Plumber can quiet boiler's rumble


October 24, 1992|By Karol V. Menzie and Randy Johnson

Now's the time. If there's anything wrong with your heating system, the hour has come to get it fixed. We get a lot of questions about heat, especially from people who have old houses with balky hot-water or steam equipment.

A reader in Baltimore writes: "I have an oil furnace [steam boiler] . . . when the heat comes on it makes a clanking noise so loud TC you can hear it in my driveway . . . we had a new burner installed . . . the oil company I deal with told me I need a plumber to come in and open the large pipes in my basement and bleed the radiators. Do I call any plumber, or should I check for a certain plumber? The furnace I have is 10 or 15 years old."

For an old-fashioned system like this, the only answer is an old-fashioned plumber. We don't mean the plumber has to be old, but he or she should have a lot of experience with this type of system. There could be all kinds of things wrong: lack of vents to let off air (that could cause the clanging noise); problems with clogged condensate pipes that take condensed steam back to the boiler; or clogged or waterlogged bleeders on individual radiators may not release air (also a source of clanging).

Ask around, check with friends and relatives for names of people who have been reliable. Be sure to get references and check them out. It may take a lot of phone work, but there are good people out there who care about keeping these old systems going.

It's often a good idea when a new boiler is installed to replace the condensate lines (usually old steel pipes), with new copper pipes that won't rust.

The problem is that replacing a lot of parts in an old steam system may be expensive; it could be less painful financially to install an entirely new forced-air system.

If the plumber's number seems high, check with a heating and air-conditioning specialist about forced air.

However, we happen to think that properly adjusted, quiet, efficient, draft-free hot-water or steam heat is the best system around. We wouldn't give it up without a fight.


A Baltimore reader who's planning a Belgian-block-rimmed, raised flower bed around a crepe myrtle in his yard wants to know if he has to put down a foundation and set the blocks in place with mortar.

The answer is, only if you want to. Belgian blocks are pretty heavy and if they're solidly stacked, shouldn't shift too much with weather changes or the weight of the dirt inside the enclosure. Dig down about 2 inches for the first course, then place the top course solidly. A ring of screening material or fine chicken wire around the inside, before the area is filled in, might help keep dirt and roots inside.

If you really want a more permanent, stable structure, you could pour a concrete "footing" and place the blocks in mortar. Larger structures, like retaining walls, decks, and foundations require footings that extend below the average frost level (36 inches in Maryland) so the wall above won't "heave" out of place. But for a flower bed, if it heaves, so what? You just put it back. Concrete and mortar seem like an expense that could be spared. Besides, a simple "wall" of blocks would be much easier to remove if you ever want to change the landscape.


A couple of readers offered comments or suggestions after we wrote about researching the history of an old house and trying to track down the company that might have made some of its decorative trim.

One of the most helpful came from an official in the Landmarks Preservation Commission of Baltimore County, who said, "In either city or county you could use historic atlases to determine the existence of houses. The G. M. Hopkins 1876 City Atlas shows houses and rows of houses in place within the city limits of that time. You can go to the Enoch Pratt Free Library and get microfilm reels of the Sanborn insurance atlases that show every structure standing in the 1880s. Updated atlases show growth into the 20th century. Some city areas, such as Govans, Waverly, Roland Park, Highlandtown and Canton were in Baltimore County when lots were laid out."

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