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New homeowner with steam boiler

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Tolik
Tolik Member Posts: 85
Hello, I recently purchased a home that has a one pipe steam boiler. It was installed in 2012. The previous owners didn't care how things worked so they just let it run. I had some hissing and leaking radiators that I'm taking care of. I've learned a lot reading this site. I have a few questions about my systems setup that I can't figure out. I'll list list out the questions and some pictures and hopefully someone out there cares enough to read this and write a response. There are five old radiators (not cast iron but steal with fins) on the first floor and four copper convector radiators on the second floor. There is a separate thermostat for the basement that kicks off a motor that runs a hydrolic loop through baseboards off the wet return on the boiler. I can be wrong since I knew nothing about heating systems a few months ago.

1. I read a lot here about venting "the main". I have no idea what my "main" is. The basement other than a small section where the boiler and water heater are is fully finished. Are the main's near the boiler there are a lot of pipes.

2. Looks like the pressure gauge on the boiler is broken it doesn't move. How can I remove it its so flush with the top of the boiler. I googled some images and its by design. Shouldn't there be an extension with a pigtail? Also does it have to be 100psi, seems drastic.

3. I have a valve (blue next to gauge) that I have no idea what it does.

4. I'm still a bit confused about how the pressure should be set for some reason I feel like its too high.

That's what I can think of right now but I'm sure i have 101 other questions that I can't remember now. THANK YOU I can post more pictures the ones attached are just those I already had snapped on my phone.
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Comments

  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
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    There is so much wrong here that I think the best advise any of us could give you would be to look in the "find a contractor" tab on this site and find someone close to you who can come out and assess what needs to be done to correct the problems. for starters, there is no Header on that boiler, thee Pressuretrols are set way too high. typically the cut-in is set at .5PSI and the Differential is typically set at about 1PSI. You have two Pressuretrols on that boiler. Not sure what is controling what. That shut-off valve with the blue handle is not functional (not even sure why it was put there unless the installer just didn't have a plug but did have a valve. With it aimed down into the boiler, you certailny don't want to open it as you will be releasing steam. It is above the water line and is dangerous if opened while the boiler is running.
    KC_Jones
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,742
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    Fred at least it wasn't piped in copper, well there is some copper so they didn't get that part completely wrong. I agree with Fred I don't think you are in a "just tweaking" type of situation. The boiler piping will be an issue for you with wet steam. As far as your "mains" go the large pipe coming from the side of the boiler and going up to the ceiling. That is connected to your mains and if you follow those pipes out to their end that is the end of main. They may make a 180° turn and come back to the boiler, but that would still be considered the end of your main. Yes your pressure is high that front should basically be as low as you can go AND you need to open it up to check the internal setting which should be at 1. And as Fred said there is an additional pressuretrol (maybe vaporstat now sure) on the pigtail on the other side of the boiler that is controlling something? I will second the recommendation to use the find a contractor link and see if there are any "steam men" in your area. They can at least come over and evaluate what you have. I would think they should be able to help with a plan of attack to get that system performing. Where do you live a lot of us know what areas some of the contractors service?
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
  • TheRooster
    TheRooster Member Posts: 34
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    Well... it is a cool basement floor..
    2001 Slant-Fin Liberty II LD-40, Single pipe steam
    456 sq/ft connected load
    3PSI gauge
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,436
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    I would suggest getting a copy of "The Lost Art of Steam Heating" -- not all that expensive, and an easy read. Available from the store on this site.

    You will do well to understand how the system is supposed to work -- steam isn't that hard, but it can be a bit perplexing at first -- and then take the time to figure out what all the pipes and gizmos are supposed to do.

    You do have some problems, as has been said...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Tolik
    Tolik Member Posts: 85
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    Wow I didn't expect to find out so much is wrong. The system works well, knock on wood, thus far. I'm going to have to get by this first winter with it the way it is. I'm a technical person and can pretty much learn and figure things out if I'm interested. I just need someone to help out with the terminology and such. I've read a lot on this site, far more than I think a book would explain. There is nothing I can address myself?

    I'm in Brooklyn, NY. Thank you.
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,479
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    Buy that Lost Art of Steam Heating book, there is no better resource on steam systems. Once you read and understand that book everything will become clear to you.

