Anyone have HVAC experience?


Off-Topic Discussions

Liberty's Edge

I moved into a new apartment in mid-August. The building has old-fashioned steam heat, and since I live on the top floor, my apartment has all of the air vents. The heat was turned on approximately eight days ago. Up until a couple of days ago, they were all venting large amounts of steam, so much that there were actual clouds inside the apartment that would periodically "rain."

I had the air vents replaced on Monday. There are no longer clouds of steam in the apartment, but there is still a lot of condensation on the walls, ceiling, and windows that reforms hours after being wiped off with a towel. If left long enough (i.e. overnight), water drips from the ceiling, and mold has begun to grow in most of the rooms. I've already had about $500.00 worth of damage done to my and my roommate's belongings, and I need to have this figured out soon.

Notes:
- The walls and ceiling are composed of cement, with a layer of plaster on the inside of the building, and one layer of bricks on the outside.
- There is no ventilation system for the apartment other than the fact that we have windows.
- Large amounts of condensation form around the windows, and opening the windows actually makes the problem worse.
- The smaller rooms (2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom) have much more condensation than the two larger rooms (living room, kitchen).


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Well, you can buy a dehumidifier but that seems like it should be the landlords responsibility. That just seems like an unreasonable amount of condensation. Do you have any control of the thermostat?


If you're renting, that's definitely the landlord's responsibility. Have you talked to any of the neighbors? Is it just your apartment that this is happening in, or are others having the same issue?

Liberty's Edge

Jam412 wrote:
Well, you can buy a dehumidifier but that seems like it should be the landlords responsibility. That just seems like an unreasonable amount of condensation. Do you have any control of the thermostat?

No control of the thermostat. There's a boiler room in the basement, and only the maintenance man and the landlord have the key.

Web Product Manager

I had a similar situation in a rental unit once. Learn about your renters rights in your state, and take this to your landlord. This sounds like a problem with the building itself, and is not your responsibility (unless you neglect to tell the landlord, but this is how it is in CA and WA, so this might vary). Document the damage to your belongings also and let your landlord know. Additionally, excess mold and mildew caused by condensation can be hazardous to your health, so do take care of yourself.

In all honesty, this sounds like some sort of neglect on the upkeep on an old building. If you are planning on moving in the near future, always, always ask your landlord about the heating/cooling and also get a disclosure form on mold and water damage and what their policy is.

Liberty's Edge

Shadowborn wrote:
If you're renting, that's definitely the landlord's responsibility. Have you talked to any of the neighbors? Is it just your apartment that this is happening in, or are others having the same issue?

I'm not sure if anyone else is having this problem. The only other people I know in the building live on the first floor, and so don't have the same vents--they have no condensation at all.

Liberty's Edge

Chris Lambertz wrote:

I had a similar situation in a rental unit once. Learn about your renters rights in your state, and take this to your landlord. This sounds like a problem with the building itself, and is not your responsibility (unless you neglect to tell the landlord, but this is how it is in CA and WA, so this might vary). Document the damage to your belongings also and let your landlord know. Additionally, excess mold and mildew caused by condensation can be hazardous to your health, so do take care of yourself.

In all honesty, this sounds like some sort of neglect on the upkeep on an old building. If you are planning on moving in the near future, always, always ask your landlord about the heating/cooling and also get a disclosure form on mold and water damage and what their policy is.

I'm in Syracuse, NY, and I'm not entirely sure how it works here.

The landlord knows about it, and the maintenance man has been here twice over the last few days. So far, he's replaced the vents and bled the pipes, but the problem is still ongoing.

Part of the problem is that the building I live in comprises ten three-story buildings connected by one large basement. The complex has around 500 or 600 tenants, but only one maintenance man, so he's running himself ragged as it is.

Liberty's Edge

Talking to the landlord is pretty much useless, so right now, I'm looking for mostly DIY solutions, though ANY advice is appreciated.

