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Add Boiler Feed Tank Or Not?

Jeremy_16 Member Posts: 113
Hi Everyone:

We need to replace the boiler in our building because one of the sections is cracked. We obtained 3 proposals for replacing our boiler with the exact same model we have now: Burnham V906A

2 quotes call for adding a 50 gallon boiler feed tank with hoffman 2" float & trap. The third proposal doesn't say anything about adding a boiler feed tank. There is currently no boiler feed tank. The mains run to several areas of the building (4 story building with 2 apts in front and 2 in back on each floor) This is a 1 pipe steam system. Condensate returns through drips at the end of each main to a wet return. There are no traps on the system at all right now (see pics)

If the current system has been operating without a boiler feed tank, do you think we should be adding one to the current set up? What are the benefits and what are the drawbacks?

If you need anymore information, please let me know.




  • JStar
    JStar Member Posts: 2,752

    If you can maintain enough "A Dimension" at the end of the mains to allow condensate to return to the boiler, you don't need a pump.

    Did any of the contrators measure radiators to determine the size of the boiler?

    Was it ever discovered WHY the section cracked?
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 15,857
    I strongly second

    JStar's comment.  If you can keep the pressure down to where it should be -- less than 1.5 psi -- and you don't mess up the water line (keep the new one the same as the old) and... AND... the returns are reasonably quick, there is no need for a boiler feed tank, nor for the trap.  Gravity is doing all the work for you.

    If the returns are slow, the correct fix is to flush them... or even replace them.  A feed tank is a band-aid.

    But he does have two good questions there: how was the size of the replacement boiler determined?  And why did the old one crack?
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Jeremy_16
    Jeremy_16 Member Posts: 113

    Thanks for the responses.

    Jstar: The "A Dimension" should be the same because we are replacing the current boiler with the a new boiler that is the same model. We will be re-using the existing header piping. The only difference is that as the years go by, the wet returns get gunked up more, but some sections of the wet return have been replaced over the years.

    This building is a condominium association and I'm just 1 owner out of 14. I am not overseeing the entire process so I don't know if the installers measured the connected radiation. I know they should have, but I don't know if they did or not... I own other real estate and have read Dan's books, so I'm familiar with a lot of the process and with steam heat, but I'm just not in charge of this job.

    I meant to say before that a hole was found near the boilers water line. Not sure saying it was cracked is the right terminology. Anyway, a hole developed after about 10 years. I'm not sure if that was caused by a bad manufacture or excess fresh water intake over the years (there is no water meter on the boiler). I've tried to tell the manager (for the last few years) and trustees that one needs to be added, but haven't been successful. They will be installing a water meter on the new boiler though. Too bad we don't have one now to see if there is an actual problem. It would be nice to fix the problem before any new boiler is put in.

    Jamie: Are you saying that the boiler feed tank is just a band-aid for mucked up returns? Like if the returns are clogged enough to slow down the condensates return to the boiler, the boiler feed tank is there to prevent fresh water from being added? If there were no leak, just mucked up returns, the boiler feed tank would work as a band-aid. Wouldn't we have a problem now with the boiler over filling if the condensates return was that slow? If there were a leak, we may not know either way though, right? The boiler feed tank would just delay the addition of fresh water by the amount of water stored in the tank, right?

    I agree that the true problem (clogged returns), if it exists, should be fixed rather than adding a boiler feed pump.
  • Rod
    Rod Posts: 2,067
    edited June 2013
    Boiler Tank?

    Hi Jeremy- It sounds like a “The Blind leading the Blind “ situation with the conversation probably going something like this: “The install won’t cost you much as we can use the same boiler and the same near boiler piping”. All the radiators need to be individually measured to determine their EDR and then the boiler size matched to the total EDR. It may be the present model boiler is properly sized but you won’t know that if you don’t measure the attached radiation (Total EDR). If the installer, making the bid, didn’t measure the radiators it is generally a sign of gross incompetence regarding steam systems and I would look else where to find a steam pro.

    Feed Tank- I’d be very suspicious about this. If the system was operating okay before why do you need one now? As Jamie mentioned it sounds like a “bandaid”.

    Pressure - I’ve attached a blow up of your boiler’s pressure gauge from one of your photos. Since the blowup is rather “fuzzy”, you might want to check it against the actual gauge to see what the pressure the photo indicates. It seems to me that either the pressure is very high or the gauge is broken. As was mentioned the pressure in a 1 pipe system should never be more than 2 PSI and 1 ½ PSI or lower is what most systems operate. More pressure = More Fuel. Higher pressure will result in a much higher “A” dimension and will force the boiler water up higher into the piping. This could be one reason why you’re running out of boiler water. Either that and /or a partially blocked wet return.

