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.

Trouble with My Steam Boiler

Options
I have a Burnham one pipe steam boiler system, model number 409BI, installed in 1991 before I moved in. The system has worked perfectly until a month ago. My plumber replaced the low water cut off box (black box in the photo) and the system worked for about a week. Then it began to work only 1 out of every 2 or 3 days, and only for 2-3 hours a day. When it works, it heats the house very quickly. I bleed the system each day after which it turns on for about 15 minutes. When it does work, the pressure builds to about 5 psi and then turns off. My plumber has suggested we clean all the traps to get rid of any clogs. He says this will take 2 hours per trap and I have 18 of them. I am looking for suggestions and was also wondering if I could clean the traps myself.

I've attached photos here.

Comments

  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,313
    Options
    for starters, 5 psi is way too high. It should be set up to shut off at no more than 2 psi.

    Are there any vents on the system other than on the radiators?

    And... what shuts it off when it's misbehaving? The LWCO?

    What do you mean by "bleed the system"? Steam systems should never need bleeding. That's hot water only, and even then, only rarely.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
    edited December 2014
    Options
    If it ran fine before he replaced the LWCO, then I'd be looking at what he did to it, or the wiring to it. Why did he mount the Pressuretrol backwards and below the water line? How can you tell what it is set at? Take that off, add a 4" to 6" extension to the pigtaail and raise it above the water line. Also while you have the Pressuretrol off, take the pigtail off and clean it out. I had a similar set up on my Burnham boiler and that tapping that the Pigtail/Pressuretrol is mounted on is notorous for clogging up. I suspect with the Pressuretrol down that low, it is filled with water up to the little port in the Pressuretrol fitting and not letting the Pressuretrol return to its Cut-in pressure (keeping the Microswitch open). The guy that replaced the LWCO, was he a steam Pro? I bet not.
    To test what I am saying, with the thermostat set above room temperature, tap on the top of the Pressuretrol a couple times and see if the boiler kicks on.
    Hatterasguy
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,313
    Options
    Missed that -- didn't look at the photos. Good call, guys.

    Any bets on whether that poor pressuretrol still works at all?
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    Charlie from wmass
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
    edited December 2014
    Options

    Fred said:

    If it ran fine before he replaced the LWCO, then I'd be looking at what he did to it, or the wiring to it. Why did he mount the Pressuretrol backwards and below the water line?

    Good eye, Fred.

    That has to be the problem. Notice the fresh blue tape on it.

    Take a look right above it. There's a tapping in the jacket at that point. Wonder if the Pressuretrol started its life at that location?

    He lowers the water level down below the pressuretrol and it works briefly until the feeder kicks in.

    My burnham was originally set up just like this one. Nothing but a headache as the Pressuretrol simply can't work consistently on that tapping (unless it is cleaned every month) and below the waterline (which should never happen)
    That tapping is probably whaere his Skim port should be (Burnham uses a 3/4" tapping) but that's where I'd move the Pressuretrol to using a Tee so he could still have a skim port there.

  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
    Options

    Missed that -- didn't look at the photos. Good call, guys.

    Any bets on whether that poor pressuretrol still works at all?

    It must work somewhat because he can get it to start by lowering the water level in the boiler. Whether it's anything close to accurate after taking a boiler water bath is anyone's guess.
    It will still work once he gets it out of the water, at least mine did and it was like that for 3 or 4 years before I even tried to understand steam.

  • davidw
    davidw Member Posts: 5
    Options
    Thanks for all the comments. I want to respond to all of you. First, the LWCO was replaced after the system stopped working. The plumber said the old one was all corroded/clogged. Also, the valve at the bottom of it to help drain the water out of the boiler worked poorly. Second, the heat works well when the system is on and the radiators stay warm for 12-24 hours after the system turns off. Third, by bleeding I mean draining some of the water out of the boiler to get out the sediment from corrosion. This is what I have always done with the boiler per my plumber's instructions since 1993 and the system has been fine for over 20 years. Normally I take enough so the water coming out turns clear. Because of the issues I have been having lately, I have been taking out two bucketfuls of water and t hen filling the water back up. Fourth, in terms of vents, there is one vent in the basement at the top of one of the pipes. Otherwise, all other venting is done at the radiators. Fifth, based on Fred's comments, I did tap the pressuretrol but nothing happened. I can certainly extend the pigtail if that is what is required but then I will have to extend the wire that goes from the pressuretrol to the LWCO.
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,478
    Options
    That pressuretrol should be on the upper part of the sight glass fitting. Until that can be done extend that pigtail up by 8-12" and check the small hole at the base of the pressuretrol - make sure it isn't blocked. Also blow into the open pipe/ pigtail to make sure it is clear. Extend the wires but make sure the power is off before doing so.

