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Old Radiator Lines

I am working on reversing 30 years of neglect to the basement of my in-laws. One of the biggest issues I have is the radiator system in the basement. A converted coal furnace - now utilizing an oil burner - has several asbestos wrapped black iron pipes that snake throughout the basement. Four of these pipes cut diagonally across the center of the basement, such that a 6' tall butts his forehead against the pipe.

Now the asbestos is a separate subject altogether and can be dealt with if I want to open my wallet.

What I really want to know is whether I can get these pipes out of the way. The only place I see them going it up. This begs the question, is there a flex pipe that I can use for this scenario or is black iron piping the only material that code will allow for a radiator system?

My other option is to jackhammer down and reset/pour the basement floor level a foot or so lower.

Are there any options here?

Re: Old Radiator Lines


Your problem is more to do with mechanical/heating and you will probably get more help if you place your thread there.

Re: Old Radiator Lines


To jackhammer the floor to get more space seems like overkill.

However there are a number of issues with moving black pipe, especially ones covered with asbestos---if you can reposition the pipes without disturbing the asbestos, this would be the least costly.

Could you post back to advise how many feet of black pipe are involved, & the diameter of the black pipe as it comes out of the boiler & extends across the cellar ceiling.

Could you also advise the sq.ft. of the house & the btu output of the boiler, if you have it.

Another issue in your post is the age of the boiler (as well as the age of the DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM).

The distribution system is everything aside from the boiler----all the cellar piping, risers to the heated floors, the radiators, etc.

From your description, coal to oil conversions go back to the 1950's, & are notoriously wasteful of steeply rising fuel costs.

You're in-laws are probably getting only 50% efficiency out of the old boiler ---the other 50% is going right up the chimney.

My point is that serious consideration should be given to getting rid of the old fuel hog as you also plan to get rid of the cellar black piping.

Another serious drawback to these old systems is that the black piping & boiler contain up to 100 gallons of water; thus the piping has to be 2" to 3" in diameter, & the boiler pump has to be big & expensive to run to move all that water; & there's the expense of having to constantly heat 100 gal. of water--there's no need for it.

Newer boilers use ~10 gal. of water, which is plenty to heat a house, & requires much less fuel energy---the technology & combustion chamber innovations of even run of the mill boilers has improved greatly over the years.

The radiators can stay---they are excellent heat convectors, emitting both radiant & convective heat & are highly valued---but the rest of the system is badly outdated.

Even a basic, modern cast iron pin boiler (85% AFUE efficiency) at ~$1800 will allow you to see a fuel usage drop of 30%.

If the black pipe is not too big, it may be able to be repositioned between the joists & out of the way.

If you only want to replace the black piping, & the asbestos is in good shape, it would be least costly to shut off the boiler, drain the system & reposition the pipes---otherwise to use new pipe would mean HAZMAT issues with asbestos removal.

Yes, there are flexible-type modern-day plastic tubings called Al-pex, or pex-al designed for hot water heating systems, which is a plastic tubing (preferably rigid, rather than the coil-type), that can replace the black pipe.

There is a product called multicor PEX which is often used for this application.

However, there are sometimes problems with this product getting soft & sagging in hi-temp applications like boiler water, which can get to 200 degrees.

Pex also expands at ~1" per 100 ft. which can burst the hold-down brackets.

Many of these plastic PEX products are more appropos for low-temp condensing boilers or radiant systems where the water temp is ~120 degrees---standard boiler temps range between 160 degrees & 200 degrees.

For this reason, many installers use 1 1/2" copper tubing within 5' to 10' of the boiler (near boiler piping), then switch to PEX; copper has shot up in price in recent months, so the procedure if you want to diy, is to go to 1 or 2 heating supply houses & ask them to price the job in PEX with the brass fittings (expensive), and the same job with 1 1/2" copper tubing---often, 3/4" copper tubing is used throughout.

Another method is to use copper manifolds to route the boiler piping to a distribution board next to the boiler, then switch to 3/4" PEX for the distribution to the radiators.

For further info, you can Google "near boiler piping", "black pipe to PEX boiler piping", "black pipe to copper boiler piping", "boiler manifold piping" (Google these terms with & without the quotation marks).

Piping a distribution network, especially piping near the boiler, is a learned art---& you're usually much better off with an experienced boiler installer who does it day in & day out---the materials & techniques are changing so rapidly.

Modern pipe insulation never uses asbestos; there is microfoil insulation; armaflex, thermocel---all of which do an excellent job, are easy to apply & are not hazardous in any way.

It sounds like it would be best to get a few estimates from your local installers---while they're there, ask for an evaluation & price quote on replacing the boiler, in addition to most of the cellar piping.

You can do the piping yourself---but I think your in-laws will save tons of money if you update the heating plant---the update will pay for itself in a short time in fuel cost savings!


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