Click here to Find a Contractor in your area.
Welcome! Here are the website rules, as well as some tips for using this forum.
Need to contact us? Visit https://heatinghelp.com/contact-us/.

High Humidity/Boiler Leak?

Very new to steam heat. Just purchased a 3 story fixer upper from 1890. It has a Dunkirk Model 300 boiler in the basement that appears to be no more than 10-15 years old, and an ancient system of pipes (which I assume constitutes a gravity return system) that appears to have been installed/designed by competent men. I know the system was poorly maintained since the installation of that new boiler, ie, no regulation/replacement of vents, no cleaning, no fixing of sagging &c. I'm in the middle of reading Holohan's first book, which has lead me to replace the main line vents, and realize that I probably have a clogged wet return and a poorly installed automatic feed.



With all that said, my *primary* problem right now is an absolutely obscene amount of humidity in the house... talking dripping walls, foggy eyeglasses, BAD. I'm getting heat to all the radiators, and the house is getting warm (however inefficiently), but I can't set the thermostat over 50 without water literally pooling up all over the place, especially on the third floor, where it is predictably coldest. My suspicion is that the only thing that could possibly be producing this much humidity is a leak in the boiler causing steam to evacuate in the house, but I have no way of knowing how to begin searching for this leak; it is not visually ovious, though the basement is most humid of all. The boiler maintains good pressure around 1.5, but pulls water from the automatic feed sporadically, which I suspect was A) was initially due to the dirty return and B) probably responsible for any corrosion induced leak.



Any advice? I tried searching for a contractor, but there's no one in 50 miles of me.

Comments

  • MDNLansing
    MDNLansing Member Posts: 297
    Few Things

    Do you see white vapor escaping the chimney when the boiler runs? That would indicate a boiler leak that is steaming out the exhaust.



    You could try closing all the doors to all the rooms and see if you can find a single rooms worse than the others. Also, mold growth could indicate a suspected spot if you see any in specific places.



    What kind of system is this, 1 pipe or 2?
  • vaporvac
    vaporvac Member Posts: 1,520
    Pic Please?

    could you post some pics of the near boiler piping? Does you pressuretrol show a change in pressure? If not, it might be stuck and register your real pressures . How is the water level in the boiler? With an autofeed and slow wet returns it might be flooding. Check out the chimney for steam as suggested, but when I had a leak ( and billows of steam from my chimney), I had no perceptible humidity in the house. Fellow homeowner here, btw.
    Two-pipe Trane vaporvacuum system; 1466 edr
    Twinned, staged Slantfin TR50s piped into 4" header with Riello G400 burners; 240K lead, 200K lag Btus. Controlled by Taco Relay and Honeywell RTH6580WF
  • Boiler Talk
    Boiler Talk Member Posts: 134
    Clothes Dryer

    Is your dryer in the basement?  Does it vent to the outside?  Seems to me if you have so much condensation, it would be worst when it is cold inside.  But then I didn't see your home. 
  • JoelThomasRunyan
    JoelThomasRunyan Member Posts: 11
    Replies

    No vapor coming from chimney... in fact, it looks like the chimney might have a crappy metal cap on it. Which seems insane, but wouldn't really surprise me knowing the type of people that worked on this place.



    It's a one pipe system. The problem is everywhere... water just condenses on whatever wall is coolest. There's no dryer in the basement.



    I've attached pictures of the near boiler piping. The pressuretrol works near as I can tell... drops to zero when off, goes up to ~1.5 when on. The water level in the boiler is pretty much exactly at half of the glass, which is where someone wrote "water level" in permanent marker on the side of the boiler.



    I'm now suspecting that there could be both a leak in the boiler, and that the chimney is poorly capped? Would that cause something like this?
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 15,328
    You say you have an automatic feeder...

    is there any way you can tell how much water it is feeding?  If it is more than a gallon or two per week, it's more than it really should be and you may well have a steam leak -- or leaks -- somewhere.



    Steam leaks can be very very hard to find.  You would think not, but the steam escapes and immediately just turns into higher humidity, which is invisible.  You don't mention whether this is a one pipe or two pipe system (one pipe has vents on the radiators and only one pipe to each radiator).  If it is a one pipe system, though, the radiator vents may well be stuck open, or at least some of them -- and that will raise the humidity amazingly fast (it doesn't take all that much steam).  Other likely spots are leaking valves at the radiators -- again, you won't likely see it.  Main steam vents if there are any can also stick open.



    Then, of course, there is the possibility that that boiler is leaking steam -- not into the firebox (you would see that out the chimney on a cool or cold day) but into the basement.



