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fire box has black and bad (odd) odor

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ch352
ch352 Member Posts: 25
Hi,
we have an oil fired boiler (and one pipe steam system), earlier this evening there was a bad odor in the house we thought maybe there's something wrong with the sewer, a little while later when i get down to the basement i can smell a strong "fire" smell -not sure how to describe it -maybe like a BBQ?, mixed with fumes or oil smell coming from the boiler room area, then inside the boiler room there was a very minor fog (maybe my imagination??), i immediately turned off the boiler, looking into the fire box i can see lots of black on some of the walls (powdery, soot?) also noticed in the far left corner some black thick looking pieces like charcoal maybe. we do have a CO detector so i hope that's keeping us safe on that end. the boiler remains off until we can have a pro take a look at it.

any ideas what may be causing the odor's and black "powder", also the black "charcoal" which i don't think is normal either?
Thank you.

Comments

  • Bob Bona_4
    Bob Bona_4 Member Posts: 2,083
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    Shut 'er down and call for service ASAP. Things will get worse from here. Have a combustion air analysis done also.
  • Marz
    Marz Member Posts: 90
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    I agree with Bob. Boiler is more than likely plugged. Running smokey. You will have a major mess on your hands if you continue to run the boiler.
  • ch352
    ch352 Member Posts: 25
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    yup i'm going to wait for a pro to have a look before starting up again.

    just wondering if this can be caused by the electrodes? or air?
    b/c about 3 weeks ago when it was extremely cold one day the boiler wasn't working, my regular boiler guy was out of town (and still is...) so we called someone else, it turned out to be the transformer, but he also took out the electrodes and readjusted them and played with the air a bit too.

    i'm thinking maybe that may have caused this stuff? or is this most likely a chimney issue? possibly snow or something clogged it. or maybe a clogged oil filter?
  • STEVEusaPA
    STEVEusaPA Member Posts: 6,505
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    Could've already been sooted up by then. But he should've also ran a combustion analysis, with draft and smoke test. He may have left it running but not running clean. Normally the electrodes may only be needed to adjusted slightly.
    It may need to be cleaned again, but either way, combustion analysis, proper draft, true zero smoke is the way the boiler should be left. And he should leave a printout of his test.
    If its been a while since your last maintenance, then he should replace the oil filter, pump strainer, clean the flueways, pull the front off, clean the chamber, clean the smoke pipe to the chimney base and check with a mirror to see daylight. Just getting daylight only shows the chimney is open, not that it's not damaged. That check should be done with a certified chimney sweep by dropping a camera down the chimney.

    There was an error rendering this rich post.

  • ch352
    ch352 Member Posts: 25
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    Thanks for your response,

    we just had a service man over, said the fire was very dirty/smokey, he replaced the filter, cleaned the electrodes, and cleaned the flueways, the fire was much cleaner but there was still smoke he said that's the soot burning, it will take some time but will stop smoking. he was very pressed for time, but said the chamber should be cleaned out and he cannot do it today, about the combustion analysis he also said not today but he can come back.

    he mentioned that there are different grade oil that can affect the soot buildup depending on how refined the oil is, which is interesting because we recently are using a new oil company. however i thought #2 oil is just #2 oil? can anyone shed some light on this one?

    now he left a little while ago, and there seems to be a fair amount of smoke in the basement, so i again shut off the boiler... and waiting to get him on the phone.

    when the boiler is totally off i can see the still red hot "soot"/"charcoal" in chamber, which makes it obvious what's causing the smoke and odor. however i'm still uncomfortable letting it run until it "burns out" am i just paranoid?

    Thanks

  • Bob Bona_4
    Bob Bona_4 Member Posts: 2,083
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    No, you are being prudent. If the boiler was temporarily punched out for the night and left to burn off residual soot, 24 hrs is enough time to clear up. If you're still seeing glowing embers, something is wrong.
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,894
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    That burner is way out of adjustment. If that guy can't get it running properly, go to the Find a Contractor page of this site to find someone who can.

    A modern oil burner was designed to be able to run through at least one season without producing smoke or soot. You need someone who can make it do that.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
    billtwocase
  • billtwocase
    billtwocase Member Posts: 2,385
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    Ditto. This must have a door that you are opening to see the chamber? Pics would help. I would say your smoke pipe and chimney are partially to fully plugged. The delayed ignition problem was probably trying to tell you something a few weeks ago. That glowing black stuff is most likely carbon or creosote
  • ch352
    ch352 Member Posts: 25
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    Thanks all for the input, much appreciated, and sorry for the delay until now.

    to continue from where i left off, the service man was not able to make it back over, but he got someone else over, this new guy seemed very knowledgeable, on oil burner's at least.

    within about 45 min. it was up and running no smell or smoke at all! and thank g-d that is still the case. when i pointed out what i saw in the Chamber he claimed it was small pieces that fell off the brick (perhaps covered in black) -but the chamber is still complete- and it was not soot buildup or anything like that.

    he replaced nozzle 2.50,60 P. with 2.00, 45, P. and the psi from about 150 to 125, its been a few years we are not using some rads. so i requested the smaller nozzle. about combustion analysis i got the "I've been doing this for 45 years..." which i know is a big red flag for many on this site...

    billtwocase: everything has been working fine since the restart about 36 hours now, so i don't think chimney caused this problem. i am posting poor quality pics for now, i will try to get a better camera.

    question is:
    1. being that things are working fine so far, how important is it to go out of my way and get a combustion analysis?

