Skip navigation

No Room at the Inn

A new retail tenant had no room for his own boiler, so he asked if he could tie into the building's utility steam service, which heated the apartments upstairs. The landlord insisted that the tenant provide a submeter and reimburse the landlord for steam use.

Because steam turns to condensate as it travels through a heating system, the tenant used a condensate meter to measure his steam use. After the first month, the tenant's meter showed no usage at all, and the landlord reported there was live steam pouring from the seams of the tenant's meter. The tenant was told to fix his meter and steam traps. Months went by, and e-mails went back and forth; the tenant claimed his contractor had fixed everything, and the landlord complained live steam still was pouring from the meter. Meanwhile, the tenant's meter did not move, and the landlord was not reimbursed. The landlord was fed up.

“I need you to dig into this,” he told me. “Can you meet my plumber at the building and get this resolved?”

The plumber and I met in the basement. By shutting various steam valves, we isolated two steam traps that were passing live steam. The plumber headed off to get rebuild kits for the traps, and I looked at the meter more closely.

The live steam from the faulty traps had killed a microswitch in the steam meter. Replacing the microswitch would be easy, but I wanted to be sure the meter would work once the new switch was in. I pumped some water through the meter and watched. A cog was supposed to trip the microswitch once for every gallon of condensate that passed through the meter, but the cog did not turn. The microswitch was not the only problem.

“I thought these meters were tested at the factory,” I said as I unbolted the cover.

As I tried to move the internal roller drum, which was supposed to turn like a waterwheel as condensate flowed through it, I distinctly heard metal scraping on metal. I then saw that the drum had been dislodged from its track — the meter must have gotten bumped around quite a bit somewhere between the factory and job site. After reseating the drum and reassembling the meter, it passed a second flow test with flying colors.

Have a “war story” to share? Send it to Executive Editor Scott Arnold at [email protected].

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.