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Leaking Boiler Replacement Questions

Hi Gentlemen,

I have a 35 yr old Burnham steam boiler(model 405) that is on its deathbed. It started leaking water this winter and it got to the point where I had to add water to the boiler at least once a day.

 I used Hercules Stop Leak to remedy the situation and it helped a lot. There remained a slight drip at the bottom of the boiler where the condensate return pipe goes into the boiler, but it was minor - maybe a cup or two a week.

I've gotten three bids to replace the boiler. All the bids included using copper piping for the near-boiler piping.

My dance partner, a retired engineer, got nosy and started looking into the situation. He quickly found Dan's forum and ordered Dan's books - "The Lost Art of Steam Heating", and "We Got Steam Heat!" 

 After a quick read he took a closer look at my boiler and started taking pictures. He said that the header design was wrong, the equalizer was connected incorrectly at the header, and copper piping should not have been used. He started taking more pictures and drew sketches.

I have attached some of the pictures and sketches of my problem boiler.

After listening to my friend describe the problems with my piping, I'm now anxious about having a contractor doing the work wrong as the previous one did. Although, this current installation did last since it was installed in 1979.

I've been reading many of the posts on this steam heating forum and took note of the horror stories related to contractors who knew little about steam heat and screwed up the job. Looks like steam heat is a lost art indeed!

Matter of fact, a friend of mine had a new boiler replaced at his mom's house in the spring. He had sent me pix of the installation.

My friend took a look at the picture and noted that it was a nice job. Then he had a closer look at the riser.  He said that the riser should not have been necked down to a smaller pipe as that increases the steam velocity, which then carries more water - wet steam.

I looked up this detail in Dan's book and sure enough, there was a warning about that!

Pix attached  "Steve-NewBoiler Install 002.jpg"

My home was built around 1903, so I imagine that the steam piping and radiators are from that era.

My friend said that if properly designed, the plumbing work is not rocket-science. Oh yes, there are some tricks of the trade regarding pipe fitting, but all in all, nothing that a competent handyman cannot figure out how to do.

Is a boiler replacement a DIY project for someone handy with his brain and hands? I could use the saved money on other needed repairs.

My retired engineer friend does all his own work on cars, plumbing, carpentry, electrical, etc etc - - has done so for 30 years. He said he wont get the job done in one or two days, it may take him a week or so.

His only reservations regarding this boiler replacement work were:

1. Moving the heavy boilers - I've heard of motorized hand carts - can these be rented? Maybe hire 4 football players and make a sling using a 4 x 6?

2. Specialized tooling for cutting and threading pipes - can these be rented? I think my engineer friend wants to use a 3" header.

Will a local plumber thread the pipes for me at his shop?

3. Can I hire a contractor to do the supervisor work and let us do the grunt work?  Are there any local contractors who really know their business regarding steam heat?

I'm located in the New Brunswick, NJ area.

4. Where would I go to buy a Burnham boiler? Will a local distributor or local heating supply house sell to me?

5. I've seen supply houses on the internet that will sell boilers and parts, and provide shipping. Any advantage or liability to using these sources?

According to Dan's book, we should also double check the radiator EDR to make sure that we get the correct boiler size to match the load.

I went around and took pix and did measurements. Every radiator in the house is different! It's as if the original contractor went to the junkyard and got what he could find.

I calculated the EDR's based on Dan's book, but these may be way off. I'll post the radiator pix and my calculations later. I would appreciate another opinion on my numbers.

Speaking of radiators, not one of the contractors who bid on the job bothered to look at the radiators, much less figure out what the Total EDR is. Is this a warning sign?

I have more pix available. If there is a question on details, I can post the appropriate  pictures.

Attached PIx:

Schematic - Near Piping and Main Lines 1.jpg   - showing the layout of the near boiler piping and the two main steam lines

Schematic - Boiler Near Piping - IS vs SHOULD BE 1.jpg

Boiler-Main Line 1a.jpg -- header and main line 1

Boiler-Main Line 1b w Mystery Wet Return.jpg -- Other end of main line1

Boiler-Main Line2a .jpg -- header and main line 2

Boiler-Main Line2b.jpg -- other end of main line 2

Header-Issues.jpg  -- what we think the problem is with the header

Sorry if I was a bit long-winded. I need to watch O'Reilly more often and be more "pithy". My friend edited my post - the original was twice as long!

