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Long detailed help needed with air pockets hydronic 3 zone Burnham oil boiler, 3 Taco circulators, b

I need help properly purging the air from our Beckett Burnham Oil Boiler, please.

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We have a closed system, hot water with floor radiators with fins running on the outside walls with the exception of the very short radiator in between the kitchen and the dining room. None of the pipes or radiators (I've lifted the covers) have relief valves on them. I've checked all of the them.

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There is a valve that look like relief valve close to the boiler but I haven't touched it.

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There are three heating zones plus the plumbing zone. Each heating zone has a Taco circulator on it. There's a ball valve before and after each circulator.

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Zone 1 is the very small kitchen, medium dining room, tiny powder room, and big living room. All are located in close proximity basically above the boiler room.

Zone 2 is the very large family room, laundry room, handicap bathroom/shower, multipurpose-exercise room, small sitting room off the family room (these four rooms make a circle that meets outside the kitchen entrance which is also the top of the mudroom stairs)

Zone 3 is the 4 bedrooms upstairs with 2 full baths, but for some reason it also includes the radiators/registers in the basement beside the unheated garage which leads to the unheated mudroom (there's an electric wall heater built into the wall) that leads up the steps and bring you out at the kitchen.

We bought the home in 2006 thinking we'd end up having 3 children.

The boiler was put in new during the winter of 2007, along with a new water softener. They also replaced all 3 Taco circulators and backflow valves because later that spring the only way to get the registers from not staying hot even when the thermostats were off was to close the shutoff valves.

In 2009, when oil prices soared we added a hot water heater and during summer turned the temp on the boiler all the way down but not off. I'd switch the water on/off valves leading to and from the hot water heater and the hot water plumbing from boiler closed. Then I'd flip the breaker on the hot water heater. I'd reverse everything at the end of summer.

Everything was working smoothly. Noisy at times but no problems. If the pipes got too loud I'd bleed the lines of air and most of the noise would go away.

The HVAC company that installed our boiler & hot water heater showed me how to do it. I'd attach a hose and run it into a bucket until the bubbles stopped to clear the air from our lines. Our pipes haves always been very noisy. I was told it was because we have a very large house. Now I'm starting to think it is because this house is cursed.

Here we are, 8 years after buying this big house, still no children.

At 34 years of age, my husband had 7 strokes on November 2nd, of 2012. While he was in the hospital for 41 days I slept in a reclining chair. I turned the heat down to 50° so nothing would freeze.

When I brought him home from the hospital we converted the family room into our bedroom.

I soon learned I couldn't afford to heat the zone 1 & zone 3. One of the areas of brain damage from the strokes took out Tim's ability to automatically regulate body temp. Another affected his autonomic breathing function so he wears an oxygen monitor that sounds an alarm when he goes too long without taking a breath. When the temp is below 70° he stops breathing more often than when he's warm. So I decided to keep zone 2 at 71° and not heat the rest of the house.

I didn't switch the boiler over to the hot water heater system last summer because I couldn't leave him alone for that long. We weren't using as much hot water for showers and laundry because we weren't leaving the house.

In July a hot water connection burst under the kitchen sink. The kitchen turned into a sauna and flooded. The basement also turned into a sauna. I flipped the breaker to the well pump, the boiler, and the water softener. The leak stopped. Our home owners' insurance company sent out a company to dry things out. They removed the sink, cabinets, dishwasher, and capped the lines in the kitchen while they used commercial air circulators & dryers to dehumidifiers to dry it all out.

We had $1,000 deductible so I didn't have the money to put the kitchen back together yet. I've just been doing dishes in the laundry room sink and using a card table as a countertop.

Things were alright until the polar vortex hit in January.

Up until then Zone 2 was staying nice and toasty. The other two zones were not even needing to click on as far as I could tell. Just to be safe I upped the temp from 50° to 60°.

Zone 1 read 54° at the time & zone 2 was 52°.

Turning up the thermostats created a lot of gurgling noises. Finally zone 1 started heating up but zone 3 still registers were stone cold. I checked that the light was on on the zone relay switch. All three zones were calling for heat. Hot water still worked in all the faucets. If I put a screwdriver on each of the circulators I could hear water running in them. The circulators were hot. The gauge on the air pressure was fine, at the time it was at 12.

So I went through the steps of bleeding air from the lines. I only had a six foot hose so I emptied out a plastic tote for summer clothes and ran the water in that. Tons of air came out.

I thought that fixed the problem. Zone 1 started getting hot. It got up to 60° but the the registers / radiators in the living room still were not getting very hot. Zone 3 (upstairs wasn't heating up at all).

After repeating the steps over and over again not really being able to focus for for long because I could only leave Tim alone for 5 to 7 minutes at a time I went back to the internet to refresh my memory. I couldn't find any boiler set up that looked like mine.

