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New Steam Boiler Cycling On/Off

JedinRIJedinRI Posts: 16Member
All,

I had a new Burnham Independence gas-fired steam boiler installed earlier this month (replacing an OLD oil boiler on a one pipe system.)

The installer didn't skim at installation. I had a lot of odor once it fired up, so he came out and skimmed while hot (boiling) via the vent. The boiler doesn't have a dedicated skim port. It was a fairly quick process, unlike the all day skimming operation others have mentioned.

About a week later, I skimmed it via the upper sight glass port; very slowly, shortly after shutting it off (but while the water was still hot.) I've done this a second time.

I've also drained (while cold) some water from the bottom drain valve, getting a lot of oily/black residue each time.

THIS MORNING...I noticed that the water was jumping in the sight glass. It starts about 3/4 to 4/5 full, fires up, but then the water level jumps and slowly drops to the point where it triggers the low water cutoff. (This takes maybe a minute.) Once it shuts off, the water level returns (it doesn't trigger the automatic feeder) and then the boiler fires up again. It continues in this manner until the desired temperature is met.

MY QUESTION...do I need to keep skimming, and should I do it via the upper sight glass port (which I prefer, because I think it's more of a horiziontal "straight shot" off the boiler) or via the vent port (which has a upward bend/elbow before hitting the vent.) I have to hold open the release valve to do it this way, but this is how the installer did it. But, it seems odd to me that he fired it up first while "skimming."

OR...is there someone else that's likely causing the cycling. (I texted the installer, and he simply said "you need to skim again.") Could I have crud in my return or something wrong with my venting that's causing the water level drop and cycling?

Comments

  • KC_JonesKC_Jones Posts: 4,180Member
    First it would have been helpful if the installer had installed the skim port, especially considering they are telling you to skim. Skimming through the sight glass must be a nightmare. Is there any chance of them coming back and doing that?

    Can you post pictures of the install? Your comment about holding open the release is confusing.

    To skim you want to flow very slowly, especially if you are going through the small sight glass connection. This is done by bypassing the autofeeder and using the manual feed valve that will be just barely open. Let that run for several hours very slowly. You may have to do this multiple times until the water line is steady.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
    https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10202744301871904.1073741828.1330391881&type=1&l=c34ad6ee78
  • BobCBobC Posts: 4,997Member
    The skim port on that boiler is on the back, it's either 1-1/4 or 1-1/2". Having that installed would make everything easier.

    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
  • JedinRIJedinRI Posts: 16Member
    I'll post some pics when I get home. Thanks for the feedback.

    There's only maybe 6-8 inches of clearance on the side where (I THINK) the proper skim port SHOULD have been installed. I know how this is gonna go when I call him. I'll ask him to install a skim port there, and (since would be very challenging for him to squeeze one in there now,) he'll say "you can skim just fine from this port, you don't need it. I've been doing it this way for 20 years...yada yada," and then I come back with "but some guys on the Internet told me.." and he rolls his eyes. My point: I have very little leverage to FORCE this guy to put one in.

    If I may ask a stupid question: if you're skimming the water out at a super slow trickle, why does it matter if it's a 1.5" port vs 3/4"?

    Again, thanks...I'll post pics soon.
  • FredFred Posts: 8,051Member
    What you are trying to do by skimming is to keep the boiler water very calm and allow the oils to float on top of the water. The larger the skim port, the more surface area you have to allow the oils to float out of the boiler. It can be done with a 3/4" tapping (at least on a Burnham, because I use the tapping that the Pressure Relief valve is mounted on for that purpose) Is it ideal? No but it can be done if you skim for several hours. You can't do it from the sight glass port though. I think that is onlt 1/2" just too small. I took the Pressure Relief valve off, removed the elbow, replaced the elbow with a Tee, added a short nipple and a cap on the end opening of the Tee and remounted the Pressure Relief Valve on the top opening of the Tee. Anytime I need to skim, I take the cap off, open the manual water supply and adjust the water flow until I have a very slow trickle. Once I am happy with the flow, I attach a garden hose to the end of the nipple (Where the Cap was) and I run the hose over to a floor drain. I just leave it for hours, even over night and close things up the next morning. If you can get the 1-1/4 skim port installed, do so. If not, follow the instructions above. It will work.
  • BobCBobC Posts: 4,997Member
    The larger the opening the easier it is to skim, with a 1-1/2" port I take over 2 hours to fill a 5 gallon bucket - just a trickle. A 3/4" port requires a slower trickle because you have tokeep the water surface absolutely quiet so you can float the oils off the surface of the water.

    If you are removing the upper gauge glass fitting and working with a 3/4" tapping you can skim but it will take maybe a dozen two hour sessions assuming the water isn't filthy because the installer slathered joint compound all over the place. It would take a lot fewer sessions using the real port.