    Near Boiler Piping- While I can’t tell that much from your photos, from what I can see it could be improved upon with a proper dropheader.

    Insulation- There seems to be a total lack of insulation. Insulation really improves the efficiency of the system as it means that more heat gets to the radiators rather than condensing in the piping and being lost. You may get the "it's okay as the bare pipes heat the basement and this rises and heats the building" excuse,while the fact is that getting the heat directly to the radiators heats the rooms and satisfies the thermostat quicker. The result being less burner time. Less burner time = Less fuel burned.

    Here’s a couple of articles by Dan which you might want to pass along to whom ever is involved with the boiler replacement.""

    Main Vents- From the pictures it would seem that you have a single Hoffman 75 on the mains. It would probably benefit the situation to add more main venting. Adding a Gorton # 2 (it has twice the venting capacity of a Hoffman 75) to the Hoffman 75 would be very beneficial.

    - Rod
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 15,857

    "Are you saying that the boiler feed tank is just a band-aid for mucked

    up returns? Like if the returns are clogged enough to slow down the

    condensates return to the boiler, the boiler feed tank is there to

    prevent fresh water from being added? If there were no leak, just mucked

    up returns, the boiler feed tank would work as a band-aid. Wouldn't we

    have a problem now with the boiler over filling if the condensates

    return was that slow? If there were a leak, we may not know either way

    though, right? The boiler feed tank would just delay the addition of

    fresh water by the amount of water stored in the tank, right?"

    Basically that's what I'm saying.  You will only get an overfill problem if the returns are so slow that not only does the water feeder operate (you have an autofeeder, I think) but that they are enough slower even than that that the time delay on the feeder times out.

    There are situations where, in a clean system, a boiler feed tank is needed, but that is usually in very big, sprawling systems with rather small (read: modern) boilers.  Then it is possible to boil off enough water fast enough to drop the level too much, and a feed tank is suggested.  It has to be a proper feed tank, though, controlled by boiler water level, with any makeup water added in the feed tank through a level control in the feed tank, and it has to be sized big enough so that it has more than enough capacity to handle the difference between steaming rate and return rate.  In my humble opinion, they are a first class pain in the neck and are to be avoided if at all possible!
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Jeremy_16
    Jeremy_16 Member Posts: 113
    More Answers...

    Thanks for the continued responses.

    I finally got a chance to speak with the prospective installer. He said that his company measured the connected radiators to check the EDR to make sure the boiler we are replacing is the correct size. The association is opting to go with a very large company that also happens to service our building and provide oil too. They really should know what they are doing. They are a big company in the Boston area.

    The service manager seemed to mostly know what he was talking about except when it came to the boiler feed tank. He said that we had a problem with fresh water being added (his company found the hole in the boiler section after I reported seeing steam coming up the chimney) and that the boiler feed tank would help. He said that fresh water wouldn't be introduced directly to the boiler. Instead, it will go into the boiler feed tank and mix with the condensate water first. He seemed to think that would help reduce oxygenation. That didn't make any sense to me. It's like pouring a glass of water into a cup and then into the pitcher. I don't see how it changes the fact that fresh water would still be going into the system due to a leak (need a meter after the auto-water feeder to find out for certain). When I pressed him about this, he said that he wasn't trying to sell me something extra that we don't need and that the people who taught him wouldn't steer him wrong. He genuinely seemed to believe it was necessary. We left it that he would conference me in to a rep from Burnham to discuss this further tomorrow. It will be interesting to see what the rep says...

    Rod: I believe the pressure gauge is broken. The needle wouldn't even move anyway because that's a 30 pound gauge required by code. They don't have a 2 or 3 pound gauge on there for accurate measurement. See pictures below for pressuretrol settings. This is a commercial boiler so there are 2 pressuretrols. One operating and one for back up. The back up is set a little high, but I think the operating one is about right. What do you think? It would be better if we had a vaporstat, but they don't have one on there and can't get mercury ones anymore. Do you think it's worth getting a non-mercury vaporstat?

    Rod: The bottom of the horizontal header is 27" above the center of the gauge glass. The installers I've talked to don't seem to think it's worth it to change the header piping if you have the minimum clearance of 24" from the center of the gauge glass. Do you think it's worth it to start changing that around if they are putting in the exact same boiler? If it were a fresh install with new boiler in my own building I would probably want a drop header, but in the case where we are putting the same boiler back, I'm not sure if it's worth the cost. Does anyone have an idea about payback there?

