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My Humble Boiler

Rob_40 Member Posts: 55
I have what I think is an old coal steam boiler that serves a one pipe steam radiator system in my home.  It was converted to gas.  Seems ancient and must waste a lot of fuel warming up the house.   I flush the low water cut off valve frequently, and will drain the bottom feed spigot to remove some rusty water.  It's an ugly and decaying beast.  I have noticed that where the return pipe enters the boiler there is a lot of rust and rusty deposit on the floor from what must be a leak.  The pressure gauge has stopped working.  The emergency pressure relief has a broken lever.   The inspection glass gets dirty shortly after cleaning.   Never skimmed it, because I am afraid to remove the threaded cap on the nipple, believing I have a good chance of breaking the nipple where it threads into the main body of the boiler instead of removing the cap.   I would like to keep it alive for this winter and seriously look to replace it with a modern system.

What can I do about the return leak?

Can I remove the skimming port cap safely?

Can I rely on the pressure cut off switch if the adjoining pressure gauge is no longer reading any pressure?

Thanks in advance for any advice.  Here are some photos:



  • icesailor
    icesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    Old Boilers:

    Always use two pipe wrenches when trying to get a cap off.

    Don't touch the leaking fitting.

    Love that Hartford Loop.

    Love all that Asbestos insulation.

    Consider changing the boiler and having an asbestos remediation done as soon as possible. That isn't cheap.
  • Rob_40
    Rob_40 Member Posts: 55
    Hartford Loop?

    Thanks for the reminder about using two wrenches to remove the cap.  (Already feel the "dope slap" from my Dad telling me "don't be daft".

    Sarcasm online is hard to discern by an unknowledgeable reader.  So, your love for my asbestos maybe easily understood.  But your expressed love of my Hartford Loop has me confused.  Does my boiler actually have a Hartford Loop?  It doesn't resemble any diagrams I have seen of the loop. 
  • Charlie from wmass
    Charlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,314
    Yes, you have no Hartford loop

    The snowmen tend to never leak in the boiler it is always the pipes around them. Wing and a prayer or a warm spell, and get it on someone's calender to change it "ooot". I have a similar beast in a basement haunting me. It leaks in almost the same place too. I know it needs changed but the owner is not willing to pull the plug yet.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
  • Rob_40
    Rob_40 Member Posts: 55
    "Manual" Setting

    One nice thing about this converted "snowman" was operating the gas on "manual" and having heat when the electricity was out after the Nor'easter iced up all the trees here in New Jersey.  Granted, I had to watch it closely as none of the safety devices were working.

    Do any modern boilers operate in a pinch without electricity?
  • icesailor
    icesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    edited November 2011
    Loopy in Hartford :

    It doesn't look like any Hartford Loop I have ever seen. In fact, I don 't even see one.

    As far as the two wrenches thing, when you have a nipple that you can bet a wrench on, do it. If there's not enough nipple space, the weight of the boiler will usually do.

    That bottom leak is a killer though. That would be an interesting project to complete.

    I've been told that I am so dry, some need a drink of water to get what I say.

    I don't mean to be sarcastic. I'm not.

    That boiler was installed by old dead guys that did a really nice job. Before Hartford Loops. If the system works now on steam, get it replaced by someone that knows what they are doing. Put in a header like the manufacturer recommennds, put in the Hartford Loop, and the system may las another 100 years. Those old dead guys really knew how to thread pipe.
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,442
    edited November 2011
    no power

    I have considered getting two 12V lead acid batteries for this purpose.  If I supply the gas valve with 24V I would assume she should operate fine with safeties in place and a thermostat to boot.

    I have a question regarding removing the asbestos.  Doesn't it make more sense to leave it alone on the pipes as its not harming anyone as long as its not disturbed?  To me, removing it makes more of a risk and then you need to shell out $600-1000 on insulation to replace what you already had.

    Maybe I'm looking at it wrong I don't know.
    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
  • Rob_40
    Rob_40 Member Posts: 55
    Asbestos Removal

    I think the asbestos removal might be a necessity when I replace the boiler.  The boiler has its own asbestos of course, and I am coming to the conclusion that there will be a lot of re-piping necessary to have a new boiler installed correctly. I have neither a header, nor equalizer nor Hartford Loop. So, it seems there will be some disturbing of the pipe insulation just to install the additional near boiler pipes.

