From the Forum – Steam heat system suddenly VERY loud

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Steam heat system suddenly VERY loud:

“About two weeks ago our steam heat radiators started making very loud noises when on. I’m talking REALLY loud. They wake up the whole family when they turn on at night. We’re miserable and need recommendations for someone with experience working on old steam heat systems.

Our rowhouse was built in 1924, and the current boiler was installed by the previous owners in 2007. On 12/15, the boiler wouldn’t start. I called Jiffy plumbing, and they sent out Ron Smith (I mention his name just in case someone can vouch for him). Ron reseated a spring on the pressure switch that had gotten out of place. Once he left, the noise began. Loud banging in the pipes and radiators, and it sounds like there’s a lot of water in the radiators. I called Jiffy back the next day, and they said that Ron did nothing that would cause noise. They are happy to come out and try to determine the problem, but I am wondering if there is someone more qualified. PSI is currently set between 1 and 2. Any help would be greatly appreciated!”

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12 Comment

  • I used to live in a basement rental and had the same problem. It was air in the system, not water. The furnace had failed in December last year and when they installed the new one, they installed the pipes incorrectly (and the furnace backwards). It took about 2 months for someone to realize it was an improper installation. In your case there may be an issue with air getting in. Get a 2nd or 3rd opinion on the problem but have them look at the entire system.

  • First, check the radiator valves (likely at the base of each radiator) and make sure they are turned all the way on or all the way off. If you have a thermostat knob, too, it doesn’t matter to what degree it’s turned.

    The ‘hammering’ is caused by water dripping back down to the boiler and hitting the steam, causing loud banging sounds as if the pipes themselves are vibrating. They are not. It’s simply cold water hitting hot steam.

    If that doesn’t do the trick, the boiler settings may need to be adjusted. Try Capital Boiler Works. Good luck.

  • You might also try getting a radiator key (available at any hardware store) and bleeding the radiators. Start with the one closest to the boiler and follow the path of the system, simply insert the key into the bleed valve (which you’ll see at the top of each radiator, looks sort of like a square bolt sticking out) and turn it slightly so it opens and some water starts to come out. Have a towel or small cup ready to catch the water. As soon as you are seeing a constant release of water with no sputtering or air bubbles, close it and move onto the next radiator and repeat until you’ve done them all. This should get most of the air out of your system and might alleviate the problem without having to call someone in.

    • Look at the valve before buying a radiator key – you might be lucky (as I was) that the valve is basically a screwhead and a screwdriver does the trick.

    • gotryit

      Isn’t that only applicable to hot water radiators? I think the person here has steam radiators. They may look similar, but are different in how they operate.

  • Please note that MHFoodie and IH offer good advice – but, it’s advice for a hydronic systems. They do not apply to your steam system.

    IH offers some good points. You may also want to look into replacing/updating your air valves/vents on each radiator to balance the system. They aren’t terribly expensive but, may need a professional to recommend what size valve is appropriate for each radiator.

    • I had this same issue last year and my brother kept telling me to bleed the lines as stated above. However my system is steam so I had to replace some air valves. They are about midway up the side of your radiator. The old ones on mine were shaped like large bullets. You can find replacements at Annie’s Ace Hardware for sure. Home Depot doesn’t carry them. I still have slight pinging noise but a definite improvement from last year.

  • I’ll vouch for Ron. I’ve worked with him on problems simple and tricky at my rowhouse (boiler), my old condo (heat pump) and a friend’s place (minisplits). He’s about as honest as they get in my experience (I use the trust but verify standard). If it were me I’d ask for him back and level with him and see what he finds. If he did cause it I think he’d admit it to you.

  • jim_ed

    Foley Mechanical is the best bet locally for all steam and hydronic boiler system issues. Honest work, too. I’d give them a call.

  • tt

    I feel your pain. It’s our first winter with a steam system and it took quite a bit of sorting out. After dropping well over a $1k on technicians without resolution, I turned to two places to educate myself:

    Between these two sites, I was able to sort almost everything out. You have to be interested and willing to learn your system though. It’s technical, but not particularly complicated.

    The first question any technical site like the ones above will have you figure out is whether you have a single or two-pipe system. Also, what kind of pressure control system do you have installed? A pressuretrol or a vaporstat? (My problem was solved by replacing the pressuretrol with a $150 vapostat.)

    Another question without seeing your system is if you look at the looking glass, where does the water line fall? Is it full of water? Partially full?

    GR cites the main reason your system will bang. It would be surprising if the system ever ran without at least some ‘tinging’ or banging. There are lots of measures one can take to reduce it (e.g., insulating all of the steam feeds).

    • tt

      p.s. Any one interested in learning of the company that I DO NOT recommend — the service company that ran up the $1000 without a fix — can tweet / direct message me at @technotarek. I do not even want to write their name here given the ‘any publicity is good publicity’ concept. FWIW, they haven’t been mentioned on this post yet. Also, GR mentioned Capitol Boiler Works, but they don’t offer residential service.

  • Thank you for all of the comments! Glenmont Heating came out this morning (technicians Kyle and Tim), and my problem was too much water in the boiler. They drained several gallons out and now it’s more quiet than it has been for the past five years. The service fee was $79, which I think was very reasonable. They are sending an estimate to replace one bleeder that’s no longer working, but we’ll all rest well now the radiators are just making a soft hissing sound.

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