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Help! New Burnham Independence IN5 - Still surging badly after lots of skimming

steaming_in_pa
steaming_in_pa Member Posts: 6
edited November 2015 in Strictly Steam
All - I am nearing the "dangerous amount of knowledge" point of our single pipe, 1928 steam system whereby I went from "Just call a home heating company" to "I wish I knew then what I know now..." but I am desperately seeking help and have found this site and the "We Got Steam Heat" book to be tremendously helpful, but am still struggling to troubleshoot what's wrong with our new boiler. I suspect it's a piping issue, but would love your input before I go back to our installer and make the case.

We previously had a 28 year old Weil McClain steam boiler that was working GREAT... until it suffered a hole in it. We went with a "local home heating shop" who was "one of the few" who could "do" steam in our area (take note of the air quotes...) and had previously maintained our WM boiler. We liked them, they seemed good. Without wasting everybody's time, here is the very short version of events:

They installed a new Burnham Independence IN5 natural gas boiler. It has NEVER worked right since the day it was installed. They came back and skimmed twice, no real improvement. I got impatient and started reading and trying to become more educated on the subject, and have been skimming practically every night (going on about 3 weeks now...)

Here's the problem:
The boiler fires up, and as soon as it begins making steam (going by the sound) the water in the glass starts bouncing like crazy - I'm talking 2-4" - This usually takes about a minute to a minute and a half. The low water cut hits when the water finally bounces low, then the boiler shuts off. After about a minute, all the water is back to where it originally was in the glass tube, boiler fires up again, rinse and repeat. I CAN and HAVE gotten it to sustain a run of an hour or so from time to time through some combination of skimming, prayers to the dead men, and (just a hunch) the pipes being generally warmed up after all this surging. Once I actually get the boiler to run for more than about 2 minutes with less bouncing (maybe 1" in both directions?) it will actually get the whole house heated like it used to with our 28 year old boiler. But after it shutsdown (due to the house being warm) it is unlikely to to start (back to surging) until I repeat all the steps above.

Some more details:
Our single pipe system appears to be "split" into two - one runs to all the radiators on FL1+FL2 on the "left" side of the house ("D" on the photos), while the other heads to FL1+FL2 on the "right" side of the house ("E" on the photos). One issue that I recently discovered is that while we have a main vent on the "left" side of the house, there does NOT appear to be a main vent on the "right" side of the house. This is interesting because we had always noticed the left side of the house heated much faster than the right. I suspect we can fix this issue by adding another vent to the "right" side. (More on that later...)

I am still fuzzy on the "right vs wrong" piping, but the Hartford loop area (Pipe "F" and "G") look OK to me based on the Page 17 diagram. We do have the terrible under basement wet return line, but I did a test a week ago by turning the boiler and water supply OFF for almost 48 hours. We did not appear to lose a drop of water and our new auto-feeder with electronic meter has red 000 since the day they installed it. (I use the manual feed bypass when skimming.)

HOWEVER... I am nervous that the header piping (is that the right term?) is wrong ("A" and "B" connecting to "C") as it doesn't "go 90 degrees backwards" like it is shown in the installation manual. Could this simple fact be the reason for our surging headaches? (I have since fiberglass insulated the piping after taking these pix - another thing the installer neglected to do...) I fear that because the steam is going straight up from the boiler ( A & B ) and then smashing vertically into the "C" pipe and dripping back down again instead of making a 90 degree horizontal bend towards the wall and THEN connecting to E and D.

I should also add that our pressure gauge doesn't appear to be working at all as I have NEVER seen the needle move EVER. I moved the pressutrol down from their original setting of "2 Main / 1.5 Diff" to "1.5 Main / 1 Diff" (based on some things I read on here) and this does not seem to have made any positive or negative impact, but since nothing registers on the pressure gauge, I have NO idea what it is really putting out.

I sincerely appreciate the expertise on this site and would be thrilled with the answer to 2 questions:
1. Is the header piping wrong and is that likely causing my problems? If so, I can go back to our installer with more confidence and get them to fix the piping. (I still haven't paid the remaining 66% of our bill - I want the system up and running before cutting them the final check.)

2. Can anybody recommend a good "steam consultant" in the 19067 (PA) region who I can gladly pay an hourly fee to come out and assess our ENTIRE setup and make any general recommendations about how to improve the performance of our ENTIRE system (e.g. Adding another main vent? Replace our existing/old main vent?) I'm happy to pay an expert for their time, and even better if they can do the work too.

