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Automatic Water Feed - is it worth it?


Just purchased an old house with an old Weil McLain gas-fired steam boiler for single-pipe radiators. Seems to work very well though I've only fired it up once this summer, no banging. Unfortunately, this system does NOT have an automatic water feed valve for the make-up water. My wife is not comfortable adding water to the system manually. Two questions for this body of experts -

1 - Is it worth the trouble to add an automatic water feed or does the additional risk of a flooded basement not merit the investment?
2 - About how often should one have to add water manually to the boiler in a 2000 square foot two story house during the depths of winter in Boston, MA? Once a week? I can be home on the weekends to do this for my wife.




  • Gary Myers_3
    Gary Myers_3 Member Posts: 1
    auto water feeder

    Hello Christopher,

    I have a similar old home in the Boston area and when my boiler was replaced I got an automatic water feeder. I did have one instance where sediment got in the valve and it stuck open and started filling the steam pipes. I heard the banging in the pipes before it made a big mess, fortunately. After that I no longer used the auto feeder (it has valves to bypass it). I figure that I need to blow the sediment out the Low Water Cutoff Valve once per week so I'm down there checking the water anyway. I've never seen the water go below the bottom of the glass sight tube in a one week span.

    Gary Myers
  • chuck_6
    chuck_6 Member Posts: 107
    Automatic Water Feed


    We also have a Weil-McLain steam boiler for 1 pipe steam. When we had it installed, the technician did include an automatic water feed. It's a good feature to have. During the middle of the winter, I drain out the dirty water about every 1-2 weeks and then add water with the automatic water feed.
    You can check on the Weil-McLain website for the manual. On our boiler, the water level is almost 24" from the bottom of the boiler. Keep an eye on the gauge glass. If you are losing a lot of water you may have a leak somewhere or your returns could be clogged.
  • Steamhead (in transit)
    Steamhead (in transit) Member Posts: 6,688
    Chris, if your system has underground return lines

    I'd go with a Hydrolevel VXT feeder. This unit has a counter showing the number of times it feeds. You can really keep track of water usage with this unit.

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  • Mitch_6
    Mitch_6 Member Posts: 549
    In full disclosure

    The H.O. above contacted us for installation of the autofeeder we stated our concerns and suggested he post this question.

    At this time I do not know the style of low water cut off on the boiler but our points are:

    1) The Steam boiler should be checked once a week for proper water levels. Usually water has to be added no more than once every two weeks but it should be monitored.

    2) The low water cut off, if a #67 style, should be checked for proper operation and blown down once every two weeks. We teach the H.O. to turn the thermostat up so the burner fires, flush the LWC and the burner should shut down momentarily as the float is drawn down.

    3) The autofeed works off the LWC, if it fails the autofeed could either not feed or over feed.

    4) We have had occasions where the feed locks open and floods the house.

    Not to sell myself out of a job, if wanted we will install but like going to the doctor and getting a prescription we tell our H.O.'s all the potential complications.

    Mitch S.

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  • Dick Charland
    Dick Charland Member Posts: 178

    Congratulations Mitch, unfortunately, automatic feeders are another device being used unfortunately to remove the responsibility factor in steam systems. They serve a function as a backup, however, they should never (my opinion) be used as the primary method of maintaining the proper water level in a steam boiler. All of the points you mentioned stand along with one of the more prevalent issues we are seeing today.

    It is not unusual to have leakage in a steam system whether from vents, radiator valves etc. Leaking returns are a whole other situation. With no one monitoring the water level and the unit feeding off the LWCO, a constant source of fresh water is being introduced leading to premature boiler failure due to oxygen corrosion.

    As a manufacturer's rep for a boiler manufacturer I have seen too many of these situations. The homeowner, property owner whomever should be trained to maintain the water level at 1/2 to 5/8 gauge glass and with a tight system, there should be no need to add water more than once every two weeks. A noticeable change in water level or need to add more frequently should prompt investigation of a leak in system.

    The use of a feeder which provides a readout of water volume being fed or installation of a water meter with a non-reading feeder is highly advised.
  • Scott04
    Scott04 Member Posts: 69

    The Hydrolevel VXT that Steamhead recomended, not only displays the gallonage, but limits each feed cycle to (I believe) 5 gallons. If more than the maximum gallonage is fed in during one cycle, the feeder needs to be reset. This eliminates the problem of overfilling the boiler if the LWCO sticks.

  • Leo
    Leo Member Posts: 770
    Water feeder

    I am both a heating guy and a steam system owner. I hate auto feeders. I agree with the other posters, KEEP AN EYE ON THE SYSTEM. You seem to have an "honest" service company.

  • Mike T., Swampeast MO
    Mike T., Swampeast MO Member Posts: 6,928

    Bravo ****!

  • gerry gill
    gerry gill Member Posts: 3,077
    we use the

    hydrolevel vxt that steamhead recommended to you on every boiler.. we find many leaks with its digital counter..

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    Serving Cleveland's eastern suburbs from Cleveland Heights down to Cuyahoga Falls.

This discussion has been closed.