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YASN - Yet another steam newbie - questions about my system

DAXQ_2 Member Posts: 52
I have just purchased a house with an old steam boiler. Everything was inspected, and we even had an old train steam boiler guy from the previous owner discuss some things over the phone. I also purchased the books to try and get a better feel for things and to help resolve some minor issues we were experiencing. I learned that I should be bleeding the system about weekly while using it to heat the house. One of the times I was bleeding things, my 5 year old was helping and I am not totally sure that he did not turn a valve or something because things just don't seem the same. So I am wondering if I take pictures of everything, all the valves etc... if some one could let me know if they should be opened or closed. I am also noticing a small drip leak that I dont recall being there before.

The train steam guy said while this is a very old boiler (we think it is original to the house) he said it is in great shape and should/could last us for many years. Don't know enough about the stuff to rally be sure - but I did not get the impression he was one of those knuckle heads the book talked about. So I am hoping that I can get a better understanding of the parts and things of my specific boiler before I accidentally turn something off that should not be, or on that should not be. Any assistance with this matter is greatly appreciated.


  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,473
    post the pics

    Post the pics and we will take a look at what you have.

    What has changed?

    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • DAXQ_2
    DAXQ_2 Member Posts: 52
    Boiler Photos

    Used to be that when I bleed things in to the large white bucket I could hear the valve click open and the water meter clicking behind me as the unit filled. I don't really hear that anymore. There also was no leak, and now there is this little leak. I also think it is filling much slower - used to be I could watch it fill - now it definitely trickles. I have attached the photos and tried to note where I could.
  • MotownSteamer
    MotownSteamer Member Posts: 110

    Welcome to the site! What are the "minor issues" you are having? Do you have a one or two pipe system? All those valves appear to be related to your water feed as well as the wet return (for draining). Good regimen to drain that low water cut off often to keep it clear of crud, however minor drips and such aren't a big deal.

    Some more pics overhead of the piping would be helpful, as well as a few radiator pictures. We on the Wall are looking at the the whole system so we can help you understand it and resolve any performance issues. Vents are critical, so try to find those and photograph them too.

    It appears as though there is no header on the near boiler piping.

    I think you'll get a good bit of info from all the wonderful experts out here. Good luck
  • DAXQ_2
    DAXQ_2 Member Posts: 52
    Minor Issues

    we had one relief vent clogged with paint, some of the others hiss a bit and I plan to purchase new valves so I have a few that I can swap out if needed. (We thought a pipe was clogged as it would only get hot about half way up - and learned from the books that it was the cold air damn being blocked from escaping. We also had a minor leak at the radiator valve in the kitchen, guy came and tightened it - right about then was when I bought the books.

    I believe it is a one pipe system (there is no second pipe on my radiators).

    I will get some more pics of the overhead pipe and a few radiators and post them here in a little bit.
  • Mike Kusiak_2
    Mike Kusiak_2 Member Posts: 604
    edited January 2012

    You have a float type combination low water cutoff and water feeder. Valves 1 and 2 isolate the feeder from the water supply and boiler.  Both should be fully open. If one of these valves is partially closed, this would explain why the boiler refills slowly when you drain water from the blowdown valve (yellow handle).

    The leak appears to be coming from the auto feed valve. You can try closing valves 1 and 2. If the leak stops this will confirm that the leak is from that valve. Make sure to reopen them after checking.

    The valve should be rebuildable or replaceable without changing the entire main assembly.
  • DAXQ_2
    DAXQ_2 Member Posts: 52
    edited January 2012
    Overhead & Radiators

    Could not get very good pics of the pipes, so I did a CAD on my house layout and exported it to PDF to attach here, hopefully it is readable/understandable. Also attached some pics of a couple of Radiators. Thanks again for all the help and information. I will try and get an overlay of the Water feeds, but the pipes near the boiler get pretty complicated. Not sure if I can CAD that or not.
  • DAXQ_2
    DAXQ_2 Member Posts: 52
    Valves Reply

