It's still just as cold in the kitchen, only a smelly cold
January 6, 2011 12:02 PM   Subscribe

I live in an old apartment with radiators. Pipe in kitchen (radiator has been removed, heated pipe remains) has a leaky valve that smells awful. Can someone take a look at these pictures and tell me if there is anything I can do to cover the leaky bit and reduce the smell?

My downstairs neighbor complained that the kitchen was too cold, so about two weeks ago, maintenance went around and drilled a hole in the pipe to insert a valve to allow the steam to flow. Pipe had previously been off.

Pictures: one, two

It smells awful when it heats up and gives me a headache. (Rusty?) water leaks through, and you can see some brown drippy bits on the pipe. You can see that the valve was kind of messily attached - there's space/cracks where smelly steam and browned water leaks, and sometimes sprays.

Can I cover this part? Is there a kind of cap or cover (at the hardware store, or homemade hack) that I can safely use to cover this part? Will it work?
posted by raztaj to Home & Garden (10 answers total)
Call the maintenance dept. and have them fix it, which will probably involve removing the valve and applying teflon tape to the valve's threads before reassembling. No cover you can put over this will do what you want to do.
posted by jon1270 at 12:29 PM on January 6, 2011

Plumbers putty, like sta put, would probably do it.

But I would call the building manager first. For one thing, the maintenance dept installed that valve recently, and it leaks that much. I mean, the building manager should know that their maintenance dept is less than competent.
posted by Flood at 12:37 PM on January 6, 2011

That looks awfully shoddy for work on a steam line. I'm guessing it's just water. But I don't understand how that gizmo would allow more flow.

Bottom line is it needs to be fixed properly.. whatever it is.
posted by Frasermoo at 1:11 PM on January 6, 2011

Complain, stridently if necessary, and get that fixed. Accommodating your neighbor at your expense is not something the management should be doing. They need to solve this problem.
posted by that's candlepin at 1:59 PM on January 6, 2011

Thanks for all the comments and suggestions. I'll call maintenance in the morning. I'm assuming the unit(s) below mine have the same layout, and if it's like mine, the <1.5" diameter pipe doesn't really add that much additional heating (FWIF I never found it cold before, and I'm usually always cold), but a whoooooole lot of smelliness, even with the window open (counter acting any possible heating). Slight challenge as my building is made up of condos - I go through the unit owner for most things, but this kind of stuff is handled by a building manager. Might anyone suggest if this is worth notifying the owner? Or just deal with building maintenance myself.
posted by raztaj at 2:19 PM on January 6, 2011

I've lived in alot of old houses/apts with steam/radiator systems, and I have never seen a valve installed in a vertical pipe like that. Maybe I'm wrong, but that just doesn't seem conceptually right to me.
posted by R. Mutt at 3:52 PM on January 6, 2011

I agree with R Mutt - though I'm no expert. All the vents on the steam system in my house are at the top of a vertical element, so rising steam pushes air up and out. I think you should try to get someone in who knows about steam systems.

What smell are you smelling? Is it a garbage/rotting odor? Sulphur/rotten egg smell? Something else?
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:17 PM on January 6, 2011

What smell are you smelling? Is it a garbage/rotting odor? Sulphur/rotten egg smell? Something else?

Hard to describe, but smells kind of like burning metallic crayons. A little waxy, a little metallic, fairly nauseating.

The radiator in the living room gives off a similar smell (same style vent, installed directly into radiator, not pipe!). But it's much, much more slight, and you can only smell it if you're <1 ft away from the vent when it cycles.
posted by raztaj at 4:36 PM on January 6, 2011

Here's an older similar post on AskMe. Also one on Yahoo Answers that refers to the smell as possibly being from amines. Either way, getting building maintenance is a good idea, and hopefully they could treat the pipe to kill off the odor causing organisms.
posted by samsara at 6:21 PM on January 6, 2011

The smell is either the cutting oil used to tap the hole (cut the threads that the air-valve is then screwed into), or the pipe-dope (thread sealant) as both/either of these things burn off. Should be gone in a week or two.

That said, they should have put the air vent at the highest point on this steam riser as possible - like on a floor above yours (if there is such). The air vent let's air out but should stop/close when steam reaches it. As they, presumably, want the steam to go all the way up they should put the valve at the top of the riser so air beyond this valve can also escape...

The rust/leaking condensate is wrong, whatever is going on with the valve and this you should bring up to your building manager because the rust will not stop and then the tap (threaded-hole) will be worthless and leak more and more and.

I was a plumber for years and years and have saw these bodge repairs all too often.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:50 AM on January 7, 2011

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