    If he can get that skim port open you could come out with a 3 or 4" nipple and then a 90 elbow to a pipe tat would extend past the edge of the boiler. Put a brass cap on it so you can remove it easily when you want to skim.

    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
  • JedinRIJedinRI Posts: 16Member
    The boiler is six inches from the wall (on the side where he'd need to install the proper skim port.) I'm not even sure how he'd get in there to knock out the opening, let alone connect a properly-sized elbow. (Too late to move the boiler from the wall without disconnecting everything.) The better option may be to alter the port that has the upward elbow connected to the pressure relief valve, and install some sort of T with a capped option for skimming. (Per Fred's suggestion above.) I'm fairly handy...is that something you think I can handle on my own with a trip to the hardware store?)

    I'll do what I can in the meantime via A) occasionally draining some of the settled black gunk from the bottom drain, B) slowly skimming via the top port of the sight glass, and C) an occasional "hot skim" (which is what my installer did) holding open the pressure relief valve. (Although, again, the bad thing about option C is that there's a short upward bend going to the pressure relief valve, so that's not really ideal for skimming. I think he does it hot because everything then bubbles up and over via that pressure relief valve and out.) Thanks for the advice.

    ONE LAST QUESTION: are you all certain that skimming is my solution, and that the surging/cycling is being caused by oil in the water? (I just want to make sure I'm not missing some other cause like and issue with venting/pressure.)

    Thanks again!
  • ChrisJChrisJ Posts: 10,123Member
    We need some pictures of the boiler and all of the piping around it.

    This is very important considering the information you've provided about the installer.
    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
  • KC_JonesKC_Jones Posts: 4,180Member
    Are you skimming by holding open the pressure relief valve on the side of the boiler? If so STOP DOING THAT. I don't think I can emphasize this enough. That is a safety device and the fact that a professional was messing around with it in that manner is honestly scary...on a good day.

    Post pictures and that will help verify if skimming is your issue. As long as the piping is properly done, the oils are certainly your problem.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
    https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10202744301871904.1073741828.1330391881&type=1&l=c34ad6ee78
  • FredFred Posts: 8,051Member
    Burnhams are very sensitive to oils, as are virtually every steam boiler but I think Burnhams are a bit more sensitive. Anytime any new piping is added to the system, no matter how minor, a skim seems essential. I don't know if this installer did a proper installation but I can almost assure you until you skim all the oils out of that boiler, the water will continue to be very unstable. Before I did a long, slow skim (actually about three long slow skims), the water in my sight glass would drop to within a half inch of the bottom, then suddenly bounce all the way back up to within an inch of the top. If you have any mechanical savvy at all and a couple wrenches, you can replace the elbow on the Pressure relief valve with a 3/4" Tee in a matter of 10 minutes. As has been said, do not use the PRV as a means to skim. First, it won't work and second, that valve is a safety relief valve, never intended to be used regularly as a utility valve. Will this resolve the surge problem? I suspect it will. Is this the only problem you might have with this installation? No one can say without pictures. In either case, the skimming must be done. Steam systems can be very forgiving of poor piping although we all like to know the system was properly installed. It will be there a long time.
  • JedinRIJedinRI Posts: 16Member
    edited October 2016
    Yes, KC. He skimmed via the pressure relief valve, with the valve held open.

    I'll send more pictures tonight, but I happen to have one (somewhat blury) pic of my pressure relief valve. As you can see, it comes out, bends up, and then connects to a soldered copper pipe that bends downward (similar to what you see in the second picture...although this is an example and not my actual boiler.)

    What I'm leaning towards doing is what Fred suggested (above): removing the relief valve (and other piping,) putting on a T with a nipple and cap on one end for skimming and remounting the elbow, relief valve and drain pipe on the other. (Although, I'll need to figure out the exact configuration and parts to use. And, may need to learn how to solder as that long copper pipe may need to get removed - and re-installed) to get the other parts off.)

    I'll post more (actual) pics tonight


  • FredFred Posts: 8,051Member
    With a Tee, you will no longer use the elbow. Use the top opening on the Tee to mount the Pressure Relief valve directly to it. Use the end opening of the Tee to mount a 3/4" X 3" or 4" nipple and cap. Depending on how that drain pipe is mounted to the PRV, (and if you don't want to sweat a new one on) you may want to cut it leaving only enough copper pipe attached to the PRV to allow you to turn it off. You can then buy a brass 3/4" straight compression fitting and, when you re-install the PRV onto the Tee, use the Compression fitting to reconnect the section of copper pipe you cut off.
  • JedinRIJedinRI Posts: 16Member
    Here are some more pics of my boiler. Overall, I feel good about the install...it's just the skimming that's an issue (but I think I have a workable solution, that will also give me a chance to "get to know my boiler" even better.)
  • Dave0176Dave0176 Posts: 1,073Member
    That is a really oddly piped boiler, probably adding to your issues.
    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.......
  • KC_JonesKC_Jones Posts: 4,180Member
    Yes that piping definitely isn't correct and for sure not helping you. The sight glass definitely indicates you have oils.

