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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    Kansas City, MO
    Posts
    8

    Steam heat and AC probs on a old house

    I need some help figuring out the best solutions for this. I not really sure where to start, each of the three contractors I talk to has had a different opinion. Im hoping to get some insight on solutions. After reading a lot of the posts, I know this is the place to find it.

    We recently moved into our house in the Midwest and have ongoing issues with HVAC. The two-story house w/ basement was built in the 1920s. Currently has two-pipe steam system with a 200,000 btu peerless boiler. We have 9 tube radiators with total EDR of 350. AC is by two split systems; one 4ton in basement for the first floor and a 3-ton in the attic for the second. The AC was added in the late 80s and is all original.

    The biggest issue is there are currently 5 rooms without heat or that only have some electric convectors. Our house is about 2,800 SF, with steam heating covering around 1,800 SF. I'm not sure what happened to the radiators that should be in the other rooms, my guess is that were removed at some point during a past remodel. I need to add heat to a 2nd sun room and master bath, the kitchen, a bathroom, laundry room and an enclosed porch (under sunroom).

    The boiler is only 4 years old and has been regularly serviced, but it cycles quit a bit. Im petty sure it is oversized, but not certain.

    Next for the AC. The system were retro fitted and the ducting seems to wrong. Each system only has 8x 24 return. The AH in the attic is a vertical unit and has the main truck running over the rafter collars. Flex duct then drop to ceiling diffusers. This doesnt look to be the best set up, seems like Ill have a condensation problem this summer. There is a lot of ceiling staining by the vents.

    Lastly our air quality is, well lets say not the best. Very dry in winter and dusty in fall. We havent made it to the summer yet.

    So basically I need suggestions on how to fix the heat and on a new AC system(s).

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Posts
    1,996

    Are you sure it's steam

    Is there a sight glass water level guage on the boiler? Vents on the Rads?
    Are the rooms with Rads heating well? Expanding the steam piping might be impossible. If the system is hot water, you might be able to add zones for those unheated rooms as long as ou can get flow and return back to the boiler. PEX plastic tubing is being used in many places now to replace copper tubing. You might be able to fish tubing to rooms that are impossible to run rigit tubing to without cutting through wals and studs, etc.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    Kansas City, MO
    Posts
    8
    Diffenantly steam. Sight glass, low water cut-off skimer and all the good stuff. No vents on radiators, there are two at the end of each main loop by the boiler.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Dec 2002
    Location
    in a house, Appomattox, Va.
    Posts
    3,197
    If they pulled out several radiators its probably oversized now.

    Are the extra rads still around?
    Col 3:23


    questions asked, answers received, ignorance abated

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Posts
    1,996

    You could have a HX taken off the boiler

    Then just run a hot water loop off of that to feed the other rooms. Most oil fired steam boilers are just HW boilers with the extra tapings. You might be able to convert the whole system to hot water.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jul 2004
    Location
    Massachusetts
    Posts
    6,826
    Well you've certainly got a pot pouri of issues, eh?

    First, I'll comment on the moisture stains around the 3rd floor supply outlets from the AC system. This issue is most commonlly cause by the diffuser boxes not being sealed to the ceiling, sheetrock or plaster as the case may be. The velocity of the air flowing out of the diffuser is enough to cause a small low pressure area right at the diffuser perimeter. That low pressure area allows hot, moist attic air to vent into the room and as it mixes with the cold AC air, the moisture in it condenses out and voila, you've got your stain. You've also got air leaking into the attic all winter!!

    As to the upflow air handler and high trunk system, I imagine someone had a reason for doing it that way, to save space maybe with the intention of finishing the attic?? Who knows about that bit of history but overall there's really nothing wrong with it, IMO, provided it's well insulated and sealed. The latter is not likely if it's truly a 1980's vintage.