Many thanks in advance

Comments

  • What method, and through which port have you been skimming, as I don't see a dedicated skimming port.--NBC
  • steaming_in_pa
    steaming_in_pa Member Posts: 6
    Great question - I've been taking it from the port on the upper right-side of the boiler, not pictured. They did install a nipple and valve that comes horizontally off the boiler (can take a pic, but looks "right" compared to what I've seen on this site and other areas as far as "skim port.")

    I followed the advice of other posts on here, but this page sums up what I've been doing:
    http://www.comfort-calc.net/Skim_a_Steam_Boiler.cfm

    I would say, all in, I've probably let the water skim ("pencil width") slowly for upwards of 20 hours. The longest "stretch" I've done was probably about 4 hours, constant stream, swapping/emptying a 5 gallon bucket about a dozen times or so.

    I could believe that we have dirty water as I will see some small mud/sediment buildup after a long run, but I can also see it "dropping down" from the glass when it surges, if that makes sense?
  • Jason_13
    Jason_13 Member Posts: 301
    edited November 2015
    Sounds like you are chasing your tail here. One question I must ask. After skimming does the water level bounce less? If the answer is yes that you are making a difference, if the answer is no than there is a different problem.
    We all have different ways of skimming boilers and it is OK to tell your way but I am not so brazen to claim mine is the only way or way better than another way. I am just saying this has worked for me with no return trips and not very time consuming.
    The way Comfort-Calc skims is the way I have done for over 30 years and have had great success. I normally only skim about an hour and all has been fine. There are many steam boilers in the Greater Harrisburg, PA area and I have replaced many many steam boilers in 40 years. Note the differences in time. I had problems finding a way that really worked for me. Once I started skimming this way I have eliminated all my surging issues. BTW I do not use chemicals in my systems at all. I have also advised others to skim this way even on this sight with success.
    Maybe there is another issue. I was on a job where the boiler would not stop surging and found out a couple weeks later the city water was adding way to much chlorine. I believe that was a problem with foaming and Ph problems.
  • steaming_in_pa
    steaming_in_pa Member Posts: 6
    Really appreciate the feedback! A few updates:

    Attached is a picture of the skimming port they set up. I presume they did this to be able to add some sort of cleaning agent/chemical? It does seem to be a 1.5" pipe and I have been getting sludgy gross stuff out of it from time to time, but for about the last week or so, it's mostly just had a very slight pinkish/reddish hue and no "chemically/oiley" smell like it did initially. (I also let some water sit in a glass jar for an hour to see if I could detect a sheen on the surface and never could...)

    The other thing I need to mention is that my background is in IT. Whenever people typically have a problem, I ask them to demonstrate so I can see for myself. 9/10 times, whatever they were doing suddenly works. I feel like this may have happened to me last night:

    I skimmed again last night before bed (as it would typically run fine for an hour and get the house warmed up before failing to reliably turn back on again until I did a "quick skim" in the morning.) Well, the darn thing ran fine all night long, keeping the house perfectly warm. I went down to check this morning and it was running just fine - the water was totally clear with no hint any sediment in the glass tube.

    Did I seriously fix this problem by simply posting it here? ;)

    (I will, of course, report back in a day or two if I find that last night was a fluke, but given that it DID work reliably all night long and is STILL working this morning, I am suspecting it WAS just dirty water after all, even though it feels like I moved a small lake's worth of water in and out of that thing over the last 2 weeks!)

    Haterasguy - I appreciate the alternative skimming tip - I may give that a try if I still find issues in the next day or two. Are you essentially suggesting a design something like this?
    image
    (Albeit not actually a mason jar with a coin slot haha)

    Do you possibly have a link to a max 3psi steam gauge? I'd be happy to just install myself! I did some quick Google searching and could find images and people using them, but not where to buy?


    Jason - It's a tough question to answer (if you discount last night/this morning) which was why I finally threw up my hands and turned to this forum for help. It SEEMED like skimming would make a difference and, frankly, I never got the boiler to run more than a minute or two WITHOUT prior skimming. That said, I also had instances where I skimmed for an hour (cleaned up the kitchen, took out the trash, put the kids to bed, etc.) fired it up and it was skimming made zero difference - bouncing/surging within a minute of turning on. Then I would let the boiler short cycle for 10-15 to try and get SOME heat into the pipes, do a "quick skim," click my heels three times, and it would STILL bounce/surge like crazy. Then I'd go do something else for 10-15 minutes while I let the boiler rest, do one more "quick skim" and all of a sudden it'd work normally and I'd let it run for an hour to get the whole house heated up. That's what kept me thinking that there had to be some other correlation (e.g. the "warmer" pipes vs "cold" pipes? Cooler water inside?) which then made me wonder about the overall installation.

