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TOPIC: Heating Woes

Heating Woes 16 Dec 2004 00:19 #24720

  • 4thGen
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Here's my situation. Theatre built in 1914 and extensively remodeled in 1938. Steam boiler heats radiators in the lobby/concession area, upstairs office, and projection room. It also heats a large heating coil in the fan room under the stage which blows heated air up to the auditorium. The boiler is on its 28th heating season and has been regularly springing leaks and clanks and bangs constantly. Has anyone replaced a system similar to this one? My thinking is to buy a new forced air furnace with a large enough air handler to heat the auditorium and another smaller boiler to heat the radiators in the front of the theatre. Any help/advice would be greatly appreciated. We can expect a few -25 to -35 degree nights in the next couple months here.
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Re: Heating Woes 16 Dec 2004 00:42 #24721

  • outaframe
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OK, I had a similar situation a few years back... Today's hot water boilers are a LOT smaller and more efficient than the old one you have, and yours was installed when it was common to oversize boilers (cheaper fuel costs, etc.)... First thing is do a CURRENT assessment of how many BTUs are needed to comfortably heat your building with the present radiation load... If all the radiation is still good, look into a new HOT WATER boiler and circulator pump(s) which will handle that load... You will probably find that one correctly sized new hot water boiler will cost less and be more efficient than what you have in mind... Hot water heat is hard to beat, if properly sized and installed!...



[This message has been edited by outaframe (edited December 16, 2004).]
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Re: Heating Woes 16 Dec 2004 01:01 #24722

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I have a 1911 single screen theatre with a full balcony. The heating situation is similar to what you describe. When we replaced the boiler 8 years ago it cost about $10,500. I am sure the price has gone up since but figure $15,000 and you are probably in the ballpark.

I don't think you will find a hot air system big enought without zoning it and using multiple units.
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Re: Heating Woes 16 Dec 2004 13:45 #24723

  • jimor
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The disadvantage to Hot Air systems is that they are inherently less efficient at providing heat where it is needed without lowering the humidity to desert-like levels. Air that is too dry can create lots of problems for your structure and equipment as well as the health of the people in there! Hot water heat may easily work in all your radiators with minimal retrofitting, but you must consult an HVAC man experienced in such large installations of a commercial scale. Also, putting in ducts large enough to handle the recommended amount of air may involve tearing up lots of your plaster, and replacing that isn't cheap! Yes, the old boiler has to go, but maybe the best idea is a one or more zoned hot water boilers. Look into it before some hot air guy persuades you to install his initially cheaper, but later more expensive system that may leave your nose bleeding for no easily seen reason. Best Wishes! Jim
Jim R. (new E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) member: www.HistoricTheatres.org
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Re: Heating Woes 17 Dec 2004 00:26 #24724

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Hey, thanks for the info everyone. I don't think my local heating and cooling contractors can handle this one and I'll have to look elsewhere to find help. I replaced a forced air furnace that heats our second screen about a year and a half ago and the cost savings in natural gas were incredible. Updating the steam system, while probably a little expensive, should pay for itself in fairly short order. Thanks again!
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Re: Heating Woes 17 Dec 2004 13:30 #24725

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You're welcome, but I'm not sure that you completely understand what we've told you... Hot water heat is NOT the same as steam... Steam is an semi-"open" system and much more complicated to design and install because it usually depends on gravity for circulation, and sizes the piping to carry input steam and return the cooled water... Forced hot water is a closed system and uses a circulator pump(s) to move the hot water, and pipe sizing is relevant only to the amount of radiation that is to be supplied... This ISN'T rocket science, and any COMPETENT heating system installer should be able to plan your job and give you a quote... I did the calculations and installed my own replacement system, but if you're not a do-it-yourself guy and need to have it installed, check with your LOCAL installers first: they're a lot closer IF you need repairs later on...

