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Boiler with too much water - new piping

<span style="font-size:12pt">Dear Heating Help:</span>

<span style="font-size:12pt">My boiler is 25-30 years old. I have only lived here one year. The boiler had not been blown down properly before I moved in, so two weeks after we signed on the house (in mid Nov) a low return pipe burst, the low-water cut off didn’t cut off and I couldn’t reach emergency shut-off. We evacuate, called fire dept and have been trying to fix system ever since. </span>

<span style="font-size:12pt">Boiler company 1 put a plug on the burst pipe and told me I would need a new boiler because it was as corroded as the piping. The system worked well with the plug and I decided to postpone replacing the boiler after Boiler company 2 and Plumber friend-of-family both separately said they saw nothing wrong with the boiler and that BC1’s quote was WAY too high. All last winter the system was quiet, heated evenly, and relatively problem-free.</span>

<span style="font-size:12pt">Over the summer Plumber friend-of-family (many years experience – some with steam) came to replace the plug with a clean-out valve, the release valve, and some near-boiler piping. Since this winter started:</span>

<span style="font-size:12pt">1.</span>       <span style="font-size:12pt">The boiler seems to be flooding. The glass shows full of water. One time I drained the boiler and took over 6 gallons out just to get 1cm of air in the glass. As I was draining it, it sounded as if the pipes above the boiler were gurgling. Now that I closed the valve so the auto feeder can’t auto feed, I can see the water level stays at 1 in below max when cold – but when the boiler begins firing I keep hearing the auto feeder trying to kick on. By the time I get down there, most of the time the glass is full of water again. A few times it has been low, but I wait and it fills back up.</span>

<span style="font-size:12pt">2.</span>       <span style="font-size:12pt">Only one radiator on the second floor is heating. We did replace some air vents on three downstairs radiators.</span>

<span style="font-size:12pt">3.</span>       <span style="font-size:12pt">The system is noisy. The air vents sound as if they’re breathing heavy (even the ones on the radiators that don’t heat); there is whistling in the radiators that do heat; and awful water hammer throughout the system (mostly around boiler – I think).</span>

<span style="font-size:12pt">Plumber friend-of-family and I are confused. I have read <span style="text-decoration:underline;">The Lost art of Steam Heating</span>,  and <span style="text-decoration:underline;">We Got Steam Heat</span> so I have limited understanding of the system. My plumber now is suggesting that we change all air vents and install a condensate return.</span>

<span style="font-size:12pt">Please advise!!</span>I may have included too many photos, but I wasn’t sure which would be most helpful!!


  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,478
    edited October 2011
    Plugged returns

    It sounds like some of the return pipes are full of crud beyond the pipes that were replaced. The full length of the returns should be snaked out to clean out the crud or replaced. Check the full length of returns to be sure there is positive slope for the water to return to the boiler. Also that main vent may be undersized but that is not contributing to this problem.

    The auto water feeder may be sensing low water when the water is slow to return to the boiler and that results in the overfilling if the water feeder input valve is open; that water feeder and LWCO should probably be dismantled and cleaned also. Watch the water in the glass to see how low it gets before the water trickles back into the boiler?

    How dirty is the water when you blow down the boiler every week?

    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • Mark N
    Mark N Member Posts: 1,115
    LWCO failure

    Was the LWCO repaired? I wouldn't operate that boiler if it wasn't. You don't need an auto feeder if you are willing to keep an eye on the water level in the boiler. I don't use an auto feeder, don't trust them. That main vent you have is probably to small get a Gorton#1 or #2., and install it on a 6" nipple. If that dry return has a sag in it, it will causes water to collect and cause all kinds of problems. You have a condesate return so why would you install one. Get that LWCO fixed if has not been repaired.
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,576
    boiler problems

    definitely fix the lwco, clean the pigtail and install a 0-3 psi gauge, so you know your pressure. keep the auto/over feed off, and monitor the water level as you try to lower your system pressure with the pressuretrol. was the system ever cleaned [see skimming] after the piping was replaced?

    you definitely need new main vents, if you want an auto/over feed, then get one with a meter. on a boiler of this age,  you should track the water consumption.

    most likely, the pressure is causing the water to stack in the returns which may then take a few minutes to drain back, during which time the lwco feeds the boiler more water.--nbc
  • new2steam_hmowner

    Thank you for your prompt replies!!

    I forgot to mention that we did have the LWCO fixed - the day after the piping blowout. They also cleaned the blow-down.

    Plumber friend emptied and cleaned out the boiler over the summer.

    The water has very little crud when I blow it down every week. The water in the glass is 10x as clean as it was last year.

    I am checking the water level daily (sometimes 2x or more per day). It gets to about 1 in from the bottom of the glass before the auto feeder tries to come on. I wonder if I am doing damage to auto feeder by cutting off the water line and it is still trying to add water.

