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Old 01-24-2011, 12:58 PM
Location: NJT 14C
429 posts, read 886,431 times
Reputation: 143


what might be going on, so I can help give the landlord suggestions that might fix it.

Sorry this is so long by the way, but I'm hoping if I go into detail, it will give some expert on this stuff better clues as to what the problem might be.

I'm basically in a four-room apartment (plus the bathroom). We have whatever kind of heating runs along the baseboards, on the outer walls, with metal pipes and accordion-shaped metal wedges running along the pipes. The heat runs up from the basement somehow--I have no idea how the system is designed, and I tend to be a moron with this kind of stuff anyway.

Usually we need to bleed the lines every year when the landlord first turns the heat on. What we always used to do was simply this: open the valve, and air/water would come out. We'd keep it open until just a steady stream of water was coming out--no more signs of air, then the heat would work. That's all there was to it. You used to be able to take a small Tupperware-style dish and that was big enough for how long you'd need to leave the valve open for this. It would take maybe a minute or so in each room.

Well, the landlord is completely rennovating the apartment downstairs. They tore out all of the pipes and everything--basically gutted it and rebuilt it. Since they've done that, the heat is only working on and off this year. At one point it was working well in every room--for about three weeks . . . then suddenly, about a week ago, it wasn't working in ANY room.

Going back for a moment, one odd thing this year is that the landlord's handyman told me that you didn't just need to get a steady stream of water coming out of the pipes, but you needed to run it until "there was no more water coming out, just steam". That's NEVER how we did it before, yet the heat would work, and when I've gotten the heat to work this year, it's still not what I did. Also, they were stressing that I needed to bleed the lines in every room. But most years in the past I have purposefully NOT done that and it's been just fine. The reason was that I like cool temperatures, so if I avoided bleeding the line in my office, the heat would work in the rest of the apartment, but I wouldn't be uncomfortably hot while I was working. However, when we were having problems this year, I did bleed the lines in every room.

However, the bedroom was the most difficult to get to work this year. So I thought, "Maybe they changed something or whatever, so I'll follow his advice and sit here and get 'ALL the water' out." I sat with a big bucket like you use for a mop, and filled it with water over and over and over (it was coming out in a steady stream, no air), for literally about three hours--maybe 15-16 buckets of water, and it still wouldn't work. It seems to me like if nothing is changing after that many buckets, that it's not a matter of needing to "get all the water out". Most of the time when I've done bucket after bucket in the bedroom, by the way, it's just bucket after bucket of cold water coming out. Occasionally it's warmed up a bit on the third or fourth bucket, but just lukewarm at best rather than ice cold. Then it starts getting colder again.

Alright, so back to last week when it stopped working in every room after having been working for about three weeks. The landlord's handyman suggested bleeding the lines again. This time when I was doing it, not only did air stop coming out, but after a short while there was no water or apparently ANYTHING coming out of the valves. You could put your hand right in front of the nozzle and not feel a thing. It had never done that before (I've been in the same apartment about 12 years now, by the way). Oddly, shortly after I did this, the heat started working again in one room, but only that room. I have no idea why it would work when apparently nothing is circulating through the pipes. That room is still working. The other three weren't.

So another handyman from the landlord said they'd look at the boiler. I tried bleeding the lines again and they had water going through them again (apparently they fixed whatever had caused the change where nothing was going through). The kitchen/bathroom valve started putting out warmer and almost hot water after a short bit, but as soon as I shut the valve and let it sit, the pipe was cold. So then the handyman said he'd maybe turn up the pressure, and after he did that, the kitchen/bathroom section was working again. This lasted for a few days.

However, last night that went out again. So I was messing around with it today, and again, it got to a point where no water or anything seemed to be circulating. I called the landlord today, they said they'd send someone to look at it, and when I checked a couple hours later, water was running through again, but it's still only working in the living room.

Each valve seems to behave differently, as if it's a different system, which seems odd to me. The living room I haven't messed with since it's working--if it ain't broke don't fix it (or even touch it in this case, lol).

Today, my "office" is still barely putting out any water, even though the other ones are now. It just dribbles out then stops, but if I wait awhile, it seems to be able to dribble out some water again. Normally that room just puts out bucket after bucket of cold water from a nice, steady stream of water. The time I got it working (about a month ago), I ran about 7-8 bucketfulls in that room, and a few hours later it mysteriously started working . . . it took at least 3-4 hours though (actually I think it might have just been working when I went in the room the next morning).

The bedroom puts out endless buckets of cold water in a nice steady stream--never any sign of air trapped in it--but doesn't seem to ever start working. It only started working one time this winter, which was after another time we complained again . . . they said they'd look at the boiler, we didn't hear anything from them, I figured I'd check it, and within 1, maybe 2 buckets, it was putting out very hot water then it worked for a few weeks.