    The Valve 2 was completely closed. My Son says he didn't touch, but I'm pretty sure he must have. They are both wide open now, and I can hear the water flow as well as the meter behind me clicking off the $$$'s. It also seems that the View Window is always completely full rather than just a bit in the lower part of the window.
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,576
    good vents

    don't change your radiator vents too soon, as they appear to be the long-life-high-quality hoffman 40's, and are probably working well. what an old system like this will undoubtably need is main vents, most likely gorton #2's.

    i also advise the installation of a low-pressure gauge [gaugestore.com, 0-3 psi] on the same pigtail as the pressuretrol, so you can see when the sweet spot of venting capacity has been reached. an old boiler like this will have a much larger steam chest whose air needs to be allowed to escape easily, with the air in the pipes; instead of having to be forcibly expelled by the gas company on your dime! when you take stock of the system, remember loud noises/banging are not normal for steam. all radiators should get the steam at the same time on a given floor, giving even temperatures.--nbc
  • Abracadabra
    Abracadabra Member Posts: 1,948
    water should stop...

    does the water flow eventually stop once the level reaches the water line on the feeder?  There should be a line in the casting of the LWCO that indicates where it will attempt to keep the waterline. Water should stop flowing once the gauge glass fills with water to that line. If it doesn't you could end up with a flooded boiler.
  • DAXQ_2
    DAXQ_2 Member Posts: 52
    Good Vents

    On most upstairs Radiators, I have Hoffman 40's. And aside from the hissing every once in a while from a few them, I have never seen steam or moisture coming from them (in fact the entire house is actually quite a bit dryer than I would have hoped/wanted - I expected a nice moist heat from this type of system. Kind of odd how it is not as bad a gas forced air in drying things out, but its pretty darn dry! Am hoping to find some kind of moisture tray to add to the radiators to add moisture in the rooms that need it).

    As for the large valves downstairs, I cannot read anything on them. There is one hisser, the others are silent. The one that hisses is the larger of the three in the photos. These are marked in the PDF layout near the boiler.

    Aside from the hissing there are no other loud noises - just the occasional ping and ding as it heats up. The only other complaint might be a dripping sound from the second story pipes - I am figuring as the water returns after condensing.
  • furnacefigher15
    furnacefigher15 Member Posts: 514

    I don't see a hartford loop.

    I realize this is a dry return, but there should still be one.
  • Abracadabra
    Abracadabra Member Posts: 1,948

    All your main vents (which you call "relief" vents in your pdf) should get hot at about the same time. Within 30-45 seconds of each other.  If they don't you need to do some replacement/addition of main vents.

    The one pic that you posted of the radiator in your foyer with the crocs on the floor and the mittens and hats on the radiator, does nto appear to have the vent set so that the vent is perpendicular to the floor. It might just be an optical illusion.  You shold check that though.  All radiator vents should be pointing up and down, not cockeyed to the left/right or upside down. 

    In your pdf, you state that you hear no "hissing" from some main vents.  Do those pipes ever get hot?
  • Abracadabra
    Abracadabra Member Posts: 1,948
    cleaning that vent

    The Hoffman on the right (your third picture) looking like it's leaking a bit of steam. If that's the one that's hissing then it may not be closing up 100%.  You may want to clean it up a bit by soaking it in some CLR overnight and washing it out.  I'm sure you'll get a bunch of crud out of it.  The other main vents look like they might be a bit slow.  Not sure what brand they are.  Haven't seen those before.
  • DAXQ_2
    DAXQ_2 Member Posts: 52
    Water Level

    There is no line that I can see. In the first attached image, it is sitting as it normally does where it looks full of water. In the second image I have just bleed it a little (opened the yellow valve) and you can see the small water line as it is filling. After it was full - everything looked like image the first image again.

