Friday, November 12, 2010

Recommended: Somebody to Fix Radiators

Our companion email list, the Cleveland Park Listserv, is a treasure trove of recommendations. We want to share on All Life Is Local, on a periodic basis, the best recommendations that have been posted on the Cleveland Park Listserv. You'll be able to search All Life Is Local for "contractor," "plumber," "computer tech," "auto body shop" -- whatever you need. The search box, in case you have trouble finding it, is to the right and down a bit.

Many people asked that I post a compilation of the responses regarding my post requesting information on reliable people to service malfunctioning radiators. It turns out that our radiators are hot water radiators (which we confirmed because of one of these postings), and not steam, but I got a lot of good responses. Here they are in no particular order:

H.D. Johnson fixed the exact same problem in our house and they were very reasonable, professional, and considerate.


I found this: I have used Magnolia in the past for general plumbing and been satisfied. I did not find any others that jumped out in a Google search. Now if we lived in NYC or Boston, there would be plenty of choices!


I grew up in a house with a similar boiler system. I don't have a suggestion for a repair man. However, it isn't enough to bleed the air out of the line: you need to bleed the water out of the line if you have not done this. In some old radiators, the now cold water sits and it won't be displaced by the new hot water coming in.

You need to shut off the boiler and look around in your basement ceiling (usually) for any uncapped pipes with valves running near the risers that pushes up the water to the radiators. Have a bucket ready. Open the valves and drain the water from the line. Be careful - you could get scalded depending on the how the pipes are configured. If it is coming out hot, then that's your lower radiators, but eventually it should run cold which is the water from the upper floors. Also, you might have more than one valve which leads to the different radiators on the line. This would actually be ideal, because it means you only have to drain the cold radiators and not the whole house system. This might be the case if the top floor was a later addition and the system in those rooms was hooked up to the original heating system after the boiler was first installed. Once you have drained the lines, start your boiler up again. You'll hear a lot of knocking as the water goes through the pipes. This is normal since it is pushing the air out.

Hopefully, this will work. But is it only a temporary solution, since you will have to keep bleeding the lines to move the water until you can get some repairs. There are 2 things you can try to permanently fix it: get new radiators for those rooms or start saving up for a new heating system. Our boiler was from 1906.


If you have an older boiler and need it to be fixed or want a second opinion call Robert Clubb and Associates at 301-428-9634. They will take good care of you.


We have a similar system. You might try bleeding every radiator in your home. It is hard to determine where there might be a block. If that fails, I have called Rod Miller in the past and they have don't an excellent job or righting the whole system.


Did you check to see if they are turned on? There is a valve that needs to be in the on position, it's different from the "bleeding" nozzle. Ours turned out to be under the bed and may have been accidentally turned off by attempts to clean under the bed and knocking it into the off position.

If the radiators have two pipes at the bottom (in & out) they are hot water radiators and sometimes need the trapped air bleed off. If the radiators have only one pipe-the system is steam heated. Steam radiators should be tilted slightly toward the incoming steam pipe to allow condensed steam to flow back into the system. I assume the valves to the radiators are turned on. If the 3rd floor radiators are bled of air, you should have heat. Another possible explanation is not enough water in the system to reach the 3rd floor level. Old systems had expansion tanks in the attic to keep the radiators filled with water.

I have a steam heat system in my home that dates to the 1920s. Thomas E. Clark, the plumbing and heating company, has one or two guys who are experts on the increasingly rare steam systems - they've serviced mine for the 7 years I've owned in the house. I was having problems similar to yours and worse, so three years ago Clark replaced my boiler. Not cheap, but the system now works flawlessly, and my heating bills have dropped significantly. (My boiler is powered by gas, not oil.)

If these radiators have shut off valves which permit the steam to enter the radiators,perhaps these valves are frozen shut. If they cannot be turned, then they need to be taken apart to see what is wrong.


My radiators are steam and original (1923) and I'm told were only about 10% of the "ordinary" (water) radiators. I think there's a difference in the two (this is what several different furnace technicians have told me) and that the steam ones are not meant to be bled. The people who take care of my furnace are the ones that Griffith Oil has. I have a service contract with them. Have never had a problem in more than 20 years. I have the furnace checked every year. I keep my house quite chilly and it was hard to get them balanced so that heat was evenly distributed. There's a little dial up on the top of the radiators that allows you to control how much steam gets in each radiator. Once I got it right I never touched it again.


You might want to try W.B. Maske. We have used them for years to service repair and even replace our heating system which sounds quite similar to yours. A few years ago when we had to replace the furnace (because of a malfunctioning value) Maske reworked our whole system throughout the house blowing out the radiators and rebalancing the way heat is distributed. It is possible that I am not using the right language to describe what they did, but the end result is that our system works much better than it did. They can be reached at 301-927-3412 and ask for Dave Daigle. He has been with them for over 40 years (He is married into the family that owns the concern.) The firm itself has been in business for much longer.


You might try Tyler Chau (240-388-7920). He runs his own firm (Advance Air Technologies) as well as doing some work for Blake & Wilcox. He did some work for me on my gas-fired radiator heating system. You also could try Blake & Wilcox (301-589-1771). Of course, this kind of job can be expensive. So I'd try to make sure I'd checked that all valves were open, the pressure setting in the system was correct, and any booster/circulator pump (if there is one) was running properly before calling in a contractor.


I've used RL Voight Plumbing Co. in Kensington and they should be able to help you.


It sounds like your system is similar to ours and so is your problem. After a miserable last winter we found a leak in our boiler. I am not familiar with the terminology, the leak could have been somewhere else. But after talking to all kinds of people we met "Mack" McIlwain through this listserv. He was the most helpful, his work was prompt and efficient, everything is working fine and and he was reasonable in his charges. Give him a call: 202-544-1493 evenings or leave a message.

1 comment:

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