Q: What is a Steam Trap, and why are they there?

A: The purpose of a Steam Trap is to:
"Stop steam from passing beyond its point of use."
Steam Traps are energy efficiency devices. A considerable amount of money is spent burning fossil fuels to make steam, so it makes sense to have the Steam System work as efficiently as possible.

Q: What does a Steam Trap do?

A: A Steam Trap performs two functions. First, it is an air vent. As steam fills the pipes on startup it must displace air, and during equipment operation all air formed must be vented. Secondly, it is a water outlet valve, which allows residual water to be removed from the steam system faster than it is formed.

Q: What is the best Steam Trap? Is there one?

A: First, the brand of a Steam Trap is not the issue when it comes to the repair of a steam system. It is application equipment, rate of condensation and pressure that makes the difference in the selection type. Once selection of the proper Steam Trap is done (often a couple types will do the job) the only other issue is the cost of the trap(s).

Q: Why are there so many types of Steam Traps?

A: During the 1920’s, there were close to 90 manufacturers offering over 800 Thermostatic Steam Trap types alone. Over the last hundred years, more than 1400 steam traps have been manufactured, utilized and maintained. It may seem confusing, but look a little closer and you will realize that all fall into three category types:
"Thermostatic Steam Traps, Mechanical Steam Traps, & Thermal Dynamic Steam Traps."

Q: How would I know if I have bad Steam Trap(s) in my Steam System?

A: Because all Steam Trap functions occur inside Steam Pipes, you can’t see what exactly is going on. Some bad trap indications may be more obvious than others, such as; Steam Flashing, water hammer & banging noises emanating from the Steam Pipes, pump cavitations, and blowing steam from the vent on the condensate receiver. Other Steam Trap related symptoms may be less obvious, higher than necessary steam pressure, excessive condensate & chemical losses, condensate water to hot, boilers running continuously, water over flow from receiver tanks during the night, over heated or under heated rooms, and whether or not a Steam Trap is actually modulating.

Q: No matter what kind of Steam Valve I use, I can’t regulate temperatures. WHY?

A: “You can’t control steam if your traps are bad!”
Steam Traps discharge into Condensate Pipes that are connected to a common main return Condensate Pipe. With bad Steam Traps blowing steam into Condensate Pipes, the steam will travel the path of least resistance and pressurize the outlet(s) side of the Steam Trap(s). This can often lead to the reduction or elimination of pressure differential across the trap, usually resulting in Steam Equipment malfunction and temperature fluctuations.

Q: Our original low pressure Coal Fired Steam Boiler has been replaced by a Natural Gas Boiler; what should our system operating pressure be?

A: Generally speaking, an old ‘nothing fancy’ gravity return system was able to operate comfortably at 2psi (or less) pressure. Provided all other equipment is in working order with properly maintained Steam Traps, and barring other unforeseen problems such as the modern boiler holding too little water, the system can still operate well at a low pressure. In fact, the lower the operating pressure is, the better. Boiler standard Pressuretrols can be replaced with a Vaporstat to achieve consistently lower pressure, and greater pressure sensitivity. We have many years of experience working with contractors who installed Vaporstats, and witnessed numerous homes that have been heated comfortably at 2 to 16 oz. pressures.

Q: Can we operate our Steam System without a Vacuum Pump?

A: Yes, but we don’t recommend it. Vacuum Pumps require a significant investment, and always have. They are installed because the benefits far outweigh the expense and they pay for themselves over the long haul with longer Steam Equipment life, faster heating, efficient air removal, slower corrosion rates, quicker condensate return, improved steam distribution, and shorter boiler run time. The combination of these factors means burning less fossil fuel and lower heating bills, enabling operation at a lower steam pressure, and energy $$$ savings.

Q: How much could a bad Steam Trap cost me?

A: As an example, a ‘failed open’ Thermostatic Trap with a ¼” orifice pressurized at 10psi can blow through at a rate of 44.6lbs of steam per hour. If steam is produced at a rate of $15 per thousand pounds = 66.9 cents an hour then the potential monthly loss is $481.68. It is also important to note that most traps don’t fail open, full blow; most often fail partially.

Q: Is it expensive to repair Steam Traps?

A: Yes, repairing Steam Traps is expensive. Steam Traps are energy efficient devices that are designed to operate in a potentially violent environment and expected to cycle thousands, even hundreds of thousands of times consistently without fail. Steam Traps are made of high quality and durable materials selected, tested, and proven since back in the early 1900’s, the ‘golden age’ of steam. Eventually, all Steam Traps fail! When they do, repair is needed to maintain a low cost heating system. Though expensive, it is always more important to remember that:
"The only thing that costs you more than repairing your steam traps is ignoring them!"

Q: How do I test Steam Traps?

A: The most common methods of field testing Steam Traps are Sonic Testing, Infrared Testing and Atmospheric Testing. Both Sonic Testing and Infrared Testing have limitations which, depending on the situation (piping, pressure, application, etc.) can have a tremendous effect on the success or failure of the method employed. Atmospheric testing is the most consistent method available, as it relies on a simple definition:
"The purpose of a Steam Trap is to stop steam from passing from beyond its point of use."
Atmospheric Testing allows you to see what is passing through the Steam Trap, thereby allowing simple and accurate identification of each tested Steam Trap as good or bad.

Q: Do I have to repair my steam traps? Can’t I let them go?

A: Sure, you CAN. But, why would you want to? If you had a hole poked into your gas tank would you let it go? You would have to stop a lot more often at the gas pump! No one would consider that a good solution. Not fixing a failed steam traps is akin to ‘Penny wise, Dollar foolish’.

Steam Trap doomed to fail

Q: My condensate receiver inlet is higher than the return piping. Is that a problem?

A: Yes. Remember, traps stop steam therefore they stop pressure. If your steam traps are working there is no pressure in the pipes to push the water uphill into the receiver. Therefore, the higher or greater the height difference between inlet and return pipe the greater the backpressure at the steam trap outlets. At a rate of 1psi to lift water 2.31 feet at sea level. Additionally;

1. With a water barrier downstream from the steam traps, the pressure will buildup in the piping. So… the boiler operating pressure will have to increase to overcome backpressure, burning more fossil fuel.
2. Equipment that has modulating valves may not always have enough pressure to push out water because of the backpressure, causing temperature fluctuations or loss of batches in processing. Water hanging around in steam cavities may meet oncoming steam in equipment and can damage coils, traps, and fin tubes. In a worst case scenario, it can cause expensive losses of batches or mixes of industrially processed material.