I appreciate all the help that I can get,

Thank you,



  • not just a pretty face on the dance floor!

    you are so fortunate to have such an informed friend, and to have been able to learn yourself about steam heat with those excellent books!

    the only sticky point to a do-it-yorself installation is threading the 3 in. pipes, as the threading machine will be pretty heavy; however carefull measurement can enable you to have it threaded by a pro. the drop-header could be 2 in, and those nipples are available pre-threaded. the drop-header is easier to fit for the novice.

    by all means, calculate your edr, and post it here for confirmation.--nbc
  • Cristina
    Cristina Member Posts: 6
    Radiator EDR's

    I have attached pictures of my radiators.

    Each picture has the radiator dimensions and what I could figure out was the EDR.

    Here are my calculations for figuring out what size boiler that I need.

    Radiators EDR's:

    Front Door - 35.0

    Porch Door - 54.0

    Desk - 36.0

    Liv Rm Pipe = 5.36

    Spare Bdrm - 34.0

    BathRm - 10.4

    Mstr Bdrm 1 = 10.5

    Mstr Bdrm 2 = 49.5

    Total EDR = 235 EDR

    Net MBH = EDR x MBH/EDR = 235 x 240 = 56342 MBH

    Pick up Factor = 1.33

    Gross MBH = 56342 x 1.33 = 75000 MBH

    My old boiler specs:

    Old Boiler Specs

    Birnham Model 405

    S/n 7627069

    Steam SqFt = 350

    Steam BTU/hr = 84,000

    Input BTU/Hr = 140,000

    Output BTU/Hr = 112,000

    As you can see, my numbers don't add up to what the old boiler puts out.. I think my radiator EDR's are not correct, or I dont know what I'm doing with matching up radiators to the boiler.

    I would appreciate a other opinions regarding the proper EDR for each radiator.

    Thank you,

  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,441
    edited September 2011

    I love the survey!

    Don't feel bad it took me MONTHS to be confident on the EDR of my system.  I bought the house with a boiler rated for 268sqft of EDR and my house has over 360sqft of EDR.  I doublechecked and triple checked and still doubted my self yet every time I checked details closer the EDR went up rather than down!

    The part of the survey that concerns me is you have tubes listed on column type radiators.  Make sure you used the chart for column type and not large or small tube they are drastically different.

    By the way, I love the fact you even included the EDR for the uninsulted steam pipe!
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
  • crash2009
    crash2009 Member Posts: 1,484
    edited September 2011

    Have you two ever done your homework.  It truly is rare to see someone with a complete plan such as yours. 

    It is difficulf to identify from here, but I checked with the book on a couple of your rads, and even though you named pic #1 a tube style instead of a column, your EDR calculation is close to this one in the book.  I am not sure that yours is a "Louraine" I cant tell from here.  It does look like it though doesn't it?

    The second one that caught my eye was the US Radiator 3 column (your pix 3 - Desk Window) EDR 36 is same as the book. 

    If you do not have the book yet, its available here in the shop.  The books title is EDR.  Here is a picture of it.

    I have just two suggestions for you. 

    1-Looking at the first picture in this post, I assume this is the existing schematic.  The Fresh water line should be connected to the boiler side of the Hartford so the fresh water can be de-oxyginated, rather than sitting around in the return causing leaks.

    2-King Valves would be a great idea.  One each on the system supply, and one on the return side of the Hartford.  If you havn't seen it all ready here is the video.   http://www.heatinghelp.com/article/107/Steam-Heating/118/Steam-boiler-near-boiler-piping 
  • where to connect the fresh water to the boiler

    with due respect to crash, i would advise the connection of the makeup water to be made into the wet return as far upstream as possible to reduce the possibility of thermal shock, which is more damaging than the rusting of the return which is easier to repair than a cracked section of the boiler. naturally, it is even more important to run the boiler immediately after adding any new water.--nbc
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,441
    hot water

    I was considering tapping into my water heater for makeup water but I have a feeling there is no reason. In my case I know not to add water fast so I don't think I'll have a problem.

    May be a good idea for other setups though?
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
  • Cristina
    Cristina Member Posts: 6
    Cris calling Chris about tubes and columns

    You can tell that I'm a neophyte when it comes to plumbing terms. I should have used the term "Column" and not "Tube".

    When looking up the EDR information, I looked at the pictures alongside each table of figures to make sure that each radiator was similar to the one that I have, or at least as close as possible.

    By the way, I love the fact you even included the EDR for the uninsulted steam pipe!

    Yeah, I did read Dan's books and he said that oftentimes the open pipes were actually part of the heating system.

    Since you spent so much time and effort doing your own EDR's, would you do me a favor and give my pix and numbers a quick once-over and see if my numbers are in the ballpark?
  • Cristina
    Cristina Member Posts: 6
    On Nipples and Headers

    On 2" or 3" headers:

    I was talking to another dance partner of mine, who used to be in the plumbing business when he was younger. He said that 3" piping was a lot harder to work with than 2" piping.

