I can’t breathe: main vent replacement

Posted by FX on October 11, 2012 in Heating

From our boiler there are two pipes coming off the steam head: one feeding the front part of the house; the other feeding the back part.  Thus we have two return pipes, and therefore two main vents at the end of each.  Well, what’s left of them anyway.

Time for an update.  This is the Hoffman 4A main vent.


I purchased two of these beauties in order to replace our old main vents.

The first old main vent was shut close and therefore no air would come through it.  Poor thing.  See?


Plus it sits directly at the end of the return (right before the return drops to the floor).  On a good installation, the main vent would be:

  1. at 15″ from the end of the return.
  2. mounted on a 6″ nipple minimum so that no condensate exits through the vent.

Moving the main vent 15″ from the end of the return pipe isn’t something I am ready to do just yet.  However, putting a new main vent on a 6″ minimum nipple…

The picture above isn’t showing it, but there are pipes above the vent preventing a straight nipple from being installed.

So, a quick trip to my favorite plumbing supply store, two 45 degrees elbows, and a 9″ nipple later, we’re done.


One down!


The second old main vent is an interesting story.  Take a look.


Looking a the dirty pipe and wall it is obvious that something is wrong.  It’s not that the vent leaks because it’s not screwed properly; it’s simply that 1) the vent sits at the end of the return pipe, and 2) it isn’t mounted on a 6″ minimum nipple.

As a result the condensate comes down the return pipe and splashes at the end.  Then the condensate exits through the vent.  This is why main vents should at a minimum be mounted on a nipple, and if possible located 15″ from the end of the return.

But wait, there’s more.  Let’s get closer.


This isn’t a main vent at all!  It’s a regular radiator vent: it has a 1/8″ shank instead of a 3/4″ one!  To make it fit, whoever did this put a bushing to reduce the diameter of the pipe from 3/4″ to 1/8″.  What were they thinking!?!


The air in the system must have been desperate to get out through this narrow thing.

Thankfully I came to the rescue and voilà

2011-10-22_14-38-31 2011-10-22_14-38-22

Now our steam system is vented properly from the radiator vents to the main vent, and it performs like a charm at 2psi.

As for our old main vents, let’s bid them farewell: go away, and never come back, ever (along with the incompetent who installed you in the first place).



A Bigger New Window: applying lessons learned

Posted by FX on January 9, 2012 in Window

[ français ]

And two!  My second double-hung window is fully installed, and I’m damn proud of it.  So what did I do differently this time?

To begin with, just like before: take down the oldie!  First thing to go is the replacement vinyl window.  After 26 years of service it’s time to rest.

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Then it’s time to take care of the original wood window, with its weight pockets.

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The weights are still there.  Cute.  Look at these beauties.



Finally, the entire window lays disassembled in a corner.



That leaves us with the rough opening.  Notice how the sill looks.  Time to get work baby!



Lesson learned #1: spend time preparing a nice rough opening.

First, repoint all bricks.



Second, build a sill that’s flat and level so it’s easier to seal it against water later on.

Third, treat thoroughly the rough opening with a siloxane-based water repellent.  I used one special for bricks.



Fourth, build a frame that’s plumb, and insulate with foam before putting in the window.  This way is much easier to go in small corners with the foam gun.



Lesson learned #2: ensure ahead of time that there will be nailers to attach all the masonry brackets on.



Lesson learned #3: set 3 beads of caulk across the sill, from side to side, about 1 inch apart.

Then put the window in.  Nice and snug in its custom-made frame.  Just the way we like it!



Lesson learned #4: on the outside caulk once, flash, then caulk again.

The flashing is custom-cut to length and bent on site to fit exactly the window and the walls.  I built a machine to do that; I’ll show it to you one day…



Since the window has been up we had the good fortune to weather a few rain storms.  Even though the window has been battered by the winds and copious amount of rains I haven’t seen one drop inside.  No signs of humidity; zilch.  I’m happy.

It’s winter now and too cold to carry on replacing windows.  We’ll resume the window replacement program in the spring.  In the interim I’ll do some insulation inside.


Et de deux !  Ma deuxième fenêtre à guillotine est installée, et j’en suis bien fier.  Qu’ai-je donc fais différemment cette fois-ci ?

En fait, au début, comme d’habitude : démonter la vieillerie !  L’insert en vinyl est le premier à partir.  Après 26 ans de loyaux services il est temps de prendre sa retraite.

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Ensuite c’est au tour de la fenêtre d’origine en bois, avec ses poches et ses poids.

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Les poids sont toujours là.  Sympa.  Joli, n’est-ce pas ?



