I am sold! How do I schedule an appoinment?
We're skeptical. Can you really make our steam system efficient, quiet, and comfortable?
We're in the process of accepting bids for a new steam boiler. Quotes are all over the map. What do we need to know?
- The most important thing that needs to happen is sizing the new boiler correctly. Too small you’ll be cold. This never happens because contractors are risk averse. But too big and your boiler will be endlessly short-cycling on pressure, which is a real efficiency killer. That happens all the time. We want just right. Proper steam boiler sizing is absolutely critical to future performance. Get the size wrong and you’ll be paying until it’s finally replaced. To get it right, all of your radiators or convectors must be measured. There is no other way. And most definitely the size of the old boiler is not to be used! After radiator measuring some math is in order, a table is consulted, a pick-up factor is utilized, and shazam! The required size boiler is known. Most guys in our line of work have a little trouble with math though, so this is not without peril.
- Next up is the near-boiler piping. It’s just as critical to get the near boiler piping right for efficiency’s sake as it is the sizing, but with a little room for error. Get this one wrong and it can be redone, but at a price naturally. The purpose of the near boiler piping is to ring the moisture out of the steam. Wet steam is bad for heating. It is very inefficient, and leads to excess condensate, noise, and spitting radiator vents. Manufacturers specify in their manuals how their near boiler piping is to be done. We see the other guys missing this over 50% of the time. The results are disastrous. Why does this happen? Because most guys install water boilers, which aren’t very picky about how you pipe them, and when the occasional steam boiler comes along, they figure it’s the same thing. Nothing could be further from the truth. The manufacturers know this too. So over the years they have simplified their piping requirements. Efficiency suffers as a result, but who’s to know? If they make their required near-boiler piping too arduous, contractors will simply choose to install a boiler from the competition. At NES, we build the finest near boiler headers around. Super efficient and worth every penny. Lastly, be wary of what we refer to as the “Cut & Pasters”. These guys come in, cut the old boiler out, and paste the new one in with straight copper pipe right to the steam mains. They’re in and out in a day, and probably real cheap. But, you’ll be paying long after they are gone. Insist at a minimum that the manufacturer’s near boiler piping requirements be followed exactly, and done in black pipe. Even better, insist on dual risers and a dropped header.
- Make sure their quote addresses the main venting, and not with tiny $25 Vent Rites either. Barnes & Jones Big Mouths (preferred) or Gorton #2s are the only acceptable vents, and neither of these are available off-the-shelf. The system venting must be timed to assure the proper number of vents are installed. Some systems will require multiples.
- Make sure they plan to install a skim port. It’s right in the manual, but is frequently ignored, like much else. During casting at the foundry, and later during installation, oils and impurities will be introduced into the boiler water. These must be removed for the boiler to perform properly, and a skim port is the only way to do so.
- Would you like to add an automatic water feeder? It’s a nice convenience, but the only type to consider is the Hydrolevel VXT. This feeder has a digital counter that lets us know what it is doing. Remember, fresh water kills. There’s nothing worse than a blind feeder, happily adding water while messing up your system. VXTs are an option on all of our boiler installs.
- Then there are the extras, which come standard at NES. You can learn more about those under Premium Quality.
Should I convert away from steam?
No! And let us count the reasons why:
Comfort: The least comfortable heating system by far is forced hot air. The dryness, the blowing, the noise, the dust, the animal hair, yuck! And if you have allergies, forgetaboutit. No one who has actually lived with forced hot air enjoys it over hydronic.
Reliability: No heating system has anywhere near the reliability or longevity of steam. It’s bullet proof and simple: Water boils and the steam rises to your radiators to heat your home. No pumps, fans, motors, or valves. Just a burner and some safety controls.
Cost: The pay back of removing a steam system and replacing it will not come in your lifetime, no matter how efficient the new system is promised to be (or how young you are). The upfront costs are too high to overcome.
Aesthetics: Your home was not designed with baseboard or fan grates in mind. Adding them now alters that character in a highly unflattering way. It may well be that your current radiators or convectors have become unsightly, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater! Instead let’s either replace them, or strip and refinish them to make them like-new again.
Air Conditioning: No question about it, air conditioning is nice! But tell me where is it written that you have to remove your steam system to get it? Central air does not require central heating! Just get the central air. The systems we like the best are Small Duct High Velocity ones (SDHV). We’re always in older homes of course, and these systems install very unobtrusively, not detracting from the character of the home in the least. And they are super quiet.
The Contractor’s Song & Dance: Watch out for this one. Most guys do not understand steam heating, and that’s what you have. What’s he to do? Well, if he can move you off steam and into his preferred heating type he’s now in his comfort zone. Shouldn’t your contractor be trying to make you comfortable, rather than him? There will be a whole lot of promises about the fortunes you’ll save but will never materialize. Do yourself a favor. Ask him how many of these conversions he has done, and then get the references and call. Ask his conversion customers if they would do it again.
Which allows us to conclude with Houzz, where someone asked exactly this:
How often should we have our steam boiler serviced?
What's the big deal about pipe insulation?
Well, it’s actually a really big deal. Steam is a gas that desperately wants to become a liquid. Only the gas (steam) can heat your home. Once it becomes liquid (condensate) it’s completely useless. It’s not at all like hot water piping. If you don’t insulate your hot water piping you will lose heat, but a large percentage of heat will remain and still perform work. Not so with steam. It’s either 212 degrees and steam, -or it’s nothing and a complete waste of fuel and money. So if your pipes aren’t insulated, or the original insulation is in poor shape, you’ll be making a lot of condensate instead of steam. Which makes no sense.
As an extra benefit, your system will not only be more efficient, -but a lot quieter without all that excess condensate sloshing around. Schedule us to come out and measure, and we’ll provide you with a free estimate to get you all wrapped up.
Our radiators are ugly, can you help?
Some of our radiators don't heat all the way across. What's Up?
Probably nothing unless the room is too cold. Steam radiators aren’t necessary supposed to heat all the way across. When the thermostat calls for the boiler to come on, the boiler will run and make steam until the thermostat is satisfied and tells the boiler to stop. The steam will make it’s way to each of your radiators and gradually begin to heat each section, one after the other. But once the thermostat is satisfied that process will stop, and the steam will go no further in your radiator. At least until the next cycle. On a warmer day it might take only a section or two to bring the house up to temperature. Conversely, on a bitter cold day, it’s likely all the sections will be hot.
Now, you could have a venting and/or balancing problem that prevents some radiators from heating properly, leaving you with a room that is too cold. That’s a problem, and one we can help with.
Do you do anything besides steam?
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