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/.
Click here to Find a Contractor in your area.

Help with Steam Efficiency

All, this discussion board is awesome but I have a couple of questions I cannot find through searching.

My 1928 home has its original steam boiler, a Redflash #1 Ideal by American Radiator Company. It takes 35 minutes to get heat at the closet radiator and after about 50 minutes heat is really cranking.

I received a $25k estimate to replace it. Hot water conversion would require too much destruction, and forced air is impractical because of clearance in my crawlspaces. We have replaced all the windows in the house with thermal glass, insulated the crawlspaces, and brought the attic up to R-38.

The boiler is controlled by an Intermatic mechanical 24-hour timer, which is connected to a 24v transformer, and then to a Robertshaw 780-715U ignition control unit. Thus, we time it to turn on for 1.5 hours in the morning and 3 in the evening.

I live in northern California. In cold months, my gas bill is as high as $800!

I would love advice about how to heat my home more efficiently--

1) I have only one setting: full power! Is there a way to cycle the boiler so that it fires at full power until it generates steam, and then powers down to 60% or whatever it takes to maintain the steam generation?

2) Is it possible to get a timer that would turn the boiler on for 90 minutes, then off for 60 and then on again to take advantage of the heat built up?

any other ideas of how to deal with this problem? MANY THANKS, Chris


  • gerry gill
    gerry gill Member Posts: 3,078
    well a new boiler would

    certainly be more efficient than that thing..probable cut a third to a half off the gas bill easy..or you could put the money into the envelope of the building as all boilers are 100% efficient when they aren't on..your choice.
    Serving Cleveland's eastern suburbs from Cleveland Heights down to Cuyahoga Falls.

  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,275
    Good heavens

    that is an antique -- and so is the control system.

    We don't talk price here specifically, but a new boiler is very much the way to go.  It would be controlled by a thermostat, not a timer, so it would only run when you needed heat in the house.

    If the new boiler is properly sized -- done by the number and size of the radiators, NOT the heat loss of the structure! -- it will run, quite comfortably, until the thermostat shuts it off.

    I do foresee a problem, however.  California is not exactly the happy hunting ground of steam installation people, and steam heat does require a certain amount of attention to do right, although it isn't really complicated.  The installation diagrams which come with a boiler, though, are very thorough, and if you can find a good plumber who doesn't mind threaded pipe, the job can be done without too much trouble -- as well as bringing the rest o the system back to like new -- and you will save a good bit on fuel costs, as well as being a lot more comfortable.

    And we will all help as much as we can.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • California steaming

    I would get that old girl behaving as well as possible first, and then later think about her replacement.

    First, you need a better control system, than a timer. A Honeywell Visionpro thermostat with a remote sensor placed on the inside wall in the coldest room with a radiator, will be able to start the boiler when the temperature drops, and vise-versa.

    Second, examine the condition of your main vents, and make sure they are of generous size. I suspect you are paying extra to force the air out instead of allowing it to escape with no resistance.

    Third, check your pressuretrol to make sure the pressure is not rising above 2 psi (functionality), or 6 ounces (economy and comfort).--NBC
  • Thermostat ignition

    NBC, the pressure is good and vents were inspected a few years ago.  I do want to look into the thermostat, but I have a basic question: there's currently no thermostat and I do not want to run a wire from a new thermostat down to the basement.  What kind of device is used to wirelessly start the ignition module that is compatible with the Honeywell thermostat?  Many thanks!  Chris
  • Eastman
    Eastman Member Posts: 927
    i wouldnt worry about the wire right now

    there is something horribly wrong if it takes 35 minutes to get heat at the closest radiator

    are you sure the pressure is not going over 2psi
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,826
    The Redflash boiler

    is a three-pass unit designed for coal firing. So the flue passages inside the boiler are fairly large. This was needed for coal, but NOT for oil or gas firing.

    The old oil-burner guys used to put baffles in these big passages to slow down the hot flue gases and make them rub the cast-iron better. This procedure was especially popular during the fuel shortages of World War 2. Without the baffles, the hot gases would stay in the middle of the flue passages and the heat would go right up the chimney.

    I've done baffling too, when a complete boiler replacement wasn't going to happen for whatever reason. I'd bet your boiler has no baffles, which is contributing to its prodigious fuel consumption. But even a standard atmospheric steam boiler (to say nothing of a power-burner wet-base type) would be much more efficient than that Redflash, so I'd recommend you replace it.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
  • SWEI
    SWEI Member Posts: 7,356
    Northern California steam pro

    Alan?  Not sure who else to suggest up there, but you should at least review these before signing anything


  • Wireless thermostat for old boiler

    Thermostatic control will improve things a great deal, and as a lot can change in 3 years, verify your pressure to be less than 2 psi and check your main vents for operation.--NBC