Enfin, toute la fenêtre trône en morceaux dans un coin.



Il ne nous reste donc que l’ouverture.  Remarquez l’état du rebord.  Au travail les amis !



Leçon apprise #1 : prendre le temps de préparer une belle ouverture.

Premio, rejointoyer toutes les briques.



Deuxio, faire un rebord plat et de niveau pour que ce soit plus facile à étanchéifier plus tard.

Troizio, traiter copieuse l’ouverture avec un produit imperméabilisant à base de siloxane.  J’en ai utilisé un spécial brique.



Quarto, construire un cadre d’aplomb, et isoler avec de la mousse avant de mettre la fenêtre.  Ainsi il est plus aisé d’aller dans les petits coins avec le pistolet à mousse.



Leçon apprise #2 : s’assurer qu’il y a de quoi fixer les attaches avant de poser la fenêtre.



Leçon apprise #3 : mettre trois boudins de mastic murs-fenêtre à 3 cm d’intervalle sur le rebord, d’un côté à l’autre.

Puis poser la fenêtre dans l’ouverture.  Bien calée dans son cadre fait sur mesure.  Exactement comme on aime.



Leçon apprise #4 : à l’extérieur jointoyer au mastic mur-fenêtre, installer les bandes d’échantéité, et jointoyer de nouveau.

La bande d’échantéité est coupée sur mesure et pliée sur place pour loger exactement de la fenêtre aux murs.  J’ai construit une machine pour faire ça ; je vous la montrerai un jour …



Depuis que la fenêtre a été installée nous avons eu la chance d’essuyer quelques tempêtes.  Bien que les vents et la pluie aient battu la fenêtre je n’ai pas vu une seule goutte à l’intérieur.  Ni de signes d’humidité ; rien.  Ca fait plaisir.

C’est l’hiver maintenant et il fait trop froid pour remplacer des fenêtres.  Le plan de remplacement reprendra au printemps.  En attendant je vais faire de l’isolation à l’intérieur.



Annoying pit… no more

Posted by FX on November 24, 2011 in Masonry, Remodeling


Ever since we entered our house, we’ve had to stand this ugly pit in our basement.  It’s where the water main arrives.  To cover the pit, the previous owner simply put a spare door on top of it.  You can even see the knob!

So, I finally took the time to properly address this eyesore.  Here’s a close up to begin with.

The plan is simple:

  • Straighten the sides of the opening so that it’s square (’cause it’s not)
  • Put some cement on the sides inside so I can affix a hatch
  • Fill-in the hole on the top of the picture where the water main is
  • Clean the bottom of the pit so the cleanouts are more accessible
  • Build a hatch

After snapping a chalk line to draw a nice square opening, I let my angle grinder sing.  Now, we have a square opening.  That’s a start.

Now, let’s do something concrete… well, we’re really cementing the deal here.  Are you tired of the puns yet?

Next I’ve put 1×3/8 all around the sides so the hatch can rest on them.


Finally I cut a piece of plywood to dimension; even put a hole in it so the hatch can be lifted easily.


And voilà.

This is much better ain’t it?


Depuis que nous avons emménagé, nous avons enduré ce trou horrible dans notre sous-sol.  C’est là que l’arrivée d’eau se trouve.  Pour couvrir le trou, l’ancien propriétaire avait simplement posé une vieille porte par dessus.  On peut même voir la poignée!


J’ai finalement pris mon courage à deux mains pour régler le problème.  Pour commencer voici un plan rapproché.


Le plan est simple:

  • Mettre l’ouverture d’équerre (parce que les cotés ne le sont pas)
  • Cimenter les cotés intérieurs pour pouvoir installer une trappe
  • Boucher la saignée en haut de la photo
  • Nettoyer le fond du trou pour que les tuyaux soient plus accessibles
  • Construire une trappe

Après avoir tracé une ouverture à angles droits, ma meuleuse a fait le reste.  Maintenant nous avons une ouverture d’équerre.  C’est un bon début.


Passons au concret et cimentons l’affaire.


Ensuite j’ai mis des tasseaux de 1″ x 3/8″ tout autour pour pouvoir y reposer la trappe.


Enfin, j’ai découpé une planche de contreplaqué; j’ai même fait un trou dedans pour pouvoir soulever la trappe facilement.


Et voilà.

C’est quand même mieux n’est-ce pas?


New Steam Vents!

Posted by FX on November 5, 2011 in Heating


One-pipe steam heating installations are prevalent in New York City, so it’s without surprise that our house came with one.

