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Questions about a new/old steam comm size system in a 6800 sq ft 105 yr old mansion/ Rhode Island

Hello everyone-
I have some questions pertaining to a small commercial sized steam/ forced hot air system that runs on the same single pipe steam system and a 580 weil mcclain boiler. First let me preface by saying it is in a 6800 sq ft single family home that was built by one of the wealthy factory owners here in Pawtucket RI in 1908. The house is in largely untouched, un-renovated, very well maintained condition.
My biggest question (as I see lots of people on this forum have) is- how do I find a reputable hvac contractor with a solid knowledge of older steam systems? I have spoken with, obtained quotes..from a number of contractors in the area, and none of them have a real strong grasp of what is going on in this system-

Now I will explain, to the best of my knowledge how this system is set up. It is a 6800 sq ft, 3 story single family home on a single pipe steam system. A majority of the first floor is forced hot air. In the basement, there are a number of heat exchangers enclosed in metal enclosures. Steam is fed to these exchangers at the same time it heads up to the second and third floors to feed the radiators. There are a number of steam traps in place at the heat exchangers in the basement. Once the temp in the enclosures reaches a certain temp (there is a thermostat...I have it set to 75 I believe) fans in the "fan room" kick on a deliver air through a series of metal ducts (all visible in the basement on the finished ceiling) to each of the heat exchangers and warm air is circulated into the formal rooms of the first floor through floor grates.

A the same time, steam is delivered to radiators on the first, second and third floors. I have (had) the system balanced out to supply the 3rd floor first, with the second and first floors afterwards. The system was working great...until mid dec of this year. We lost our 6 year old boiler. (Long story...had to do with a faulty return and faulty low water cutoff).

We had a new Weil Mcclain 580 gas fired steam boiler installed, and the system has been riddled with problems since the install. I refuse the use the company who did the install (nor will I name them here)- so I am on the hunt for a new steam expert in the southern Mass/ RI area.

I am also quite handy ( I am the caretaker and maintenance here at the home), and have diagnosed and fixed some of the issues plaguing me, but I feel like i need the expertise of an old time steam guy to get this system running up to full capacity.

My main questions/ issues are:

1. I am getting massive amounts of water in the radiators. I am wondering about the hard plumbing and settings on the controls of the unit, as this wasn't an issue before. (Old boiler was same unit, same plumbing). All the pipes are triple wrapped, radiators are slanted towards the inlet pipe. I have a mix of vari-valve and grotons throughout the house, all new. I believe there are 26 radiators. The largest one, on the second floor, was gurgling one night, I removed the valve to blow it out, and I was scalded with about a gallon of hot water that shot out of the steam valve port like a fire hose.

2. Are the two pressure switches next to the pressuretrol neccessary? Or would one be suitable?? My previous unit used one.
3. I skimmed the system for the first two days it was in operation, but I still have 2"+ fluctuation in my sight glass when the boiler is cycling. There is an issue with the return lines under the slab that I will be fixing this spring, and I'm not sure if that will help or not. There is a break in the return line back to the holding tank. I probably loose a few gallons of hot water from that line each time the boiler cycles. The holding tank refills the boiler as it should, but i know the system really needs to be "closed" in order to be functioning properly. I haven't wanted to saw cut and replace the return lines out until the heat is off for the season.

4. I would like to find someone local who can look at how the new boiler was set up, diagnose any issues I am having currently, assist in re-plumbing the return lines, and preform yearly efficiancy tests for me? Any thoughts????

Here are some pics of the system. You will see an overview of the boiler, the holding tank with pump, the steam traps at one of the heat exchanger boxes, the "fan room" with filtered door, and some of the radiators and floor registers up in the house. Oh yeah, also the 105
year old original thermostat that still works flawlessly--

I appreciate any help or advice that people can give here on the forum--

thank you-


  • Don_197
    Don_197 Member Posts: 184
    What pressure is the boiler operating at?
  • Robert O'Connor_12
    Robert O'Connor_12 Member Posts: 728
    If nothing changed other than boiler install. I'd keep skimming it. I'd also like to know what the true pressure of system is running at. The operators (pressurtrol' s) are quite low. My gut is telling me, you got dirty water.
  • UnderwoodManor
    UnderwoodManor Member Posts: 6
    It operates at about 1.5-2 lbs pressure. I know the water in the system is "dirty"...literally. It is bringing silt back into the system from the broken return pipe. Trust me, that's first on my list as soon as I shut the system down for the season. I would still like to have a knowledgeable steam guy look at how it's set up. I mean, when the company who did the install left, I looked it over quickly- they had the burner firing at 850k btu !! (it's a 500k btu boiler)
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,518
    edited March 2015
    Go to the "Find a Contractor" tab on this site. There are a few really good steam Pros in Mass. The one thing that looks suspect to me are the Pressuretrols. They look to be below the Normal water line of the boiler and, if so, they really can't read the pressure and the boiler is probably running well above what they are set at. They also don't seem to be mounted on a pigtail and the steam will ruin them. They need to be on a pigtail to protect them from the steam.
    There are 3 pressuretrols there, I assume the burner is a 2 stage burner and 2 of those Pressuretrols (the 2 gray ones) are there to manage the pressures for each stage. The third one, with the red button is a manual reset. I think that is required by code in Mass.
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 14,574
    First, let's go back to when that system was first installed. The blowers and associated ducts weren't there- the indirect radiators ("heat exchangers") would have been supplied with outside air. Later, it was converted to blown indoor return air to save energy. Not the first time I've seen this.

