Why does my house have a bunch of old air tubes?

Questions on how we spend our money and our time - consumer goods and services, home and vehicle, leisure and recreational activities
Post Reply
User avatar
Topic Author
snackdog
Posts: 3245
Joined: Wed Nov 12, 2014 3:57 am
Location: PNW

Why does my house have a bunch of old air tubes?

Post by snackdog »

Our house was built in 1978 with plenty of odd features and quirks. In the attic is a manifold with a bunch of air tubes coming in one side and wires coming out the other. It doesn't appear to be in use any longer. I can't figure out what it was used for and googling has been fruitless thus far. I'm sure one or more of you have seen these. Please help.

Thanks

Image
BH Consumer FAQ: | Car? Used Toyota, Lexus or Miata. | House? 20% down and 3x salary. | Vacation house? No. | Umbrella? $1 million. | Goods? Costco.
zeeke42
Posts: 173
Joined: Sat Feb 14, 2015 4:13 pm

Re: Why does my house have a bunch of old air tubes?

Post by zeeke42 »

Is that a pressure gauge and an adjustable regulator in the pic? Have you tried following the tubes? Can you see what the other end of any of them are attached to / where they go?
User avatar
KlingKlang
Posts: 1113
Joined: Wed Oct 16, 2013 3:26 pm

Re: Why does my house have a bunch of old air tubes?

Post by KlingKlang »

This is totally a SWAG, but could it be a pneumatic system that was used to control an animated Christmas display on the roof?
ehh
Posts: 789
Joined: Mon Feb 01, 2021 10:04 am

Re: Why does my house have a bunch of old air tubes?

Post by ehh »

Pneumatic environmental control system?

I recall working in a building with a pneumatic environment control system. It was a terrible system. Eventually replaced.

Don't know if such systems were used in 1970s vintage residential construction.
User avatar
Topic Author
snackdog
Posts: 3245
Joined: Wed Nov 12, 2014 3:57 am
Location: PNW

Re: Why does my house have a bunch of old air tubes?

Post by snackdog »

KlingKlang wrote: Mon May 13, 2024 10:17 am This is totally a SWAG, but could it be a pneumatic system that was used to control an animated Christmas display on the roof?
That's a good guess. The house was famous for the largest holiday light displays in town in the 80s. There are even two massive electrical sub-panels in the yard.
BH Consumer FAQ: | Car? Used Toyota, Lexus or Miata. | House? 20% down and 3x salary. | Vacation house? No. | Umbrella? $1 million. | Goods? Costco.
bob60014
Posts: 3857
Joined: Mon Jul 31, 2017 8:59 pm
Location: The Land Beyond ORD

Re: Why does my house have a bunch of old air tubes?

Post by bob60014 »

Pneumatic t-stat system.
User avatar
Topic Author
snackdog
Posts: 3245
Joined: Wed Nov 12, 2014 3:57 am
Location: PNW

Re: Why does my house have a bunch of old air tubes?

Post by snackdog »

bob60014 wrote: Mon May 13, 2024 10:23 am Pneumatic t-stat system.
I've never heard of such a thing but it's certainly possible. But 1978?
BH Consumer FAQ: | Car? Used Toyota, Lexus or Miata. | House? 20% down and 3x salary. | Vacation house? No. | Umbrella? $1 million. | Goods? Costco.
bombcar
Posts: 1032
Joined: Sun Aug 12, 2007 6:41 pm

Re: Why does my house have a bunch of old air tubes?

Post by bombcar »

Pneumatic switches are a thing, usually used for the buttons in Jacuzzis, but I don't think this would be what we're looking at.

https://www.herga.com/news-media/techni ... ir-switch-

The pipes seem too small to be providing actual "air" for inflatable things. Why you'd want a bank of pneumatic switches is unknown.

IF it doesn't do anything, you could see if putting air pressure closes the contacts.
bob60014
Posts: 3857
Joined: Mon Jul 31, 2017 8:59 pm
Location: The Land Beyond ORD

Re: Why does my house have a bunch of old air tubes?