Steam heating usually gets a bad reputation: radiators hiss, radiator vents spit on the wall, some radiators are red hot while others are cold, and sometimes there’s a lot of banging going on in the pipes.

It’s not supposed to be that way!

What can you do? Stick to best practices. For one, ensure your radiators have steam vents in working order.

Steam heating has been around for a long, long time. About 150 years actually. There used to be a time where knowledgeable contractors for steam heating installations abounded. Then that knowledge waned. In part because new houses came with other heating systems.

There are a few good steam heating guys around. Unfortunately they seem outnumbered by clowns: people who think or pretend that they know what they’re doing. So when you have a steam heating installation like we do, it pays to be informed.

So I went around the house and removed all old steam vents from our radiators.  Look at this hodgepodge.  Interesting lineup right?

I then ordered a brand new set of steam vents. I went for Hoffman Specialty 1A adjustable steam vents. Pretty sight isn’t it?

Steam vent are engineered devices. If you can put the same model on all radiators it will help keeping the steam heating system balanced. With the Hoffman Specialty 1A adjustable vent I get the opportunity to vent large radiators faster than small ones; this way all my radiators get hot about the same time.

Changing all steam vents has already paid off handsomely:

  • Our radiators have stopped hissing
  • The radiator in our bedroom isn’t spitting water any more
  • The radiator in the sunroom now heats
  • All radiators get hot about the same time
  • Radiators are now so silent you don’t even notice the heat is on
Seriously, we’ve put up with noisy vents for the past 8 years in our various rentals, so obtaining silent radiators is just BIG.

Les installations de chauffage central à vapeur sont monnaie courante à New York, c’est donc sans surprises que nous en avons une dans notre maison.

Le chauffage central à vapeur a mauvaise réputation en général: les radiateurs sifflent, les évents de radiateur crachent de l’eau sur les murs, certains radiateurs sont brûlants alors que d’autres sont froids, et parfois il y a beaucoup de coups de bélier dans les tuyaux.

Cela n’a pas lieu d’être!

Que faire ?  Observer quelques règles de maintenance.  Pour commencer, s’assurer que tous les radiateurs ont des évents en order de marche.

Le chauffage central à vapeur existe depuis longtemps.  A peu près 150 ans en fait. Il fut un temps où les professionels compétents abondaient.  Puis le savoir-faire s’est estompé.  En partie parce que les nouvelles maison sont rarement construites avec un chauffage central à vapeur.

Il existe de bons professionels bien sûr.  Malheureusement ils semblent en infériorité par rapport aux pizzaiolos: ceux qui pensent ou prétendent qu’ils savent ce qu’ils font.  Donc, lorsque vous avez un chauffage central à vapeur, il vaut mieux être informé.

J’ai donc fait le tour de la maison et enlevé tous les vieux évents de nos radiateurs.  Regardez-moi ce mic-mac.  Belle brochette n’est-ce pas ?

J’ai ensuite commandé une panoplie toute neuve d’évents.  Je me suis arrêté sur le Hoffman Specialty 1A réglable.  Belle vue, non ?

Les évents ont tous leurs caractéristiques propres.  Si vous pouvez mettre le même modèle sur tous les radiateurs cela aidera à garder le système de chauffage équilibré.  Avec le Hoffman Specialty 1A réglable je peux éventer les gros radiateurs plus rapidement que les petits; ainsi tous mes radiateurs sont chauds à peu près au même moment.

Changer tous les évents à déjà porté ses fruits :

  • Nos radiateurs ont cessés de siffler
  • Le radiateur dans notre chambre ne crache plus d’eau
  • Le radiateur dans la véranda chauffe
  • Tous les radiateurs sont chauds à peu près au même moment
  • Les radiateurs sont maintenant si silencieux que l’on ne remarque même pas que le chauffage est en marche

Sérieusement, on a supporté des évent bruyants pendant 8 ans dans nos locations, alors avoir des radiateurs silencieux est tout simplement ROYAL.


Installing an adjustable steam vent

Posted by FX on October 31, 2011 in Heating

After installing a cheapo steam vent, this time we’re installing a good quality Hoffman Specialty A1 steam vent.
Après avoir installé un évent bon marché, installons maintenant un évent réglable Hoffman Specialty A1 de bonne qualité.

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Steam Radiator Valve Replacement

Posted by FX on October 30, 2011 in Heating

Got a bad radiator valve for your steam radiator?  Here’s how to change it.