    Rod: You are preaching to the choir about the insulation. I recommended that they do that a long time ago and even sent the exact same reference article to them. I told the property manager to at least insulate the near boiler piping because it's considered a part of the boiler with today's modern boilers.

    Rod: I bet extra main venting would help. The Gorton 2 Vent's aren't that expensive either.  Since we already have the Hoffman 75s, it probably won't be a first priority to change it, but thanks for the tip. It's funny though, in Boston, no one seems to use Gorton Main vents. Everyone I've ever talked to uses Hoffmans for main vents. For radiators they will use Gorton C's or D's sometimes, but a lot of the time people use Vent-Rites for radiators. Seems like New York an NJ are different.

    Jamie: Thanks for clarifying. To my knowledge, the boiler has never overflowed. I really can't say how bad any leak is though because there is no water meter. The auto water feeder could be kicking in a few times a day, once a day, or once a week, etc. Once they put one on, we'll have a better idea. I can't tell you the exact EDR to tell you how big the system is, but it is a commercial boiler that gives steam to 12 units in the building (4 per floor with 2 two bedroom apartments in the front and 2 one bedroom apartments in the rear). The 2 basement units are on a forced hot water system connected to the boiler through an external tankless I believe.

    Jamie: My thought is that they want the boiler feed tank as a band aid to slow returns or leaking returns. You are right that the problem should be fixed.

    My idea would be to ask the installer to take the boiler feed tank off of the proposal and credit us the amount it would take to install (parts and labor). If it turns out we need one later, we can install it for approximately that price at later date. I can't see how it would hurt to leave the boiler set up the same, right? Then we can see if there is a problem and fix any returns if necessary. Sound good?
  • Rod
    Rod Posts: 2,067
    Burnham V906A

    Hi Jeremy- You mentioned "oil company", does that mean you are going to be using oil?

    Since you're in Boston, don't you have the option of using NG (gas)?  I would run out the numbers and make a pricing comparison between using the two fuels. Generally gas is quite a bit cheaper than oil and on the volume that your boiler would be using, that should amount to quite a substantial savings I would think.

     The Burnham V906A can be setup for either fuel.

    - Rod
  • Jeremy_16
    Jeremy_16 Member Posts: 113
    Natural Gas

    Hi Rod: Yes, you are definitely right about the potential savings. I have other buildings in the area using natural gas and we are saving a ton of money vs oil. This particular building though only has oil as an option at the moment. We are replacing the boiler only and going to reuse the current oil burner.

    I have also mentioned for the past few years to have the manager begin the process of converting to gas. I don't know if he's begun the process or not, but we will need the gas company to come out and check our current gas line to see if it's large enough to run a gas burner (the building currently has gas stoves so there is an active gas line) It's hard to get the gas company to come out because there is a large queue of people all wanting to convert. We had to wait for a long time at other buildings for them to come out. Once they do, they need to set up a meter and then you're usually good to go. Easier said than done though.

    I converted other buildings to dual fuel burners so I have the option to switch back if the economics change. Hopefully we get this other building converted soon.

    Thanks for the advice.
  • Jeremy_16
    Jeremy_16 Member Posts: 113
    edited June 2013
    Do any Boiler Feed Tanks Remove Contaminants and Condition Water?

    Some of the other owners in the building sent me an e-mail saying they were in favor of the boiler feed tank because they thought that it somehow conditioned the water or removed contaminants from the water before it entered the boiler. I've never heard of a standard 50 gallon boiler feed tank and pump doing anything like that. They got that idea from a mechanical engineer who sent them the following information:

    "In engineering

    school, we learn thermo dynamics (calculating work and energy from heat)

    and then learn fluid dynamics.  We do this so we can apply one science

    to the other.


    both classes come after we go through "material properties" where we

    learn all kinds of things like the strength of steel, how to treat it,

    and how to apply it to things like boilers, internal combustion engines,

    and whatnot.


    of the things you learn about boilers is that they need to have good

    steel- they are under high pressure.  Impurities are unacceptable, and

    the surfaces must be treated properly to avoid as much corrosion as

    possible.  Once a steel vessel corrodes in a wet environment, it can

    accelerate.  And excessive corrosion can  lead to failure.


    your boiler steel needs to stay tough- the energy in it's stress/strain

    curve must remain high.  Your boiler steel basically has to be tough.