Post by bob60014 »

snackdog wrote: Mon May 13, 2024 10:27 am
bob60014 wrote: Mon May 13, 2024 10:23 am Pneumatic t-stat system.
I've never heard of such a thing but it's certainly possible. But 1978?
Uncommon, but possible.
User avatar
Topic Author
snackdog
Posts: 3245
Joined: Wed Nov 12, 2014 3:57 am
Location: PNW

Re: Why does my house have a bunch of old air tubes?

Post by snackdog »

bob60014 wrote: Mon May 13, 2024 10:29 am
snackdog wrote: Mon May 13, 2024 10:27 am
bob60014 wrote: Mon May 13, 2024 10:23 am Pneumatic t-stat system.
I've never heard of such a thing but it's certainly possible. But 1978?
Uncommon, but possible.
I spoke to an HVAC technician who indicated the house originally had 19 separate HVAC units (heat pump / air handler). So anything is possible.
BH Consumer FAQ: | Car? Used Toyota, Lexus or Miata. | House? 20% down and 3x salary. | Vacation house? No. | Umbrella? $1 million. | Goods? Costco.
User avatar
NAVigator
Posts: 2549
Joined: Tue Feb 27, 2007 6:24 am
Location: Iowa

Re: Why does my house have a bunch of old air tubes?

Post by NAVigator »

Central whole-house vacuum system?
"I was born with nothing and I have most of it left."
neilpilot
Posts: 5069
Joined: Fri Dec 04, 2015 12:46 pm
Location: Memphis area

Re: Why does my house have a bunch of old air tubes?

Post by neilpilot »

NAVigator wrote: Mon May 13, 2024 10:43 am Central whole-house vacuum system?
The photo cannot possibly serve as a vacuum system.
adamthesmythe
Posts: 5886
Joined: Mon Sep 22, 2014 4:47 pm

Re: Why does my house have a bunch of old air tubes?

Post by adamthesmythe »

neilpilot wrote: Mon May 13, 2024 10:51 am
NAVigator wrote: Mon May 13, 2024 10:43 am Central whole-house vacuum system?
The photo cannot possibly serve as a vacuum system.
Fer sure.

Those are electrically activated valves. The regulator reduces the pressure from a compressed air source to a specific value and feeds that air to a manifold. Each valve on the manifold directs compressed air to the output (smaller) tube. When turned off the air is vented through the hole on the top of the valve.

The air controls some sort of actuator. One possibility is part of an HVAC system, although this seems to me to be very unlikely in an ordinary house.

The large diameter tube should go to a compressor, the small diameter tubes to the actuators.
User avatar
Topic Author
snackdog
Posts: 3245
Joined: Wed Nov 12, 2014 3:57 am
Location: PNW

Re: Why does my house have a bunch of old air tubes?

Post by snackdog »

I found another one and it looks like the tubes go to old drapery controls. I guess the drapes were pneumatically opened and closed.
BH Consumer FAQ: | Car? Used Toyota, Lexus or Miata. | House? 20% down and 3x salary. | Vacation house? No. | Umbrella? $1 million. | Goods? Costco.
Normchad
Posts: 5931
Joined: Thu Mar 03, 2011 6:20 am

Re: Why does my house have a bunch of old air tubes?

Post by Normchad »

snackdog wrote: Mon May 13, 2024 11:21 am I found another one and it looks like the tubes go to old drapery controls. I guess the drapes were pneumatically opened and closed.
Wow. That’s fascinating. I’ve never seen or heard of such a thing, it’s pretty cool!
User avatar
SteelyEyed
Posts: 394
Joined: Sun Jun 14, 2009 10:34 am

Re: Why does my house have a bunch of old air tubes?

Post by SteelyEyed »

I think you have your answer.

While the original purpose may be pointless now, perhaps you can repurpose it. It's hard to tell the diameter of the tubes, but do you think you could blow some CAT6 cable through them? I would love hardwire a network in my older house.
User avatar
firebirdparts
Posts: 4507
Joined: Thu Jun 13, 2019 4:21 pm
Location: Southern Appalachia

Re: Why does my house have a bunch of old air tubes?