    Those are beautiful radiators. I think they're "Verona" made by American Radiator Co.

    Which Carlin burner is on that boiler? If it's a 301GAS as specified on W-M's site, according to the site that model is not available with staged firing. Neither is the larger 601GAS. So if that thing is wired for 2-stage (a.k.a. lo-hi-lo) firing, I wonder if you have a grossly oversized burner. When we did a 7-80 recently, we had to go to PowerFlame to get lo-hi-lo.

    I doubt that boiler-feed pump is needed. These systems work fine on gravity return, as the Dead Men intended.

    We've never liked putting the pressure controls in that location, since the piping can plug up with dirt. Here's a thread featuring the 7-80 mentioned above, with our preferred manifold setup:

    Also note that this boiler has probe-type low-water cutoffs. With gravity return you don't need to use float-type units. Probes are much more reliable and don't need weekly blow-downs.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 16,100
    OK... and welcome aboard. Your system is a little more complex than mine -- because of the air handlers -- but otherwise about the same size.

    First thing I see. You say you used the same near boiler piping that the old 580 had -- are you sure? You can use a single riser from a 580 -- my system does -- but it needs to be as big asthe boiler fitting. What size is that riser? Second, you would benefit -- greatly -- from a much bigger header diameter, and preferably dropped. 4" would be none too big. That would allow you to use a taller riser (that one doesn't look like the 24 inches it should be, but maybe it is?) and get you much much drier steam. Which would help a lot.

    Third, as has been said, while those pressuretrols are where they often are on a 580, they really aren't right. At the very least they should be on taller nipples, and it wouldn't hurt a bit if there was a pigtail on each one. I don't know the code for your area, but there's nothing wrong with three of them, and the one with the red button (manual reset) is almost certainly required (as well as being just a plain good idea).

    As to good contractors. There are several in eastern Massachusetts, but whether they carry Rhode Island licenses I don't know. If you could persuade Charles Garrity (he's from Srpingfield, MA) to come and take a look at least, you couldn't go wrong.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 4,655
    Steamhead said:

    Which Carlin burner is on that boiler? If it's a 301GAS as specified on W-M's site, according to the site that model is not available with staged firing. Neither is the larger 601GAS. So if that thing is wired for 2-stage (a.k.a. lo-hi-lo) firing, I wonder if you have a grossly oversized burner. When we did a 7-80 recently, we had to go to PowerFlame to get lo-hi-lo.

    If you zoom in on the picture you can see it's a 301GAS as you stated. If there isn't any stage firing then all those pressuretrols are very
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
  • UnderwoodManor
    UnderwoodManor Member Posts: 6
    the riser pipe is a 3", and it's 24". The near boiler piping is exactly the same as it was on the last boiler--

    Steamhead- first off, are you interested in an all expenses paid trip up from Balmer?? Your work looks really, really clean. And it seems you know what you're doing....I need to find your doppleganger up in these parts.
    I hear what you're saying about the air handlers not being original, but, in the case of this house, I think they might be. The basement has the original plaster ceilings, and the accommodations around the boxes would suggest nothing has ever been tampered with. The house was new in 1908, sold in 1939, and we purchased the home from the second owners in March of last year. Trust me, when I say the systems in the house are original....I mean, down to rope packings on all the plumbing fittings. The house was kept in it's original state, maintained, and hardly used.
    Luckily the boiler was changed from the original though..
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 14,574
    Thanks. But I have to give my partner equal credit- without Gordo that job never would have happened.

    That boiler header is wrong if it's only 3". That means it was wrong before. It's possible the water level in the boiler tilted, due to the steam not being able to get out fast enough, and that exposed the boiler's crown sheet and made it crack. It will have to be repiped.

    A consulting trip is doable, but talk to Charlie from WMass first. Here is his info:

    If he doesn't come that far, he will probably know someone closer to you.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
  • Charlie from wmass
    Charlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,190
    The orifice is in the wrong location. Is is suppose to be on the horizontal before the elbow followed by a nipple. Also I guess sediment traps are not their thing either. The original poster is going to check with Tim if he has someone closer as I am not yet licensed in Rhode Island, if they do things like this there I may need to though. Thanks for the recommendations, I am more than willing to travel up to 3 hours from home for work, and I am willing to get whatever license I need in that area.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
  • tommyboy1
    tommyboy1 Member Posts: 4
    Charlie would be glad to have you work with me on this one as I am fully licensed in Mass and RI and love steam. tommyboy1
    Charlie from wmassRobG
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 16,100
    Sounds like a plan to me, guys -- go for it!
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • UnderwoodManor
    UnderwoodManor Member Posts: 6
    I spoke with Charlie out in western mass today- nice guy, extremely knowledgeable. I will have him come down if I can't find anyone good locally. Charlie referred me to Tim McElwain who moderates the gas heating forum on here (and lives about 10 minutes down the road from me.) He suggested I call Summit Heating, and speak with them. They are located down in East Greenwich RI. Anyone on here have any experience with them?
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