     Think strength + flexibility.  The higher the value of both, the more

    tough a material is.  Because a boiler undergoes lots of high pressure

    stress.  Heating water is no joke, especially if you're doing it from

    room temp.


    guys (mechanical technicians- not even mech engineers... you can go to a

    community college to get this degree) all learn that the pre-treatment

    of water is essential for good running maintenance of any boiler.  If

    the water you heat in a boiler is untreated, it can lead to many bad

    things.  I won't even go into it- it's pretty well explained here:

    So pre-treating a boiler's water helps you avoid the following bad things in a boiler system:


    becoming brittle (the opposite of tough- it doesn't bend much before

    breaking, which means it can more easily crack... like our boiler ;) 

    -fouling (which

    adds another boundary layer between the heat source and the water,

    which means that there is an additional, unknown heat transfer

    coefficient, which makes heat transfer to the water less efficient,

    which means we need to use more fuel for heating the water than we would

    without crap between the heatsource and the water)

    -and foaming.


    the boiler is cracked.  I would be willing to bet if I brought some pH

    strips in and threw them into the boiler when they trucked it out that

    they would be blue (basic, or alkaline, or.. the opposite of acidic) and

    we'd have a smoking gun.


    the steel in a boiler is good to begin with, your boiler doesn't

    explode when you heat it up.  Yours failed due to contaminants.  And a

    feed tank helps avoid that.

    It'll add life to the next system.  How much?  who knows.  But it'll last more than 13 years"

    I think the engineer may be right in some ways, but just not about this application. If you click the link it refers to "thermal power stations where the feedwater is usually stored, pre-heated and conditioned in a feedwater tank and forwarded into the boiler by a boiler feedwater pump" My understanding is that boiler

    feed tanks in residential buildings like the one described in my post do NOT condition the water and remove

    contaminants. They simply hold water in them and wait for the boiler to

    say "feed me more water".

    I also don't think water in boilers needs to be treated unless the PH is off. If

    there are no leaks, there should be almost no water loss (therefore not a lot

    of freshwater added). Therefore, no water would really need to be treated.

    In our case, if there

    is a leak, fresh water would still be added to the 50 gallon feed tank (untreated)

    and then dispensed to the boiler (still untreated), right? It's not like someone would be there to treat the water in the boiler feed tank. That would probably require a ton of additional equipment and isn't something I've ever heard of adding to a small residential building.

    Sorry for the long post. Please let me know your opinions.
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 14,470
    edited June 2013
    That guy is way off

    First, the V-9 series is cast-iron, not steel.

    Second, the cast-iron undoubtedly rotted out because the system has a leak somewhere, possible an underground return line? The boiler-feed tank and pump will do nothing to solve this problem. It will, however, add mechanical complexity and service headaches down the road.

    Third, adding a trap at the tank inlet is wrong. If you go this route, you either need a trap on each drip or a false water line. One trap at the tank inlet will let steam get into the return lines, where it will bang. There's a reason the Dead Men didn't do it this way.

    Don't do it.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 15,857
    There are reasons...

    why engineers (I am one) sometimes get a really bad rap from experienced folks in the heating industry.  Your friend's mechanical engineer is a classic example.  Take book knowledge from one field (power generation boilers) and attempt to apply it to another field (heating equipment).

    The result is catastrophic.

    Not that the fellow's comments aren't more or less correct for power generation boilers, at least in theory.  It's just that they have no application at all to heating boilers (even big ones).

    Listen to Steamhead.  He's one of the very best in the business.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,477
    Converting to gas

    Can you measure the diameter of the incoming gas line, and compare it to the specifications for the gas version of the boiler?

    I agree with all here who recommend doing without the feed tank, increasing the main venting, lowering the pressure to 2-8 oomces (using a vaporstat), and insulating the pipes.

    Will they clean the boiler properly at the end (may take an extra 8 hour day for someone)?

    Does this boiler make hot water as well?--NBC
  • RobG
    RobG Member Posts: 1,850
    Replacing wet returns?

    Why not just ditch the feed tank and replace the wet returns? From your description it sounds like they are blocked or leaking or both.

  • Rod
    Rod Posts: 2,067
    edited June 2013
    Boiler Water

    Hi Jeremy- Go with Steamhead’s advice. There are few people who know as much about steam heating (including traps) as he does.   You might want to read this article by Dan on Steam Boiler Failure    It mentions areas of  Boston that have a chloride problem with the water so you might want to get your water tested.  The “oil guy” may be able to give you the name of a local testing lab or you could use Rhomar Water Management They are good guys to work with.  The specs. for the boiler waer are given on page 48 of the V9A  I&O manual.

