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first time steam owner

Hey everyone, last month I bought my first house - very old home with a very large steam boiler. I've done a lot of research online and am beginning to understand basics of steam heating. I'm also starting to realize the issues my system has. Just wanted to ask your opinions about whats going on here. First, I've been checking my water level every day, when the boiler is not running and pipes are cool (first thing in the morning or as soon as I get home from work). Normally, I have to top off the water level. As I understand, I shouldn't have to do this everyday, or do I? If not, where is the water going? I have no visible or audible leaks anywhere. Next, I have a surging problem, noticed after I replaced the leaking sight glass. The water (though it appears very clear and clean in the sight glass) bounces up and down 2 - 3 inches. I understand I should skim the boiler in this case, but the skimmer tap is so corroded I'm afraid it will break upon removal - I was going to wait until spring to replace it. Next, It seems the boiler creates steam and the water level drops so low the cut off switch engages. Then the auto feeder kicks in. It seems like condensate is not returning to the boiler fast enough. Clogged return line? This only happens when I request a large temp change (i.e. 60 - 66). Once the house temp is stabile, the water level seems to hold. Next, and hopefully final, issue - From what I gather, I have a one-pipe, wet return system. The return line runs, pitched, along the basement floor back to the boiler. Though what I don't understand is the return line rises up above the water level, then turns back down below the water level. Is that incorrectly installed? Or am I confused about my system. It seems the return water needs to rise well above the boiler water level to be entered back into the boiler. Just would like to know if I'm on the right track, thanks in advance! - Dan

Comments

  • How about some pictures?

    Take som of the boiler and it's piping, and of this return.--NBC
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 10,333
    pictures

    Pictures would help especially of the return line.  Return line could be partially plugged. How old is the boiler? Is it original or has it been replaced. Need some more information and pictures to help better.
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,230
    Look at your chimney

    You should only have to add water once in a while, once a month or less.



    Look at the chimney when the boiler is actively making steam to see if you see a white vapor coming out of it on a cold day. If your seeing a plume it could be steam leaking into the combustion chamber.



    When the boiler is cold you could try draining and refilling it a few times to see if that changes the action in the water glass. Just make sure you fire the boiler up to make steam after filling it the last time. It may calm the waterline down initially but go back to the old ways over several days. That would indicate oils in the system that have to be skimmed out. If you have doubts about being able to get the plug out you might want to wait for spring, you don't want to break anything in January.



    While doing the cleaning above try over filling the boiler and see if you can spot any leaks, there could be a hole just above the waterline and it might be leaking into the combustion chamber.



    the attached dwg shows recommended boiler piping, could you be looking at the hartford loop? Post some pictures of the boiler and the piping around it so we can see what your looking at.



    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
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 17,111
    A couple of thoughts...

    First, contrary to received wisdom, it is not necessarily a really bad sign if the water level in the glass is bouncing a couple of inches.  True, it could be oil on the water and could be improved by skimming.  However, it can also be a result of the dynamic conditions in the boiler, and should be filed -- in that case -- under "incurable, endurable".



    On the recovery from a very large setback.  First off, that much setback (six degrees) on a steam system probably isn't saving you much, if anything, in terms of oil usage.  Steam systems don't really seem to like setbacks; they weren't designed for them (I have an experiment running currently on which I will report later -- watch the Wall for it -- which looks like, for my system at least, the relatively modest setback was costing oil, not saving it). 



    Anyway, recovering from that deep a setback is really pushing the system about as hard as it will go.  There are several possibilities here.  One is that, indeed, you have a slow return.  It might be possible -- if it was plumbed right -- to flush it out relatively easily.  Might not be, too.  A second possibility, though, is that on such a long recovery that your system is running at too high a pressure, and pushing the water out of the boiler into the wet return system (indeed, possibly into some of what should be dry piping!).  So a question would be...



    What pressure are you running at?  Your system should be set to cut out on pressure at no more than 2 psi, and preferably 1.5 psi.  Check the settings of the pressuretrol to see what it ways.



