November 28, 2011 7:59 AM   Subscribe

I have forced-hot water baseboard heating in my apartment. It sloshes. Should it slosh?

This is the first winter in the new place, and it has these Slant-Fin baseboard heaters; if you haven't encountered them before, hot water runs through a pipe and through the apartment's baseboard system. Thin vanes on the radiators increase the surface area and distribute heat.

For the first week of the cold weather, we had no heat. A plumber came, and determined that the pipes needed to be flushed and drained to get the hot water moving again. I was in the apartment, and when he did his work, it sounded like, well, a lot of water draining out of a pipe (or your tub, etc.). After that, the heat worked, but the system was pretty much quiet.

Flash forward to a few weeks later--I awoke to hear that same draining sound, as if all the water in the system was flowing out. Heat still seems to work, but now it sloshes about--as if the hot water isn't filling the pipe. Which seems like it should, no?

Is this normal or should we get the plumber back? Again, heat seems still to be on, but I'd like the system to run as efficiently (cost, environment) and quietly as possible.
posted by Admiral Haddock to Home & Garden (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My parents had heat like this - it sounds like there is an air bubble in the line. There is supposed to be a bleed valve at one end of each baseboard register and you barely turn a little screw there and when the air stops and hot water starts coming out, you turn the screw back. It's very much like bleeding the brakes on a car. There is supposed to be some sort of big canister thingy on the furnace that takes care of this, but you get this from time to time.

If I owned the place I'd probably read up on this and DIY since, if somethings going to fail it's going to be my problem anyway. If I was renting, I'd let the pro deal with it since it may be indicative of bigger issues (a leak somewhere, failing bleed valve, etc.) and there is less of a point to really understanding a system (and no point in your potentially screwing us a system) you don't own.

If you go that route, have the guy give you a quick "bleeding an annoying air bubble 101" lesson.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:30 AM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I suspect that the system is leaking and that the amount of air in the system is gradually getting larger. Has the heated diminished noticeably as the sloshing sound has increased?

In any case, hot water radiant heat is, IMO, the best type of heat there is, at least when it is working well.
posted by bz at 8:35 AM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I had the same problem with my hot water heat system. It took a more thorough visit from the plumber to install an air bleed valve (though look at either end of your system, there may be one there!) and to install a new pump (the water is pumped up, unlike steam) because my old pump was leaking water out and air in to the system. Air in the system makes it less efficient at heating and pumping, and thus more costly for you to heat. So look for a bleed valve and/or call the plumber back - it's not an emergency, but it'll be more efficient (and you'll no longer feel like you're living in a submarine, at least if it's like my place).
posted by ldthomps at 9:37 AM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

You might hear some sloshing, or water-rushing-in-pipes sounds, that's normal. It might even be that you just haven't noticed the sound the first two weeks after the plumber came.

To note: There should be a bleeder vent at the highest point in the loop. There are automatic vents out there that are pretty good but sometimes need to be cleaned, especially after work has been done on the system.
Two, no water should escape from the system, ever. So the sound should not increase. If the off chance that there is a leak, there's also (or at least there should be/ is normally) a pressure-regulated automatic fill valve that will keep re-filling the system. So again, you shouldn't hear an increase in sloshing.
On the off chance that these two things are missing (which is entirely possible), then there could be a leak, leading to a loss of water, leading to the sound of cavitation in the pipes.

So maybe let it be for a couple days and see if you think the sound is increasing, then call the plumber back.

Good luck!
posted by From Bklyn at 11:12 AM on November 28, 2011

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