    Under the picture of the boiler you will see “manuals”. Click on this and you can download the I&O manual. Also under the picture is the downloadable Guarantee. It’s interesting in that the cast iron units have the longest guarantee period (9 years) However one must read the “fine print”.   I would really look into the NG gas option for fuel. I know you mentioned that you were going to use the present oil burner in the new boiler but from some of the savings I’ve been hearing about from people who have changed to gas, the payback period for the gas equipment was very short.  As for getting the gas company’s attention, I’ve found that bigger volume customers (condos) get faster attention than individual homeowners.- Rod               
  • Jeremy_16
    Jeremy_16 Member Posts: 113
    edited June 2013
    My conversation with Contractor and Burnham Rep

    Hey everyone:

    First off, thanks for the responses. I will respond to each of you after I tell you this first:

    I just spoke with the installation contractor and the Burnham Rep. They are both intent on adding a boiler feed tank. The burnham rep said that the old boiler (I guess he is talking about the boiler prior to the one that just broke) probably had a 400 gallon steam chest and this new one only has 100 gallons or so. The thought about the boiler feed tank is that it will save the boiler from adding fresh water in the time it takes the condensate to return to the boiler. I said that the current leaking boiler was working fine and never flooded, so I don't understand why we would need the feed tank. If the steam chest really was too small (which it wasn't) then it would flood all the time if fresh water were added and then the condensate returned.

    The contractor also insisted that the boiler feed tank would reduce oxygenation. I don't see how that's possible. Fresh water will just sit in the tank until it hits the boiler. It's only after the water boils that oxygen is released. It won't be boiling in the feed tank... Anyone have any opinions on this?

    Steamhead: I am on board with what you are saying. If I were the sole decision maker I would do as you say. The association doesn't want to listen to me. It looks like the boiler feed tank will go in. I even told them that if they did that I wouldn't pay the assessment, but it probably won't stop them... In your opinion, what will happen if they put the boiler feedtank in? I assume it will still work in someway, but will it just be less efficient? Everyone please feel free to let me know your opinions too.

    Jamie: I agree. The advice they were given was misapplied.

    Nicholas: I wish all of you were the owners in the building. Then I wouldn't have to convince anyone. I mentioned to the contractor about putting in a vaporstat and he said they don't usually put one in unless it's a special request or something. It's not standard practice. I agree that it would be beneficial to run on lower pressure. I have vaporstats on my other boilers in other buildings. I'm just pushing against a brick wall though with the other owners/contractor, etc. I hope they will clean the boiler properly. What specifically should be done? I'll ask what they plan to do.

    RobG: Agreed, if there is a problem the wet returns should be replaced. The contractor and the Burnham Rep agreed with me there, but also thought the boiler feedtank should be there too. I can't say for sure if the current boiler failed due to excess freshwater intake or the boiler just gave way due to poor manufacturing or something else.

    Rod: Believe me, I would go with Steamhead's advice if it were just up to me. I have read one of those articles already and will check out the rest of the links. Thanks.

    Please let me know what you all think will happen if the boiler feedtank is introduced to the system. I know they aren't planning on adding F&T's to the drips. I assume they will be master trapping which I've read is the wrong way to go.

    Thanks again.
  • RobG
    RobG Member Posts: 1,850
    Did it ever work right?

    If it worked correctly at one time without a feed tank, it should work now without a feed tank! And I will quote Steamhead "It needs to be de-knuckle headed".

  • Jeremy_16
    Jeremy_16 Member Posts: 113
    edited June 2013
    It did work...

    The only problem that I know of with the boiler is that it developed a

    hole near the water line after only 10 to 12 years of operation.

    Otherwise it seemed to be heating the building without any problems (I

    don't personally live in the building, but if there were ongoing issues,

    I would have heard about them). I know they added a few riser vents on

    the top floor to help units get steam faster and be more balanced

    throughout the building. They also replaced the main vents about 2 or 3 years ago. I don't think it had any before or they were plugged up previously.

    The trustees and manager decided to go ahead with the proposal with the boiler feed tank.They weren't open to reasoning. I guess they trust the manager who in turn trusts the installer who the manager has had a business relationship with for about 20 or 30 years. The manager readily admits to me that he knows nothing about steam heat,

    boilers, etc and is only going off of the recommendation from the

    installing company.

    The installer and the burnham rep both said that they ALWAYS recommend installing boiler feed tanks on every single job. The installer said it would save him a lot of headache later. I think he scared the trustees into doing it. I'm not sure why they ALWAYS recommend it without looking at each job individually.

    I am still curious to know what people think will happen when the boiler feed tank is piped in to our current set up.