Valve défectueuse sur un radiateur à vapeur.  Voici comment la remplacer (désolé c’est en anglais)

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Bye Bye Rubles

Posted by FX on October 29, 2011 in Demolition


When you live in the city, it’s not easy to get rid of the byproducts of demolition.  If you take a dumpster you’d better fill it in quikly.  Otherwise someone else might just dump their own rubbish in it, on your dime of course :-(

My technique is simple:

  1. Store rubles in the basement
  2. Wait until I reach a critical mass
  3. Call a rubbish removal company
  4. Done

Before… after.  Goodbye rubles, never come back!


Quand on habite en ville, il n’est pas aisé de se débarraser des gravats.  Si vous prenez une benne vous avez intérêt à la remplir rapidement.  Sinon des petits malins vont y déposer leurs ordures avant vous, sur votre dos bien sûr. :-(

Ma technique est simple:

  1. Entreposer les gravats au sous-sol
  2. Attendre jusqu’à ce qu’il y en ait assez
  3. Appeler une société de nettoyage
  4. Fini
Avant… après.  Bon vent gravats, ne revenez pas!


Steam Vent Primer

Posted by FX on October 22, 2011 in Heating

In a one-pipe steam heating system, the role of steam vents (aka air vents) is primordial to the proper function of the entire system.

Wait, not sure what and air vent is? You know it’s the “thingy” that stick out on the side of your steam radiator. They’re infamous for hissing and spiting water. But that’s not the way they’re supposed to work. A good steam heating system has no hissing and no spitting. Yes, hard to believe especially when you live in a rental in NY City.

But now I that own my place I have the opportunity to change that.

What does a steam vent do anywyay? Well, it’s going to let the cold air escape from your radiator as the steam enters it. When the radiator is full of steam the steam vent will close. No need to let steam in the room right?

Here is a collection of radiator steam vents. These are actually all the vents I removed from our radiators.  What a hodgepodge of brands, models, and types.  A real mess.

If possible it’s best to have the same brand and “model” of vents (more on that below) accross your steam heating system. They’re engineered devices and ensuring you have a consistent behavior across your steam heating system helps.

Radiator Steam Vent

This is the vent that everyone is most familiar with.  They have a 1/8″ thread to screw them on your steam radiators. They come in various flavors.  Some are adjustable, some are fast, and others are slow.

What’s this all about?

Well, when the boiler fires up the name of the game is to let the cold air out of your pipes and radiators as fast as possible.  If you have a small radiator and a big one, and let air escape at the same rate from both, the small one will get hot earlier.  You follow?

The idea with fast vs slow vent is to vent the small radiator slowly, while venting the large one faster.  This way they’ll get hot at the same time.

Easier said than done.  But that’s the premises behind fast and slow vents.  Adjustable vents allow you to choose the rate at which the vent will let air escape from the radiator.  This way you can balance all your radiators across the house, and get the ultimate situation where all radiators are hot at the same time.

That’s why within a same brand of steam vents you’ll see various models with different venting rates.  All you have to do is select the proper mix to balance your steam heating system.  Sounds easy right?  Well it’s not.

Actually, this isn’t just a vent affair, pipes come into play too.  But hey, that’s another discussion altogether.

There are three common problems with radiator steam vents:

  1. They hiss and never close: as a result steam doesn’t stay in the radiator.  This puts unnecessary strain on the boiler as it needs to generate more steam than it would otherwise.  Not to mention the occasional spitting that comes with this problem.  In all likelihood, some rust got into the vent and is preventing it from closing.  You can either try to clean it, or simply replace it.
  2. They’re clogged and don’t let the cold air out: as a result the radiator remains cold.  Yeah think about it.  If the air stays, the steam can’t get in, right?The radiator gets half hot most of the time as heat will still get to it through the metal pipes that it’s connected to.  You can try to clean the vent, or buy a new one.
  3. There’s water coming from where the vent is connected to radiator: most likely the vent has been put on the radiator without Teflon tape.  Therefore the seal between the vent and the radiator isn’t tight.  Steam escapes and water drips on the side of the radiator.  Remove the vent, put some Teflon tape on it and put it back on the radiator.Or the vent is broken at the base.  Sometimes they get damaged when heavy objects fall on them.  In this case replace the vent.

Main Vent

In a typical house you’ll find 1 or 2, maybe 3 main vents.  They are usually located in the basement at the end of your return pipes.

Return pipes?

From your boiler you have one or more main pipe feeding the entire heating system in your house.  Follow the main(s) and you’ll find that at the end they turn around.  The return pipe is the pipe that goes back to the boiler.  It allows condensate to get back to the boiler.

Main vents usually have 3/4″ threads (sometimes 1/2).  Their role is to let cold air out of the pipes as quickly as possible when the boiler starts.