The weather guy was predicting subzero temps & I worried pipes would freeze. So I set all the faucets in the house to a heavy drip. I jacked the temp on all the thermostats to 70° hoping zone 1 heat would rise & keep zone 3 which wasn't heating from freezing enough so the pipes wouldn't burst. I figured there had to be a huge air pocket trapped somewhere because of all the noise and because of uneven heating in the radiators. After 6 hours of running back and forth I put a space heater in the living room and just gave up for the night.

Each time I bled the lines it seemed to help. The registers in zones 1 & 2 would heat up but ultimately zone 1 would stall out and fail and go back to cold even though the zone didn't reach full temp.

After days of doing this and going though a 1/4 tank of fuel in week. I bled the lines again, this time I bled them longer after wheeling my husband over in his wheelchair to the hallway at the top of the basement stairs.

This time when I came back up. I went around and manually hit reset on all of the digital thermostats when I turned them back on. Again, the registers started to get heat up. The kitchen (zone 1) was up to 160°. I went downstairs to check the boiler pressure.

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Apparently, hitting reset did something drastic to the upstairs zone 3 because water started pouring out of the soffit on the front porch. From experience, when the master bath toilet leaked the water came out the soffit of the porch. I ran to the basement shut off the ball valves leading to the circulator and from the circulator of zone 3. I closed the return valve of zone 3 leading back to the boiler. I ran back upstairs turned off the thermostat to zone 3. Checked around upstairs in the bedroom, no leaking water on the floors so I have no idea where the pipe leaked but I think closing the loop sealed off the problem.

At first (directly afterwards) only zone 1 would work if zone 2 was off & vice versa.

Since then, zone 1 will heat up after purging air but stalls out and doesn't stay hot. It'll heat longer and get hotter before stalling if I turn zone 2 off.

Zone 2 functions whether zone 1 is on or off but won't get above 71°. If I turn zone 1 off zone 2 functions much better. My thought was to get zone 2 well heated and turn it off to see if zone 1 will reach temp given time but it just won't get above 71°.

The 3 lines returning to the boiler all have ball valves and are labeled left to right:

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LEFT- zone 3 upstairs bedrms

MIDDLE (zone 1 =branched w/ball valves kitchen & living rm )

RIGHT -zone 2 family rm now converted into our bedrm

The middle return line, zone 1, (has a prior fork directly above it each with its own ball valve) the air pocket culprit must be in the right branch of that zone. That is the region of registers that won't heat up.

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There is a spigot to purge to the lines. I now have a hose leading to the sink instead of filling up gallon jug after gallon jug (learned my lesson when I couldn't dump the plastic totes once they had too much water). The boiler room is full of totes I can't move.

Under the spigot there's another larger ball valve that closes all the return lines before they go into the boiler.

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I have left that open when bleeding the lines. Is that what I'm doing wrong? I've looked at hundreds of diagrams and I can't find any diagrams that have ball valves before and after the purge spigot. I don't remember the HVAC guy saying to close it but I'm really starting to second guess myself.

Is it possible I'm pulling water out of the boiler instead of out of the heating lines by not closing this valve?

The times that I bled it longer I felt the water in the hose go from extremely hot to cold then back to hot again. I thought it was because I was drawing out the dead cold water/dead air areas from the heating lines but is it possible I just ran out the hot water like when I would take a very, very long shower? These were times that produced the best results though.

I can do this if someone can just help me with comprehending how everything works, please?

Oil heats the water. The plumbing lines are independent from the heating lines. I'm having no problems with the hot water plumbing lines even upstairs, no air or anything, all are fine.

The same water stays in the heating lines because it is a closed system. When a thermostat triggers, it calls for heat & activates the circulator. If the ball valves are open and there's no air in the lines impeding flow the circulator pulls hot water from the boiler & that forces cold water sitting in the heating pipes to return to the boiler to get hot.

So far so good?

The ball valve on the side of the big return pipe decides how much register water is let back into the boiler to get hot depending on how far open or closed it is? I was told to keep it halfway by HVAC guy to save on fuel.

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There's an airscoop which is supposed to help to eliminate air from the lines but read online it won't fix giant air pockets of dead air.

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The valve at the top of the expansion tank moves and is not screwed down. The expansion is not too hot and makes two different sounds at the top and bottom indicating it's not likely faulty. It's very slightly warm near the top and cold at the bottom.

This thing autofills the boiler slowly with fresh water and is probably the reason I haven't damaged or cracked the boiler in all my attempts to clear the air pockets? I was not flipping the breaker to the boiler when bleeding air from the lines. Should I be?

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I have not figured out what this does so I have not touched it.

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I think I may be missing a small something or not purging long enough when I bleed the lines?

Could someone please walk me through it?

I can't call a technician. It's just not an option right now. In the past year I've diagnosed and replaced the drain pump in our washing machine and repaired our vacuum. I can do this, if I can understand the reasoning behind how it functions with some guidance I can get both zones fully operationally again.

Thank you for your help,



  • Ironman
    Ironman Member Posts: 6,548

    I just sent you PM. If you'll contact me, I'll try to help you.
    Bob Boan
    You can choose to do what you want, but you cannot choose the consequences.
  • icesailor
    icesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    edited January 2014
    Sad Story:

    That's one sad story.