[This message has been edited by outaframe (edited December 17, 2004).]
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Re: Heating Woes 20 Dec 2004 00:52 #24726

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I do know the difference between hot water and steam boilers as I have a hot water boiler with three zones in my house. What I was suggesting earlier was to install a forced air furnace to heat the auditorium and a new steam or hot water boiler to heat the radiators in the front of the theatre. The auditorium is currently heated with what amounts to a forced air system as the steam from the present boiler travels back to the fan room and heats a large radiator mounted in the wall. A large squirrel cage blower sucks the air through this radiator and blows it up to the auditorium through a duct in the wall. It then enters the auditorium through a vent in the side wall and four vents in the ceiling. The side walls in the theatre have a hollow chamber that goes all the way up to return air vents in the balcony and the force of the fan sucks air back down to the basement air circulation tunnels. Its really quite and ingenious system. Now maybe it would make more sense to install a hot water boiler to heat the large radiator in the fan room. One of the heating contractors was at the show this weekend (Not the one I currently work with) and I asked if he had any knowledge of steam boilers. He did not but is going to consult with someone in Fargo ND and get back to me. Hopefully we are on the right track. Another question I have for those of you who have converted to hot water is if you used the existing piping or installed new. The hot water boiler in my house has all copper piping and the steam boiler uses all galvanized steel piping and has small steam traps istalled throughout the building. The return pipes are also a bit larger than the supply pipes. Thanks!
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Re: Heating Woes 20 Dec 2004 03:07 #24727

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Wasn't trying to insinuate anything, but many folks think ALL boilers are steam, and have never heard of hot water heating... Depending on when the piping and radiators were installed, there are a number of arrangements which could have been used with the steam heating system... IF you're lucky it may be that all the existing pipe system and radiators can be used as is, with a new hot water boiler, and that all you will need to do is remove the radiator vents and stream traps, and plug the openings (and install a few air bleeders for the new hot water system)... Before copper tubing came into use, all hot water systems were piped with threaded pipe, so there is a good possibility that what you already have in place will work... Ideally, you may be able to install a SINGLE new hot water boiler with one loop (and circulator) to feed the large core and blower for your auditorium, and another loop (and circulator) for the radiators in the rest of the building... This would likely be the least expensive solution, rather than 2 new boilers, or one new boiler and one new hot air furnace... I replaced the same system you now have with a single hot water boiler and two circulators, and it worked fine...
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Re: Heating Woes 20 Dec 2004 22:31 #24728

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I was lucky with one my old closed theatre with a steam boiler from WW2, It had a cold water air conditioner coil in the air handler--along with a steam coil--being the steam coil was too small to use with hot water, my furnace man "fired up" the air conditioning coil (which I still use as an air conditioner in summer by just turning a bunch of valves) anyway--boiler set to 160 degrees and it takes 20 minutes to heat the auditorium from 50 to 70 even in sub zero.

Another theatre someone had converted the auditorium from an air handler using steam to 3 basic forced air furnaces piped into the original duct work--which had problems from day one as the fans were not meant to move that kind of air (static pressure was too high) and blowers were constantly dying--this fall we tore that system out, mounted hot water coils in the ductwork after the original air handler (which was still in great condition--just blocked off by tin) and have hot water boilers heating the coil. I have only had one bill so far, and it was a bit warmer than last year--but was a quite abit less usage--also auditorium much more pleasant as no hot/cold spots as the air moving was what was originally sized.
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Re: Heating Woes 21 Dec 2004 00:15 #24729

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Outaframe, It's good to here that you've replaced essentially the same system I have with one hot water boiler. I hope that works in my case. All the piping should be in good shape, the leaking we've been dealing with has all been in the furnace room in the pipes right next to the boiler. I suppose when the boiler is not running the water and condensation settles back to these pipes a eventually rusts through. Today I turned the boiler on at 2:00pm and the auditorium was about 54 degrees. When I went home at about 5:00 it had only risen to 64 degrees. The outside air temp was 38 degrees this afternoon so not a particularily cold day. Forecast is for more sub-zero temps later this week. Seems like its taking way to long to warm up the theatre. This weekend I took the covers off two of the radiators in the lobby and found that the fins on the heating coil were completely clogged with dust and debris. After a good vacuuming they seem to be running hotter now. The heating battle continues.... Thanks for all the help and I'll keep you posted on what we come up with.
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Re: Heating Woes 21 Dec 2004 01:29 #24730