Here is how my 2 main vents look like.

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There are several problems you might encounter with a main vent:

  1. It’s clogged: as a result the cold air isn’t getting out of the pipe system, and the heat isn’t going anywhere.  In this case you can try to clean it or simply replace it.
  2. It never closes: in this case the boiler keeps generating steam as it constantly escapes from the pipe system.
  3. It leaks from the top: the vent isn’t on a nipple and not 15″ minimum from the point where the return drops down to the floor.  It may be that a lot of condensate comes back filling the pipe, and it overflows through the vent.  Or the condensate comes back with a fair amount of velocity and hits the end of the pipe where it splashes.  Again the water comes out through the vent.Here replacing the vent isn’t going to help.  At a bare minimum put the main vent on a 6″ minimum nipple.  If you can get it relocated 15″ before where the return pipe drops to the floor, even better.

As you can see I have problem #3 with one of my vent.  Also, you can’t see it but I have problem #1 with the other one.  I’ll tell you about how I fixed this soon.

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Steam Vent Replacement

Posted by FX on October 20, 2011 in Heating

’tis the season, well almost.  That means cold days, which means putting the heat back on.

At home we have a one-pipe steam heating system.  So our radiators have steam vents.  Every once in a while they need to be replaced.

Here’s how:



L’hiver approche, enfin presque.  Les jours froids sont proches, et cela veut rallumer le chauffage.

A la maison nous avons un système de chauffage central à vapeur.  Nos radiateurs sont donc équipés d’évents.  De temps en temps il faut les remplacer.

Voilà comment au-dessus

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Framing Complete on the 2nd Floor

Posted by FX on October 19, 2011 in Ceiling, Drywall

[ français ]

Major milestone here: the 2nd floor framing is done. Courtesy of my Dad and my Brother. I owe them big on this one: I didn’t lift a finger. I went to work while they were working and aside from putting food on the table I’ve been a mere spectator.

So we went for 1-1/2″ metal studs for walls, and a drywall suspension system for ceilings. By the way why reframe, you may ask?

Well I figured the following benefits:

For the walls:

  • Add another layer of insulation.
  • Get straight walls without patching and repairing  existing ones.
  • Noise reduction from our right and left neighbors (for them not for us: the kids can be really noisy I confess – well for us too, just in case they decide to crank up the stereo :-) ).
  • Route electric cables without resorting to surface mounted conduits.
For the ceilings:
  • Add another layer of insulation.
  • Route electrical cable without poking hole in our100-year old ceilings, and do away with fishing cables.
  • Avoid some major repairs.  Let’s be clear existing ceilings are in bad shape: water damage, huge cracks, and peeling paint.  Years of neglect have taken their toll on them.  Oh I’m sure they can be repaired.  But how much effort is that going to take, versus hanging brand new ones that are levels, clean, and free from cracks?
So how does it look?  Well, check it out:

Evènement clé : le raillage de l’étage du haut est terminé.  Un grand merci à mon Père et mon Frère.  Je leur dois beaucoup sur ce coup là : je n’ai pas levé le petit doigt.  Je suis allé au boulot pendant qu’ils bossaient, et à part mettre quelque chose sur la table j’ai simplement regardé.

Donc on a choisi des montants en métal de 40mm pour les murs, et un système classique de suspension pour les plafonds.  Mais pourquoi railler me direz-vous?

Je me suis dit qu’il y avait les avantages suivants:

Pour les murs:

  • Ajouter une couche d’isolation supplémentaire.
  • Construire des murs droits sans avoir à rafistoler ceux existants.
  • Augmenter l’isolation sonore pour nos voisins de droite et de gauche (pour eux pas pour nous : les enfants peuvent être bruyants parfois – enfin pour nous aussi, juste au cas ou ils montent le son de la chaîne :-)).
  • Passer les câbles électrique sans utiliser de gaines courant le long des murs.
Pour les plafonds:
  • Ajouter une couche d’isolation.
  • Passer les cables électriques sans faire de trous dans le plafond, et éviter d’aller pêcher les câbles.
  • Eviter de longues et coûteuses réparations.  Soyons clair les plafonds existants sont en mauvais état : dégâts des eaux, grosses fissures, et peinture en lambeaux.  Des années d’abandon ont fait leur effet.  Bien sûr on peut les réparer.  Mais qu’elle effort cela va-t-il nécessiter, plutôt que d’en construire de nouveaux qui seront de niveau, propres, et sans fissures.
Bon alors, qu’est-ce-que cela done?  Voyez vous-même:

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