    Thanks to everyone for the advice.
  • JStar
    JStar Member Posts: 2,752

    The biggest problem will be getting the contractor to replace the pump every year. A master trap at the pump inlet is a sure fire way to kill it. I would get a list of guarantees from the contractor. And a very long warranty.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 15,857
    In answer to your question...

    "I am still curious to know what people think will happen when the boiler feed tank is piped in to our current set up."

    Somebody will be sorry.  Bluntly -- and I don't like being blunt -- it won't help anything, won't help any problems, and it will be a maintenance headache.

    May I make a suggestion?  Walk away from this one if you possibly can.  Far away.  Stay out of it; the last thing you need is the problems coming back at you.  You can't fix stupid, as Frank might say, and sometimes it's best to just bail out.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Jeremy_16
    Jeremy_16 Member Posts: 113
    edited June 2013

    Thanks to everyone for their advice. It was interesting to see what everyone had to say. If anyone else has any additional input, I'm always interested in learning more even if we can't apply the knowledge to this situation.

    I'll let you know what happens after the install. I'll take a few before and after pics and throw them up here to get your insight.

    I'm guessing we really won't know much until the heating season starts again in the fall though...
  • RJ_4
    RJ_4 Member Posts: 484
    page 75 The Lost Art of Steam Heating

    So how do we take this  " Aother problem with modern boilers is that they contain much less water than the old clunkers they replace.  This is the price we pay for high efficiency.

    If the bldg is large, your replacement boiler may need a boiler feed pump in order to keep up with the time it takes for steam to make it around the old piping system and return as condensate.
  • RJ_4
    RJ_4 Member Posts: 484
    page 75

    sorry that would be    Another
  • Jeremy_16
    Jeremy_16 Member Posts: 113
    edited June 2013

    Thanks for the post. I know that there can be useful reasons for adding a boiler feed pump such as the reason in your quoted text from The Lost Art of Steam Heating, but I don't think that reasoning applies to our building's situation. We are not changing the size of the boiler. We are replacing the current leaking boiler with the same model. When I mentioned that the Burnham Rep said the previous boiler probably had a larger steam chest, he was merely speculating. His reasoning would have been sound if he had actual knowledge of the previous boiler, but he didn't.

    All I can say is that the current boiler worked fine for over 10 years. If the current boiler's steam chest really was too small, we would have had problems with fresh water being added by the automatic water feeder before the condensate could return. When the condensate returned, it would have flooded the boiler, right? This never happened. Everything worked fine until the hole in the current boiler's water line appeared. Anytime I was in the boiler room over the years the water line was always half way up the gauge glass (where it should be).

    Besides, the installing company, which is also our oil company and servicing company, should have recommended this boiler feed pump years ago if it were really necessary.  Why didn't they tell us we needed it 10 years ago? Why didn't they recommend putting a water meter on a boiler that had an automatic water feeder. Doesn't make sense to me.

    I agree with Steamhead when he said that putting in a boiler feed pump will only "add mechanical complexity and service headaches down the road" I think the installing company always likes to put one in to cover their ****. Rather than doing the work to see if the condensate is coming back too slowly, they just throw in a boiler feed pump in their proposal.

    Another reason I don't think we need a boiler feed pump is that the identical building next to ours also has a similar sized boiler and it also doesn't have a boiler feed pump. That boiler is working well there and has no problems.

  • Rod
    Rod Posts: 2,067
    edited June 2013
    Potential Savings - Gas vs Oil?

    Hi Jeremy-

      I’m not surprised that the Rep backed up the installer.  You, as the customer, buy only one boiler every ten to fifteen years. The installer buys multiple boilers each year. Guess whose opinion the Rep isn’t going to disagree with. :)   Somewhere in the past posts on the Wall is a comment by a pro that mentioned that Boston installers are “in love with boiler pumps” whether needed or not so maybe that’s the explanation as to why they feel the pump and tank are necessary.

    If there actually was a boiler water shortage situation, I think I would consider using a boiler reservoir setup first rather than going to a pump - less operating cost and maintenance and no reliability problems. Here's a link to description and pictures of a reservoir tank done by Gerry Gill, a Cleveland steampro.

