Help me McGuyver a radiator steam vent!
January 6, 2014 5:18 PM   Subscribe

It wouldn't be Chiberia without a steam bath! Unfortunately, the steam bath is my bedroom. Help me figure out a temporary fix for a leaking radiator blow-off?

My Chicago flat is heated with an old single-pipe steam radiator system. The vent (not the supply valve) on the bedroom radiator has cracked -- I can actually see the break -- so instead of closing when the radiator heats up, it blows all of the steam into the room. The boiler is keeping up with the leak and all the other radiators are working, but the steam is condensing on everything. The wall is getting wet, the floor is getting wet, and over the course of the day a good 1/2cm of ice has grown on the inside of the window. Not good.

Clearly I need to replace the vent, but that's not gonna happen for a few days at least. Simply turning off the radiator is not an option (first because of the extreme cold, and second because the supply valve is stuck too, which is why the vent replacement can't happen immediately). I've perched a metal bowl over the vent and placed a tray below it in the hope of condensing the steam in a controlled fashion, and I've thrown a towel over the whole thing, but it's barely making a difference. I keep thinking that if I had some copper tubing (I don't) I could fashion it into a condenser... or maybe I could seal the vent with chewing gum.....

There must be a better way! What can I do, using things I might reasonably have in my house, to temporarily mitigate this?
posted by Westringia F. to Home & Garden (5 answers total)
Steam is hella caustic, oh, and hot, so few fixes will work. If you can get your hands on some JB weld and put it on at the very end of a heating cycle, it might harden enough. (there's really very little pressure involved in the system, 2 psi tops.)

Personally, I'd get a plug - 1/4 or 1/8 NPT - unscrew the old one and jam the plug in. Or get a new valve - (or get the maintenance guy!) and replace real quick-like while the boiler is shut off for the very least amount of time possible.
posted by notsnot at 5:44 PM on January 6, 2014

A trip to the hardware store a possability? you can make a 'soft patch' around the cracked fitting with a bit of rubber gasket material and a couple of hose clamps.

ok, you're not going out - the McGuyver version -
do you have duct tape or vinyl electrical tape? do you have a pair of pliers and a coat hanger?

cut the wire into lengths that will go around the cracked fitting plus a couple of inches, form them into circles that will go around the broken fitting like a hose clamp. make four of five of them. you will be using the pliers to tighten these like twist-ties.

Wrap the tape as tight as you can around the cracked fitting, around and around and around until you have formed a thick gasket, now the steam and condensate is hissing out around the edges. fit the wire ties over the tape near the ends and over the crack, and twist them as tight as you can with the pliers. even if it doesnt completely stop I bet you can get it 90% or better.

the steam will make the tape soft and gooey but it wont melt through. a short hunk of garden hose slit lenghtwise would also work.
posted by Abinadab at 7:43 PM on January 6, 2014

Simply turning off the radiator is not an option (first because of the extreme cold, and second because the supply valve is stuck too, which is why the vent replacement can't happen immediately).

FYI - plugging that vent is effectively shutting off the radiator, i.e., if air can't be vented out of the rad, steam can't enter.

In fact, some folks say that turning the vent upside down (which closes it) is preferable to closing the supply valve if you want to turn off heat in a particular room because supply valves in old steam systems tend to be fragile (or stuck, like yours).

Re replacing the vent when the valve is stuck: as notsnot said above, you can do this between heating cycles. Assuming no problem with the threads, it's a very quick job.
posted by she's not there at 9:21 PM on January 6, 2014

Other bodge options:

wrapping the 'cracked' section with many, many many layers of teflon tape. Then some duct tape to hold it all in place. (Leave vent exhaust hole open.)

This is really maintenance's show, though, and they should be on it: the problem with unscrewing the vent is if it is old enough and the threads are screwed up, getting it fixed in a heating cycle (while actual steam is not being pumped into the system) is not very likely. Unless you feel comfortable tapping new threads. Because most radiators are cast iron and iron rusts very readily.

You could also try the two-part epoxys that make a sort of putty, often gray: "Hercules" was a brand I've used. Like JB Weld, but meant for plumbing - good, nasty stuff.
posted by From Bklyn at 5:04 AM on January 7, 2014

I'm replying late, so hopefully you've found a solution already, but the people at Heating Help are super knowledgeable, particularly about steam heating.
posted by lillygog at 10:43 AM on January 11, 2014

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