Radiator Heating


The home I recently purchased has a 2 year old oil furnace that is hooked into the original 1940's radiator heating system. Everything has worked fine so far this winter, but I have never owned a hot-water/radiator heating system before. What is generally recommended as to maintenance on my part, if anything? Do I just need to have someone from the oil company clean the burner each year, or does a water-based system require additional upkeep and maintenance? Do I drain the pipes in the summer? I'm completely clueless....
Rob
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Rob wrote:

Check the library for DIY heating books.
No, you don't ever drain it...
Jim
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The furnace (oil burner) and radiators are from the houseowner's point of view separate systems. The burner requires regular service as appropriate (cf. exhaust gases, cf. fuel efficiency). You should yourself "bleed" air out of each radiator when the heating season begins. There is a small valve on each hot water radiator for this purpose.
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Don Phillipson
Carlsbad Springs
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Hardly -- the boiler (not "furnace") heats the water, which is circulated through the radiators. It's all part of one system.

That's true...

.. but this is not. The bleed valves should be opened *only* if there is actually air present in the system (indicated chiefly by bubbling or gurgling noises) -- and that won't happen unless there's a leak somewhere that allows air to enter (and water to escape). If there's no air, there's nothing to bleed, and nothing to be gained by opening a bleed valve. In fact, in my experience, the bleed valves are the most likely place for a leak to occur; the less you monkey with them, the better. In a properly functioning hyrdonic system, there is absolutely *no* need to bleed air at the start of each heating season -- if you need to do that on *your* system, you'd better start checking for leaks, because you surely have one somewhere.
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Doug Miller (alphageek at milmac dot com)
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OK, let's start with the basics. You don't have a furnace, you have a boiler. Furnaces heat air, boilers heat water or make steam. Oil fired burners, such as you have on you boiler, need cleaning about once a season, or every 1000 gallons. You can do some of this yourself, or you pay about $120 to have a pro do it.
The outer shell has to be removed, then some covers on the heat exchanger are taken off now, you clean this out with a shop vac and a wire brush made for doing just that job. You need a HEPA filter on the shop vac or you blow soot all around. My advice is to at least the first time have the oil company do it and watch so you can see if it is a job you want to tackle. It can be messy.
The service tech will also replace the nozzle, the tank filter, and using instruments adjust the burner flame.
No, you don't drain the pipes. In most cases, there is very little that has to be done on the water side until something finally does wear out or break. You can either buy a book or have the service tech point out the components of the system, such as expansion tanks, circulators, zone valves, etc.
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wrote:

You're gonna love it. Much more even heating than forced-air, quieter, doesn't dehumidify the house the way forced-air does. It's great. After one winter with hot-water heat, you won't ever want to live in a house with forced-air heat again.
One thing to get straight right away, though: you don't have a furnace, you have a boiler. That knowledge will come in handy when searching for information online or in the library -- or when talking to HVAC contractors. Furnaces heat air. Boilers heat water. Some boilers heat it into steam, some just make it hotter water.

Oil your circulating pump(s) at least annually, according to the manufacturer's recommendations (which are probably printed on the pump).
If your system has multiple zones controlled by electrically-powered zone valves, you may need to oil the zone valve motor bearings periodically as well.

Dunno about that one... mine's gas-fired, so it stays pretty clean. I think I'd have a local tech check it out at least once, anyway. When you call for service, make sure you tell them it's a boiler, not a furnace, and make sure you get a tech that's experienced in boiler service. It's a *completely* different world from forced-air furnaces.

NOOOOOO!!! It's supposed to be a sealed system. If you drain it, you let air in. Air means oxygen. Oxygen means corrosion. Keep it closed!

That's ok, I was too a few years ago when I bought my current house with a hot-water heating system. But I think I'm up to speed now, at least on my system. There's *lots* of information available at the library. The key search term is "hydronics". Here are a few books to look for:
Hydronics Technology, by Justin Duncan Modern Hydronic Heating, by John Siegenthaler How Come?, by Dan Holohan -- and pretty much anything else he wrote on the topic, too.
Also have a look at http://www.heatinghelp.com -- lots of info there, too.
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Regards,
Doug Miller (alphageek at milmac dot com)
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