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Steam Heat Problems

rpe94
rpe94 Member Posts: 5
When it gets really cold, I have to keep filling my boiler with water (like 6 or 7 times a day,  - i.e. 14 degrees out).



Sometimes when I put water half way up the sight tube, it expands to the full tube. Then when I drain it back to the halfway point, it just drops to empty.



What could be wrong?



Thank you in advance for any advice you can offer.

Comments

  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,189
    Heavy water use

    Adding a lot of water to a steam boiler is a short path to a new boiler, you should only have to add water on an occasional basis. Do you ever notice more water in the sight glass after a few hours? That might mean a partially clogged return but usually results in the boiler getting overfilled at some point as the returning water floods the boiler.



    I assume you have searched high and low for a leak. Are any of the boiler returns buried in cement? If you do have buried returns you may have a leak there.



    Have you noticed a lot of white smoke coming out of your chimney? This would indicate a leak into the firebox and that is almost always a fatal fault.



    Find where that water is going so you can fix it.



    Bob
    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • rpe94
    rpe94 Member Posts: 5
    Steam Heat Reply

    By fatal - I hope you mean for the boiler and not my family.

    Haven't paid attention to what comes out of the chimney - I'll have to see when it gets cold.

    I don't know what returns look like so I'm not sure where to look.  I've had the house for 12 years - and am guessing the furnace is about 20 years old or more.

    Yes, water does come back into the tube at times, and others it just drops to nothing.
  • rpe94
    rpe94 Member Posts: 5
    edited October 2012
    Steam Heat Reply

  • rpe94
    rpe94 Member Posts: 5
    Filling the boiler

    I try to only fill it when it's not firing up.
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,189
    A return

    is the pipe that caries the condensed steam back to the boiler at it's base. Steam pipes usually stay fairly clean but returns can sometimes have water and debris sitting in them and that leads to slow returns and can eventually cause pipes to leak. The returns should slope down towards the boiler so water can easily find it's way back to the boiler.



    A leak into the fire chamber would mean the boiler has to be replaced unless you elected to have the bad boiler section replaced. Assuming it's not a very big boiler that can be pretty expensive and you never know what might go wrong along the way. Sometimes it's better to install a new more efficient boiler.



    Post some pictures of the boiler and the piping, trace out the returns and see if there are any dips that might collect debris or if it does go below the cellar floor. The solid blue in this picture indicates where the return portion of the piping is.



    Bob
    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • Rod
    Rod Posts: 2,067
    Need Photos

    Hi- Like Bob mentioned it may be that your wet return is clogged up. Post some pictures of your boiler so we can see what you have. Take the pictures from all sides and back away from  the boiler so that the boiler and piping are visible in each picture. This allows us to trace out the piping so we can get an idea of how it is configured. If we need detail, we can always zoom in.

     Since the boiler is getting quite old you may want to begin thinking about replacing it, this may not be necessary at this time but it's much better to plan ahead so that when the time comes that you need the boiler replaced, you have a contingency plan ready.

         There are some very good books on residential steam heating in the shop section of this website. I would highly recommend that you get one of them called: "We Got Steam Heat!"

    http://www.heatinghelp.com/products/Steam-Heating-Books/25/61/We-Got-Steam-Heat-A-Homeowners-Guide-to-Peaceful-Coexistence

    It's easy reading and written for the homeowner that is new to steam heating and will, in an evening or two of reading, put your knowledge of steam heating light years ahead.

    This book will save you money! I imagine mine has saved me at least 100 times its price! 

    You might also want to take a look at the articles in the section at the top of this page. Use the "Systems" button and select "Steam" . There is a lot of good info on steam systems available there,

    - Rod
  • rpe94
    rpe94 Member Posts: 5
    Thank You

    Thank you all, for this great information.  Really makes sense that the returns are clogged and causing the water to go somwhere else.  I'll try to get some pics up.
  • Rod
    Rod Posts: 2,067
    Water Level Problems

    HI - Here’s a bit more on boiler water problems and a brief explanation of steam /water distribution in your steam system. When the boiler is cold and the water level in the boiler is to the designed water level specified by the manual, almost all the water in the system is contained in the boiler. When the thermostat turns  the burner on, steam is produced and this steam travels out into the piping and to the radiators. As more and more steam is  produced and leaves the boiler,  the water level in the boiler drops. It will continue dropping until some of the condensate (water,  which is condensed steam from the radiators) returns to the boiler.  Normally the condensate will return in time so that the boiler doesn’t  run out of water.

      If the boiler does run out of water it means that either the water is slow returning to the boiler or there is a leak somewhere in the system.  You can test  whether it is a slow return problem (most probably a clogged wet return) by shutting off the burner when during its operation, it runs out of water and waiting to see if all the water finally returns to the boiler and fills the boiler up to the designed boiler water level. If it returns to the design water level, you

    If after the water has plenty of time to return to the boiler the volume isn’t up to the design water level then there is the possibility you have a leak somewhere in the system. The leak is most likely in the boiler itself or in the Wet Return. The Wet Return is especially suspect if any of the return piping goes underground.

    If the Wet Return Piping is above ground and doesn’t show any leakage you then must suspect the possibility that the boiler itself is leaking internally. The test for this is a visual inspection and if that doesn’t find anything, turn all the electric power to the burner off and when the boiler is cold,  fill the boiler with water all the way the top, meaning to the top of the sight glass plus enough more to completely fill the boiler. You then leave the flooded boiler sitting overnight and see if any wet spots appear on the floor which would indicate the boiler has a leak. As others have mentioned white “smoke” coming out the chimney is another indication of an internal boiler leak.



    Clogged Return- The Wet Return piping being the lowest part of the system is where all the dirt and rust in the system collects and so therefore is the most likely area of the return piping to clog up. You can try cleaning it out though in a lot of cases it’s easier (and cheaper ) to just go ahead and replace it. It’s okay to replace it with  copper pipe as it is below the waterline and doesn’t carry steam.

    - Rod



       
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