    Then we got into a discussion regarding nipples. I was confused at first regarding nipples because in one breath he called something a pipe and in the next breath a pipe was being referred to as a nipple! When I stopped him and said that I was confused about nipples, he stopped, raised an eye-brow, did an evil grin and said "Oh. really?"

    Are nipples just short sections of pipe? Any pipe that is shorter than 6", and threaded on both ends is called a "nipple"?

    Note: my engineer friend just told me to get onto other topics before I get you guys distracted.

    We are going to skip the 3" header idea and go with the 2" dropped header idea.

    It's my understanding that the fittings, pipes, and 'nipples', are a lot easier to get and work with, and the stuff comes already threaded.

    My concern, according to Dan's Bible, was to make sure that I was getting dry steam. Risers into the header that are longer than the minimum called for in the Burnham specifications should assure me of dry steam.

    On risers, I plan on getting a Burnham IN5 steam boiler. Does that come with one riser or two riser outlets? Some pictures that I've seen show one outlet and some show two.
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,441
    edited September 2011

    Keep in mind I am relatively new to steam heat and I am only a home owner not a pro.

    I was going to go with an IN5 as well but my A dimension was kind of close so I decided to go with a Weil-Mclain EG-45.  The IN5 can use two 2" risers.

    With the EG-45 which is about the same size boiler overall as the IN5 I am going with two 2" risers into a 3" drop header and a 2" equalizer.  Personally, I would do the same on the IN5.  The 3" header costs A LOT more to build than a 2" but I feel its worth it.

    I am not sure on the exact definition of a nipple however I believe the 12" long pre-threaded pipe I just bought was described as nipples.  Typically a nipple is a short piece of pipe which is threaded on both ends.
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
  • Cristina
    Cristina Member Posts: 6

    My bad about technical terms. I should have used the word "column" and not "tube". My engineer friend already spanked me that goof.

    On EDR's:

    It's getting late in the process to order more books and look things up. I'm feeling the pinch to get the boiler replaced SOON!  I  need to light a fire under my friend and get him going!

    From your comments, it seems that my EDR calculations are in the ballpark.

    The Burnham IN5 boiler has a I=B=R rating of  for steam of 86 MBH.

    My calculations show that I need 75 MBH. (my post shows "75,000 MBH", but I think that's something to do with M=three zeros.

    Is this IN5 boiler of sufficient size? I dont want to get a boiler undersized or oversized because Dan says that will produce other problems.
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,441
    boiler size

    Cristina,  I'm probably not the best person to make this judgment but as far as I can tell, if your EDR calculations are correct (and they seem to be) the IN4 is too small ergo the IN5 would be your only option from Burnham.

    Just make sure you have 28 inches from the lowest steam carrying pipe to the NWL of the boiler.  The IN5 is a bit higher than many boilers.
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
  • Mark N
    Mark N Member Posts: 1,115
    Boiler size

    The Burnham IN-4 is rated for 271 sq ft of EDR. The IN-5 is 360 sq ft. You come up with 235 sq ft of radiation. The IN-5 will be oversized. I have an IN-4 with 252 sq ft of rads attached and it runs very well.
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,441
    Mark N

    Is 100% correct.

    I made a mistake looking at your numbers. The IN4 has a DOE rating of 87,000 and you need 75,000. As Mark N said the IN4 is rated for up to 271 sqft which includes a 1.33 pickup factor.

    The IN4 is the Burnham for you.

    Please accept my apologies on my mistake.
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
  • clammy
    clammy Member Posts: 3,092
    doing it once

    Do yourself  big favor ,use a 3 inch drop header ,never reduce the factory tapping (bushing it down).In my book do the math the bigger the header the slower the exiting velocity  the slower the exitng velocity the dryer the steam .A real fitter does not sweat the difference between 2 and 3 inch pipe .Just about all plumbers can cut and thread up to 2 inch black pipe while only a few have the gear to cut and thread 2,5 and up and those are the ones who are not affraid to do oversized drop headers.Just remenber you only want to do your boiler piping once it usually cost even more the second time around .Have all your near boiler piping insulated with 1 inch wall fiberglass pipe insulation at a miniun.Have your rad vents and main vents checked and changed espically your main vents and have your  new boiler skimmed and water side clean prior to putting it on line .I myself have been in the phvac bussiness for close to 30 years and working in constrution since i was a teenager .I have rebuilt car engines,tranmissions even built a addition on my own home (20 years ago) but in some cases i call in a pro why cause thats what they do every day and some times it is better to pay some one and have it done correctly once instead of spending alot of time to do it yourself and wonder if it was done corretly or have to call in some one to pick up the pieces which ain't gonna save you one cent.Find a pro and check all his refrences and remenber there are wolves in sheeps clothing in all walks of life  peace and good luck clammy
    R.A. Calmbacher L.L.C. HVAC
    NJ Master HVAC Lic.
    Mahwah, NJ
    Specializing in steam and hydronic heating
  • Cristina
    Cristina Member Posts: 6
    It's all DONE!