    The one thing that surprises me is the apparent lack of interest by the powers that be in considering switching to NG gas. I suppose that is to be expected especially when dealing with an installer that is also the oil provider.  I suspect the operating cost using gas would be substantially lower than using oil. I think it would be very worth while to make a cost comparison study before deciding on staying with oil. Since the proposed boiler is the same and can use either oil or gas, Burnham should have the gas / oil consumption figures available (I haven't looked but the boiler I&O manual may have them) so that using your past oil bills and some pricing from the gas company,  it should be  easy to make a potential cost comparison.                             My home is in central Maine and unfortunately NG isn’t available so I’m stuck with oil. A friend, who lives in the next town over which now has NG gas available, switched over to gas. (Same boiler but now with a gas power burner)  His fuel bills used to be more than mine and now are thousands of  dollars less per heating season. In your case your building is undoubtedly much larger than ours so you savings would potentially be greater.  You mentioned that since the boiler was the same, there was the benefit that the old oil burner could be used.  This sort of sounds like picking up the pennies when 100 bills are lying around.  I’d be considering the potential savings in operating costs over a 10 year period rather than worrying about savings $900 on a burner. The consideration should be, “How can we cut our operating costs?” rather than “ How cheaply can we replace the boiler?”   You didn’t mention what the present system used as a thermostat control. If you are just using an ordinary thermostat there may be better options available to you. You might want to take a look at one that has outdoor reset. The Tekmar 279 is good unit. Rod          
  • SWEI
    SWEI Member Posts: 7,356
    Listen to Rod

    the HOA (or whatever entity is responsible here) really needs to employ someone who is looking out for their best interests.  There's more than enough money at stake here (a decade or two of fuel bills) to justify the expense.
  • Jeremy_16
    Jeremy_16 Member Posts: 113
    edited June 2013

    Hi Rod,

    That makes sense about the Rep backing the Installer. If you can find the thread about the Boston installers that are “in love with boiler pumps” I would be interested in seeing it. I bet you're right.

    We had 4 quotes and 2 of the quotes were from big oil companies in the area. The 2 oil companies both recommended the boiler feed tank. The two independent installers (not oil companies) didn't recommend a boiler feed tank. One of the independent installer's prices was a lot lower and the trustees were leery of it because it seemed too low (they weren't looking at apples to apples though - when you don't need to repipe and install a feed tank it's going to be less).

    That's an interesting link from Gerry Gill's website. Never heard of that kind of set up before, but it seems like a better way to go than a boiler feed pump. I can't convince them of doing anything different for this job, but it's good information to file away for a later time. Thanks.

    I don't know what the story is about not switching to natural gas at this building. I think part of it is that the manager doesn't seem to know much about anything to do with heating and he's taking advice from his trusted oil company. The oil company is never going to recommend that they switch to gas. Believe it or not, we have a condo in another building where the manager said to me that he's not convinced that gas

    is cheaper. When I told him about the lower bills I was paying at other properties, he said that he isn't convinced gas will remain cheaper for the long term. What can I do at that point? I don't have a crystal ball either, but I think the payback is quick enough that it doesn't matter if oil becomes cheaper in a few years (not that I think it will). That's another reason to get a dual fuel burner instead of gas only. You can flip the switch if the economics change.

    I e-mailed the management and the other trustees at the building we were talking about a few months ago and made the case for them to switch to gas. I did the math and found gas was about 40% cheaper than oil in this area for a building our size. Instead of spending about $20,000 a year on oil, it would be about $12,000 for gas. It's definitely a no-brainer. Any burner install would pay for itself very quickly. In that e-mail I also recommended not buying a new oil burner because we should be switching to gas or a dual fuel burner in the near future (I was hoping sometime this year, but who knows). I think that's why they are re-using the same burner. Why waste money on a new oil burner if you are going to switch to gas. That was my thinking, but I don't know if it's theirs as well. As far as I know, nothing is official and I don't know if the management is actively talking to the gas company or not. They had an initial conversation, but I don't know where they left it. Either way, I know there is a long wait to get the gas company out, even for larger buildings. If the current boiler didn't begin to fail from the leak, they probably never would have thought to even begin calling the gas company. This condo association doesn't seem to want to spend any money. I tried to tell them to spend a little now and save a ton later, but if they don't want to put any money up front, there's nothing I can do...

    You also asked about the heating control. They are using some kind of thermostat. I don't know if it's one that's meant to work with steam like Honeywell Vision Pro or something else. Not sure how much a tekmar control is, but I know the manager would have no idea how to operate it. What do you think about thermostats like the vision pro? I've seen a lot of people on here recommend them, but maybe that was for a home and not a bigger building.

    There are also good controls like heat-timer platinum, but they are a lot more expensive. We have some in our other buildings along with an internet communication module. It's pretty cool because you can look up all sorts of statistics online (when

    the burner was running, average temperatures across units, etc). You can even set up alerts that send texts to your cell phone if something goes wrong. It's probably too expensive/overkill for the average home, but for a residential apartment building it's great. If anyone has any questions about that control, feel free to ask me more.

    Anyway, Rod, thanks for the post.

