It's not about the house.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

I Guess the Answer Is No

I awoke this morning at 5:45 and I don’t even have to be at work till noon. I don’t work out anymore since I hurt my ankle, and I’ve given myself a vacation from the writing till the end of the year (not everybody knew that; now they do: Hi, Everybody!). I don’t have anything to do.

The only reason I was up so early is that the stupid radiator in the bedroom – now that it actually, finally gets hot – has a water hammer that it never had before. And I thought steam radiators did not get water hammers.

(Water Hammer, for the uninitiated, is that loud BANG that happens deep inside the pipes. The noise is made by water – hence the name; clever, eh? – and apparently it can cause damage over the long term. Yay.)

This one is not that loud, not yet. But, like I said, I thought steam systems didn’t get them.

In our last apartment we got water-hammer super-loud – loud enough to (seriously) wake the neighbors. And I didn’t care, because that’s the beauty of paying rent: not having to give a hoo about anything that’s not a direct threat to your life. That place had hot-water heat, and I was under the impression that the hammering was caused by air bubbles trapped in it.

I gather I was right as far as that went. Yay, me. But now I learn that hammers are also caused by water-bubbles caught in steam. I didn’t know that. Now I do. Yay, me.

I’m still confused about a lot of other things, however, steam-system-wise.

For example: I’ve been told by actual, honest-to-god plumbers (who had been called here, and were inches from getting paid for, this express purpose) that steam systems don’t need to be bled. That was years ago, when we were trying anything we could think of to get ourselves some freakin’ heat. But now that we’re warm I wonder: if one does not bleed the system, how does one get rid of water hammer?

Also, all those years when I was wearing hats and scarves and ski parkas to bed each night for six months of the year, lots of people told me I could regulate the system by dialing certain rooms down to lower levels and other rooms all the way up – thereby “forcing” the steam out to the desired radiator. It never worked, but once I set it that way I just left it, because at least it didn’t make things any worse.

Now I read that steam radiators are supposed to be either all the way on or all the way off. I read that terrible things will happen if I leave them in between. I’ve gone around now and turned them all up in the meantime, but which is it?

Except I haven’t technically turned all of them all the way up, because plus also? The other radiator in my bedroom? (There are two, the big one hammers and then there’s this little one.) If I turn the knob all the way to “open”? The entire knob-piece comes off in my hand.


And then – it wasn’t on when I took this picture, but when it is on – hot steam shoots up through the hole and you have to push the piece back in like the Little Dutch Boy. The Little Dutch Boy, that is, with his hand-skin coming off in sheets.

Finally, there’s these air-vents, or air-valves, or steam-either thingmabobs.

I don’t know what to do with them. If I turn them to “open,” steam hisses out – which I’ve read should not be happening. But I’ve also read they should not be turned to “closed.”

What I need is a tutorial on this entire thing, but I am not calling the Kid back here (or his mysterious, supposed-father) and I don’t want to wind up paying somebody else to do nothing but walk in the house and fiddle with some knobs.

Johnny says I should call the gas company and see if they’ll send somebody out, but the last time they sent somebody out he showed up in a suit, with dollar signs where his eyes were supposed to be. Plus I’m flat-out tired of dealing with the farty old gas company.

I think what I’ll do is stop off at the plumbing-supply place on my way home this afternoon, see if I can’t get those air-valve screws I was looking for a month ago. I’ll ask those guys up there if they’ve got any pointers regarding this whole mess. And if they don’t, then I guess I’ll have to try my luck with national “lower case’ gridspan.

Of course, any pointers anybody wants to leave here for me would be appreciated. In fact, let’s turn it into a GAME – and let’s make up some rules. I can’t police it, but we’ll go on the honor system:

You’re not allowed to read anybody else’s comments before you post your own. Just tell me what you think, or what you heard, or what you found out when you googled, and then you can go back and see what other people had to offer.

Let’s see whether we come up with a list of corresponding advice I can trust – in which case I’m the stupid one, again – or if we get a list of contradictory ideas like I’ve come up with so far. In which case, I guess, that proves that I can read. And if we don’t get anything, then that proves nobody loves me after all.

(Oh come on, how can you not play after such a naked grab for the heartstrings?)

However it shakes down, I’ll turn the results somehow into a (hopefully) funny post.

So be warned.

Oh, and bonus points for anyone who wants to explain the title. This one should be easy…


jen said...

It wouldn't be so bad if you didnt say things like "this one should be easy" because I havent worked in like three and a half weeks, so my brain has gone on vacation.
And, I have no idea what to do with your steam. Blow it off, I guess.
Basically? Im absolutely no help here. Probably shouldn't even comment, but I didnt want to give you a complex.

poppo said...

Here's a bunch of stuff that seems to point to the same problem.
It's too long to puthere so I will email it. It has to do with the pitch of the radiators. Here is a blurb:Steam radiators can also warp the floor they are sitting on and their thermal expansion and contraction over time can dig ruts into the floor. Both of these effects can cause the radiator to tilt, preventing water from properly draining from the radiator when it cools. This will cause banging noises when the radiator is heating up. Shims should be inserted under radiators to pitch them slightly toward the pipe in a one-pipe system or toward the steam trap in a two-pipe system.

jolie said...

