“Radiator Installation — Company in DC?”

“I’m looking for a company to install, in DC, three recently re-furbished radiators — specifically, “single-pipe steam radiators” (and apparently original to the 100-year-old building in question in Adams Morgan).

For those of you who love exhaustive detail:

1) Not looking to install, e.g., the boiler and in-wall supply piping; just need an experienced person who can:
– first, confirm that the refurbished radiators do not have leaks and will otherwise operate OK, then…
– remove existing supply piping from where it exits the floor
– install new supply piping from that exit point to where the refurbished radiators will be located
– install suitable shut-off valve, including removing spud from radiator and installing new spud to match valve
– connect radiator to shut-off valve (including using pipe dope/teflon tape on threads, etc.)
– any additional work that would be advisable/necessary/etc. for the installation

2) Note that (I believe) each of the three radiators has a different sized opening.

3) I thought about the DYI route, but having now researched the living daylights out of the topic, turns out there are a bunch of subtleties involved in sizing the pipes, their pitch, what shut-off valves to use, etc.

4) I contacted Brookland Plumbing about this, as they’ve done great work for us in the past, but they said they would not do the job because they don’t have the expertise (and recommended against hiring a plumber, as they’ve heard of other plumbers royally screwing up this sort of work). They suggested hiring someone who is certified as a steamfitter.

5) Which led me to the website of Steamfitter UA Local 602 — it does have a directory, but it lists, like, 150 companies with no indication of which do residential (vs., e.g., engineering companies, commercial HVAC systems firms, etc.)

6) Yelp and Angie’s List haven’t proven helpful in identifying a company with solid experience; I phoned several heating and cooling firms highly-rated on those sites but each one said they didn’t do residential steam systems and didn’t have alternate suggestions.

Help me, PoPville readers, you’re my only hope!

Seems to me there must be many old-yet-still-operating residential steam heating systems in DC, so I’m hoping some one (perhaps even you!) can provide guidance on who’s good (as well as anyone to avoid).

Oh, and for anyone interested in better understanding what was viewed as cutting-edge technology just over a century ago, a great guide to the physics, maintenance and history of steam heating is Dan Holohan’s The Lost Art of Steam Heating (https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Art-Steam-Heating/dp/0974396095). As shown in this video, he has a passion for the topic, combined with wit and (evidently) nearly exhaustive knowledge about what’s out there: https://youtu.be/TQB0KK2rxcw.

Seriously, if you like geeking out about how things work, it’s a fascinating topic.

THANKS for any suggestions/guidance etc. on this!!”

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27 Comment

  • This is a really fascinating question. I don’t have any answers, but wouldn’t the company that refurbished the heaters be a good place to start to find an installer?

    • Probably not, I would think they’re just a sandblasting refinishing company (radiators, hand rails, other metal stuff) and not radiator installation company but what do I know…

      • OP here — thanks, great suggestion as they do a lot of radiator refinishing; I can’t believe that asking them escaped my OCD-ish approach to the question…!

  • I had my plumber do mine. Bought used ones from the place off New York Ave and North Capitol. Might be closed now but all of the work that you listed is plumbing work

    first, confirm that the refurbished radiators do not have leaks and will otherwise operate OK, then…
    – remove existing supply piping from where it exits the floor
    – install new supply piping from that exit point to where the refurbished radiators will be located
    – install suitable shut-off valve, including removing spud from radiator and installing new spud to match valve
    – connect radiator to shut-off valve (including using pipe dope/teflon tape on threads, etc.)
    – any additional work that would be advisable/necessary/etc. for the installation

  • Climate Heating and Cooling does an excellent job with our steam boiler. I don’t know if they’d do the work you’re looking for.

  • It sounds like you’re pretty knowledgeable on the subject so this is probably already gone into your decision making process, but single pipe steam radiators are LOUD. Depending on the type of radiators you have it may be possible to switch to hot water, if it is, I would recommend it and I’m someone you’ve never met posting semi-anonymously so obviously you should take heed.
    .
    I’d suggest reaching out to Aspen Hill Plumbing whether they can or will do the work I’d trust them to take a look and not take the job if it is above their heads.