    2. trying to figure out what may have caused this issue, so i can know that now we'r safe, the options i can think of are as follows:
    A. a recent delivery may have been some real low grade oil (as we buy COD)
    B. the last maintenance who replaced the transformer put something back wrong (BTW now that i'm thinking back i did smell that same "firey" smell after the service and even mentioned something to him on the phone but then it stop'd so i just let it go.)
    C. being that we had service done mid winter 2015 we passed on the full tune up during the summer so maybe just that lack of maintenance?
  • STEVEusaPA
    STEVEusaPA Member Posts: 6,505
    edited January 2016
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    The CA is key. That's the only way you know its 'working fine'. What if dropping the nozzle and the pump pressure now has it underfired? Now your stack temperature is too low and you start condensing in the chimney and/or in the heat exchanger section. That could turn into a bigger problem.

    You should've asked him why he changed the nozzle and the pump pressure.
    As far as bad oil, that is a possibility, but you would've seen it in your filter and pump strainer. You didn't say where you were from (I think) but unless the oil dealer has his own storage, almost all the heating oil comes from the same place. You do have high sulfur heating oil, low sulfur heating oil, ultra-low sulfur heating oil, and can add a bio blend to any of these. Could also be oil pumped out of someone elses house.

    Overall, small problems can turn into big problems pretty fast. In your case, maybe simple, partially clogged nozzle wasn't burning all the oil it was spraying. Or out of adjustment electrodes. As the burner burns less efficient it starts to soot. As it starts to soot it burns less efficient, the flue ways, flue pipe and chimney base start to soot up. Now its burning even less efficient, and more sooting. Your burner could run great for a year or so, then this happens and in a few days you could be completely sooted up.

    What type of boiler (model number)do you have and what type of burner (model number)? About how many gallons do you burn a year? Is this boiler only for heat or for domestic hot water too?
    Should you get it cleaned, tuned up every year? Maybe, maybe not, but you should have a combustion analysis done so you know where you stand.

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  • ch352
    ch352 Member Posts: 25
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    Thanks STEVEusaPA,

    about the oil, i'm in Brooklyn, i was under the impression that there is an industry required standard, are you saying that some oil vendors may be illegally selling the wrong grade? or that thees different grades are all legit and a consumer should be aware of what they are purchasing?

    now to make sure this does not repeat itself, as you mentioned, i will have a CA done in the near future.

    boiler is a US boiler likely over 50 years old, i cannot get a model #, we burn about 2500 gallons a year (2 family home), and it heats the dhw as well, burner is Carlin 99FRD

    something i forgot to mention is that at the air flow - a semi curved piece of metal to direct the air flow- has been out of the burner now for a few years for sure, he put it back in, i'm not sure why it was out. something i noticed is the fire burns a bit further into the chamber -more of a horizantal curve- then before, not sure if that is good, bad, or makes little difference.

    Thanks

    some better pics.



  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,894
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    2500 gallons per year, and the burner is a Carlin 99FRD? Even at that burner's maximum firing rate, that's a LOT of oil. Something's wrong.

    Go to the Find a Contractor page of this site and get someone in there who can find out why it's using that much oil.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
  • STEVEusaPA
    STEVEusaPA Member Posts: 6,505
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    I wouldn't call the oil 'illegal' per se. I think if you're in NY you're suppose to be using Ultra low sulfur heating oil only-maybe even B2 or B5. I know of companies who have oil issues that have their own storage, and companies who convert a customer to gas, pump out their oil tank and resell it. Illegal? Probably not unless you have a contract stating otherwise. Problematic? Usually, re-using heating oil can cause all types of problems. All the crap (sludge, water, microbes, etc.), that has been sitting in someone else's tank for many years, has now been dumped into your tank.
    In your case, I would clean that boiler every year, change the nozzle, filter, and pump strainer.
    A Carlin burner requires pretty strict adherence to the rules of air band setting, nozzle and head adjustment. Having the boiler model number could confirm the correct nozzle.
    Can you post a pic of the piece that was out? You're boiler appears to be cleaned...let's call it 'pretty good'. If the whole front was pulled off I don't see why it isn't almost spotless-all debris out of base and the red/black soot above the combustion chamber vac'd out.
    Looking in my OEM setup guide for Burnham (US Boiler), there's not one boiler with a 99FRD that takes any nozzle bigger than 2.0 gallons. None of them use a 45 degree angle, and all of them use 100psi pressure. Doesn't mean someone didn't put a Carlin on a Burnham that isn't in the spec book. But if you can find the model number that would help.
    The fire is going deeper into the chamber because the 45 degree spray angle pushes it back farther. You probably need a 60 or 70 degree angle, which is probably why he cut down the pump pressure.
    The most important thing is that it is not impinging on the back or sides of the combustion chamber (which would make soot, and lower your combustion numbers).
    The model number has to be on there somewhere, or take a pic of everything put back together so we can see the entire boiler.
    I don't know what a horizontal curve means. If you mean the fire is straight and curves up at the end, but doesn't hit the back wall, that may be too much overfire draft.
    There are many great techs here from your area who may be willing to come over and get that boiler set up back to where it belongs.
    So.........here's what ya need to bring it back
    1. Model number to get the right nozzle. If you don't have the model number then you need to do a nozzle substitution test with #2.
    2. A knowledgeable tech, well versed with Carlin's, who can start by putting it back at spec (nozzle, pump pressure, air band & head adjustment). Then using their combustion tools to fine tune it.
    3. If 1 & 2 work for you, keep that tech, and try not to buy oil from the deep discounters, or at the very least, go with double filtration. Ask your oil supplier if they have their own storage. If yes, don't buy from them.

    Fingers tired..........good luck

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  • SWEI
    SWEI Member Posts: 7,356
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    Critical facilities with Diesel gensets have programs for oil testing, pump-out, re-filtration, and treatment.

    There's a reason most remote, unmanned telecom sites have LPG-fueled gensets. You can pretty much ignore it until the tank needs a requal.