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Crack in Boiler Cover

Hello everyone. We recently purchased a single-family home with steam heat so I have been lurking on these forums for some time but finally decided to post. The advice and tips on steam heating systems, with which I originally had very little familiarity with, have been invaluable.

On to my story...our boiler is a 1983 Utica oil-fired boiler. When we first moved in, which was April, I noticed a hairline crack on the boiler cover. I had the boiler serviced and cleaned in July, during which time the HVAC technician covered the crack with some of that grey concrete-like material to patch it up. Over the course of this winter, the material has been flaking off and the crack has been expanding. It is now about the width of a penny (see picture below). The crack looks like it was caused sometime in the past by over-tightening the bolt that is visible towards the top of the crack.

Since our house has natural gas (we already have a natural gas range, hot water heater, and dryer), I was planning on getting some quotes to replace the boiler with a natural-gas fired one. Depending on the cost to do this, we may end up doing so this spring/summer. My question is, does anyone think this is dangerous or something that we need to fix right away? I would prefer to not put any money into the existing boiler if it may be going away this spring/summer. However, if this is hazardous or something that needs to be fixed immediately, I would like to do so.

Thanks in advance to everyone for their advice.


Comments

  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,518
    Looks like something you could sand the surface (roughed up a bit for good adhesion) and apply a high temp epoxy.
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 11,565
    Fred said:

    Looks like something you could sand the surface (roughed up a bit for good adhesion) and apply a high temp epoxy.

    I was thinking red RTV for a temporary fix.

    But, not sure how safe it is, I think a pro needs to chime in for that.
    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
  • STEVEusaPA
    STEVEusaPA Member Posts: 4,968
    Fred I respectfully disagree. If you can't find a replacement door (maybe even used), the boiler is done. Unless you can somehow weld a patch onto it. I guess the door panel fell off/broke, and was never replaced.
    I don't think (and I wouldn't trust it) high temp epoxy is a good idea.
    That combustion area gets up to temperatures well over the epoxy temperature limit.
    I'm sure others would say to muck it back up and hope you make it to spring.
    I wouldn't put something like that back into service, and I consider it very dangerous.
    steve
  • stevieg
    stevieg Member Posts: 19
    I notice a caution tag above the crack, it seems to be a little bubbled up, this could be caused by heat,(maybe not) one way or another there needs to be a draft test done. If there is a positive draft over the fire which there most likely will be, then there isn't much you can do aside of having it welded. If there is a negative draft then you can use a high temp epoxy to get you through for a while. The cement that was used is a retort cement and is made to curl and flake off, Its made to seal the chimney base and hardens with heat. Its not really made for this kind of fix. Lets face it, the boiler is 33 years old, I wouldn't spent not 1 penny on repairs on it. If you cant afford to replace it, there are many programs out there to help you. Hope this helps you bud. Stevie G.
  • TDK86K
    TDK86K Member Posts: 6
    edited December 2016
    Thank you everyone for your replies. I think I will just keep a very close eye on it to make sure it doesn't get too much bigger and will be shutting it down permanently at the end of the heating season. I am in New Jersey so that should be around mid-April. I agree that I really do not want to spend any money on keeping a 33 year old boiler alive when it is clearly due for replacement. In addition, getting rid of oil and switching to natural gas should pay itself off within a few years.
  • STEVEusaPA
    STEVEusaPA Member Posts: 4,968
    edited December 2016
    TDK86K said:

    In addition, getting rid of oil and switching to natural gas should pay itself off within a few years.

    Better check your nat gas prices.
    A properly sized/properly installed system in oil will also save you money, burns clean, high efficiency, low maintenance.
    I'm over the bridge in Philly suburbs. Oil has been cheaper than gas at least 6 out of the last 10 years. There is much evidence that nat gas prices will rise more than heating oil prices. And when nat gas goes up, it rarely goes down, and when it does, it goes down slowly.
    Either one won't give you a payback within a few years.

    At a minimum you should use the high temp silicone, over nothing. I'm more concerned the crack was caused by a combination of over tightening, no door combustion panel, and no door gasket, as evidence by the scortch marks and the melted label. All of this means poor combustion and wasted money up the chimney. It also means the integrity of the metal overall on the front is probably poor. I feel if your luck runs out it will be a disaster.

    I still recommend not running the boiler, and having it replaced with a properly sized/properly piped (heat loss conducted) modern boiler. A reputable company could switch that out in less than a day, finance it, and most likely if you go with a high efficiency unit like an EK 90+ Resolute, you may qualify for some rebates.

    @stevieg Even if there is negative draft today, that boiler would be pulling in excess air and poor combustion. Poor combustion makes soot/CO, and a boiler can soot up pretty fast and end up with positive draft over the fire, cooking that unit even more, and possibly (probably) spilling CO into the living space.



    steve
  • TDK86K
    TDK86K Member Posts: 6
    Thanks STEVEusaPA. It looks like my natural gas rates are .3658 for Basic Generation Service and .5657 for Delivery (I am assuming this is per therm). I haven't done a formal calculation but I was planning on getting a natural gas boiler rather than oil, mainly based on comments I've been hearing from everyone I know that currently has oil and wishes they had natural gas. Pretty much every friend and family member said that I would be crazy not to switch to natural gas, especially as it is already in my home. It would be in my best interest to do a formal calculation so that I can make an educated decision but if I need to replace the boiler regardless, I think my calculation will favor natural gas. Also, my oil tank in the basement looks like it's about 50 years old and pretty heavily rusted, so if I were to stay with oil, I would need to replace the tank as well.