    I was aware of the asbestos when I bought the house.  But keeping the asbestos might hinder any future sale.  It's largely intact.  I am carefull not to bump it.  But some buyers might freak just seeing it.
  • Hap_Hazzard
    Hap_Hazzard Member Posts: 2,849
    24V systems

    The only problem with using 2 12V batteries is that they would give you 24V DC, and these systems require AC. It would be pretty easy to generate 24V AC from a single 12V battery by reversing the polarity every half cycle to go from +12 to -12, but I don't know of any commercially available devices that do that--mainly because I haven't looked. I have a 24V system too, but when I think about emergency backup, I keep coming back to the conclusion that a standby generator is the way to go. Keeping the heat on is important, but so are refrigerators, stoves, lights, and the all-important coffee maker! What's the point of survival if you don't have coffee? :)
    Just another DIYer | King of Prussia, PA
    1983(?) Peerless G-561-W-S | 3" drop header, CG400-1090, VXT-24
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,442

    You know, some how I totally forgot theres no rectifier on these systems.

    The only easy way to do it would be to build a solid state switcher but at that point it would be easier to just buy an inverter and step the 12V up to 120V AC.
    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
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,471
    missing the millivolt systems

    Building an inverter yourself would work but it would not cost a lot more to just use a UPS because the power draw is very low as long as you don't have any motors involved. I would go one step further and shut that UPS down when you were not running the boiler to prolong the battery life because they are not meant to run things for days (small batteries, usually 2ea or 4ea 12v gellcells).

    In either case you might need to be careful to build or buy one that puts out a quasi sine wave. I remember designing one for the USAF back in the late 70's using a lot of discrete parts. The schematic filled two D size prints. Funny thing is that had to be built because the designer of the equipment decided to use AC synchronous motors rather than DC servo motors (it was a commercial design). So that "cost savings" program cost the government $12,750 per copy.

    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,442
    Isn't progress great

    The whole point in steam heat was it operated without electric.

    Now, here we are 100 years later trying to figure out how to power our steam boilers when the electric is out. :)
    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
  • EEngineer
    EEngineer Member Posts: 7
    edited November 2011
    That's actually a good installation


    That boiler is actually piped correctly! I recently (~3 years ago) replaced a boiler very similar to that one and I spent a lot of time understanding the old system before designing the new one.

    Old boilers like this one are much taller than new ones. Part of the reason is that they included a steam dome (terminology? not sure what they called it) at the top of the boiler to help dry out the steam. Water boiled in the bottom of the boiler, generated steam that rose up to a dome at the top of the boiler where water and steam could separate. Water drained back down into the bottom of the boiler to be boiled again and only steam exited the pipes at the top of the boiler.

    Headers and equalization loops only became necessary when they started cheapening up boilers. To save on cast iron, they eliminated the steam dome at the top of the boiler and moved the steam/water separation function to headers and equalization loops piped in around the outside of the boiler.

    As for a missing Hartford loop, mine didn't have one either. As a purely practical matter, Hartford loops are most useful when there are long wet return loops that may be buried or hidden in walls. Leaks in these kinds of returns can go undetected. They can drain the boiler of water and a homeowner would never be the wiser. This system only has about 3 to 4 feet of wet return (mine was even shorter, with about 6-8 inshes of wet return right at the bottom entrance to the boiler) and it is all clearly visible. Note where the only leak that he shows is located - right at the entrance to the bottom of the boiler (must be common, mine did the same thing). The leak here would actually be after any Hartford loop and the Hartford loop would do absolutely no good preventing the boiler from draining due to this leak.

    As I mentioned, I had a similar leak in my boiler and had to fix it. I notice what seems to be a union in the horizontal pipe that leads to the leaking elbow connection at the boiler. This might make it easy to drain the boiler and fix this leak. The boiler is probably not the source of the leak - it is probably a short nipple that connects from the elbow into the boiler. Mine was so rusted that I had to carefully cut the threads with a sawzall and collapse the nipple to get it out. It ran for another 10 years after I replaced that nipple.
  • Long Beach Ed
    Long Beach Ed Member Posts: 1,188

    The dangerous thing in this beast is that leaking return at the boiler. 

    Without a Hartford Loop, the boiler can dry fire when the pipe finally

    lets go.   That will burn down the house if the low water cutoff is in similar condition as the rest of this place.

    Yes, in most parts, selling a home with that much asbestos on the pipes

    would be difficult, so it's remove now or remove later.

    Anyone else love that little iron steam trap under the pressure controls? 
  • EEngineer
    EEngineer Member Posts: 7
    Hartford Loop?

    Where that leak is, a Hartford loop would not help at all - that leak will drain the boiler.
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