    Of course, as of this morning, before I left for work, it was like the boiler magically fixed itself overnight because it knew I posted to this forum. We'll see what the next few days look like and I will report back accordingly.
  • vr608
    vr608 Member Posts: 144
    If it helps, here is the low pressure gauge I bought (and most of us are using):

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00H9ZWLZG

    I work in IT also, and I agree, a lot of times we tend to assume "user error" in instances where you cannot reproduce a problem. In your case perhaps it is coincidence.

    Hatt, very nice idea regarding the skim setup, will have to consider that going forward.
    Peerless 63-03, 118,000 BTU (308 sqft), single-pipe steam system connected to 286 EDR of radiation, 30ft of baseboard and indirect DHW
    3PSI gauge
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,354
    Just wanted to add my $0.02 worth. It seems you have the skimming at hand, but I wanted to say you really should have that header fixed. It isn't contributing to your problem, but it is putting undo stress on the boiler. The swing joints are important and must be used. It also isn't to the manufacturers spec. If it does stress the block enough to cause a failure the manufacturer will point straight to the piping and void the warranty. I haven't read Burnham's warranty, but the warranty on my boiler very specifically states if it isn't piped to spec they will void the warranty. I would have them fix it. It's good to hear you haven't finished paying them yet. As far as a steam expert in your area for consulting @Dave0176 is about an hour from you in NJ. I don't know if he goes that far, but he is a good guy and really knows his stuff. Since it's a different state I am not sure if he can do the work or not. I live in PA and they are pretty lax on stuff from my experience so who knows. Here is his contact information:
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/dl-mechanical-llc
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
  • vaporvac
    vaporvac Member Posts: 1,520
    @Hatterasguy , that is one of the nicest innovations.... right up there with the wand! Kudos!
    Two-pipe Trane vaporvacuum system; 1466 edr
    Twinned, staged Slantfin TR50s piped into 4" header with Riello G400 burners; 240K lead, 200K lag Btus. Controlled by Taco Relay and Honeywell RTH6580WF
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,354
    Make it clear and you could monitor the water level more easily.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
  • SWEI
    SWEI Member Posts: 7,356
    Why not cut a half moon out of the top, so you can see the water level (and potentially allow floaters to pass)?
    HatterasguyvaporvacSlamDunk
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 10,291
    Is your wet return height pretty close to your new water line? Old boiler maybe had higher water line than currant.
    Maybe affecting surging without enough water trap seal.
  • Dan C.
    Dan C. Member Posts: 248
    IN5 only requires one riser. If you use two I'm pretty sure they require a 3" header. Two 2" risers into one 2" header could be causing too much velocity. I always use a 3" header if I use both risers even on smaller boilers. It's also possible you need to keep skimming. I've had some that take forever to get clean.
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,540
    edited November 2015
    I'm suspicious of your equalizer going into a Tee and at a right angle to the boiler tapping. I'm guessing that set up might facilitate water pushing back into the wet returns. Also, in one of your pictures, it looks like the Hartford loop is above the normal water line in the boiler. Is that the case? If so, that can cause some issues. I don't like the feed water line feeding into the end of that equalizer fitting, even though it is below the water line.
    hvacfreak2
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 13,119
    The header needs a swing joint no way you can get that union together without springing the piping and that union will start to leak some day if the boiler doesn't crack first.

    Is it possible that the Hartford loop tee is to high?? Measure it against the installation manual.

    Also and this may be a long shot but you should check the gas pressure at the burner and determine if you could be possibly over firing the boiler.
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 15,756
    edited November 2015
    Jason said:

    Sounds like you are chasing your tail here. One question I must ask. After skimming does the water level bounce less? If the answer is yes that you are making a difference, if the answer is no than there is a different problem.
    We all have different ways of skimming boilers and it is OK to tell your way but I am not so brazen to claim mine is the only way or way better than another way. I am just saying this has worked for me with no return trips and not very time consuming.
    The way Comfort-Calc skims is the way I have done for over 30 years and have had great success. I normally only skim about an hour and all has been fine. There are many steam boilers in the Greater Harrisburg, PA area and I have replaced many many steam boilers in 40 years. Note the differences in time. I had problems finding a way that really worked for me. Once I started skimming this way I have eliminated all my surging issues. BTW I do not use chemicals in my systems at all. I have also advised others to skim this way even on this sight with success.
    Maybe there is another issue. I was on a job where the boiler would not stop surging and found out a couple weeks later the city water was adding way to much chlorine. I believe that was a problem with foaming and Ph problems.