Post by firebirdparts »

Somebody was an automation nerd.

If it was the draperies, that’s pretty difficult. Long travel and it would only be fun if you hid the actuator.
This time is the same
bombcar
Posts: 1032
Joined: Sun Aug 12, 2007 6:41 pm

Re: Why does my house have a bunch of old air tubes?

Post by bombcar »

https://forum.heatinghelp.com/discussio ... tic-system indicates that they existed as thermostat controls in the 1950s - maybe the drapes were controlled by the thermostats/HVAC? Highly complicated if so!

Maybe check the city/county records office for all permits pulled on your house.
User avatar
Topic Author
snackdog
Posts: 3245
Joined: Wed Nov 12, 2014 3:57 am
Location: PNW

Re: Why does my house have a bunch of old air tubes?

Post by snackdog »

firebirdparts wrote: Mon May 13, 2024 1:44 pm Somebody was an automation nerd.

If it was the draperies, that’s pretty difficult. Long travel and it would only be fun if you hid the actuator.
Our previous house was a nerd-o-rama as well. Pneumatic driveway access bollards! I guess the 70s were big for pneumatics.
BH Consumer FAQ: | Car? Used Toyota, Lexus or Miata. | House? 20% down and 3x salary. | Vacation house? No. | Umbrella? $1 million. | Goods? Costco.
Jeepergeo
Posts: 936
Joined: Sun Dec 20, 2020 1:33 pm

Re: Why does my house have a bunch of old air tubes?

Post by Jeepergeo »

Looks like pneumatic controls for forced air dampers. I bet it runs on a vacuum basis and gets its vacuum from a venturi in the blower.

Tyrn on the forced air and see if the gauge moves. Look aroubd in the attic for dampers with a bellows on the side.

I'd bet dollars to donuts the system is no longer operational.
Valuethinker
Posts: 49364
Joined: Fri May 11, 2007 11:07 am

Re: Why does my house have a bunch of old air tubes?

Post by Valuethinker »

snackdog wrote: Mon May 13, 2024 2:29 pm
firebirdparts wrote: Mon May 13, 2024 1:44 pm Somebody was an automation nerd.

If it was the draperies, that’s pretty difficult. Long travel and it would only be fun if you hid the actuator.
Our previous house was a nerd-o-rama as well. Pneumatic driveway access bollards! I guess the 70s were big for pneumatics.
Do you remember the system for moving papers and packages around a building by forced air?

I think they may even have been first deployed in the 1930s, but they were definitely a thing, still, in the early 1970s - commercial buildings. My university's new library had such a system. It was quickly decommissioned - books don't do well crammed into cylindrical tubes.
jebmke
Posts: 26339
Joined: Thu Apr 05, 2007 2:44 pm
Location: Delmarva Peninsula

Re: Why does my house have a bunch of old air tubes?

Post by jebmke »

Valuethinker wrote: Tue May 14, 2024 4:01 am
snackdog wrote: Mon May 13, 2024 2:29 pm
firebirdparts wrote: Mon May 13, 2024 1:44 pm Somebody was an automation nerd.

If it was the draperies, that’s pretty difficult. Long travel and it would only be fun if you hid the actuator.
Our previous house was a nerd-o-rama as well. Pneumatic driveway access bollards! I guess the 70s were big for pneumatics.
Do you remember the system for moving papers and packages around a building by forced air?

I think they may even have been first deployed in the 1930s, but they were definitely a thing, still, in the early 1970s - commercial buildings. My university's new library had such a system. It was quickly decommissioned - books don't do well crammed into cylindrical tubes.
My company's HQ used one into the 1980s before decommissioning. Banks still use them for drive-in tellers.

Pneumatic control was used by my company in automation applications for environments that had explosive materials (vapors, dust) for quite some time. Even a LV relay could spark an explosion and we could not certify a system as safe with electrical devices in the volatile environment.
When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.
alex_686
Posts: 13495
Joined: Mon Feb 09, 2015 1:39 pm

Re: Why does my house have a bunch of old air tubes?

Post by alex_686 »

snackdog wrote: Mon May 13, 2024 2:29 pm
firebirdparts wrote: Mon May 13, 2024 1:44 pm Somebody was an automation nerd.