    Let us know if things work differently.

    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
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
    edited December 2014
    Options
    Trust me, the Pressuretrol must be above the water line so you need to get it up with an extension and if you need to buy a couple feet of 18 gauge wire, that's what you have to do.
    The Pressuretrol may be waterlogged at this point. If you turn it around like it is suppose to be, you can take the cover off of it (screw at middle bottom of front cover. When the cover is off, you will see an arm that has a microswitch below it. gently push down on that arm and see if the boiler kicks on. At this point you may need to replace the Pressuretrol. The problem is definately not in your traps. The boiler (and its controls) could care less about the functioning of the traps. The fact that the boiler kicks on occassionally (every 2 or 3 days) suggests to me that the Pressuretrol sits idle long enough that that switch arm finally falls back to where it closes the Cut-in switch.
    The problem is there, #1 because the Pressuretrol has to be above the water line to function properly. #2 The Pigtail could also be plugged with gunk, the opening in the LWCO may be plugged (doubtful if the LWCO is new)
    That LWCO is a McDonnell Miller #67 and they are very reliable, assumming they are wired correctly (make sure the wires are tight on the terminals). McDonnell Miller recommends they be cleaned annually and replaced every 10 years because they do get a heavy build up inside them.
    You will find your problem somewhere between the Pressuretrol and the LWCO or #3 the thermostat.
    Make sure all the low voltage wiring connections are good.
    Make sure the Pressuretrol is set for a Cut-in of .5PSI and the differential (white wheel inside, under the cover and on the floor of the Pressuretrol is set at 1PSI) That will give you a Cut-Out of 1.5PSI.

    BTW, what you are calling "Bleed" is actually a "Blow Down" using the valve on the LWCO. You should only do that once a week, during the heating season. Doing that more often isn't neccessary and adds lot of fresh water to the boiler which you do not want to do. It encourages rust-throughs. Once a month or so, do the blow down while the boiler is running and in a matter of a few seconds it should shut the boiler down, release the valve and the boiler will kick back on. That is a test to ensure the LWCO is functioning properly.
  • Charlie from wmass
    Charlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,322
    Options
    The water line is a red herring issue. The location is fine for most systems that have a working pressuretrol. Where is the job located? Also what traps? The convector photo was fuzzy I did not see a trap.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/charles-garrity-plumbing-and-heating
  • Charlie from wmass
    Charlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,322
    Options
    The top of the lwco should be just at the waterline as half way down it is the low water line.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/charles-garrity-plumbing-and-heating
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
    edited December 2014
    Options

    The top of the lwco should be just at the waterline as half way down it is the low water line.

    On the Burnham 4 Series, the normal water line is 3/4 up the sight glass. His Pressuretrol is clearly below that. if you explode photo #4, you will see his water level is about an inch above the base of the Pressuretrol. When i first moved into my house, i had a similar situation (I also have a Burnham Series 4). The Pressuretrol worked most of the time but often did not lose enough pressure in the pigtail to reset the Cut-in. eventually the Pressuretrol failed and I had to replace it and raise it up.
    He says it's a 1 pipe system but looking at photo #1 (it is fuzzy) it looks like a 2 pipe system to me. I don't see a vent. I don't know if there are any traps there or not??

  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,695
    Options
    If the suspected trouble is water reaching the pressuretrol, why not just install a straight pigtail rather than the 90 deg style that is currently there?

    To the OP, this isn't related to your current problem but I'm curious. When you were told to blow down the low water cutoff once a week, did they also tell you to do it while the burner is running to ensure it actually works and shuts the burner off?