    I cannot really recall there being a consistent display in the water window. With the water feed valve 2 closed, this window was never full, only about one inch or so.
  • Abracadabra
    Abracadabra Member Posts: 1,948
    hartford loop

    Boiler looks like it's pre-hartford loop era ;-)

  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,736
    I'd replace all three main vents first

    measure the length and diameter of each steam main and we can tell you what you need. 
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
  • DAXQ_2
    DAXQ_2 Member Posts: 52
    Vents reply

    All pipes and vents get hot now. When we first moved there was an issue with one second story radiator, but they fixed that with a new Hoffman 40. The only place it does not really get hot, is that little off shoot that says room always cold. It is a Bath room that was added on, and I be they just spliced into the pipe and put a recessed radiator in the wall. The pipe is not insulated and the room does not get warm at all because it is not over the basement, needs more floor insulation, or maybe even a heated floor. The little radiator gets hot though, just not enough for that cold room.

    I will test the time it takes everything to heat the next cycle. And no - its not an optical illusion, I put that one on - and it is slightly tilted to the rear of the radiator, did not want to over or under tight, and it stopped there.
  • Abracadabra
    Abracadabra Member Posts: 1,948

    You need to set that vent vertical.  Not on a diagonal. Check the threads on the radiator and you might need to use a tap to clean them out, or use a bit of teflon tape on the vent threads to tighten it up right.

    You might need more radiation in that bath.  But if it gets up to a good temp and cools off quickly, insulation may be what you need. All your mains should be insulated. Risers are difficult to do if they are all in a wall, but anything exposed should be insulated.
  • DAXQ_2
    DAXQ_2 Member Posts: 52
    speed heating

    Managed to catch a cycle while I was down there. They all heated up pretty quick to each other. First one hot was just above the glass and valve 1 & 2. Then the other two were too hot to touch by the time I go to them both. I also heard that rear main hissing a little very quietly but it was definitely letting the cold air out.
  • Abracadabra
    Abracadabra Member Posts: 1,948
    how long?

    How long from start of steam in the riser pipe out of the boiler, until the vents were hot?

    Aren't all the main vents in the same room?
  • DAXQ_2
    DAXQ_2 Member Posts: 52

    Did not have a clock, I will take my clock down there and see if I can bump a run just ater the pipes cool to the touch. They are all in the same room but on opposite side of the boiler. I was standing down there when I heard the burner kick on. So I stood on the water fill side of the boiler with my hands on both return pipes, Just in front of the valves on that side. When the front one was getting too hot to keep holding (the rear was still pretty cold and quietly hissing. I let go of both and maneuvered around to the other side of the boiler to touch that last main vent, it was too hot to touch, and by the time I returned back to the other side, the rear on as well was too hot to touch.
  • DAXQ_2
    DAXQ_2 Member Posts: 52
    Water line

    Would that black line in the cast iron upside down egg behind the glass be where it should be? Rather than in the glass itself? If so how is that adjusted so the water level is correct for operations. Right now, the glass is completely full of water all the time and it seems to be heating the house well enough.
  • Abracadabra
    Abracadabra Member Posts: 1,948
    edited January 2012
    flooded boiler

    That casting line is where the water level should be.  If you drain the water in the boiler and bring the waterline down to the line and it eventually goes back up again you have a problem.

    1 - Water feeder valve is leaking

    2 - Near boiler piping is wrong which results in wet steam and a delay in getting condensate back to the boiler cause water line to drop and feeder to feed.  When boiler finishes cycle, the water evenatually makes it back to the boiler, overfilling the boiler.

    3 - Return line constriction/blockage which cause condensate return delay, leading to feeder feeding water and when boiler ends cycle, condenstate eventaully makes it's way back to boiler, overfilling the boiler.

    4- Surging waterline.  Drop the waterline to the casting line and watch the waterline during a cycle.  How much does the waterline move up and down?

    How fast does the line fill the gauge glass after you drop the waterline to the casting line?