    Why is it so hard for a "professional" to read a manual?
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
    https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10202744301871904.1073741828.1330391881&type=1&l=c34ad6ee78
  • JedinRIJedinRI Posts: 16Member
    What's wrong with the piping (in a nutshell?) And how would that be contributing to the surging? He was somewhat limited by how the older pipes above were placed, and I didn't want to get into re-positioning those.
  • ChrisJChrisJ Posts: 10,123Member
    JedinRI said:

    What's wrong with the piping (in a nutshell?) And how would that be contributing to the surging? He was somewhat limited by how the older pipes above were placed, and I didn't want to get into re-positioning those.

    The steam mains are piped into the side of the header, likely pulling water right out of it.

    There's no need to re-position the mains, although if there was the excuse "I don't want to" doesn't really cut the mustard.

    An L shaped drop header would've worked perfectly there.

    Incorrectly piped header.
    No skim port.

    Both are unacceptable in my opinion.
    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
  • KC_JonesKC_Jones Posts: 4,180Member
    There isn't really a header exactly. There is supposed to be a header whose function is to separate the steam from the water coming out of the boiler. The header should have this order down the line. Boiler riser, take offs to system and then the equalizer at the end. The equalizer allows any water in the header to go back to the bottom of the boiler. Your equalizer comes off the side of the header which is probably allowing some water back, but with the steam velocity you have there some amount of water is probably being slammed up into that main takeoff at the end of the "header" which is where the equalizer is.

    He wasn't limited, he just didn't know. There is plenty of room there to do it correctly he just either chose not to, or didn't know how to. Also the main takeoffs are supposed to come off the top of the header not the side as one of yours is, that also allows the water to flow where it shouldn't.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
    https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10202744301871904.1073741828.1330391881&type=1&l=c34ad6ee78
  • JUGHNEJUGHNE Posts: 6,032Member
    IMBW but this looks like a single pipe counterflow system to me.
    The install manual may show that piping diagram if you need to discuss this with installer. FWIW
  • JedinRIJedinRI Posts: 16Member
    It is a single pipe system.
  • JUGHNEJUGHNE Posts: 6,032Member
    edited October 2016
    The counter flow terms describes the fact that steam travels out from the boiler and the condensate water returns flowing in the bottom of the pipe.
    Do all the pipes connected to the bottom of the boiler (returns) come from the supplies directly above?
    None from the ends of the steam mains?

    The boiler would be the low end of the steam mains which rise up as they travel to the ends of the house, this lets the condensate water return in the bottom part of the pipe.

    This is just info for you.....new piping is still not good and boiler still needs cleaning.
  • JedinRIJedinRI Posts: 16Member
    https://file.ac/9IIdhbTJLLQ/Independence I&O.pdf

    Note page 18 of the install manual. (For reference, vs pic above.)
  • JUGHNEJUGHNE Posts: 6,032Member
    Burnham has done you a disservice by not showing a skimming port & valve in the I&O book.

    Also not showing the counterflow piping option which it appears you have, lets your installer with a limp defense of saying "But your system is different than most, it is not in the book"
  • JedinRIJedinRI Posts: 16Member
    It's unfortunate that the install manuals don't more explicitly reference a skim port (instead of presenting it as an optional "blow off" port as in this Burnham manual.) If skimming is a commonly accepted need for new systems, the manuals should reflect as much. Granted, I guess any good installer should know better; as most homeowners (myself included) don't understand the finer points of how these systems work.
  • JedinRIJedinRI Posts: 16Member
    edited October 2016
    One last note: according to the manual, the port where the pressure relief valve is located (which I plan to modify to add a tee and a skim port) is only 3/4". The plugged port (where he, technically, should have put a skim port) is, apparently, only 1", so I'm not sure how much more that'd get me in terms of skimming ability. Looks like I'll have to make due to a 3/4" port.

    If you all see major issues with the piping that you think will likely cause me trouble in the near- or long-term (as opposed to it simply being less than "ideal") let me know, and I can see about getting someone out to re-route things.