    Jason, why not get a Find a Contractor ad on this site? It works well for us, and would be a big help for those in central PA who need a steam man- right now I don't think anyone else in your area is on there. The more steam guys, the better.

    Also, we love to see install pics!
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
    KC_Jones
  • Dave0176
    Dave0176 Member Posts: 1,176
    edited November 2015
    I know Burnham recommends those pipe sizes as minimum, but that is awfully small for that size boiler.
    DL Mechanical LLC Heating, Cooling and Plumbing 732-266-5386
    NJ Master HVACR Lic# 4630
    Specializing in Steam Heating, Serving the residents of New Jersey
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/dl-mechanical-llc

    https://m.facebook.com/DL-Mechanical-LLC-315309995326627/?ref=content_filter

    I cannot force people to spend money, I can only suggest how to spend it wisely.......
    Mark N
  • Dave0176
    Dave0176 Member Posts: 1,176
    Piping diagram.
    DL Mechanical LLC Heating, Cooling and Plumbing 732-266-5386
    NJ Master HVACR Lic# 4630
    Specializing in Steam Heating, Serving the residents of New Jersey
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/dl-mechanical-llc

    https://m.facebook.com/DL-Mechanical-LLC-315309995326627/?ref=content_filter

    I cannot force people to spend money, I can only suggest how to spend it wisely.......
  • steaming_in_pa
    steaming_in_pa Member Posts: 6
    I promise I didn't fall off the face of the earth ;)

    I wanted to let things ride for a few days to come back with some relevant updates, so heregoes:

    1. Shortly after posting my questions on this thread, I got a nice email from a US Boiler rep who put me in touch with a "steam whisperer" who works for the company. Super nice guy and we chatted a lot about the various items I've done already, the installation, recommendations, suggestions on here etc. His conclusion was largely similar to those already stated: Some install mistakes were made (and some were already corrected) and it's possible we're going to have to use some cleaning chemicals to get things right. He also suggested testing the pH of our water, which I did last night and found our water out the tap seems to be around 6 pH and the water coming out of the boiler is around 6.5 - 7 pH. While perhaps a bit to the left of ideal, it certainly doesn't seem like our water is causing foaming / surging.

    2. Since posting last week, I have basically found that we can get around 24-36 hours of "problem free" running of the boiler before it needs to be "skimmed" again (more on this below in #5...) When it runs, it runs perfectly. When it starts to short-cycle, I can see the water level bouncing pretty erratically in the glass within a minute or two of making steam. As soon as I can do a quick and dirty skim (see #5), it seems to work well again for another 24-36 hours.

    3. As kc_jones mentioned earlier, "...you really should have that header fixed. It isn't contributing to your problem, but it is putting undo stress on the boiler. The swing joints are important and must be used..."

    The fellow from US Boiler completely agreed. I spoke with our installer to sort of go over ALL of this stuff and while it took him a little bit of coaxing to agree that "It needs to be done like the manual says" he was sort of surprised it wasn't done like the manual says. (Even though it's clear in the photo, it's not.)

    They are going to come out at next available opportunity and inspect it, possibly with a US Boiler rep who happens to be in the area, and discuss what we're going to do about the header piping and the surging. The US Boiler rep and my installer both mentioned that it may be necessary to use some cleaner/chemicals, which I can accept may be necessary if we are not seeing any appreciable improvement in "time between skim sessions" though the subject is a bit moot if we're going to reintroduce a bunch of oil due to revised piping, so skimming will need to be redone anyway. (They're also going to install my 3psi gauge that was recommended on here and replace the 20psi gauge they originally installed.)

    4. Fred posted, "I'm suspicious of your equalizer going into a Tee and at a right angle to the boiler tapping. I'm guessing that set up might facilitate water pushing back into the wet returns. Also, in one of your pictures, it looks like the Hartford loop is above the normal water line in the boiler. Is that the case?"
    As a non-expert, I can only go off of what I'm interpreting in the instruction manual PDF, and it looks like the equalizer tee / right-angle is an "alternate" (though not preferred) method that is shown in the manual, so I THINK it's OK? In addition, I measured and can confirm the tee is at 26-5/8" above the base which, again, appears to be a match with the factory manual.