Sovereign Court

The Eldritch Mr. Shiny wrote:

I moved into a new apartment in mid-August. The building has old-fashioned steam heat, and since I live on the top floor, my apartment has all of the air vents. The heat was turned on approximately eight days ago. Up until a couple of days ago, they were all venting large amounts of steam, so much that there were actual clouds inside the apartment that would periodically "rain."

I had the air vents replaced on Monday. There are no longer clouds of steam in the apartment, but there is still a lot of condensation on the walls, ceiling, and windows that reforms hours after being wiped off with a towel. If left long enough (i.e. overnight), water drips from the ceiling, and mold has begun to grow in most of the rooms. I've already had about $500.00 worth of damage done to my and my roommate's belongings, and I need to have this figured out soon.

Notes:
- The walls and ceiling are composed of cement, with a layer of plaster on the inside of the building, and one layer of bricks on the outside.
- There is no ventilation system for the apartment other than the fact that we have windows.
- Large amounts of condensation form around the windows, and opening the windows actually makes the problem worse.
- The smaller rooms (2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom) have much more condensation than the two larger rooms (living room, kitchen).

Do the air vents still hiss continously? That gorton vent is adjustable, you can shut it off (system won't heat up very well though).

If it's single pipe steam heating everyone in the building should have air vents. There should also be big baddass main vents in the basement - get them to check those as well.

And this is totally a landlord responsibility. Keep track of everything damaged, document the vapour etc...

Liberty's Edge

The vents hiss constantly, which the maintenance man said is normal. I'm not sure if it's single pipe heating or what, I'm just going by what he said. What would the big main vents in the basement look like?

Sovereign Court

What I know comes from two summers doing building maintenance in college and working for a plumbing supply company for a few years so I'm not an expert. But hissing constantly is not the way the vents should work. They are supposed to only bleed cold air out of the radiator. They should shut off automatically when your radiator warms up.

Not shutting off is a sign of a problem with the steam system.

http://www.oldhousejournal.com/care_feeding/magazine/1016

http://inspectapedia.com/heat/Steam_Vents.htm

http://inspectapedia.com/heat/Radiator_Valves.htm

Liberty's Edge

Not sure how relevant this is, but all the manual shutoff knobs to all of the radiators in my apartment have been sawed off and painted over. There's still a nub there that I could probably get a hold on with vice-grips, though.

Sovereign Court

Is it warm enough to live without heat for a few days? Ask the maintenance dude to shut them off, don't do it yourself - in case they explode or you break the nub break or something.

Liberty's Edge

It's currently around 40*F outside, but considering I lived in my car in Vermont in the dead of winter for five weeks, I can probably handle this. The thing about asking the maintenance man to do it is that it's a complete crap shoot whether or not he'll actually show up, just because he's so busy. He can show up any amount of time from five minutes to three weeks after you put in the complaint, and I need this fixed as soon as possible.

Sovereign Court

I don't like doing it, but sometimes you need to make your problem the other guys problem as well. Be a dick.

Short term, you need to be at the top of his priority list. Hang out at his door in the building, phone him every five minutes etc... Shutting off the rads should take like 5 minutes, he'll slot you in if you are ruining his saturday. See if he has an electric space heater.

Longer term, write and phone the landlord and find out if there is some sort of tenant/landlord tribunal body - usually you can get permission start withholding part of your rent or get the place inspected.

Found this:
http://www.ag.ny.gov/sites/default/files/pdfs/publications/Tenant_Rights_20 11.pdf

Page 19, if it's broken they need to fix it, but if you break it, they don't have to fix it.

Liberty's Edge

Robert Hawkshaw wrote:

I don't like doing it, but sometimes you need to make your problem the other guys problem as well. Be a dick.

Short term, you need to be at the top of his priority list. Hang out at his door in the building, phone him every five minutes etc... Shutting off the rads should take like 5 minutes, he'll slot you in if you are ruining his saturday. See if he has an electric space heater.