    First of all, IMO, the "heaters" ( plumbers?) need to immediately remove that Taco Cast Iron fill valve on the boiler. It is probably completely blocked in the debris screen because of the iron and crud in your water, it is fed with copper and then connected to a black steel nipple. It needs to be replaced with a Watts 1156F brass auto feeder and brass or copper nipples connected to the heat system. The pressure in your heating system needs to be raised to a minimum of 18# PSI.

    I personally do not install air vents on baseboard radiators because they can suck in air under the conditions that you are experiencing.

    One photo shows a hose connected to purge the system. If the photo is correct, and the valves shown are in that position when you try to purge, it will not purge. The valve under the drain hose MUST be closed to purge the system. By using a Watts 1156F Brass auto feeder, there is a by-pass or fast fill feature that by-passes the reducing feature of the valve. Have the plumber come back and change the valve. Then, have him set the system pressure higher. Have him/her show you how to use the fast fill feature to purge. Make absolutely sure/positive that they install a brass valve.

    When it is really cold and blowing outside, do NOT turn thermostats down or off. You will break pipes from freezing. Which it sounds like you already have.

    Your heating system looks like a quality installation to me. The fact that someone didn't install air vents on the baseboard heaters is of no concern to me. I NEVER use them anyway when a system is piped like yours and is designed to be purged. I don't think that you can buy Watts Cast Iron fill valves anymore. I haven't been able to buy them for the last 10 years. I personally think that a lot of boilers were lost because the valves plugged up and Watts quietly eliminated the CI valves and sell the brass ones at the same price as the Cast Iron ones.

    Run the heating zone at whatever you need for the health of your husband. You won't know the difference if it is a little warmer.

    Good Luck.
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,507
    Congratulations on your determination!!!

    There are many ladies here who are doing their own diagnosis, and work (Vaporvac, Gwen-radiator ranger, and others).

    I am a steam expert, so I am sure one of the wet heads here will soon reply with advice on your air-bound system.

    I wish more people would think of repairing such things as the dishwasher, and vacuum cleaner (go Electrolux model J!), although in your case, you didn't have much choice. There would be less old metal in the landfill if we fixed everything, instead of replacing it!--NBC
  • russiand
    russiand Member Posts: 73
    My heart goes out to you

    My god, I wish you all the luck the in the world. As far as your boiler goes, it doesn't look that bad, it's a Burnham RSA. Givent that it's a low end oil boiler, that is made from steel. The piping looks more or less ok to me. What I am worried about is that you have a break in the piping upstairs. From your description about the water pouring out of the soffit etc, its likely that you have a broken pipe and continuing to add water to the system will flood the house etc. I HIGHLY recommend getting a pro in there before you cause further damage to the house. That said, this system should not require constant purging and in fact it should not be loosing any water at all. From the pictures it looks like either of the two ball valves below the purge should work. Your pressure looks low to me for temperature that is on the gauge. At that temp your temp would be close to ~18-20 PSI. The theory is to close off all the zones except for the one you are purging and purge one at a time. All of that said I wouldn't want you doing this yourself, I think you have bigger issues in that system right now. Oh my...
  • RobG
    RobG Member Posts: 1,850

    It is obvious from your post that you need a heating pro to correct / fix your system and in your current finacial situation that is not a possibility. "Oil Heat cares" is a non-profit organization that pride4s itself on helping those in need in our society. If you post your location pehaps there is somone near you who may be able to help. If you are near me I will certainly assist you at no charge, as I hope were I in your situation someone would help me.

    Good luck and may your prayers be answerd.

  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,507
    Carlisle Pa?

    Heather, are you in Carlisle Pa? Zip 17015?--NBC
  • Harvey Ramer
    Harvey Ramer Member Posts: 2,217

    If so I am within 10 miles of your house. I would be happy to come help.

  • Ironman
    Ironman Member Posts: 6,548

    Harvey is very knowledgeable. He's one of the ones I would recommend.
    Bob Boan
    You can choose to do what you want, but you cannot choose the consequences.
  • Ironman
    Ironman Member Posts: 6,548

    Rob's in Winchester. Another good pro that I'd recommend.
    Bob Boan
    You can choose to do what you want, but you cannot choose the consequences.
  • Harvey Ramer
    Harvey Ramer Member Posts: 2,217

    someone helping you Heather?

  • Rich_49
    Rich_49 Member Posts: 2,607

    I have contacted a large Pa distributor about possibly donating some Taco products for this project , looks like a real possibility that that assistance may materialize .  Also , Heather you could contact OESP and look into the Oil Heat Cares program . If anyone is willing to go help Heather I will also send some of the needed parts . I would go myself but it is quite aways from my Jersey home .
    You didn't get what you didn't pay for and it will never be what you thought it would .
    Langans Plumbing & Heating LLC
    Serving most of New Jersey, Eastern Pa .
    Consultation, Design & Installation anywhere
    Rich McGrath 732-581-3833