    This is going to take some detective work on your part...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England.
    Hoffman Equipped System (all original except boiler), Weil-Mclain 580, 2.75 gph Carlin, Vapourstat 0.5 -- 6.0 ounces per square inch
  • MDNLansing
    MDNLansing Member Posts: 297
    Steam

    If you are getting condensate dripping down the walls, I can't think of anything else besides the boiler. Nothing else in the house would expel that much moisture. If you can't hear steam escaping behind the walls that would tell me the leak is large. A small hole would generate some hissing or whistling. This must be a large hole or a broken / disconnected fitting. Being that steam is distributed throughout the house I would also venture a guess that it's in a common passageway. Some place that would easily draft up or down and affect each floor.



    Do you have a venting on the mains in the basement? If so, does it close when the boiler builds pressure? You should hear air expelling and then it should close when steam starts venting from it. It's possible the vent has failed and it's not closing with steam. I can't imagine that would fill your house with moisture though. Are any rooms worse than others, or do any have mold growing in them while other rooms don't? What about rooms with wall paper peeling, or discolored plaster, or stains on wood work?



    Do all the radiators get hot? I would think a leak large enough to fog glasses would be starving radiators of steam. Do you notice any that aren't heating, or possibly not expelling air from the vents?
  • JStar
    JStar Member Posts: 2,752
    Leak

    You can overfill the boiler to see if it leaks.
  • vaporvac
    vaporvac Member Posts: 1,520
    Probably the boiler...

    Your boiler looks very similar to my old one down to the two risers coming out the sides. One time someone working on it left off the top sheet metal piece in front the the exhaust when they were working on it. Almost immediately the house (very big house) filled with any amazing amount of condensate dripping down the walls. It was crazy how fast it happened and how wet everything got. As this was coming back from a no heat situation, it cracked all the plaster which I've yet to fix. Of course this condensate was probably because I had a leaky boiler, so I suspect that's your problem...maybe. Have a look inside, but also make sure that sheet metal is tight to the room.
    Two-pipe Trane vaporvacuum system; 1466 edr
    Twinned, staged Slantfin TR50s piped into 4" header with Riello G400 burners; 240K lead, 200K lag Btus. Controlled by Taco Relay and Honeywell RTH6580WF
  • JoelThomasRunyan
    JoelThomasRunyan Member Posts: 11
    reply

    I'm not sure how to check how much water is being fed. I know that if the boiler is running for more than 15 minutes, the feed will be triggered and run for at least 5 seconds, which I reckon would be close to a quart of water or more. But that's entirely conjectural.



    It's a one pipe system. I changed the main line vents earlier this week, as I suspected the high humidity in the basement meant it must be starting there. But no change. Had planned on changing all the radiator vents also (and likely still will) but realized that the quantity of humidity was just too much to be from a radiator vent, unless it was every last one of them.



    How would I go about detecting if the boiler itself were leaking into the basement? This still seems to me the most likely culprit.
  • JoelThomasRunyan
    JoelThomasRunyan Member Posts: 11
    reply

    I just replaced the main vents in the basement with Gortons. The short line shuts, but I noticed earlier today that the longer line hissed and gurgled a bit... it's positioned directly above the wet return, and one of the reasons I suspected that the return might be backed up. Either that or it's a faulty vent. I agree though, for the amount of time that the boiler is running... I only bump the house up 2 or 3 degrees when I test it... it seems impossible that the humidity could be coming from a single broken vent. All the rooms seem about equal. All wet, and certainly prone to mold where I haven't painted.



    There is a radiator on the third floor that isn't turning on so well, but I don't know if this is because it's not venting properly and simply isn't getting steam in time. I will say that three or four different valves have absolutely no play in them, even though the radiators work... they feel quite stuck. I don't know if this could mean they are also leaking, but again... the quantity of humidity in the basement seems to make this an unlikely culprit.
  • MDNLansing
    MDNLansing Member Posts: 297
    Check That

    Check the third floor radiator out some more. Try removing the vent and see if it warms up then. If it does, you probably just have a bad vent. If not, that might be the leaking pipe.



    Also, see if you can figure out how it is fed. Count the radiators that are directly below it, then see how many risers there are off the main from that spot in the basement. So, if there is a second floor radiator below the third floor one, and only one riser from the main, you know they share the same one. If you remove the vent, and it doesn't heat, but the second floor rad does, the leak is probably on that riser between the second and third floors. If it has it's own riser, and doesn't heat with the vent removed, it could be anywhere on that run. If removing the vent makes it heat, the leak may not be on that run at all and it might just be a bad vent.



