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Steam Heat in Old House

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  • Steam Heat in Old House

    My wife and I are looking to move and a few of the homes that we have looked at were built at the turn of the century and have steam heat. While the systems appear to be in working order, my thoughts are that these should probably be updated to a modern system. I imagine this to be a major undertaking, but I really don't know. I would greatly appreciate any thoughts from the experienced pros here on the forum. Obviously, if we decided to buy one of these old Victorians, that will be an expense I'll have to address. Considering the shape of these places, and the remarkable woodwork and other attributes, the heat system upgrade may well be worth a $10 or $15 K upgrade... if it can be done for that? Any thoughts would be appreciated.

    Thanks,

    CWS

  • #2
    go to heatinghelp.com and go to the wall then ask your ?? also theyb lot of books on steam heat

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    • #3
      Jeff,

      Thanks for the link. That looks like a heckuva lot of info, so I'll do some reading first and then post the question. Your help is greatly appreciated.

      Thanks,

      CWS

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      • #4
        For an old victorian, a radiator system might well be your best bet. While you may not have the ductwork for central air you will certainly have a steady non dry heat without the need for a humidifier to protect that charming woodwork. A hot water boiler will require several feet of baseboard along all of your exterior walls and many of your interior ones blocking the view of your woodwork. There is also no need for monthly filter changes and your old house will stay a lot cleaner.

        The main maintenance concerns would be your circ pump which should last twenty years if oiled each season and your condensate tank which should be drained at the start of the season and then checked monthly. In your area I would imagine there to be several qualified boiler outfits who could do an annual maintenance check up for you.

        My furnace is a forced air gas which will be replaced with a boiler the first time I have a more than minor repair to make on it.
        Work hard, Play hard, Sleep easy.

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        • #5
          Plumber,

          Thanks a lot for your note, excellant things to consider and you're right on the fact that I sure wouldn't want to cover up any of the woodwork. One of the houses is gone already (sold in two days), and we will be looking at the other three this coming Saturday. At least one of those have steam heat and we're not sure about the second.

          Thanks again,

          CWS

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          • #6
            old saying but if it aint broke dont fix it
            May not be the most efficient system but you cant beat steam heat did residential work for 15 years here in new york and most of the time they just want to sell you on the idea that new is better not always the case now do commercial heating and cooling and all you see in most commercial builbings is steam boilers must tell you something?

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            • #7
              I had a turn-of-the-century Craftsman style home for many years. It was my first place and bought to fix up and resell being it was way bigger than I would ever need and was located in a commerical zone. I was there 8 years and worked on the place every minute I had it seems. We poured 45K into the place on top of the $41K selling price (in 1981), and sold it in 1989 for $147K and it became office space. It was a very beautiful home with white oak woodwork, oak floors and doors and some monster DH windows. There were huge pocket doors 2-1/2" thick and 8 feet high, with 10-1/2 ft ceilings throughout the first and second floors. The third floor was a lower, only 9-1/2 feet. Even the basement had 8 foot plaster ceilings, which is where I had my shop back then. I was spoiled by that space, not heated but it stayed reasonably warm and it was dry. I had over 1200 sq. ft. of floor space down there that I could use for my shop which was great.

              The place had no insulation when I bought it and had been converted over from a 2 pipe steam system to hot water in 1952, at least that's when the last boiler had been installed. That thing was a monster for a residential boiler. Made by US Radiator it was a 7 section pork chop style. This puppy had a 2-1/2 inch B&G circulator. There are 27 huge radaiators in the 4800 sq. foot, 3 story home. In the large bay windows, radiators ran around under the sills of all three windows in the bay. The center bay windows are 54" x 84" and single glazed. That's 31.5 sq. feet of glass in ONE window! With 64 windows in the house and no insulation, there was needless to say signifigant heat loss! This explains the 3.5 nozzle on the oil burner. Man, that first winter I was ready to go out and hi-jack an oil tanker. It seemed like we were getting deliveries of 200 to 250 gal. of oil every 3 weeks. We spent over $2K for oil that first winter, and this was the winter 1982/83, not at today's inflated prices. Only had 2, 275 gal tanks in the basement housed in the space that used to be the coal bin. I now knew why the place went for $41K The boiler also had a tankless water heating coil for dsomestic hot water that I replaced with a gas-fired stand alone heater heater which further reduced oil consumption.

              After the house was insulated and storms windows installed I did a new heat calc and bought a new burner. With some help from Becket got a properly sized burner that would work with this boiler. I don't remember the model but it is similar to the current small commerical burners, the old burner was 475K Btu/hr Input. The new firing rate was 1.6. The following winter we used less than half the oil of that first heating season.

              But it was beautiful and I was the second owner, so nothing had been destroyed in the interior or exterior. None of the woodwork had been painted over. There was such detailed brass hardware on the doors and windows it and the leaded glass windows were magnificent. We had one windows that was appraised for over $20K IF you could get the same patterns of glass to replace it with. Imported englisg tile in the bathrooms and glass doorknobs and towel bars. A claw foot tub in great condition.

              Many rooms had no electric at all even after almost 80 years. THe whole house was supplied by a 60 AMP, 4 circuit panel (with glass fuses of course) and knob & tube wiring. The house was also piped in red brass for gas illumination and had a number of combination gas/electric fixtures. Who was the nut who put illuminating gas and electricity in the same fixture? Due to the low pressures that they used to run in those gas old systems, the gas line coming into the house was 2". This was also to feed a gas fired ceramic kiln that was in the basement. Apparently someone long ago dabbled in ceramics. The kiln was very old and disconnected when I bought the place, I never tried to fire it up. Needless to say the lines for the gas lights were disconnected and the wiring was all replaced.

              At any rate, before I ramble on any longer, these old homes can be worth every penny and bit of sweat broken on them, or they can be money pits that will bankrupt you. I made out OK for 8 years work I guess. Would I do it again, not at my age, but if I was in my 20's again it would be a good deal to me, and I don't know looking back if I would have sold it knowing what I know now. Many times I think I should have held on to it and rented it out as apartments or office space or a combination of both.

              [ 12-11-2005, 06:50 AM: Message edited by: Bob D. ]

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