    I've noticed this is a big mistake many people make. When you blow the crud out of the low water cutoff you also need to make sure it actually works.
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
  • Charlie from wmass
    Charlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,322
    Options
    I test my pressuretrols as often they do not reset if set too low. the scales is just a suggestion after all, LOL. If the pressuretrol does not reset after I blow into it to trip it open. I adjust it higher no matter what the scale claims it is set at.
    BTW to the original post I would say a new pressuretrol and better mainline vents and you will be happy again with your system.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/charles-garrity-plumbing-and-heating
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,576
    edited December 2014
    Options
    I see no header or equalizer on the boiler, which must be causing some efficiency problems. That piping arrangement will blow a lot of water up into the piping, instead of only steam.
    If you download the instruction manual for the boiler you have, you will see quite a bit of difference between what you have and the manufacturers required piping layout. It will burn a lot less fuel, and have a longer life, if the piping were corrected, but you need a new more steam knowledgeable plumber.--NBC
  • Double D
    Double D Member Posts: 442
    Options
    In the picture of the convector, I'm seeing two pipes. I assume these traps your plumber is talking about are located in the basement. In that case this is a two pipe system not one. I would not start with the cleaning of all those traps. My starting point would be what everyone is suggesting.
  • davidw
    davidw Member Posts: 5
    Options
    Thank you to everyone. I will take your advice on the pressuretrol. Out of curiosity, can you recommend a steam knowledgeable plumber in Westchester County, NY
    Charlie from wmass
  • Charlie from wmass
    Charlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,322
    Options
    no, but I go there on occasion for consulting.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/charles-garrity-plumbing-and-heating
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
    Options

    I see no header or equalizer on the boiler, which must be causing some efficiency problems. That piping arrangement will blow a lot of water up into the piping, instead of only steam.
    If you download the instruction manual for the boiler you have, you will see quite a bit of difference between what you have and the manufacturers required piping layout. It will burn a lot less fuel, and have a longer life, if the piping were corrected, but you need a new more steam knowledgeable plumber.--NBC

    Nick, I think he has a Header there, it's just way high. It looks like the risers out of the boiler go up and tie into it and the mains are off to the right and the equalizer off the end of it. That high header (if I'm seeing correctly is a good thing)

  • davidw
    davidw Member Posts: 5
    Options
    that seems right. the reason you see other pipes that someone commented that they thought I had a two pipe system, is that in addition I have a small hot water heater that heats a single room with baseboard electric heat. this room was added on just before I bought the house.
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
    edited December 2014
    Options
    davidw said:

    that seems right. the reason you see other pipes that someone commented that they thought I had a two pipe system,

    The reason we think you have a 2 pipe system is because, if you look at Photo #1, there is a pipe at each end (typically a supply pipe for steam and a drain side for condensate)and no obvious vent of any kind.

    KC_Jones
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    Options
    Thanks Fred, I think I see a header now; and I certainly see two pipes on the convector. Are the risers big enough for that size of boiler?--NBC
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
    Options

    Thanks Fred, I think I see a header now; and I certainly see two pipes on the convector. Are the risers big enough for that size of boiler?--NBC

    2" tappings was all that Burnham put on the Series 4. Mine rise out with a close nipple at 2" and then open up to 3" but that's all there was to work with.The Header looks like it is at least 3" and up that high he should be good.

  • Double D
    Double D Member Posts: 442
    Options
    You mentioned that your plumber suggested to clean all 18 traps to get rid of any clogs. Did he point them out to you? If he did, could you post a picture of one or more of them?
  • davidw
    davidw Member Posts: 5
    Options
    Here is a pretty clear picture. As I recall, the trap should be on the right side.
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
    Options
    Definitely a 2 pipe system. I don't see a trap there but there may be some kind of Orifice (to control the volume of steam) in that right union. Let's see what others think.
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,842
    Options
    Sure that's a trap, rather than a swivel joint?
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
  • Double D
    Double D Member Posts: 442
    Options
    Maybe we can get Gerry to slice one up the middle to see what's inside. All kidding aside, could you post some photos of the horizontal piping in the basement so we can rule out the idea of these traps being located down there? Try to show where in the basement each one of those pipes on that or any convector makes its connection.