water supply and drain it down. Using a pipe cutter, cut out the bad part and with a piece of ½ inch copper and a couple couplings, you're on your way. The trick to soldering is to get it clean.

Q. I have a gas, hot air heating system and want to add one or two new heating registers in the basement family room area. There is only one near the floor on a wall nearest the furnace now. The heating system has two large square ducts at the top of basement ceilings running to different rooms upstairs. How do I determine which of these ducts to cut into? Where do I locate registers and returns? The family room is about 20x20 and the one register just doesn't do it. I don't know if the system needs balancing or what, but with the weather turning cooler now I thought I should do something now.

A. The best way is to cut takeoffs in the top of the trunk line in the joist. Run six inches round pipe to 12 inches off the outside walls and put a boot with a register on it blowing down. Two registers should work fine for you.

Q. I have a heater/blower unit in my attic for the central heat/air conditioning. The blower unit was very dusty, as the filter in the unit itself had never been replaced. The part of the unit that the ducts actually go into is a mess. The inside of it is lined with, I guess, fiberglass insulation that has a black cloth or paper type lining as the top layer. This part of the unit is absolutely covered, rather permeated with dust. Is there any way to clean it or spray coat the inside with something so the ducts don't pick up the dust and smell? Or should I just look into replacing this part of the unit? I don't know what this part is called but it is on the end of the unit, and it is bolted and taped to it with some type of white plaster type of material spread all over mesh taping.

A. Let the blower run 24/7, put damp rags over the outlet registers, and keep a new filter in the unit. Spray it with what is called filter Kote; there may be another name. Just put a very light coat of it on the intake side of the air filter when you put it in, not in the ductwork. Try this first before you go to new ductwork all over.

Q. My furnace pilot light won't stay on. It stays on for a while and then makes a sound like dripping sizzling water into the flame before it goes off. Any thoughts?

A. If this is a new heater and you just filled it, it could drip for a time. If it's an old heater and it drips, it could be a leak and you might need a new one. If it's just the pilot light, clean the pilot out and put in a new thermocouple. If the tank is older than 10 years, chances are it has an internal water leak causing water to drip down inside the firebox and onto the pilot and burner flames. The sizzling sounds indicate internal water leakage.

You can remove the firebox covers and check inside the firebox for rust and scale deposits. Just look inside using a flashlight when the pilot is out. If rust and scale are visible inside the firebox, the tank must be replaced. The sooner the better.

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