    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
    KC_Jones
  • Tolik
    Tolik Member Posts: 85
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    okay okay, I get it buy the book. Ordered. In the mean time though is there anything I can start doing this weekend? For one I'd like to replace non-functioning pressure gauge on top of the unit. Any idea's how to get that thing out? Do I need to replace it with the same 100psi type? Can the boiler run without the pressure gauge, I'm thinking "no", but just want to confirm. Thank you.
  • Tolik
    Tolik Member Posts: 85
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    For some reason I thought it was a 100psi but it is a 30. It's definitely broken though. The top plastic cover is off and the needle is bent that it always shows 5. I think the previous owner may have attempted to do something with it. I was able to remove the top cover and I'm pretty sure I can get a wrench or something to remove the gauge. Is it even worth doing? Can I replace it with a 3psi gauge? Does it need a pigtail?

    I get what you are saying about adding a T to the pressurtrol section. That sounds like a plan.

    I'm not sure what blue valve is for. It looks like there is a pipe just hanging off the other side too. Its open. I won't touch the valve, right now its closed.

    I can't follow any of the main pipes the basement is fully finished. I don't see any points at which there would be a valve. there may be some but its all covered up the only vents I have are on the radiators. There are none in the basement only first and second floor.

    Thank you for the invite. I may have to take you up on that one weekend. I'd love to see how a well designed setup works =)
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,742
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    There really is no point in worrying about the old gauge...IMHO it's wasted effort better spent elsewhere. Even a brand new one won't do much since these systems run at such a low pressure. My gauge is in perfect working order, pigtail is clean everything is proper and I have never seen it move in 12 years. The error rate of a typical gauge is such that my pressure falls into that error rate so the gauge doesn't move. Buy the low pressure gauge add it to the pigtail as suggested and you will be able to monitor it then.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,742
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    My theory is this....for the inspector is there a difference between a gauge that doesn't read pressure because it's so low and one that won't read pressure because it's broken? lol just a thought.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
    Tolik
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
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    That blue valve is of NO use. It is a safety hazard. When the boiler is not working, turn the power off to the boiler, take that valve off and screw a 3/4 inch plug into that Tee. Really, your Pressure Relief valve (mounted sideways on that other Tee with the open pipe attached to it) should be mounted vertically. When they are sideways like that, they can accumulate grud and fail. That is an important safety device so you want it to work properly. If you can reconfigure those Tee's so that you can mount that Safety relief Valve vertically, it will be much better. Do consider taking Hatterasguy up on his offer to look at his system. Nothing beats actually seeing what yours is suppose to look like to run properly and effeciently. Take someone with you. Two sets of eyes are always better than one and take a note pad to make drawings and notes. If you can't or are not ccomfortable going there, go to the boiler manufacturer's web site or call them and get a copy of the owner's manual/installation guide and reconfigure your near boiler piping to there recommendations. Most likely there are vents somewhere on your mains if not, there should be. You need to find them, even with a finished basement, they are still an essential part of a functioning steam system. If you can maybe contact the previous owner, they may be able to give you a clue where they are above the ceiling. Untangling this situation is going to take a pro. Don't be penny-wise and pound foolish like the previous owner. It just costs more in the long run.
    Tolik
  • Tolik
    Tolik Member Posts: 85
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    Well said guys. I think I'll start with the suggested 3psi gauge addition.
  • Tolik
    Tolik Member Posts: 85
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    I'm re-reading all the posts and I'm confused about the two pressuretrols you guys mention. Is it just the way the pictures look I don't see anything like that. I have one unit that is labeled pressuretrol and another one that says cut-in. Both are on a pig tail.

    If I lower the pressure could that have adverse effeffect on the heating? Its unlikley the previous owner set the pressure I'd have to guess the installer did two years ago.

    I've now fixed allbut one of the radiator hissing vents and leaking valves and now one of the radiators started making a hammer sound when the system first starts making steam.

    Attached is a picture of the only radiator which has an air vent basically wide open and I cannot get it off. I may have to hire a pro. For now I stuck a piece of wood into the vent to at least slow down the steam coming out.

    Again thank you all for taking time to answer.
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
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    Both of those are Pressuretrols. The one near your sight glass, if you take the screw off of the bottom center front of that cover, you will see a white wheel in there that you set for the Differential (it should be set a "1") That is essentially your "Cut-out" So the cut-in of .5PSI +the cut-out of 1PSI gives you a cut-out of 1.5PSI. Not sure what the Pressuretrol on the back, near that blue valve that you need to remove is there for or what it controls. It doesn't even have the differential plate mounted on the face, next to the "Main" plate. As for those radiator vents, they need to be mounted vertically so the air vent is upright. I am sure they are just leaking condensation the way they are and that is why you have so much rust in tht area.
  • Tolik
    Tolik Member Posts: 85
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    Fred, thank your for all the advise. I was under the impression that one is for cut-in and the other was cut-out. Now I'm even more confused as to why that's there.

    That air vent is mounted facing up. It's just been neglected for 10 years I bet.