If it was the draperies, that’s pretty difficult. Long travel and it would only be fun if you hid the actuator.
Our previous house was a nerd-o-rama as well. Pneumatic driveway access bollards! I guess the 70s were big for pneumatics.
Does your house have pocket doors? During the 50s it was a thing in the oh so modern houses to have foot switches to open and close interior doors.

Right now I think the winner is rooftop Christmas display. I can see the little elves hammering out toys.
Former brokerage operations & mutual fund accountant. I hate risk, which is why I study and embrace it.
User avatar
ResearchMed
Posts: 16950
Joined: Fri Dec 26, 2008 10:25 pm

Re: Why does my house have a bunch of old air tubes?

Post by ResearchMed »

Valuethinker wrote: Tue May 14, 2024 4:01 am
snackdog wrote: Mon May 13, 2024 2:29 pm
firebirdparts wrote: Mon May 13, 2024 1:44 pm Somebody was an automation nerd.

If it was the draperies, that’s pretty difficult. Long travel and it would only be fun if you hid the actuator.
Our previous house was a nerd-o-rama as well. Pneumatic driveway access bollards! I guess the 70s were big for pneumatics.
Do you remember the system for moving papers and packages around a building by forced air?

I think they may even have been first deployed in the 1930s, but they were definitely a thing, still, in the early 1970s - commercial buildings. My university's new library had such a system. It was quickly decommissioned - books don't do well crammed into cylindrical tubes.

We were just talking about this after I read the post.
But we remember when medical specimens were zapped to the lab, etc. Draw a few vials of blood, and "whooosh".

And didn't some of the bank kiosks, right outside the bank, with drive-through lanes, have these? So one could zap some paperwork to the bank rep inside, or perhaps get some cash back? This was way before the ATM, for the "cash" anyway.
Otherwise there could only be one "window" and the car/customer had to drive right up to the side of the building. With drive-through lanes, there could be more than one at a time.

RM
This signature is a placebo. You are in the control group.
FoolMeOnce
Posts: 1453
Joined: Mon Apr 24, 2017 11:16 am

Re: Why does my house have a bunch of old air tubes?

Post by FoolMeOnce »

Valuethinker wrote: Tue May 14, 2024 4:01 am
snackdog wrote: Mon May 13, 2024 2:29 pm
firebirdparts wrote: Mon May 13, 2024 1:44 pm Somebody was an automation nerd.

If it was the draperies, that’s pretty difficult. Long travel and it would only be fun if you hid the actuator.
Our previous house was a nerd-o-rama as well. Pneumatic driveway access bollards! I guess the 70s were big for pneumatics.
Do you remember the system for moving papers and packages around a building by forced air?

I think they may even have been first deployed in the 1930s, but they were definitely a thing, still, in the early 1970s - commercial buildings. My university's new library had such a system. It was quickly decommissioned - books don't do well crammed into cylindrical tubes.
I have a hazy memory of Costco using those to send checks from the registers to some back room.
User avatar
nisiprius
Advisory Board
Posts: 52741
Joined: Thu Jul 26, 2007 9:33 am
Location: The terrestrial, globular, planetary hunk of matter, flattened at the poles, is my abode.--O. Henry

Re: Why does my house have a bunch of old air tubes?

Post by nisiprius »

Valuethinker wrote: Tue May 14, 2024 4:01 am Do you remember the system for moving papers and packages around a building by forced air?

I think they may even have been first deployed in the 1930s, but they were definitely a thing, still, in the early 1970s - commercial buildings. My university's new library had such a system. It was quickly decommissioned - books don't do well crammed into cylindrical tubes.
Yes, and definitely still in use. The places I've seen them, more than once, are banks with more than a single drive-through lane. The customer in the near lane hands stuff to the teller through the window, the far lane put them in a pneumatic tube which transports it a few years to the teller's station.

But that's not what we're seeing here.