The kitchen has been behaving differently since it went out last week. The stream of water coming out of it is not as strong as it used to be, although it will be relatively steady, but even letting 3-4 buckets of water out, it's still "spurting", as if air is still trapped in it. Steady water will come out for 20-30 seconds, then a small spurt. That doesn't seem to be stopping . . . I've sat maybe 15 minutes with it. The water coming out of that one did get hot earlier today, and the pipe seemed to be starting to warm up while I was bleeding it, but then it went cold after I shut the valve.

By the way, apparently the radiator in the hallway of the apartment building (which is on the first floor, right inside the door from the street) is on the same system as ours (this is according to the handymen)--and that's been nice and hot, even when the heat went out in the whole apartment last week. Also, we're on the third floor and the boiler is in the basement (there's another apartment below us, and a restaurant below that). Before they rennovated, the apartment below us was on the same system, because they used to always come up and ask us to turn the heat up or down. I don't know if it's still on the same system or not.

So, any clues what the problem might be? If you can give me clues, maybe I can help make suggestions to the handymen that would enable them to fix it. I have a landlord who hires "jack of all trades" handymen to do everything to save money. Often it's apparent that they do not quite know what they're doing.

Thanks in advance.

Last edited by TheLuckoftheDraw; 01-24-2011 at 01:10 PM..
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Old 01-24-2011, 02:31 PM
Location: Cary, NC
793 posts, read 4,274,724 times
Reputation: 1343
I don't know the answer but that post is way too long for anyone to read. Someone could probably help you if you could edit that down to a couple readable paragraphs.
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Old 01-24-2011, 03:13 PM
Location: NE CT
1,496 posts, read 3,214,578 times
Reputation: 716
First find out if you ar dealing with a steam hot water system or merely a hot water circulating system. You can tell if you have a one pipe system(steam) or two pipes when the water flows through the baseboards and back to the boiler. If just one pipe comes up to the baseboard and ends, it is a steam system. If it flows through the baseboard and continues on to the next baseboard unit then it is a hot water circulating system. Turn the thermostat all the way up and you should immediately hear the water moving through the pipes. That would be the standing water in the baseboard pipe leaving from sitting idle and the new hot water coming in. You will hear it immediately after you raise the thermostat. If you hear no water moving through the pipes, then it is likely a steam system. The main difference between a hot water circulation system, and a steam system, is the absence of a return water pipe back to the boiler.

You can also go down and look at the boiler and there should be glass tubes with water level monitors so you can see the water levels in the boiler. You will also see guages that tell you the temperature of the water and the pressure in the boiler. If you don't see any water level tubes, then it is likely a hot water system. Also look for return pipes. The outbound pipes each have circulators on them and the inbound pipes are likely at the bottom of the boiler. The outbound pipes will be very hot and the inbound pipes will be cooler, relatively.

Once you have ascertained which system you are dealing with, you can then go about correcting the problem. . In steam systems, there is no circulation, just delivery, so you only have one pipe. You should have a pressure release valve if you have a steam system. It sounds like there were once radiators and they were replaced by baseboard units. If you are "bleeding" pipes from every room, it does sound like you have a steam system. If this is true, the water in the steam is controlled down at the boiler. You have to drain the water from the lowest most point in the system making sure you still have the water jacket in the boiler full. The steam is delivered through empty pipes. Any water that collects in the system would be from condensation where hot pipes meet cold areas but this should drain back towrds the boiler and you should not have to constantly bleed the pipes. In the old steam radiators, there was a valve that automatically discharged the steam when the pressure built up to a point that was over the limit in the system. It sounds to me like there are no discharge valves on your baseboards because they installed a baseboard unit that would be aappropriate for a hot water system circulating system, not a steam system.

You should invite a certified plumber or home inspector in to diagnose the problem and then refer him to the landlord for the fix because it sounds to me that there is a steam boiler in the cellar and they are replaciing the old radiators with basebopard units that do not allow for any built up pressure to be relased so they are keeping the pressure too low for the system to operate correctly.

Good luck.

Last edited by brien51; 01-24-2011 at 03:34 PM..
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Old 01-25-2011, 06:51 PM
41,817 posts, read 47,060,073 times
Reputation: 17780
The reason you bleed a hydronic system is to get the air out because it could block circualtion of the water , if all you're getting is water then you're wasting your time.

There is multiple ways to set up a hydronic system and multiple reasons why it won't work. Without knowing how its set up and what was done to prevent it from working.....
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Old 01-26-2011, 01:11 PM
Location: Alaska
5,356 posts, read 17,628,712 times
Reputation: 4060
If the system circulates hot water, it could be that the circulating pump is going out. It could also be that they hooked up the pipes wrong when they remodeled.
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