    If I lower the pressure could that essentially make the house heat up slower? Is there any reason to lower it? Thank you.
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
    edited November 2014
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    The pressure should be .5PSI Cut-in and around 1PSI differential so that you pressure never gets over about 1.5PSI. With Steam, the lower the pressure, the faster it moves (even though that sounds counter intuitive, its true). So lowering the pressure should make the house heat a little faster, assumming the venting is right, along with the other corrections we've noted.
    Tolik
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,479
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    The second pressuretrol might just be a backup safety device that will act if the other one ever fails to shut the boiler down on pressure.

    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
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,742
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    The one with the clear cover appears to have a manual reset on it. I haven't seen one like that before?! It does appear to be wired in series with the other pressuretrol, judging by the wire colors I can see in those pics. Does anyone know what the red button is on that pressuretrol? I am guessing manual reset and if it is makes me wonder why someone would put that on? It is set really high looks like around 7-8PSI.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,479
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    I went back and looked at the pics and that seems to be manual reset safety, Some jurisdictions require backup pressure safeties on steam boilers.

    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
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,742
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    What's kind of weird is judging by the tape it is a recent addition since it doesn't appear to match the rest. Something dawned on me as I typed that. If what @BobC is saying is true about code requirement. What if the original install wasn't permitted and when they went to sell the house added that to satisfy home inspectors? One will never know.....
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
    Tolik
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,436
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    It does look like a manual reset unit -- in which case, it should be set no higher than about 5 psi. More to the point, if it ever does trip out, don't just press the little button and go away. Find out why it tripped and fix it!

    A number of codes require a manual reset backup, both for the pressure control device(s) and the low water cutout. It's not a bad idea, even if it isn't required.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    TolikZman
  • Tolik
    Tolik Member Posts: 85
    edited November 2014
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    Makes sense. It does look like its a backup unit, I followed the wiring and it is linked together.

    I can put a low pressure gauge, as suggested, next to either of the pressortrols?

    I'm wondering about this main vent situation. Wouldn't putting bigger air vents on the radiators themselves have the same effect as venting the mains?
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,479
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    The goal of the main vents is to get all of the air out of the main quickly so steam will be able to flow to all the radiators at the same time. If you try to do it through the radiators it will take longer (costing you fuel) and usually results in uneven heat.

    The best scheme is to vent the mains fast and the radiators slowly but completely.

    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
    Tolik
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
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    No it won't have the same effect. The steam mains need to vent quickly and you want the mains full of steam. That will then push the air through you smaller radiator feeds and push that air, along with the air in the radiators out through the radiator vents and you want to vent the radiators slowly. Radiator vents, even big ones simply aren't designed to push that volume of air out of the mains, supply lines and radiators effeciently. Besides that, without good venting on the mains, steam will push air as far as it can and then stop or really slow down meaning some radiators won't even have a chance to heat. You can't balance a system, and you willl probably shut the burner down on pressure before you satisfy the thermostat or heat the house.
    Tolik
  • Tolik
    Tolik Member Posts: 85
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    Fred said:

    That blue valve is of NO use. It is a safety hazard. When the boiler is not working, turn the power off to the boiler, take that valve off and screw a 3/4 inch plug into that Tee.

    Can I put a low pressure gauge on that with an elbow and pigtail instead of a cap?
    Fred said:

    Really, your Pressure Relief valve (mounted sideways on that other Tee with the open pipe attached to it) should be mounted vertically. When they are sideways like that, they can accumulate grud and fail.

    This is something I should absolutely do or when I get around to it?
    Fred said:

    Don't be penny-wise and pound foolish like the previous owner. It just costs more in the long run.

    How else would I learn if I didn't break something my self? It's not like I can blow myself up. =)

    Happy Thanks Giving ALL!

    This is my stuffed turkey =)image
  • Tolik
    Tolik Member Posts: 85
    edited November 2014
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    ...find your main vents. Follow the pipe that gets the steam out of the boiler room and all the way around the basement. Near the end of the basement, and possibly after the pipe turns back toward the boiler room, you are looking for a "vent".

    This has poised to be a challenging task for me. The basement if fully finished. The contractors who did the job had no clue, aka didn't care, about leaving the vents open for access.

    I'm attaching a quick sketch of the layout of radiators. I've indicted where I can feel pipes. Before I cut into the drywall I'd like to get as close as possible to where the vents would be, if they are indeed there. I don't hear anything venting. Would I hear it?