All I know about radiators is that they have to be leveled. You have to use a 'leveler eye thingy' on them. But what I really want to know is-have you used your shower? Does it leak, has it started growing green stuff again? Would Johnny rather analyze, critciize and procrastinate than DO what you asked? Whoops, that's my husband...

Stephanie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stephanie said...

Oh, if it's sending steam out, I think you DO need to so something about it. The exact what is not known to me, because I've always had landlords. I think you might not need to actually bleed them, but need to check the opened and closed and broken or not on a few things - once fixed, the water becomes steam by itself. (Funny, how I say I have no idea, then go on to make stuff up anyway.)

However, I DO know from experience, if you do nothing, and it goes on for long enough, it can make a big steamy mess. Over holiday break, a steam radiator in my neighbor's dorm room (all those ages ago) regurgitated all over the wall and rug. Unfortunately, it was near the beginning of the break, so this mess had no one to notice it, and grew to a mouldy/mossy mess before our return.

Also, I found this and this.

The first article is old - I also found that most places say that no one has these anymore, but I've lived in Boston and know that that is FALSE - but includes a good tip about using different sized vents to evenly distribute heat.

Khurston said...

A plumber who came to my house to fix a leaky radiator said all radiators should be all the way on or all the way off. in between can cause rust which causes leaks. i don't remember why?

Muskego Jeff said...

I'm with poppo on this - there needs to be a slope to the radiator and supply line so that the steam which condenses back into water can travel down the line and back to the boiler. From what I've learned on This Old House, the water hammer is most often caused by poor slope.

Then again, I've never had a radiator system in any house I've ever lived in, so what do I know...?

Leslie said...

Ok I'm not reading, not googling, just telling you about my life with steam heat for 16 years.

First I'm not so sure about the water hammer thing but I know that whenever my heat came on it was like Stomp on Broadway throughout my house - percussion central. I always thought it was just what happened when cold things got hot.

Second, I always had some of my radiators partly on, some full on, some full off. Was I destroying something pure and good in my system? Who knows. I was just trying to find some balance in my life, i.e. not have one room freezing and the next room over a sauna.

I didn't have any of those steam release thingamabobs. Sorry, no help there.

And even though you didn't ask this, after being told a thousand times over that you can't get a setback/programmable thermostat for a steam system, just know that they lie. You CAN get one, and it was a total lifesaver.

And one final thing: Most plumbers and heating guys don't know shit about steam heat systems, so get used to it.

cuz donna said...

water in that radiator! It has to be pitched so the water that happens can trickle back into the pipe and back to the boiler.

Charlie said...

Move to Hawaii

jm_houseinprogress said... is your friend. They sell a booklet on steam heat which is awesome. We also have steam radiators and it is like tuning a finicky!

Okay, there are two things to turn on and off on a steam radiator. There is the valve near the floor on one side...that feeds steam INTO the radiator and lets condensation (water) out. THAT needs to be either all the way on or all of the way off.

The release valve on the other end closer to the top of the radiator can be adjusted to regulate the amount of heat coming into the radiator. It doesn't have to be all the way on or off. If you turn it on and it hisses, let it hiss for awhile and see if it settles down. It's releasing pressure inside of the radiator, allowing more new steam to flow in, and cranking up the heat for that unit.

Finally, radiators AND THEIR HORIZONTAL PIPES, should ideally slope very gently back towards the boiler. This allows condensation (water) to trickle back down to the boiler at the bottom of the pipe and steam to rise to the radiator at the top of the pipe...thus gently passing each other in the system and avoiding water hammer.

So, the end with the release valve needs to be a smidgen higher than the end with the inlet valve. And check the horizontal pipes in the basement. Make sure that the straps that hold them to the joists haven't come lose and allowed the pipes to become totally level or (horrors) to AWAY from the boiler.

While you don't bleed the individual radiators, I always drain down the boiler every couple of weeks in the winter to clean sediment out of the bottom of the boiler. I just stick a bucket under the boiler's spigot and fill it up with all of that rusty sludge that you get when water, iron and air get all friendly. Then, I dump that sediment down the basement drain. I check the site glass, and I'm done for two weeks.

You can do this. It takes some experimenting but if I can do it (I who was clueless about steam heat from Day 1), you can do it.

Charlie said...

the title of THIS blog refers to your last blog about your heat...
you asked us if we were tired of hearing about your heat yet.
Answer really = yes...we wanna hear more about stripping paint!

mp said...

no comment

LisaCarol said...

I can't tell: Is your radiator system a single-pipe or double-pipe? Our radiators were single pipe (so hot steam and returning condensate traveled in the same pipe), so it was important to tilt the radiator a bit toward the single pipe so the condensate would fall down, back toward the basement where the boiler was. I think for double-pipe radiators, you figure out which is the return, and tilt toward it. My husband and our handyman tuned up all our radiators before we moved, and they quit hammering -- just very pleasant clicking noises as they warmed up. (Our long-time local plumber could have done the same thing, but at twice the cost. We always had the plumber come to service the boiler in the fall before cooling season. We also bled the boiler once or more a week.) Loved the heatinghelp people, and bought most of his books about radiant heat.

braveheart said...

listen to jm_house

did someone say naked?