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When you mention fins and heating coils I wonder if you might have convector panels instead of radiators in your lobby... Regardless of whether they're convectors, radiation panels, or just covered radiators, all work through heat transfer to the air and anything that interferes with the air flow will cut down on their efficiency, but as slow as your system heats up (in that mild temperature range) makes me wonder if it might not have an air lock somewhere ahead of the radiation... I am no expert about steam, but while steam isn't as efficient as hot water, it should work a lot better than what you are experiencing... If you're going to have to rely on that old system for a while longer, it might not be a bad idea to have it checked out... Steam systems constantly have to add make up water because the radiator vents bleed off vapor (and some water) every time it cycles, so if you are adding "hard" water it will build up rust inside the pipes, and also cause rust-through... Another advantage of hot water is that once the system is filled and the air bled off, the same water will stay in the system until you drain it out... Yes, it may take several years to get ALL the air out of the initial fill water (and small amounts may have to be added to replace that air), BUT that initial water could still be in it for the life of the boiler, which reduces the rust considerably...
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Re: Heating Woes 21 Dec 2004 11:13 #24731

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Anytime you have a steam system with radiators you need to both flush out the radiators (every few years or so) and bleed the air out of the radiators (every year or so). Most hardware stores still sell the 'key' necessary to bleed the radiators.
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Re: Heating Woes 21 Dec 2004 14:15 #24732

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It's been a long time since I had to deal with either kind of system. The ones I did have to work on over the years all had their own personalities, which made them almost as interesting as the booth equipment (well... not quite). The hot water method seemed the most convenient to maintain though... and I sure wish I had that stuff in my house. I grew up with hot water radiators... I liked them much more than forced air. But... I digress.

I wasn't under the impression you could get an air lock with a steam system. By its nature, the system's under pressure anyway. You're right about the hot water though.

The hot water systems I've seen had an automatic air bleeder, located above the boiler. It wasn't uncommon to hear it go off every few days...

On the issue of the time it takes to bring the system up to temp... a boiler that old would be pretty inefficient by now, wouldn't it? If the tubes aren't cleaned regularly, the burner & firebox maintained to spec & things like water quality (covered already) aren't watched over, that thing could be getting pretty low 'mileage'. Just converting to a newer boiler might work wonders here.

Is your system oil? Diesel or bunker? Considering the age of your theatre, I'm assuming you're not running gas.
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Re: Heating Woes 22 Dec 2004 00:43 #24733

  • 4thGen
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When the system was originally installed it had a fuel oil burner but has since been converted to natural gas. The boiler does have something similar to an air bleeder on it as I've heard it go off before too. Water sometimes comes out of this bleeder also although I don't think its supposed to. A number of years ago a salesman from a chemical company sold me some type of chemicals to "clean up" the boiler. He pumped this stuff into the system every month and I ran water out of it on a daily basis. I don't know if this really helped the boiler much, it did cause leaks to appear more frequently as I think it started to eat away the rust and lime inside the pipes. The salesman has since passed away so we aren't doing that anymore. I believe he would also test the PH of the water and we were trying to get it to an acceptable level. I still have to check the water level daily via the sight glass and add water as needed. Am meeting with my furnace guy tomorrow so we will see what he says.
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Re: Heating Woes 22 Dec 2004 11:31 #24734

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Now we're onto a near and dear subject: HEAT! How's your oil bill? :O eek!

In one theatre we have a total hot water boiler system and I love hot water vs. steam or hot air.

In our other theatre we have a steam boiler, a hot water boiler for baseboard heat, and a hot air furnace.

The steam does the 3 screens and is generally okay. Banging and clanking can be vastly improved by careful attention to the valves. The hot water baseboard is for the various odd spoaces like office, halls, etc. that were too hard to control and we did not want to heat anyway. Steam is an all or nothing kind of thing that you cannot zone like hot water. On the other hand it is very hot heat and heats up big space well. We added a hot air furnace to our one screen that was underheated by steam and use it as a kicker to get it up to comfort.

Our heat bill for one building 3 floors/21,000 sq ft/ 2 screens/ floor of offices/ 10K EEK!

The 3 screen with 6500 sq ft floor 5K per year!



Michael Hurley
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