    Hello Gentlemen,

    My new steam boiler is up and running!!

    The job took longer than I had thought. Fitting pipes is not easy!

    Only two leaks were found on completion, and both were copper fittings at one location in a condensate return line. We took the fitting apart, cleaned, fluxed it and soldered it back in. That solved the problem.

    The heating system works like a dream. I cannot tell when it's on, except for noticing that it gets warmer. Before, the old system made all kinds of noises when firing up - banging, hissing, gurgling, spitting. All those noises are now GONE!

    There was a problem with short cycling. I was using the old thermostat which was designed for a thermopile, so I bought a new thermostat for the 24V AC system.

    The boiler was still short cycling with the new thermostat on the recommended anticipater setting of 0.8. I moved it up to about 0.9 and it seems to be happy now. I'll play a bit more with this.

    I've got more questions on how the pressuretrol operates, but I'll save the questions for the next post.

    I went with 2" pipes instead of 3" because I had a heart attack upon seeing what 3" pipes cost!

    Thanks to those who offered advice:

    Nicholas B-C



    Mark N


    I'm posting pix of my system to show off me, my friend . .. . and . . .oh yes . . .the boiler.

  • Dave in QCA
    Dave in QCA Member Posts: 1,785

    Thanks for posting the great pictures.  I love your pair of 2" nipples....

    ....  The RISERS on the boiler guys!!!

    I am truly impressed with the professional project.  It looks like you kept your freind smiling too.  Always nice to see a picture of the person that we're talking too.  You're a gem!
    Dave in Quad Cities, America
    Weil-McLain 680 with Riello 2-stage burner, December 2012. Firing rate=375MBH Low, 690MBH Hi.
    System = Early Dunham 2-pipe Vacuo-Vapor (inlet and outlet both at bottom of radiators) Traps are Dunham #2 rebuilt w. Barnes-Jones Cage Units, Dunham-Bush 1E, Mepco 1E, and Armstrong TS-2. All valves haveTunstall orifices sized at 8 oz.
    Current connected load EDR= 1,259 sq ft, Original system EDR = 2,100 sq ft Vaporstat, 13 oz cutout, 4 oz cutin - Temp. control Tekmar 279.
  • clammy
    clammy Member Posts: 3,092
    Nice work

    Nice job as a matter of fact better then some i see done locally.One suggestion is that in what i believe is your dry returns ,they should be tied together well below  the water line of your boiler,i may be wrong as i see it in your pictures it is on the left side and done in copper .In my experience each dry return should have it,s own main vent and its drip should be tied together with other dry returns well below the water line .This way steam does not go from one dry return to another leaving the other main air bound and slow to heat .Aside from that excellent job with some great pride and craftsmanship put into wish you the best of luck with your system . PS save some  more money and insulate your drop header and the rest of your systems steam piping it saves fuel and also will lessen the amount of condensate forming in your mains and grooving your pipes .The reason i say this is because i noticed a what looks like a leak in your main which was repaired using copper .I used to see this alot on older homes whos asbestos had been removed and never replaced over time all that extra condensate would wear grove in the piping and it would always leak at the fittings weather it was a tee or elbow ,just aheads up .Great home owner job peace and good luck clammy
    R.A. Calmbacher L.L.C. HVAC
    NJ Master HVAC Lic.
    Mahwah, NJ
    Specializing in steam and hydronic heating
  • crash2009
    crash2009 Member Posts: 1,484
    Great Piping Job!

    I just knew you two were gonna come up with a winner.  It does take a little planning.  Its nice to have time for that.  If you were planning to do any insulating, I thought I should send you my entire insulation file.  Mostly everything you need to save some $$$.  Last winter my heating bill was $750 less than the winter before.

  • Kbalz
    Kbalz Member Posts: 53

    I just stumbled on to this post and I am very impressed ! Inspiring in many ways.
  • an inspiration to us all!

    you [and ms moneypitfeeder] are an inspiration to us all, and also to the many new steam system owners who would otherwise think they could never understand the forces at work in their basements.

    i hope you continue to visit here and offer advice based on your experience in re-piping your own systems. your advice and new-found knowledge is almost more valuable than those of the pros, because you have shown how important, and beneficial it is to "do it right, and do it once".--nbc
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