    I believe you said the feeder area had a leak.  I'm guessing the feeder is leaking water into the boiler. I would shut both valve 1 and valve 2 to eliminate a leaking water feeder. First, check that your LWCO shuts off the boiler on low water. Drop the waterline to about the casting line. Then flush water thru the LWCO.  You should hear the feeder feeding water when the float drops. Now start a cycle with the boiler, and hold the LWCO valve open. Watch the water line. When the line drops below the casting line the boiler should cut out and the feeder should feed. If the boiler shuts down, you know the LWCO is shutting off the boiler on low water.  Now you are safe to shut both valve 1 and valve 2.  Make a mark on the sight glass as to the level of the water. See what happens to the water line after a day or so.
  • DAXQ_2
    DAXQ_2 Member Posts: 52
    flood reply

    Cannot get the water line to drop to the casting. If I open the yellow drain valve and release water out of the unit, I hear the water flowing back in and it is completely full again in a bout a minute and a half.

    How much does the waterline move up and down?

    When I open the yellow valve, my bucket fills and the line drops

    I believe you said the feeder area had a leak. Yes it is leaking (more consistently with both water feeds valves opened)

    First, check that your LWCO shuts off the boiler on low water.

    If I drop the water while the boiler burner is running, I hear it kick Off.

    If I shut the lower valve off - things slow down considerably - it still fills way past the line (completely full) but it is much slower in doing so, and the leak is considerably less as well.

    When I open the yellow valve and leave it until no more water is comming out - waster slowly trickles into the glass from the top down filling it completely.

    When I do the same thing with both water feed valves opened, the same thing happens only twice as fast. The glass is pretty much always full.
  • DAXQ_2
    DAXQ_2 Member Posts: 52
    Flood boiler

    I am thinking that when we bought the house, we had the seller get us a home warranty for it and I should probably use it and have a boiler guy come and get this part replaced if it needs it. If it needs to be replaced, it looks like it will be about 500$ for just the Miller 47-2 excluding the labor it might take to install it.
  • Abracadabra
    Abracadabra Member Posts: 1,948
    flooded boiler

    I'm thinking that the stops cocks to the sight glass are restricted or clogged. Eventually you'll need to clean those. Drain the boiler from valve 3. with both valve 1 and 2 closed.
  • TIMM
    TIMM Member Posts: 1



  • Abracadabra
    Abracadabra Member Posts: 1,948
    got water?

    is there suffient water in the boiler?
  • DAXQ_2
    DAXQ_2 Member Posts: 52
    edited January 2012
    water level

    Yes, the water is now not overflowing - and is staying around the water level line - as it heats it goes a little lower than the line. As it cools it gets a little higher than the line. I am wondering if it is possible to get a more detailed gauge? Like rather than having one that goes from 0 - 15 psi with no smaller incremental scale to one that is like 0 - 5 with more detail? maybe the system is running at less than 1 psi possibly? I see them out there with graduations of 0.1 psi - would that be better to use for a low pressure system like this?
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,576
    New gauge

    I suggest you get a 0-3 psi gauge (gaugestore.com), and monitor the pressure regularly. Any pressure over 2psi is costing you comfort, and money. You may be fortunate enough to have a boiler so perfectly sized that very little pressure is shown-how lucky you are, as you only need an ounce of pressure to get the steam up to the rads.

    Don't forget that the air must be let out first, and I think your main (not rad) vents are not up to the job.--nbc
  • DAXQ_2
    DAXQ_2 Member Posts: 52

    May try that - I was thinking I would replace at least one of the main vents at the very least. When I monitor the system heating up, I noticed one of the main pipes is getting hot much slower than the other two pipes.
  • Abracadabra
    Abracadabra Member Posts: 1,948
    change the gauge?


    Check out a vid I made.  2 pressure gauges side by side.

    One is the 0-30psi std required gauge. The other is a 0-15 oz gauge I installed.

    The 0-30psi never registers any pressure.

  • DAXQ_2
    DAXQ_2 Member Posts: 52

    Yes get a 3psi guage and maybe replace that one questionable vent.
  • DAXQ_2
    DAXQ_2 Member Posts: 52

    That video is perfect and really points how much it can make a difference! Thanks a ton!
  • DAXQ_2
    DAXQ_2 Member Posts: 52
    Changes thus far

    Well we have had a lot of great stuff done by these guys, and I thought I would post the changes that have been made so far to the old girl!