  • Jeremy_16
    Jeremy_16 Member Posts: 113
    Tell me about it...

    I've been recommending some of the things Rod mentioned for a long time. Most people in this area move into a condo for a few years and then they sell and move to a bigger home, etc (these are 1 and 2 bedrooms). I am a long term investor so I would rather spend a little more now to save more later. Some others in the building would rather just not spend at all...

    It seems like they are in no rush to change management or spend more now. It would have been a perfect time to get a dual fuel burner in, but it seems like that was never discussed. I happened to run into one of the prospective installers (he didn't end up getting the job unfortunately) and I told him to give us a few quotes (one with a dual fuel burner and one without, etc). The management company only got the other quotes for the new boiler (no new burner). I don't know what they were thinking...
  • Rod
    Rod Posts: 2,067
    edited June 2013
    Reservoir Tank

    Hi Jeremy-

    Wow! I would think that a potential of a 40% savings would wake them up. Using gas there is also a further potential saving of going to a two stage burner.

    I found the comment you were asking about on Boston & feed pumps. Look at the post by “Charlie from wmass”."

     He’s a regular contributor to this board and is very experienced steam pro.  He’s listed in the “Find a Contractor” section of the Heating Help website. Even though he is located west of Boston, from comments by others on the board I believe he has clients in the Boston area so if you ever need a good steampro he’d be one I’d consider. 

       Controls- I just mentioned the Tekmar 279 so that you would know there are more sophisticated controls available for steam but since you are familiar with the Heat Timer, you already know that.  The Vision Pro is a good unit for a single family home though for a larger unit, using more fuel, I’d go for one with more features like outdoor reset. If you need a 279 they are available from Pex Supply The success of any of these controls is dependent on the knowledge and skill of the person installing them.  Since you seemed interested in it, I’ve also attached a PDF diagram of how a boiler reservoir is connected to the boiler.

    - Rod
  • SWEI
    SWEI Member Posts: 7,356
    40% savings

    If that doesn't get their attention, then someone is either brainwashed or owns part of the oil company.  Out here the difference more like 75% on a fuel BTU basis.  Needless to say, we don't have much oil heat (a historical situation here - Town got NG service in 1935 and the coal stokers basically disappeared.)
  • Jeremy_16
    Jeremy_16 Member Posts: 113
    Reservoir Tank

    Rod and SWEI: Yeah, I would think the 40% savings would wake them up too.

    Rod: Thanks so much for the link to the other thread and the reservoir tank pdf. That's really useful. Where did you find it? You always have really useful diagrams and PDFs. I've seen you post all sorts of stuff in other threads. Thanks for collecting them and posting them. It's really helpful.

    In the other thread you sent, I also looked at the pdfs posted by crash2009. Those PDFs were technical bulletins written by Weil McLain about boiler feed tanks and reservoirs. One of them said the same exact thing as the PDF you posted, Rod.

    In any case, no testing was done by this installer to see how long the condensate took to return. They just assumed it needed a boiler feed tank (boston boiler feed tank obsessed I guess). Good to know that there is an actual testing procedure and formula.

    They are installing the new boiler today. I took some before pics which I will post, some pics of the old boiler being taken apart and removed, and I'll take some after pics too. I'll post them once I download them from the camera.

    It's funny, but all of the installing guys keep saying they want the boiler feed tank to avoid excess fresh water being added because of the condensate taking too long to return. I said that if the condensate was taking to long to return and the auto water feeder kicked in, we would be constantly draining the boiler once the condensate returned. That's not happening though... It's like going around in circles. We each have a different premise so we are arriving at a different conclusion.
  • RJ_4
    RJ_4 Member Posts: 484
    reservoir tank

    looks like this si a hydronic compression tank,  check with the local city boiler inspector,they may require a tank made of schedule 40 carbon steel
  • RobG
    RobG Member Posts: 1,850
    Feed Tank

    When the boiler is replaced are they replacing the wet returns as well, or are they putting a band-aid on an axe wound?

  • Jeremy_16
    Jeremy_16 Member Posts: 113
    edited June 2013
    Wet Returns

    As of right now they are not touching the wet returns. They will be adding a water meter right after the automatic water feeder so they will know if there is an active leak. If there is, I imagine they would fix the actual problem [leak(s) in the wet return].
  • Charlie from wmass
    Charlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,186
    Boiler feed tank addiction

    is a big thing in Boston. There is also a lot of "We have always done it this way" in Boston. Being born and raised out in Western Mass I always assumed work would be done better out east. I have yet to see a proper boiler installation in Boston, Worcester, or New Bedford.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
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