    5. Skimming - I am going to report something that I have been doing that has been working that I simply stumbled across due to sheer dumb "luck" that was ultimately the result of one of my kids doing something stupid that took my immediate attention away from the boiler- I am not saying what I'm doing here is correct. In fact, it could be downright harmful, but when it's cold in the house and late at night and I don't have an hour or two to spend swapping buckets, this seems to work perfectly (which also may help shed some more insight as to what is happening?):
    A. After I notice the boiler short-cycling (usually within a few minutes), I turn off the thermostat.
    B. I open the ball valve in the skim port (I haven't had a chance to try out Haterasguy's suggestion yet of the alternate skimming method) and a small amount of sludgy water comes out (maybe 4oz or so?)
    C. I slowly start adding water via the manual feed valve to begin skimming, the water starts trickling into the bucket.
    D. My idiot kid hurts himself upstairs.
    E. I close the *skim* port ball valve because I'm not thinking rationally. (And forget to shut off the water feed valve...)
    F. I come back down after ~30 minutes of consoling idiot kid, ensuring nothing is broken or bleeding, and realize I was stupidly (over) filling the boiler. I quickly shut off the manual water feed valve.
    G. I open the skim port ball valve and a rush of water comes out, probably about 1-2 gallons worth. Sorta cruddy looking. I let the water slowly drain down to the proper level.
    H. I look at the water in the glass and it is pristine, so on a whim, I fire up the boiler and it runs perfectly for 24-36 hours.

    I have actually performed steps A through H 4 more times now (minus the kid getting hurt part). I realize this can't be a long term solution because I'm introducing WAY too much fresh water to the system and I'm almost certainly getting only a fraction of the oil out, but simultaneously, I must also be "loosening up" more gunk on the (header?) pipes than would normally trickle down slowly over time and heat cycles on its own? (It's clear I have no idea what I'm talking about ha!)

    Of course, given that the header piping is likely to get replaced, I also realize this whole adventure may start over again in a few days, so I will report back again after I have something meaningful to add.

    Finally, I want to thank EVERYBODY very much for your comments!!! As a homeowner with a mildly dangerous amount of knowledge this board is just amazing.
    KC_Jones
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,540
    When you over fill the boiler, up into the Header, what you are actually doing is moving any surface oils up higher in the system and then when you drain it out, the oils cling to the sides of the header and the boiler runs for a while until the oil washes back down into the boiler and lays on the surface of the water again.
    Keep us posted on your progress.
  • steaming_in_pa
    steaming_in_pa Member Posts: 6
    Thanks, Fred! That's a much more eloquent way of explaining what I thought might be happening and makes way more sense about what this "wrong" process is actually doing. It just reinforces the fact that there must still be a lot of oil in there, as once it's out of the way, things work great.
  • steaming_in_pa
    steaming_in_pa Member Posts: 6
    I wanted to update this post as I finally feel like I'm at a satisfactory resolution and wanted to thank everybody for the help!

    My contractor was very accommodating and truly listened to me and my requests. They absolutely agreed with the recommendation to repipe the header due to the lacking swing joint. In fact, they had a US Boiler rep come by and HE recommended to simply move to 1 pipe instead of 2 (mentioned in this thread as a suggestion!) thus negating the need for a swing joint and hopefully result in better (dryer) steam.

    While we were waiting for new piping, the contractor kindly installed my 5psi gauge free of charge (thanks for that recommendation!) and it's working properly. I'm now seeing around .5psi or so. It's nice to actually be able to monitor what's going on. They also did an application of trisodium phosphate, which further helped the surging after another round of skimming.

    They then came out with new pipe and repiped the header as shown in the most recent pix below (still need to reapply the fiberglass insulation.) It's now been about a week with the new header piping, and although the temps in the northeast here are still unseasonably warm, the boiler has been working like I expected it to work all along: It begins steaming VERY quickly with minimal bounce in the glass (maybe 1/2" - 3/4"). I presume I'm going to have to do some more skimming as I can again smell some "new pipe" smell (oil), which was a given, but I also feel the minor surging that is occurring now will subside as a result. But to contrast with what I was experiencing after the initial install where the boiler wouldn't run for more than a couple of minutes, I have yet to experience a single "premature shutdown" due to surging. The only time the boiler shuts down now is when the temperature is reached on the thermostat.

    All in all, I really owe a ton to this site, the folks who chimed in, and the "We Got Steam Heat" book. I feel like I learned a lot, just wish I knew then what I know now, but isn't that always the case?

    Thanks everybody and hope you all enjoy the holidays.
    SWEI