    • Many radiators can be used for either steam or hot water. The main issue is that most steam systems run one pipe (steam supply and condensate return run in the same pipe) to each radiator, but a hot water system requires two pipes (one supply, one return).
      Not super easy to run another pipe to each radiator in an already-built house.
      .
      To the OP, thanks for that video and link to the book. Definitely gonna check that out!

      • OP here — hey, thanks — if (like me) you totally dork out on mechanical/analog technologies (bikes, engines, etc.) it is an absolutely enthralling subject. My only caution is that a spouse/partner/significant other may give you a hard time a la “enough, already!! Just get them installed!!” 😉

    • OP here — thanks for the lead, I’ll check them out. For better or for worse, I’m locked in for single-pipe steam. Noise hasn’t been been a problem for us, though (from my now extensive reading on the topic) you are correct that it can be if, e.g., the supply lines are mis-sized, the system is operating on the wrong pressure, etc., etc.!

  • I had each of my cast iron radiators in my 1920’s row house stripped and it wasn’t too difficult for me to re-install most of them, so I can’t imagine how a plumber would really struggle with this. But if you’re not confident in your skills, I will second Aspen Hill Plumbing (http://www.aspenhillplumbing.com). They also have an A rating on Angies List, which is a good sign… Before you call, it might help to know what size valves each radiator requires and let them know so they don’t have to make a second trip.

    • Who did the stripping for you? Trying to gather some info for ours.

      • My neighbors and I used The Stripping Workshop off NY Ave. but they sold their business to http://www.chemstripmd.com. I had all the radiators in my house stripped (they then dip them in a deruster that cleans them both inside and out) and coated with a clear lacquer. My recommendation – once stripped, DO NOT have them repainted or powerdercoated. The cast iron looks beautiful and you can see every ornate detail of the radiators – each one looks like a piece of art. At the very least, ask to see an example of a finished clear lacquered radiator. Or just Google “lacquer finish cast iron radiator” to get some ideas. It really is an amazing way to bring out one of the the most underappreciated features of many of this city’s older homes.

      • I used Chem Strip — same folks as mentioned in Park View’s reply to your post. They did great work. I COMPLETELY agree to just have them lacquered — ours have beautiful designs on them that paint would cover up. Also, the type of paint and its color will affect the heat output of the radiator. But if you are set on having them painted, Chem Strip does excellent work on that, too.

    • OP here — thanks for the lead, I will check them out.

  • jim_ed

    Foley Mechanical. They’re probably the best residential boiler contractor. Honest contractor as well.

  • +1 on Foley Mechanical if you want this done right. Additionally, the forum on which to ask such questions, about radiator systems, is http://heatinghelp.com. It’s full of helpful, knowledgeable professionals… who will probably send you to Foley.

  • Try Thomas E. Clark, in Silver Spring. They’ve kept my steam heating system in Columbia Heights humming for 15 years, replaced boiler, other things. I think it’s a union shop and not cheap but super reliable.

  • Hi, Prince! Thanks for the kind words. Get in touch with Dan Foley at Foley Mechanical. He knows as much about steam systems as I do. Here’s his contact info: https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/washington-d-c-metrosuburban-area-steam-heating-experts

    Dan

    • OP here — Wow, Dan Holohan himself?! THANK YOU — not just for the lead, but for sharing your passion and knowledge of steam heating! I loved The Lost Art and have enjoyed the videos of you speaking on the topic. I now understand (well, somewhat) and have a newfound appreciation this technology, and am in your debt for that.

  • I know not totally on point, but i just added a new radiator system in my 1906 house – all new runtals on a manifold system. Perfect Plumbing MD seemed to know what they were doing.

  • Seems like you’re pretty far down the single-pipe steam path. Pity…you really do need the stars to align for that to work out for you in the end. Much easier to convert to hot water, get rid of the shut off valves and go with a zoned manifold. Chemstrip does pressure testing once they refinish – highly recommended.

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