    Have you tried listening to the walls with a stethoscope? You might get lucky and be able to hear sounds behind the plaster with it.



    I bought an old house as well and I have found that a good inspection camera has been invaluable to me. I bought a Rigid camera with a small lens on the end of a 3' flexible arm. You can drill holes and insert the camera for a good inspection in the walls. I would recommend this over knocking head sized holes in the wall if it comes to that.
  • JoelThomasRunyan
    JoelThomasRunyan Member Posts: 11
    Boiler Leak.

    I flooded the boiler and it is dripping all over. I don't really know how to disassemble the thing... and I don't have a wrench large enough anyway. I suspect that since I wasn't seeing any white clouds puffing out the chimney that the flue is in fact blocked somehow, and the steam is building up inside, and then backing out into the basement where it finds its way to the rest of the house.
  • ALIGA
    ALIGA Member Posts: 194
    boiler jacket

    try to locate the screws that hold the boiler jacket together, and try to take off the top cover or take a look at the boiler cavity where the burner tubes are to see where the leaks are.
  • JoelThomasRunyan
    JoelThomasRunyan Member Posts: 11
    reply

    I can't remove the entire jacket because I don't have tools to remove the NBP, which is threaded through. I'm not sure if that's a common design. I was able to remove the front and back panels. The dripping is mostly on the left side of the unit, but stops at a certain depth--about %90--down the glass. This seems to indicate that the breach is at the top of the chamber(s). I removed the top panel and there is an awful lot of rust... a couple of the nibs simply broke off upon being touched. I would wager this means that the entire unit is shot, but am unsure about my options.
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,182
    Toast

    If things are crumbling when you touch them and water is dripping out all over then it's time to replace that. The labor to replace a single section is very high and no guarantee that the other sections wont fall apart while working on the bad one.



    Make sure you know what your connected EDR is and write up a requirements list you can send out or handout when getting quotes. Try to find an installer who knows steam.



    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
  • ALIGA
    ALIGA Member Posts: 194
    unit is shot

    as BobC stated, measure the rads, and look into replacement options.
  • vaporvac
    vaporvac Member Posts: 1,520
    Water line rot

    Sounds like your boiler is rotted out at the water line...the most common thing. It's toast. when i had my sections replaced years ago, i now realize I probably paid as much as a boiler replacement, but it broke on Xmas Eve.

    After about 12+- yrs it happened again and am getting a boiler with a better design and learning how to really take care of it. You can see what it looked like here:

    :http://www.heatinghelp.com/forum-thread/148136/An-Epic-Tale-I-hear-the-Trane-a-comin

    This is probably what yours looks like inside. It was also a Dunkirk. If you have oil, I'd look into the Burnham Megasteam. It's guaranteed not to rot by design.

    Be careful with that humidity and cools temps, or you won't have any plaster left.
    Two-pipe Trane vaporvacuum system; 1466 edr
    Twinned, staged Slantfin TR50s piped into 4" header with Riello G400 burners; 240K lead, 200K lag Btus. Controlled by Taco Relay and Honeywell RTH6580WF
  • JoelThomasRunyan
    JoelThomasRunyan Member Posts: 11
    ...

    Thanks for the help everyone. I'm sizing up the radiators now. One last question: since I didn't see any white clouds coming out of my chimney, but know for certain that there is a leak in the boiler, do I need to have my chimney examined? Or could all the of steam be leaking directly into the basement?
  • Mike Kusiak_2
    Mike Kusiak_2 Member Posts: 604
    Check the chimney

    There may be more than just steam escaping into your basement. You also may be getting combustion gasses backing up into the basement if the chimney flue is clogged. This could be contributing to your humidity problem as the combustion exhaust gas contains a large amount of water vapor.



    This could be a very dangerous situation and it makes sense to check the chimney
  • MDNLansing
    MDNLansing Member Posts: 297
    Inspections

    You should inspect the chimney for sure. And have it inspected every few years. It's not that expensive to have it inspected, and it could save your life.



    A word of advice, take your time. Don't let panic set in and make quick foolish decisions. If you replace the boiler properly you can get a lot of years out of the next one. If you're worried about things freezing, shut the water off and get some portable heaters in the basement and utility areas. If you're living in the house its a little more problematic, but you don't want to rush this. Do it right. Read as much as you can. Ask every question you can think of, and don;t let contractors tell you what to do. Make sure you know what they are quoting and not quoting. This site is a great resource for that.
This discussion has been closed.

Welcome

It looks like you're new here. If you want to get involved, click one of these buttons!