Steam Radiators? Here’s How to Improve Your Boiler’s Efficiency.
Our heat cut out last weekend, which prompted some overdue maintenance on our boiler. It turns out that the transparent tube that shows the water level (called the sight glass or water gauge) had gotten plugged with sediment, and we accidentally added too much water. In addition to the lack of heat, this led to horrible clanging in the pipes and radiators as the steam hit water that shouldn’t have been there.
Our landlord cleaned out the tube and Jason flushed 8 buckets (!) of water from the system before it got back to normal. And the water was disgusting! It ran red with rust and sediment and stank up the basement.
Here’s how he fixed it:
1) He turned down the thermostat, flipped the main shutoff switch on the boiler, and let it cool down. (Very important to prevent burns, as well as damage to the boiler.)
2) He closed the valves at the top and bottom of the sight glass, removed it, and cleaned it with a pipe cleaner. Then he replaced the sight glass and opened both valves.
3) He used the valve at the bottom of the boiler (below and slightly to the left of the sight glass) to empty water into a bucket until it ran clear and the sight glass was below 3/4 full.
4) Then he opened the valve at the top of the boiler and added water slowly until the sight glass was 3/4 full.
(House in Progress has some good photos of the process.)
Ideally this sort of maintenance should be done once a year by a trained professional, but since we’re just renters, we don’t have much say about that. Now that we know an easy way to keep the system running efficiently, we can do it ourselves, without having to rely on our landlord.
A well-running system shouldn’t make any noise. When we moved in, the radiators were so loud that they terrified the cats and woke us up in the middle of the night. Since then we’ve checked the water level every other week (it should always be 1/2 to 3/4 full), made sure that the radiators tip slightly towards the in-flow pipes, and cleaned or replaced any hissing or spitting pressure release valves. (Check out this This Old House video or doityourself.com for how.) It’s made a huge difference in the noise level, and I hope we’ll see a difference in our gas bill this year because of it.