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Radiator + Valve adjustment = wet carpet?
November 10, 2009 3:13 PM   Subscribe

There's wet carpet around my water/steam radiators and I'm not sure why.

Ok, so excuse my cluelessness here, I grew up in a house with forced-air heating and this is my first apartment with radiators. A couple of days ago the weather got nice around here, so I opened up my windows and shut off the valve of my radiators. A day or two ago I re-opened the valve on one of the radiators and didn't notice any moistness, but I really wasn't paying attention. Today, I recovered my bookbag from the ground next to the radiator and discovered that it was soaked. In fact, the entire carpet is soaked within about a foot radius of the control valve. So, I guess I'm wondering:
  1. What would cause a massive leak like that? The ceiling above isn't wet, and it's on the side of a house where I imagine there wouldn't be any plumbing, although I could be wrong. Was it something I did with closing the valve and reopening it, or do leaks like this just happen? Mostly curious to know if my landlord is going to be angry at me (he never mentioned anything at all about the valves).
  2. How can I tell if I have a hot water or steam radiator? I'm guessing hot water, but I'm not certain.
  3. The radiator is still giving off heat, although it never really gave off all that much to begin with, relative to the other radiator in my apartment. Does that have anything to do with it?
posted by ayerarcturus to Home & Garden (10 answers total)
 
You need to inform your landlord about this and you do not need to inform the LL about you operating the valves. If this goes on, esp. in a heated area, mold will ensue.

Radiators are always steam, it is my understanding.

This should be an easy fix for your LL or someone he or she hires, but call right away.
posted by Danf at 3:18 PM on November 10, 2009


The steam condensed in the cold air and soaked your carpet.
posted by dfriedman at 3:22 PM on November 10, 2009


You might have opened the tap instead of the valve - er, the valve is a biggish knob, usually near the tops, that you turn to let water start running through the radiator. The tap is smaller, often near the bottom, and lets the water out when you need to bleed the rads (if there's air in the system stopping the water from flowing).
posted by Billegible at 3:29 PM on November 10, 2009


You'd be surprised at how quickly even a small leak soaks the surrounding area. I'm not familiar with steam systems, so I can only answer for water systems (a quick google suggests that the actual radiators can sometimes be interchangeable between steam and water, it's more likely to be one than the other depending where you are). If it's a water radiator, it may be a small leak either in the valve itself, or more likely in one of the joints. It's not that unusual if the radiator and valve are old and/or the valve is stiff and needs to be twisted hard. If this is the case you should be able to feel the water weeping from the offending area. Feel carefully with a dry finger around all of the joints and the valve and see if you pick up any signs of water. In any case, you should tell your landlord and get it fixed asap. Unless there's evidence of rough treatment, I would take this as fair wear-and-tear.
posted by Jakey at 3:30 PM on November 10, 2009


Call your landlord right away. Water damage is not something to mess around with. Just bill this as "X happened, it's all wet, I wanted to let you know right away so nothing floods and costs you a fortune to clean up." If your landlord is a sane human being (very much not a given, of course), he/she will appreciate having the opportunity to deal with this now instead of when mold is growing everywhere.
posted by zachlipton at 4:11 PM on November 10, 2009


Just felt around the valve and joint, discovered it to be moist. Called the landlord, apparently those valves are not-to-be-touched -- the nut next to it becomes loose. (Would have been nice to have gotten some warning, oh well). Guess I'll have to hunt around for a wrench now. Thanks for the answers.
posted by ayerarcturus at 4:17 PM on November 10, 2009


Radiators are always steam, it is my understanding.

Wrong. Our house is heated by a gravity boiler and it's hot water. Zone valve, pump-based baseboard heaters are radiators and they are hot water as well.

There is no need to ever close the valve to your rads. If it's warm, turn down the thermostat or if you must turn off the boiler. The only reason you'd close the valve is if you intend to abandon a room; we had a rad in our garage that we closed, for example.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 8:14 PM on November 10, 2009


There is no need to ever close the valve to your rads.

ethnomethodologist, can you clarify this? We turn our rads off all the time; we have no access to a thermostat or the boiler and our superintendent keeps the building way too hot (think high 80s). Unless what I'm mistaken in the parts of a radiator...

Can you help define the parts in this picture? To me the rocket-ship looking thing on the right is the release, the turny-thing on the left is the valve. Or am I mixed up, and the rocket-ship thing is the valve and the turny-thing is the thermostat?
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 8:23 AM on November 11, 2009


Called the landlord, apparently those valves are not-to-be-touched

In the future, you can cover the radiator with a blanket to block the heat. There are good reasons why the valves should not be touched ever:

1. The valves are old and liable to leak if disturbed. Your landlord could prevent this by replacing the valve stem packing, but it's easier to just not touch the valves.

2. If you have 1-pipe steam heat, the closed valve might leak steam into the radiator but prevent the condensate (water) from returning. The radiator might bang, fill up with water, or do other nasty stuff.

3. If you have hot water, the valve might shut off heat to other radiators downstream in other apartments (unlikely but possible).
posted by malp at 9:15 AM on November 11, 2009


Can you help define the parts in this picture? To me the rocket-ship looking thing on the right is the release, the turny-thing on the left is the valve. Or am I mixed up, and the rocket-ship thing is the valve and the turny-thing is the thermostat?

The rocket ship thing is an air vent. Your picture shows a 1-pipe steam set-up. The steam and condensate flow in opposite directions in a single pipe. The air vent vents all the air outta the radiator so steam can enter. The vent closes when the steam hits it.

The proper way to turn off the radiator is to rotate the air vent, so it points down. This closes the vent, so no air can escape the radiator and no steam can enter.
posted by malp at 9:24 AM on November 11, 2009


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