Longer term, write and phone the landlord and find out if there is some sort of tenant/landlord tribunal body - usually you can get permission start withholding part of your rent or get the place inspected.

Found this:
http://www.ag.ny.gov/sites/default/files/pdfs/publications/Tenant_Rights_20 11.pdf

Page 19, if it's broken they need to fix it, but if you break it, they don't have to fix it.

Hey, I'm sorry I didn't say it earlier, but thanks for everything. You've been a HUGE help with pointing me in the right direction.

Sovereign Court

No problemo, I'm editing the introduction to my thesis so, you are helping me procrastinate.

The only other thing I can think of, is go knock on your neighbours' doors. See if the other top floor tenants have the same problem with condensation, or rad valves that hiss constantly. They might know of a solution. Or if their valves don't hiss 24/7 you can call the plumber on his b%!!*%%!.

Sovereign Court

More fun with air valves -did the guy install the wrong size:

http://s3.pexsupply.com/manuals/1285962647932/39820_PROD_FILE.pdf

http://www.gwgillplumbingandheating.com/webapp/GetPage?pid=203 (one pipe)

http://www.gwgillplumbingandheating.com/webapp/GetPage?pid=214 (two pipe) - although if you have air valves, it should be a one pipe system.

Liberty's Edge

Here's a picture of the heating system.

The picture to the left is one of the exposed vents (from the kitchen and bathroom), and the pictures in the center and on the right are of the covered radiators in the bedrooms and living room. It appears to be a one-pipe system. All I know about the vents is that they are identical to the old ones.

Sovereign Court

There will be a model number on them. It should say:

Gorton
Vapor Equalizing Valve
Patent #xxxxxxxx
No. 4 (or 5, or C, or D)

The model number tells you the venting capacity. If the main and riser air vents are working correctly (big vents on the steam supplies outside of the individual appartment units) then big sized radiators need more venting capacity, small radiators need less.

Your air vent has a temperature sensitive valve in it. When it is cold, air can flow through the valve. When it is hot it closes automatically (preventing steam from leaving the rad).

If the building has the correct vent set up, when the main thermostat calls for heat, the boiler switches on, steam should hit and fill up all the radiators at (roughly) the same time. The air vents close, pressure builds up and once a set pressure in the system is reached a pressure controller turns the burner off. When the pressure drops, if the thermostat is still calling for heat, the burner turns on again and the dance continues.

Rust and gunge in the lines can clog the little air valve and glue it shut or open. Because you have steam and water in the same iron pipe, you will get rust and gunge building up in the system.

My unexpert opinion, if other little air vents in the system are dirty / stuck shut, or the main vent is dirty, or the pressure controllers shut off point is set too high, then the working vents in your appartment will have to take up the slack and get stuck open. This is because steam will always move from high pressure to low pressure. You've got the only low pressure around :)

Scarab Sages

A lot of old buildings have steam heat. From my understanding of the way the system works, the steam is fed through the system from the boiler, and into risers that carry it up the building. From my own time in a top floor apartment, I found there were two basic scenarios.

1. You get alot of heat as the people below you (who are closer to the source) close the valves on their radiators because they don't need the heat as much right now. That sounds like what your being hit with at the moment.

2. You get very little heat as the people below you open their systems up and get most of it.

One of the problems with these old systems is the damage that can be done from simple wear and tear. Typically, the old systems weren't designed to drain down to well, so when the heat is shut off the steam condenses in the pipes and accumulates in any spot it can. The system likely puts out saturated steam, so the condensation will be that much worse, especially since this past summer seems to have been fairly humid here on the East Coast (at least it was here in PhillY). Then when they start the system back up, you get hot steam hitting the water in the pipes, which then flashes to steam and creates a pressure wave that hammers the s$$& out of those old pipes (hence the name Water Hammer). You can hear it all the time as banging noises whenever a system kicks on. It can cause cracks in the pipe, especially at welds, fittings, etc. Steam also contributes to deterioration of the pipe itself, something I see all the time.

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