    The new return piping has valves in two locations to allow for cleaning the lines. They seem OK - not too dirty.

    Plumber friend believes I may need a condensate return pump. Sorry I didn't specify.

    Does anyone have any thoughts on the dimensions of the new Hartford Loop? Does it look OK?
  • Rod
    Rod Posts: 2,067
    Condensate Return

    Hi- If it didn't need a condensate pump before i wouldn't think it should need one now. I would make sure that the condensate is "encouraged" to return to the boiler. There maybe condensate pooling in some of the radiators so check your radiators and make sure they are slightly sloped towards the intake pipe. Make sure all the radiator inlet valves are fully open.  . Also as was mentioned earlier make sure there are no sags in your returns as this retains condensate that you want to have return to the boiler.

    - Rod
  • new2steam_hmowner
    boiler flooding AND high pressure

    I came home to no heat last week. Our family friend plumber came to check things out. The boiler had mysteriously flooded again - even though the valve to the automatic feeder was closed. We drained the boiler of some 15 gallons of water and closed the other cut-off valve. Then we stayed scratching out heads for some time. The boiler did come back on, but the pressure started going up to 5 lbs. He adjusted the pressuretrol (lower), so now the boiler is still short cycling but due to pressure not to low water. It keeps shutting off, giving the condensate time to return as the pressure comes down.

    Today I came home to no heat and the boiler had leaked out the blow-down and I had to fill it with the water valve that bypasses the automatic feeder.

    I know that all this fresh water cannot be good for the boiler. Both local boiler companies that I talked to last year gave me some "knucklehead" advice and our family friend plumber is used to installing industrial steam systems - not maintaining small home systems.

    Is there anyone out there who works in ortravels to central New York locations?!?! I'm feeling desperate as our baby is due Jan 3rd and I don't want to be out of heat this winter!!

    BTW, we did end up replacing almost all of the radiator air vents and he installed a new main air vent on an extension. The system is still limping along and the house is comfortably warm so far...
  • Enreynolds
    Enreynolds Member Posts: 119
    Where in

    Central NY are you located?
  • Long Beach Ed
    Long Beach Ed Member Posts: 1,204
    Too Much Water

    Make sure any dry return line (those above the boiler's water line) are pitched toward the boiler or are level.  Measure down from the ceiling to check these. 

    Make certain that the automatic feeder supply valve is really off and is not leaking.  You may think it's turned off but the valve may be still passing water.   You'll have to open that union on the feeder to check this.

    Check that none of the mains are sagging and trapping water. 

    When all this is done, remove the radiator vent off each radiator and make sure you can blow through them when they are upright.  If not, replace or clean them. 

    The pressuretrol was junk back when Kennedy was president.  It's probably worse now.  Remove it and check its operation by blowing through it and seeing if it activates.  I'll bet it doesn't.  While you are at it, blow through the pigtail to make sure that's not clogged. 

    I doubt you have a clogged return, but those things do happen.  You can check that by taking off that junky Taiwanese vent, sticking a hose in the fitting and running water through the returns. 

    Do all this and your problems will (should) vanish. 

    Then find a new plumber.  Anyone talking about a condensate pump to this system shouldn't be allowed near it. 

  • MrDvorak
    Dry return pitch

    What exactly is the pitch of the dry return? In one of the pictures, you mention that the insulated pipe is very slightly inclined towards the vent. I would remove the insulation and make sure that the dry return has a sufficient pitch, it can be causing a lot of problems otherwise; especially if the new pipes changed the original pitch.
  • LHthread
    LHthread Member Posts: 7
    I see the Knock and the Surge back already!

    On the pic that has the note (did the new pipe cause this to move up?)

    That looks to me like there are two dry returns. They are Tied in (Tee'd) together, Dry!

    Any returns above the water line returning condensate to the boiler...should be Tied In WET.

    With the old boiler...there was probably a lot more water capacity, and knock / steam wter flash was maybe minimal. With a modern fast stem boiler with only 1/3 the old boiler water content...there would be a surge of steam at the tee and ell where they are tied together dry.

    The line pitch to the EOL vent seem to pitch toward the tee / ell . That line should pitch back toward the boiler.

    It looks like a lot of work to resolve that Tee Ell dry Tee In..but there is another way.

    Drop the line where they tee in down to the floor, and then come back up to where the existing line comes across; creating a trap. Just add a tee and plug fitting as a cleanout at the bottom. You could use copper and 95 /5 solder.

    If the water is sludgy and dirty..add 3/4 cup trisodium phosphate ( Cleaning powder) that you get at the hardware store. Make a solution and add to the water..steam it for 1 hour and cool down and drain. Repeat if necessary. Don't use that squick stuff. That could clog the LWCO.

    Good luck..
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