    Image 53 - name of boiler

    52 - new drain (the old one was corroded shut - now flowing nicely)

    50 - new relief valve - the old one began leaking when we looked at it

    49 - new pressure troll thing

    47 - side view of pressure troll

    48 - new gauge (same or close scale to the original - we are going to try a 3PSI one)

    46 - Water line - boiler is NOT firing and it rides about 3/4 inch above the line)

    45 - new pipe and orange valve

    44 - rebuilt 47 - 2 water feeder

    When we swap out the gauge for a lower scale one, we will also check the main valves to see if all three are actually venting the three main feeds on this system. I am suspect of the one just above the water feed - cause I wold think it should heat the fastest, and it is in fact the last one to heat during a cycle.
  • DAXQ_2
    DAXQ_2 Member Posts: 52
    edited February 2012
    Still fighting things

    Well fixing the Auto feeder appeared to fix the full glass gauge for a spell, but then the problem came right back and began filling the glass gauge to the top all over (however it did fix the leak for sure). I think next they are going to look into rebuilding the float itself. After the flooding started again today, I am amazed at how hard it is to get that water to level off. I turned off all the valves feeding the auto water feeder (to eliminate it from the system) - and then flushed the boiler opening the new rear drain and letting it empty for about 4 hours - trying to let it get good an cold and try to get all the condensate out of it that I could. Then I returned home and using the rear water fill valve - let the boiler fill until it just hit the fill line. I sat and watched it with the rear fill valve off and the glass gauge filled all the way up. (there is no water feeding into the boiler - yet it is still not leveled off in the glass gauge). So far the past hour, I have been trying to use the blow-off bleeder in the front to drop the water to gauge level so it will stabilize there at the cast line before I turn the heat back on. Slowly but surely - I think I am getting there - taking about an hour and half.
  • DAXQ_2
    DAXQ_2 Member Posts: 52
    Cold Boiler - timing

    Took this opportunity to try and time things as they were heating up. After I got the Water level to stabilize on the cast iron line, I turned everything on. At 20:19 the boiler fire kicked on.

    20:19 - Fire

    20:30 - Doors hot to touch

    20:36 - Rear top pipe hot

    20:37 - Hear rear main valve hiss - and front top pipe heating up

    20:42 - Rear Return pipe hot

    20:53 - Front Return pipe warming

    20:56 - Front return pipe hot

    20:57 - Rear return 2 warming

    20:59 - Rear return 2 hot

    Everything hot - all the while the glass gauge water turned from clear to cloudy and is slowly rhythmically bouncing above and then below the cast line and back. Very calm like.
  • DAXQ_2
    DAXQ_2 Member Posts: 52
    This was new

    Woke up this morning to check things out since we are running manual and this is what I saw - for the first time, steam was coming out of the large silver vent, and I could hear hissing out of the other main vent (i had not hear hissing from this one until today). Also saw some action on the gauge finally! See attached photos.

    4 = Large Silver valve (think I can see the steam in there - but know I saw it in reality)

    5 = gauge indicating something

    6 = water level at high heating
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 22,952

    and congratulations on your perseverance.  I have to admit that I haven't been following this thread, so I may have missed something and am going to repeat, if so, forgive me!

    First, don't swap out the 0 to 30 gauge.  If your local code doesn't require it, your insurance company probably does.  Instead, install your new low pressure gauge either on a separate pigtail, or use a T and a couple of nipples and elbows to put both gauges on the same pigtail.  Not that hard.

    Second, don't be alarmed if even the low pressure gauge doesn't show much action until after the boiler has been going for a while -- so long as there is adequate venting, and the radiation isn't filled (condensation going on) you won't build much pressure/
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Abracadabra
    Abracadabra Member Posts: 1,948
    leaking vent

    you should see any steam coming out of a vent.  It sounds like the vent isn't shutting on steam.  That vent looks like it's been leaking for a while too.  I'd replace that vent.
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