    Having to top off the water in the boiler daily is not a good sign.  Steam leaks, however, can be very hard to find.  Steam can leak from vents (is this one pipe or two, by the way?).  It can leak from leaky valves.  Neither of those leaks are going to be visible.  It can leak from into the firebox of the boiler and thence out the chimney (check for white smoke).  You can have small leaks in wet returns.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • sobriquet
    sobriquet Member Posts: 46
    photos

    here are some photos, I know I have a small leak from that return pipe. The darkened soil hasn't spread out any further than in the picture, so it's on my spring to-do list. I suppose if water is getting out, dirt may be getting in. And yes, bobC, I do believe I'm referring to the hartford loop. The boiler was installed in 1996 and is fueled by gas. I will check for white smoke from the chimney and also check the pressuretrol.
  • rich11coop
    rich11coop Member Posts: 25
    edited December 2013
    Leak

    OK that leak is causing more water loss than you think & the make up water's oxygen is slowly killing your boiler. 

    I would suggest shutting down/draining, flushing your returns & fixing that leak NOW as opposed to spring. 

    I don't see any MAIN vents either?
  • sobriquet
    sobriquet Member Posts: 46
    Don't know if I should risk no heat

    I'm afraid I won't be able to complete the job in a day and be stuck with no heat. With rusted fittings and my lack of experience/knowledge, I don't have much confidence. Gonna drop down to 4 degrees here this week. Should I risk it? There is only 1 vent in the basement, it was a Hoffman "quick vent" but was leaking and my heater guy replaced it with someone that was not a Hoffman. The vent is located at the boiler end of the return pipe - a pipe is joined to the return pipe and goes vertical well above the boiler, the vent is on top, about 1 inch from the ceiling. I cant really afford repair bills right now, but should I call my heater guy to just come look and give his opinion? Also, the pressuretrol seems to be set in the dead middle, between 0.5 and 8 psi. way too high? And this morning I looked for white smoke from the chimney, the exhaust was definitely more translucent than white, but I'm no expert.
  • rich11coop
    rich11coop Member Posts: 25
    Temporary

    They sell hinged repair clamps for various size pipe, they are metal & have a rubber inside liner. Place the rubber over the leak & tighten the nuts.
  • rich11coop
    rich11coop Member Posts: 25
    Temporary

    They sell hinged repair clamps for various size pipe, they are metal & have a rubber inside liner. Place the rubber over the leak & tighten the nuts.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 17,111
    Rich11coop is right --

    fix that leak.  You'd be surprised how much water seeps out of such a thing.  He suggests the hinged repair clamps and, since there is very little pressure in the return, they'll work just fine.



    For now.



    Plan on replacing the whole wet return, though, come spring.  If it's leaking in one place, it's going to leak in a lot more places pretty soon!



    On the pressuretrol you should see numerical graduations on that main scale.  Where you have it set is probably right around 4, from your description.  Which is, indeed, way too high.  Try turning it down to around 1 or so, which you should be able to do without a problem.



    On the vent -- that is your main vent which was replaced.  Chances are that the Hoffman wasn't really big enough -- and that the new one is even smaller.  Try a Gorton #2 vent in that location.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • sobriquet
    sobriquet Member Posts: 46
    pressuretrol

    I just lowered the setting on the main scale of the pressuretrol to about 1. Do I need to do anything to the differential? It is a Honeywell PA404A additive differential.
  • sobriquet
    sobriquet Member Posts: 46
    pressure

    Also, the pressure gauge on the boiler showed 4 psi when running with the lowered pressuretrol setting, too high right?
  • Pipedope_2
    Pipedope_2 Member Posts: 14
    Pressurtrol

    Yes, 4psi is too high. Take the cover off of the control, and turn the white wheel down to one. see if that helps lower the gauge.
  • sobriquet
    sobriquet Member Posts: 46
    fixed it

    Just want to say thanks. That leaking return pipe finally blew out completely, I replaced 21 feet of pipe, surprisingly quick and easy, and my problems are gone..for now. Thanks again.