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.

High heating bills - looking for some ideas!

Hi, we just moved into a new home with steam heating and have been quite surprised at our new heating bills. We're trying to get a sense of whether they're actually normal or not, but our latest bill came in at 175 ccf's for a 1000 sq foot home, which seems pretty high. Now, we are in the first floor of an old 3-story multi-unit we bought, so some of the issues here are a poorly insulated house and a draft that is sucking the heat upward, but at the same time, I'm trying to get a sense of whether we're missing anything with the boiler.

We did have the boiler serviced as part of the work done by the previous owner, but I'm not sure how comprehensive that was - the plumber cleaned the burner trays, checked the ignitor and the low water cutoff, etc.

One odd thing that I have noticed is that the boiler will often get up to 4 psi even though I have the pressuretrol set so that it is between 0.5 and 2 psi. I have no idea why this might be happening?

The other question I have is pretty basic. I know that wet steam exits through the exhaust but that if this steam is extremely wet, you're wasting a lot of energy. In our place you can definitely see a visible cloud through our exhaust, but it's not a deep, puffy white smoke. Should this be completely or nearly invisible or is a little bit of smoke-style exhaust reasonable?

Any other thoughts on things that may be wrong? Our pipes had been uninsulated, and I insulated them all with 1" fiberglass (I still need to do the returns), but that actually had very little impact on our usage, much to my surprise. I don't know how to know whether the vents are not venting, other than that it is a fairly quiet system.

Thanks in advance!


  • bustoff315
    bustoff315 Member Posts: 26
    Automatic Feeder?

    I would be very concerned about seeing any steam exiting your exhaust. It could suggest a crack in the boiler above the water line. Is there an automatic water feeder on this boiler?
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    Steam from chimney

    The only water vapor in the exhaust should be from the byproducts of combustion, which is one pound of water vapor from each pound of gas burned.

    Maybe it's time to overfill the boiler and watch it for drips. Until then, you could valve off any auto feed, and see if the waterline drops too quickly. Check the operation of the LWCO in cutting off the burner when the level is low.

    As far as reducing fuel consumption--venting--venting on the mains can save a lot along with a reduction in pressure (under 2psi, for basic function; and under 8 ounces for comfort and economy).--NBC
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,419
    Two thoughts...

    besides what has already been said.

    It's quite difficult to judge a cloud of steam from the chimney -- but as a general way of going, it would be invisible to just slightly wispy on a dry day, and perhaps a little more on a very humid day.  Anything much more than that suggests a possible problem.

    As others have suggested, checking the water usage is the quickest and easiest way to be certain; anything over a gallon a week is very  much excessive.

    On the other hand, the fact that you can get up to 4 psi suggests otherwise; a boiler with a significant leak will have problems getting up steam pressure.  However, if the pressuretrol is set to cutout at 2 psi, but you get up to 4 -- either the pressuretrol isn't doing its job, or the gauge is wonky.  It is not at all uncommon for the pipe to the pressuretrol -- called a pigtail -- to get clogged, but it is rather simple to fix that.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Mark N
    Mark N Member Posts: 1,115
    edited February 2014
    Gas Bill

    What other appliances in your home use gas?  Did you factor them out?  What temp was the thermostat set to?  Where are you located it has been very cold in the Midwest and the Northeast.  Was size is the boiler and what is the EDR of the attached radiators?  Order the books that are available here and get the knowledge.
  • Double D
    Double D Member Posts: 442
    Flue discharge

    Here is a video of a chimney exhausting a confirmed leaking boiler but as Jamie said it is difficult to judge a cloud of steam from a chimney. This boiler is still heating the house but it is not building pressure: also it did not pass the overfill test. The owners told me the system piping and radiator valves have been leaking for at least 15 years.  

  • mrdaniel
    mrdaniel Member Posts: 4
    Automatic water feeder

    Thanks everyone for the suggestions - much appreciated. Sounds like there is enough going on to warrant a call for someone to check it out in more detail. Perhaps I placed a little too much confidence in the boiler servicing that was done as part of the sale.

    Anyway - I did have one more follow-up question. I read what Dan has to say about automatic water feeders in his book and he says that they are really just there to maintain a minimum, not the optimum. I have never had to feed our boiler, though - it's always been at about 2/3rds full in the gauge. Could it be that the water feeder is set to this amount rather than the minimum or can it really not operate any other way than at a minimum?

    Many thanks again.