    Thanks again for the advice. This has been hugely helpful.
  • ChrisJChrisJ Posts: 10,123Member
    I believe that's a typo.
    It should be 1.25" according to @Danny Scully
    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
  • JedinRIJedinRI Posts: 16Member
    Which one Chris? The PRV port or the plugged "skim port?"
  • FredFred Posts: 8,051Member
    The manual has a typo for the skim port. It is actually a 1-1/4" tapping in the boiler. You can make due with the Tee on the PRV tapping but ideally he would have used the 1-1/4" tapping. It does look like a counter flow system. It certainly would have been much better if he had come off of the top of the Header to the mains or used a 45 from the header to the mains. The configuration of the header and the way the mains tie into it isn't what it should be but at least you've got good height above the boiler water line which will help minimize the amount of water carried up. While I believe skimming will resolve the surging problem, if it were me, given this is a new install, I'd want to get someone in there to correct the piping for the best performance. I also would have used both risers out of the boiler. JMHO.
  • KC_JonesKC_Jones Posts: 4,180Member
    Looking at the pics again, he could have done a nice drop header using both tappings on the boiler. He could have done this with almost no more fittings than he did use, if laid out carefully. My guess, this installer knows nothing about steam.

    If it was mine I would either have them fix it correctly according to the manual or have someone else come in and fix it....someone who knows steam.

    It's brand new it should have been done correctly. Would you accept a brand new car with 4 flat tires?
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
    https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10202744301871904.1073741828.1330391881&type=1&l=c34ad6ee78
  • Danny ScullyDanny Scully Posts: 1,219Member
    edited October 2016
    @ChrisJ and @Fred are most certainly correct. It's a typo, and definitely 1-1/4". And I must say, a lot of work went into piping that boiler wrong :lol:
  • It's a mess. It would be helpful to have a photo from the left side of the near boiler piping.

    Likely I would have gotten into the original piping, and I likely would not have placed the boiler in it's current position or orientation. But if we leave the original piping alone and the boiler where it is at, here's a super-quick rough draft to give you an idea of the kind of piping we practice here, and what he didn't:



    Then there's venting (did he go there?), the near boiler piping needs to be insulated with 1", and usually we add king valves and a low pressure gauge. Vaporstat is a nice touch.


    New England SteamWorks
    Service, Installation, & Restoration of Steam Heating Systems
    newenglandsteamworks.com
  • JedinRIJedinRI Posts: 16Member
    All,

    Thanks again for the helpful input. My main struggle now is - how do I compel my original installer to come back and fix the piping? As Joe Homeowner - who isn't a steam boiler expert - how do I successfully make the case that he needs to come back - spend time and money - and make it the way I want it? How do I counter the "I've been doing this for 30 years, and this is fine" argument? Page 18 of the installation manual describes the piping, and even though I'm no expert, I can see this doesn't match what he did.

    Pictures of the near boiler piping are attached.

    At the very least, I need a proper skim port installed, because the system is still dirty. (I've skimmed about a dozen times from the sight glass port...got a lot of oil out, but still have surging.)

    Luckily, most of my radiators are sloped and vented well, and we have good insulation in the attic and exterior walls, so the boilers are still getting, and staying, warm. But, the system cycles on and off due to the surging, and I likely have water shooting up into the mains because of how it's piped near boiler.

    I also have no (apparent) way to drain the water (and gunk) from the bottom of the Hartford loop.

    I have another steam guy coming soon, so I'd rather have the original installer fix it (for free) than have to pay someone else to fix it.

    Thoughts?


  • FredFred Posts: 8,051Member
    That boiler piping is a mess. looks like a counter flow system.
    "How do I counter the "I've been doing this for 30 years, and this is fine" argument?" You show him the installation manual!
    How do you get him to come back and fix it? If you've already paid him in full, probably nothing short of going to court. If I were you, I'd spend my money getting someone who knows steam to come in and fix it right. It will never run properly the way it is and I wouldn't want that installer back in my home. Where are you located? How did you find this next guy you have coming? Check out the "Find a Contractor" tab on this site. There are plenty great steam installers here. The guy that installed that system doesn't know what he doesn't know and clearly isn't interested enough to even open the installation manual.
  • Dave0176Dave0176 Posts: 1,073Member
    Yeah, that is a counter flow system, and it is still not piped right.
    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.......
  • EBEBRATT-EdEBEBRATT-Ed Posts: 6,040Member
    counter flow drips should be tied together below the water line.
  • JUGHNEJUGHNE Posts: 6,032Member
    Now that we agree that it is a counter flow system....do you have any pictures of the old boiler. If so it would probably show the rear drip pipes dropping down and tied together below the water line into a wet return. Pictures of that would at least point out one of many piping flaws done by the installer.

    There are almost enough fittings there to do a double riser into a drop header and connect to the existing steam mains above. The old insulated pipes would not have to be disturbed.
    The drop header would give enough distance between old and new pipes to allow friendlier plumbing. IMO
  • FormerlyFormerly Posts: 70Member
    extremely interested how this will play out!
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