    As for heating the cold rooms, I'd recommend leaving the steam system as it is and introducing cast iron baseboard as a nice way to even the heat in the home. You could save a little money using copper finned baseboard but cast iron would give you a much nicer result and would more closely match the thermal characteristics of the existing radiators. Any competent plumber or HVAC contractor who does boiler work should be able to do the forced water system right off the existing steam boiler with no problem. That will also introduce a little more load onto the steam boiler, which is, in all probability, as you pointed out, oversized anyway. These are my thoughts on the subject. Have fun!!
    If YOU want change, YOU have to first change.

    If you are waiting for the 'other guy' to change first, just remember, you're the 'other guy's' other guy. To continue to expect real change when you keep acting the same way as always, is folly. Won't happen. Real change will only happen when a majority of the people change the way they vote!

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    18951
    Posts
    1,593
    The short cycling could be caused by not enough boiler water. New steam boilers are a lot smaller than old ones. The water gets heated and the steam goes out, then the boiler has to wait until enough condensate returns or makeup water is added. The best thing to do is convert existing boiler and radiators to hot water, then add another zone to the other rooms with fin/tube convectors, another thermostat, and a circulator.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Suppy NC
    Posts
    4,510
    staem can be the best heat imo went working properly.

    You should find an plumbing company and get some ideas and options. There are a few hvac companies out there that know steam also

    you could aslo look into steam fin tube baseboard the the rooms with no heat

    it is big and takes up poom on the wall but works well. Years ago i worked on a lot oh old houses with this type along with rads. I have also installed a few when there was no other option open

    you can also look into rads new cost a lot but used ones can be cost affective also

    I am sure there are plumbers near you that have a great deal of experience with steam and can give you a lot of options

    You can also have steam fan coils installed in the air handlers to do the entire house depending on the system. Two pipe works great with coils

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 2002
    Location
    New Hampshire
    Posts
    1,285

    I'm with TinKnocker

    I prefer iron on steam, but fin tube can be made to work with a thermostatic radiator valve. If you also use an orifice at the inlet, you can keep it pretty quiet.

    http://www.maconcontrols.com/inletorifice.html

    Noel

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    Kansas City, MO
    Posts
    8
    Thanks guys. This gives me a good starting point.

    Can anybody recommend a good steam contractor in the Kansas City area?

    The contractors I spoke with before didnt really seem to know what they were talking about. One guy even told me I need two new heat pumps with gas furnaces for secondary heat, then I could just turn on the boiler when it gets really cold.

    I do agree the steam heat is very comfortable, but dry. Any ideas on correcting the humidly?

    I also considered switching to water, but I think it would cause more problems then itd be worth. It would take a long time to flush 100-years of crud out of the existing line and radiators, plus Id probably be chasing leaks for years.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    18951
    Posts
    1,593
    Steam is becoming less and less common. Even if a young technician wants to learn, they dont get much chance. Look for someone whos been in the business a long long time, and doesn't look like hell die before you sell the house.

    Steam is an outdated type of heat. Many, many systems have been converted to hot water. Steam requires more maintenance, the systems are harder to balance, and it frequently overshoots the thermostat setting. All this costs money.

    Switch to hot water heat, which most technicians understand. You should only have to flush the system once. If you do have a leak, your installer can put a sealer in the system that circulates around and coagulates only when exposed to air. Just be thankful that you dont have a one pipe steam system.

    The dryness has nothing to do with the type of heat you have. A cubic foot of air coming into your house only has so many grains of moisture. It doesn't matter how you heat it up. Get a humidifier.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    Kansas City, MO
    Posts
    8
    If I do convert to hot water, won't the output of the existing radiators be reuduced because of the lower temp. of water?

    Any recomendations on a humidifier?

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    18951
    Posts
    1,593
    I've converted a few systems and never had any problem. Steam is hotter, probably 215 degrees to 160 or so for water, but it takes a lot of btu to "change state" from water to steam. You have a much bigger fluctuation in temperature, especially in rooms that don't have the thermostat. The end result, is that the rooms heat more evenly. The btu capacity of the boiler isn't going to change.

    Don't know about humidifiers. You can't hook one to an air conditioner, so you need a stand alone one.

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