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Tips on buying a new Steam Boiler

HI- I live in an apartment building (10 units/ 5 fllors) with a shared heat source. We have steam heat- gas based.  We had a run away boiler this weekend and now need to replace our boiler. We currently have a HB  Smith. It is 600k input and 450koutput.

Since I know nothing about boilers can anyone advise on the following:

1- Is HB Smith a good brand, should we stay with this brand? One plumber told me that we should because it would cost more money to use a different brand because the piping would need to be changed. Each brand has a different set-up.

2- The only 2 brands that plumbers have "offered" us were Well-McClain and HB Smith- are these the best brands? Is there a better brand out there to look at?

3- I was told by 2 plumbers that they could only get a 550k BTU well-Mclain, is it bad if we go down in BTUs? Should I be concerned?

4- Are there any other tips you can give me to help us choose the best product and vendor to do the work.



  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,477
    edited January 2012

    I'm not a pro but I've heard a lot of good things about Smith steam boilers, I don't think you can go wrong with them.

    Make sure they measure all the radiators so they can match the boiler size with the EDR (sq ft of radiator surface). Don't let them just replace whats there because it might be to big and while that works fine it burns more fuel. Also the piping has to be done so it agrees with the manufactures current piping recommendation (configuration and pipe sizes - all threaded steel above the boiler water line) as a minimum.

    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • Enreynolds
    Enreynolds Member Posts: 119
    Cart before the horse

    What exactly happened to the boiler?  A "runaway boiler" sounds like a control issue.  What damage was done to the boiler?  What I am really asking is if you are sure you need to replace the existing boiler versus repairing (properly) the existing boiler.  The second option is likely tobe much more economical.

    Give us some pictures and a little more detail, please.
  • Enreynolds
    Enreynolds Member Posts: 119
    edited January 2012
    Cart before the horse

    duplicate post
  • Enreynolds
    Enreynolds Member Posts: 119
    edited January 2012
    Cart before the horse

    Duplicate post
  • KD_2012
    KD_2012 Member Posts: 9
    advice needed - the details

    The low water cut off didnt work correctly, therefore the boiler kept firing with no water in it, the boiler cracked, controls melted - the crack is big, so even though we can fix it, there is no saying how long it will last. For safety purposes it is best to replace rather than bandgage, it is an older unit - probably around 10- 15 years old, if not older.

    I dont have pictures with me to share, but can post later or tomorrow.
  • Enreynolds
    Enreynolds Member Posts: 119
    Sorry to hear that

    I was hoping that it was caught before that kind of damage occurred.  Where are you located?  Try the "Find a Contractor" link at the top of the page.  There are many great pro's that visit this site, so if you give them a location they might be able to help you easily.

    I have two Smith boilers, which have been great working, and to work on.  That said, there are many other options.  BobC's advice on insuring a properly sized boiler is right on.  The current boiler may not have been sized correctly.
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,576
    runaway boiler

    while i will echo the other comments about the measurement of the radiators, i will also say that it may be possible to put new sections into the old boiler, plus adding whatever else has failed.sized this is assuming the old boiler was correctly sized.

    when you buy a boiler, you are really buying the installer, and some are knowledgeable, and some are knuckleheads. the difference could be 40% fuel cost per year with many loud noises and uneven heat. what happened to your boiler sounds like a lack of maintenance, and so you must make a plan for proper procedures for the new one.

    can you take pictures of the old boiler piping, and we will tell you if it was done properly, and is capable of being reused. if you jump quickly on this, make sure your installer follows the piping instructions from the boiler mfg!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    installing a steam boiler isn't rocket science--it's a lot harder!! [timco]--nbc
  • Enreynolds
    Enreynolds Member Posts: 119
    NBC is correct

    about possibly replacing bad section(s) and saving the boiler.  I split our Smith GB300 and replaced a section with a hole at the waterline.  Not an average homeowner job.  Determining a path forward really requires an on site visit from a knowlegable steam pro.
  • elfie
    elfie Member Posts: 266
    dry firing a boiler is tragic

    some systems have duplicate LWCO controls (they need to be cleaned annually and tested)

    curious to know what happened to the water? was there a hartford loop?

    is there an auto feed system or was it an issue where water continued to be lost from system over time and no one saw the gradually lowering water level

    there may have been a leak at a location away from the boiler

    may be worth installing a meter on the makeup water line (its cheap)

    sizing the new boiler is key
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