I once was in an electric power station--San Diego Gas & Electric's Chula Vista plant, built in 1960--with a big and very "normal"-looking control panel, with knobs, dials, levers, "switches." When the doors below the panel were opened, underneath you saw what at first glance looked like a dense jungle of thick, bare wires. On second glance, they were small-diameter metal tubes. Yes, pneumatics.

I'm guessing it's an example of venerable technology non-professionals don't know much about because it's only used in industrial settings. And the house in the picture is like other large houses of wealthy people who, for whatever reasons, install what is normally industrial stuff (Viking stoves) in a residence.

I am also guessing that there was some period of time during which small pneumatic actuators for doing things like opening and closing valves were more durable or reliable than their electric counterparts. The development of rare-earth magnets has made a big change in the jobs that can be done by tiny electric motors.
Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness; Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.
alex_686
Posts: 13495
Joined: Mon Feb 09, 2015 1:39 pm

Re: Why does my house have a bunch of old air tubes?

Post by alex_686 »

FoolMeOnce wrote: Tue May 14, 2024 8:16 am
Valuethinker wrote: Tue May 14, 2024 4:01 am
snackdog wrote: Mon May 13, 2024 2:29 pm
firebirdparts wrote: Mon May 13, 2024 1:44 pm Somebody was an automation nerd.

If it was the draperies, that’s pretty difficult. Long travel and it would only be fun if you hid the actuator.
Our previous house was a nerd-o-rama as well. Pneumatic driveway access bollards! I guess the 70s were big for pneumatics.
Do you remember the system for moving papers and packages around a building by forced air?

I think they may even have been first deployed in the 1930s, but they were definitely a thing, still, in the early 1970s - commercial buildings. My university's new library had such a system. It was quickly decommissioned - books don't do well crammed into cylindrical tubes.
I have a hazy memory of Costco using those to send checks from the registers to some back room.
These pneumatic tubes are way to small to send anything.

Chicago had a massive system downtown to send letters between office buildings. Ran under the river.
Former brokerage operations & mutual fund accountant. I hate risk, which is why I study and embrace it.
User avatar
nisiprius
Advisory Board
Posts: 52741
Joined: Thu Jul 26, 2007 9:33 am
Location: The terrestrial, globular, planetary hunk of matter, flattened at the poles, is my abode.--O. Henry

Re: Why does my house have a bunch of old air tubes?

Post by nisiprius »

FoolMeOnce wrote: Tue May 14, 2024 8:16 am ...I have a hazy memory of Costco using those to send checks from the registers to some back room...
I'm not sure what changed, possibly more electronified cash registers, but up until perhaps 1970 or so the general tradition in many retail stores was that the cashiers at the point of sale were not quite trusted, and that payment and sales slip had to go to some central place, and the receipt would come back from there. I've seen systems with baskets on overhead conveyors to do this.

And then there was the Pneumatic tube mail in New York city:
The pneumatic tube mail was a postal system operating in New York City from 1897 to 1953....

Eventually the network stretched up both sides of Manhattan Island all the way to Manhattanville on the West side and "Triborough" in East Harlem, forming a loop running a few feet below street level. Travel time from the General Post Office to Harlem was 20 minutes....

Each canister could hold 600 letters and would travel up to 35 miles per hour.[12] At the peak, the system carried 95,000 letters a day, representing 30% of all mail in the city....
Just imagine what "intelligent" canister, capable of steering themselves through a branching tube network, could do today....
Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness; Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.
lazydavid
Posts: 5350
Joined: Wed Apr 06, 2016 1:37 pm

Re: Why does my house have a bunch of old air tubes?

Post by lazydavid »

nisiprius wrote: Tue May 14, 2024 8:29 am Just imagine what "intelligent" canister, capable of steering themselves through a branching tube network, could do today....
The canisters themselves wouldn't even have to be smart. Just marked, so the system could read them before the branch and divert them in the proper direction.
feehater
Posts: 366
Joined: Fri Jul 14, 2017 10:14 am

Re: Why does my house have a bunch of old air tubes?

Post by feehater »

There was a marketplace story about pneumatic tubes recently (audio story is slightly longer than the text story):

https://www.marketplace.org/2024/04/25/ ... -dead-yet/
Post Reply