    Thank you for your help and support through this. My wife thinks I'm nuts for opening and closing the radiator covers so many times.

    image
  • David Nadle
    David Nadle Member Posts: 624
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    If you get someone over there with a thermal imaging camera you might be able to see heat signature of the vents, or at least the outline of the mains, and the vents would be near where they terminate.
  • nicholas bonham-carter
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    The Home Depot may rent those IR cameras.--NBC
  • Tolik
    Tolik Member Posts: 85
    edited November 2014
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    That's a great idea about the thermal cam!

    It seems like when I fix one issue another one pops up.

    I'm noticing now that there is a lot more "gurgling" sounds form some of the radiators. I suspect that water is being carried in with the steam.

    I'm reading on the topic of wet-steam now but I'd like to share my site gauge video. Does this indicate that there is oil in the water and the boiler needs to be skimmed? It is about two years old.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HShvMczfSY0
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
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    Is that water and bubbles in the top portion of that sight glass? If so, that's a good indication there is oil in the water and it needs to be skimmed.
  • Tolik
    Tolik Member Posts: 85
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    Fred said:

    That shut-off valve with the blue handle is not functional (not even sure why it was put there unless the installer just didn't have a plug but did have a valve. With it aimed down into the boiler, you certailny don't want to open it as you will be releasing steam. It is above the water line and is dangerous if opened while the boiler is running.

    Could that valve have been used for skimming?

    As outlined in option 2 in link bellow?
    http://www.comfort-calc.net/Skim_a_Steam_Boiler.html
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
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    You can't skim mfrom the top of the boiler. The skim port has to be on the side or rear/front and above the water line. Someone may have tried to use that as a skim port but it won't work.
  • Tolik
    Tolik Member Posts: 85
    edited December 2014
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    Can I use the extra tapping on the other side of the boiler for skimming? It looks like I can remove the cap. What would I need to put there instead?

    Thank you.
    side.jpg 490.9K
  • Tolik
    Tolik Member Posts: 85
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    Fred said:

    You can't skim mfrom the top of the boiler. The skim port has to be on the side or rear/front and above the water line. Someone may have tried to use that as a skim port but it won't work.

    So does that mean the info on the site http://www.comfort-calc.net/Skim_a_Steam_Boiler.html is wrong. Look all the way on the bottom under "Option Two Skimming the boiler from the header"
  • Tolik
    Tolik Member Posts: 85
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    So, what you want to do is to purchase a gauge that has a maximum reading of 3 psi. You are going to purchase some fittings to allow mounting of this gauge next to the pressuretrol. The pressuretrol can be found on the top of the "pigtail". If you find that boiler drain on the top of the boiler (that should not be there) and follow the pipe away from the boiler drain, it goes into an elbow and up through the "pigtail" to the pressuretrol. You want to put a T (1/4") above the pigtail and adapt the gauge to that T using some 1/4" fittings.

    Can the pressure gauge be mounted sideways or only pointing strait up?
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
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    Yes you can use that side tapping to skim the boiler and "No" the article you reference for option two is not wrong. If you look at it again, it shows a skim valve (in Orange) mounted all the way above the boiler in the header, not in the bottom of the boiler. That approach is a lot harder than using a tapping somewhere above the water line on the boiler.
  • Tolik
    Tolik Member Posts: 85
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    Fred said:

    Yes you can use that side tapping to skim the boiler and "No" the article you reference for option two is not wrong. If you look at it again, it shows a skim valve (in Orange) mounted all the way above the boiler in the header, not in the bottom of the boiler. That approach is a lot harder than using a tapping somewhere above the water line on the boiler.

    My boiler has the mystery valve on top of the boiler. Isn't that the same concept as the site shows to skim form the top of the boiler?




  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,742
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    First that tapping is very small. Second it is going to be very difficult from the top like that. Imagine this, you have a bottle of oil and vinegar dressing. You let it sit for a while to separate. Now you need to get all the oil off the top of the bottle, through a straw inserted in the top. Then you need to fill the bottle from the bottom to push the oil up and out the straw. What will basically happen is you will get the oil that initially goes into the straw but the rest will probably just stay on the outside of the straw and never go up the straw. If you inserted the same straw in the side of the bottle you would easily skim the oil off the top. Make sense? That is the best analogy I could come up with.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
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    Not at all. The tapping on your boiler, where the valve is mounted is vertical and won't let the oils float on top of the water which is essential to a proper skim. In the option that skims from the header, if you will note the tapping is on a horizontal plane and the surface space in that header allows the oils to rest on top and ultimately be skimmed off.
  • Tolik
    Tolik Member Posts: 85
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    Yes, that does makes sense, thank you.

    So basically the people who installed this boiler most likely did not do a proper skim. This is why the water in the site glass looks like there is some type of "oily vapor" above the water line and it surges about an inch or so.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HShvMczfSY0