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Did I fix or damage my raditors?

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Posted by Craig on October 12, 2009 at 08:45:53:

Did I fix or damage my steam radiator heaters?
Ok, here's the deal, I live in an OLD 4 family apartment and for years, I have suffered here with the drafty windows and half working steam radiators. My landlord is cheap and basically doesn't care..he finds these guys that know nothing but run their mouth but don't fix the problem or assume I'm imagining it's cold in my apartment and well...I'm getting what I'm paying for pretty much.

So finally today, I just got fed up, it's 3am in the morning, and my hands and feet are freezing. I've researched before, but not as much as today.

None of the radiators would heat past the 3rd "bar/column" and the first two would be very hot and the remaining ice cold.

I read a few articles and decided to do what they suggested. I removed the steam valves from the side and soaked them in vinegar for about 20 minutes, just cold vinegar (later found out i should have boiled them in the vinegar, blew inside of them, even sprayed some of the computer duster air into it (probably not a good idea), but I was able to blow inside of them and air came out of the other side. Now mind you, I think they were fine before, steam/air came from them last winter (at having to turn the heat up to 85+ degrees to get some heat) and didn't appear to be clogged and the radiators still were not heating fully on all columns.

Next, after further reading, I took the only valve that has the biggest hole in it off the largest radiator up front (that's the closest to my thermostat) and put it on the next largest heater in my bedroom all the way in the back, because all these years, the radiator in my bedroom NEVER heated, unless I put the lever on 90 degrees! I then switched the valve with the smaller hole on my bedroom heater and put it on the largest radiator up front. I also temporarily closed the knob valve at the base of the largest one to do a test, just to see if there was a blockage in the pipes and if steam would come out if I removed the valve (this was a whole 'nother test and I was desperate, so tried a few things at once).

I also, not sure what this did, if it mattered, there is this tiny metal lever underneath the thermostat, it has small lines and numbers on it, almost like a micro ruler, with the numbers not ascending or descending, but the stat is so old, I can't read what it's for. I see a word that says "longer" at the top of it, with a small arrow pointing down. So I assume if I pull the level away from the "longer and arrow" that longer was the way down? But i said what the heck and lowered it all the way down. My stat is only for heating. I don't have central air. SO i'm not sure what this was, but i tried it.

Twenty minutes later, after doing all 3 or 4 of these steps/tests, I hear a bunch of hissing and all of a sudden, my entire apartment is warm. I mean the warmest it's ever been! I had to turn off my space heaters! All of the radiators heated fully, each "bar/column" became warm, really fast on the smaller ones and minutes later, on the larger ones.

Now, here is the concern...the largest one has the valve on it with the small whole like all the rest now (except for the one in the back) and it is the loudest hissing and the entire radiator heated fast. Should I not have switched the valves? Is it ok for a large radiator to have a valve on it with a small steam hole? I guess I am concerned if I can overheat something or ruin the boiler?

There is also a strong smell, can't even describe it, kinda chemical/plastic/vapor smell, woke up with dry nose, headache, and a feeling of "air" in my chest.

I am excited that now all of the radiators work and my apartment is warm, but I am also worried if I am going to cause a future issue?

If you've read up to this point, do you have any suggestions? Which of the steps do you think could have been the culprit from what I said? Because again, frustration just made me try some things.


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