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Multiple boiler troubles

<span style="font-size:12pt">I am the homeowner of a 6 family apartment house circa 1920 in White Plains New York (Westchester county – 30 minutes north of NYC) . I have no plumbing experience so please bear with me.  My best guess is that it is a single loop system – one zone for the whole building and our boiler heats our hot water tank.  We had some people freezing and some steaming.</span>

<span style="font-size:12pt">In December 2004 we replaced our boiler with a new more efficient Weil Mclain model 680.  It has 6 sections.  It took a long time for the system to be regulated and the water hammer to stop.   This past year (June) we had to replace 2 of the sections because of holes in them.  Our boiler service said that it was a manufacturing defect and the pieces were sent back to them – I have pictures that I could show if needed.</span>

<span style="font-size:12pt">Since this latest cold snap we have noticed large amounts of white smoke (steam?) going up the chimney.  In the past 4 weeks my father has had to add water to the boiler twice a day because the levels drop too low.  In the past 3 days we noticed that there is water collecting on the metal bars that the boiler is sitting on.    We have a service contract with our oil delivery company (which is a different company than the installer).  Because of that we get a different service person depending on the day.  We had one person tell us that we must have a leak in one of our return lines (I hope not since one is buried underground in the foundation).  One person told us that we need to replace our hot water tank (that was also replaced in 2004).  One told us that the boiler was not installed according to the manufacturing directions.  One told us that there wasn’t a problem and just to keep adding more water.  </span>

<span style="font-size:12pt">How do I find out what the problem is?  Is it a combination of all 3?  I have searched the expert database for a steam expert in my area and didn’t get any hits.  I just want the problem fixed.  Where can I find someone to take a look?  We did not have a pleasant experience with the company that installed the boiler so I would need an independent expert to tell me if it wasn’t installed correctly.</span>


  • Unknown
    edited December 2009
    Get a Steam Pro

    Hi -The "white smoke" up the chimney sounds like your boiler is leaking internally. Go to the "Find a Professional" in the at the top of this page. If you have problems finding one using a zip code, scroll down look under your state for a listing . The software was recently updated and some times you don't get a listing by using the zip code.

    It sounds as though you have had "Knuckleheads" working on your steam system. You need to have a real steam pro fix your system for you and then regularly maintain it. Having an oil delivery company work on your boiler is similar to having the 711 gas station man work on your Mercedes. Like good mechanics, Steam Pros don't come cheap but in the long run can keep you comfortable and save you money. I would suspect that your system's failure is more likely due to  bad maintenance than a boiler defect.

    I would also suggest that you get a book called "We Got Steam Heat" [url=http://www.heatinghelp.com/products/Books/5/61/We-Got-Steam-Heat-A-Homeowners-Guide-to-Peaceful-Coexistence]http://www.heatinghelp.com/products/Books/5/61/We-Got-Steam-Heat-A-Homeowners-Guide-to-Peaceful-Coexistence

    It's written for the homeowner who is new to steam heating. It's easy reading ,humorous, and in a few evenings reading you know a lot more about steam heating. There are a coiuple of other books that would be useful to you and are offered in a package. [url=http://www.heatinghelp.com/products/Super-Deals/14/129/A-Steamy-Deal]http://www.heatinghelp.com/products/Super-Deals/14/129/A-Steamy-Deal

    I can quite confidently tell you that they will save you many times their purchase price.

    One of the books big benefits is they give you the knowledge to quickly determine whether the guy you are talking to knows anything about steam heating. Keep in mind that all Steam Pros are good plumbers but few plumbers are good Steam Pros.

    - Rod
  • white smoke from chimney

    did you say whether you have 1-pipe or 2-pipe steam?

    it is never a good sign when white smoke appears from the chimney. the way to check for a leak  is with a moderately cool boiler, turned off, to over fill the boiler with water. if there are leaks, dripping will be apparent under the fire box.

    please post some pictures of the old leaking sections, and the present steam piping [supply and return]. were these 2 sections replaced by the original installers? when you have someone knowledgeable look at the boiler, he will need to see the original installation manual for that model. he will want to compare the specified piping arrangement, specified with what was actually installed. in some ways it will be easier to make a case against any original bad workmanship if the same people did the installation and the repair. i am surprised that the "manufacturing defect" took so long to give a problem; therefore the workmanship could be more to blame.

    sooner or later buried return water lines will leak, and can be replaced a couple of inches above the floor, in most cases; however those lines would not produce steam from the chimney. 

    when you are making the next set of repairs, give some thought to installing a vaporstat to keep the pressures low, and prolong the life of the boiler.

    please keep us informed as to how this turns out..--nbc
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 22,972
    White smoke

    just isn't good.  It's long odds on that you have a leak in your boiler from the water side to the firebox, internally.  That said, for Weil McClains to leak that fast (2004 isn't old) is pretty rare, unless for some reason you are getting a lot of corrosion in the boiler.  Are you using any boiler treatment or other chemicals in the water going into the boiler?  You shouldn't be -- WM is pretty fierce about that, and their advice is good.  Are there any potentially corrosive materials around in the boiler room?  Like swimming pool chemicals, bleach, etc.?

    Rod's right.  You need a pro -- you aren't getting good advice from your service people (which really isn't their fault -- they are not trained, in general, on steam systems, however good they may be with burners).
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Confused_owner
    Confused_owner Member Posts: 4
    edited December 2009
    Pictures of the holes

    My boiler guys were also shocked that the corrosion happened as they too believe that Weil Mclain boilers are high quality.

    There are no corrosive materials anywhere near the boiler.  Nothing has been added but plain water that has been through a water filter that is separate from the water filter for the rest of the water for the house.

    When I enter my zipcode for an expert I am getting a guy from Massachusetts.  That is a long commute to just north of NYC.  Does anyone know of a steam expert that is in that area?
  • section leak

    it's funny that the pins close to the hole are distorted, as if over heated.

    when you replaced the sections, was any claim for warenty filed with W-M?

    if you can find the W-M distributor, could he determine how it may have failed?

    i wonder if the same sections have failed again. is there a water-softener in the boiler room?--nbc
  • Find a Professional

    Try this link as it maybe of more help to you. http://www.heatinghelp.com/find-a-professional/NY

    I suspect that the corrosion was caused by your boiler water. You mentioned a "filter" this isn't a water softener is it? 

    When you add "new" water to your boiler it is VERY important to then turn the burner on and bring the boiler to a boil (make steam) as this drives off the excess oxygen in the "new " water. This excess oxygen can be very corrosive.

     A lot of times this corrosion occurs when the system has a small leak and the automatic water feeder is constantly adding "new" water.  This quite often occurs during the summer when the boiler isn't in operation. The excess oxygen, not being driven off by heating the water, remains and causes corrosion. It is also important to check occasionally the alkalinity of your boiler water. All this is discussed in detail in "the books" which is why I recommended them. - Rod
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 22,972

    the man you are getting from Massachusetts is Charles Garrity of Garrity & Sons, you couldn't do better -- and it would be worth the long distance call to talk to him to see if he could come, or if he knows of someone closer
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Confused_owner
    Confused_owner Member Posts: 4
    edited December 2009
    Thank you!

    Thank you all for your help/advice.    When we know what is wrong I will post an update.
  • Confused_owner
    Confused_owner Member Posts: 4
    Thank you - Getting Better

    Thank you for all of your advice.  We contacted Charles Garrity & Son who were able to come down just before Christmas last year and go through the whole system.    They found 20 (yes 20) problems with our installation which I have listed below.  Also, while we were coordinating getting the problems fixed the other 4 sections had to be replaced since we had a leak form.  The boiler service company put some form of sealent in the boiler to try to stop the leak.  That ended up coating the coil to the hot water heater which then had to be replaced as well.  When the repairs are completed I will post a follow up.  

    We are now firm believers in getting a steam heating specialist!!!  It is so worth it!

    Upon our examination of you Weil McLain 680 Steam boiler and attached system we found the following areas of concern:


    1- The header configuration was counter to the minimums require by the manufacturer and needs to be repiped.

    2- The return and equalizer piping at the back of the boiler was not of adequate size as per manufacture specifications.

    3- The Low Water Cutoff that controls the water feeder is set 6” too low to properly control water level and burner function for the boiler. The unit needs raised and cleared of sludge.

    4- The pressuretrols were both set at too high of a setting and too close to each other to operate as required. The gauges and pressuretrols are not protected by pigtails to protect them from exposure to direct stem temperatures.

    5- The steam mains for the boiler side of the building are not vented and need to have venting added.

    6- The non boiler side main is not vented adequately for the load it supplies.

    7- The return for the boiler side of the building on the street side needs to be run into the boiler room and tied in at a lower height.

     8- The circulator for the indirect is not of the proper size or make for the application.

    9-The orientation and location of the circulator is incorrect and leads to excess wear of the pump.

    10- A bypass and strainer are required for the circulator piping to protect the pump and allow proper function at all operating temperatures.

    11- The existing boiler is too large for the building it is installed in as per measuring each radiator and applying the E.D.R. rating for each unit and a 33% pick up factor for basement piping.

    12- The system needs to be both purged and skimmed. A skimming valve needs to be installed.  

    13- Isolation valves should be added to allow for proper blow down of the boiler and the return lines.

    14- A target wall is recommended to protect the rear section from direct firing on it from the oil burner.

    15- A thermostatic mixing valve should be installed on the outlet of the indirect water heater to protect users and maintain an even water temp to units.

    16- A thermometer should be added to the hot water supply to monitor the hot water temperature.

    17- A fresh air intake should be added to the oil burner to allow for air from out side the building to be used for combustion and to insure there is enough air for proper combustion.

    18- System needs flushed and cleaned

    19- Boiler needs burner tuned and solenoid valve tested.

    20- Oil filter needs changed to one size larger.
  • thanks for the follow up

    so aggravating for you that this installation [2004] went so wrong, as to give only a few years of service, with no comfort, before failing.

    at least now you can look forward to real comfort, and economy with a competent installation! i am sure he will make sure the water chemistry is correct as well.--nbc
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