    Hatterasguy - It's funny that you mention J-B Weld, that's exactly what my father in law was recommending. I may go with that suggestion, just to get through this winter. I was planning on replacing this boiler during the summer regardless of the crack (due to its age, low efficiency, not generating enough steam to fill my far radiators probably due to the previous owners removing the asbestos insulation, getting away from oil, etc.). so that should be enough to hopefully get me through until then.
  • j a_2
    j a_2 Member Posts: 1,796
    Well you could always stop drill the crack.meaning drill a slighty larger hole at the end of the crack,that will stop the crack from extending beyond .....apply some epoxy, I like the stuff Hat recommended.....You could also depending on your mechanical limits install a metal patch . The stop drill is key .....no matter what.....As far as gas, you have gas already, but don't you pay the premium rate because your a low use customer,..in our area when you go to gas heat you become a high user and get the lower rate per therm...I see no need for gas and oil in the same house....pick one of the two....But when you do replace the boiler get one that is certified for both fuels.....One never knows these crazy days what will happen....Is it safe in the condition its in, if I was the service guy I would caution you and let you decide....As a homeowner,I would let it rip....just take a look every now and then...like actually your suppose to,,,,,Good luck
    CLamb
  • stevieg
    stevieg Member Posts: 19
    @ STEVEusaPA Like I said this repair would only get them through for a little while, Not a permanent fix.
  • kevinj_4
    kevinj_4 Member Posts: 90
    Time for a pro to check it over, appears to be plugged or have chimney issues.
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 11,565
    edited December 2016
    Several thoughts.

    If I was you, I wouldn't hesitate to convert to gas. Not only is it cheaper, it's less maintenance, although you should have the system inspected from time to time, but you also don't have the hassle of getting oil deliveries or having a nasty stinky tank.

    For anyone that thinks oil can burn as clean as natural gas, I would like to see them cook food over an oil fire.

    It is true a properly setup oil burner runs nice, but it's not as clean nor as low maintenance as gas.

    It also seems near impossible to find a guy to properly service and actually clean an oil burner.

    I do have to give @STEVEusaPA kudos for taking pride in his work. That means a lot and it seems like few do anymore. That's no joke. If all oil guys were like him the business would be doing a whole lot better.


    If it was my boiler, I would grind down the area and try using red RTV "high temp silicone" on it and watch it. There's a good chance it'll hold up. If you have an IR thermometer, after the boiler's been going for 10-20 minutes shut the burner off and immediately point the thermometer at that area. If it's below 600F red RTV will work.

    Like you said, it's just to limp through until the summer.

    To be honest, most of the oil boiler setups I've seen leak more than that through the often loose peep hole.


    My opinion is the sticker is like that from a long time of heat and just age. I don't see any signs of soot around the crack so I wouldn't assume draft issues. If it wasn't venting right it would be rolling coal like a modified truck.

    How does the barometric damper behave? Does it slam shut when the burner lights? Or does it do nothing and then slowly open pulling in air indicating good draft?
    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
  • STEVEusaPA
    STEVEusaPA Member Posts: 4,968
    My only concern about just patching with JB is that front panel should have a door panel combustion chamber, which is either broken/crumbling, or missing. If it were in place you wouldn't see fire through it. Also it looks like the gasket is missing or damaged based on the scorch marks and the bubbled label. And if you have those air leaks, you have poor combustion. Poor combustion will soot up, soot blocks heat exchanger, etc. etc.
    So just patching might be hiding one problem and missing others.
    steve
  • TDK86K
    TDK86K Member Posts: 6
    @j a Believe it or not, it looks like my utility (New Jersey Natural Gas) actually does the reverse of that. "Residential Non-Heat" customers pay a slightly lower rate for delivery than "Residential Heat" customers. BGSS rates are the the same for both.
    https://www.njng.com/regulatory/pdf/PriceTableResidential.pdf

    Thanks to everyone for their helpful advice. I think my decision will be to limp through the winter by applying one of these fixes, and start getting quotes for a natural gas replacement this summer. I believe my utility offers a rebate as well as 0% financing options so that will ease the hit a bit.

  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,190
    Just make sure whichever contractor you use understands what he is doing. Boiler piping has to be done right or it will never work right. Also makes sure he matches the size of the boiler to the EDR of the system, oversized boilers waste fuel.

    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
  • TDK86K
    TDK86K Member Posts: 6
    Thanks @BobC. I have already used this site to find a few qualified steam contractors in the NJ area and will only be contacting these highly-recommended and reviewed companies. Since this is not a cheap proposition, I definitely want to make sure it is done once and done right.
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 11,565
    TDK86K said:

    Thanks @BobC. I have already used this site to find a few qualified steam contractors in the NJ area and will only be contacting these highly-recommended and reviewed companies. Since this is not a cheap proposition, I definitely want to make sure it is done once and done right.

    Right now the only guys in NJ I'd recommend are @Dave0176 and @EzzyT
    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
  • EzzyT
    EzzyT Member Posts: 1,120
    @TDK86K send me a private message
    Creative Solutions Plumbing & Heating LLC
    Lic #12683
    Co-Owners: Fred Drescher, Jr & Eliezer "Ezzy" Travis
    201.499.0223
  • Sailah
    Sailah Member Posts: 826
    Any welder with a sign on his truck could weld that back up just fine. I've welded plenty of cast iron with my Tig welder. You can TIG braze with AC and silicone bronze or stick weld with nickel rod.

    I'd do as J A suggested and drill a hole at the very end of the crack so it doesn't continue. Remove door put on gas grill, heat to 500F. Weld it up, put back on grill and slowly ramp temp down over a couple hours.

    If you were local I'd be happy to do it for you my treat, either way maybe 2 hours of labor.

    You might get lucky with some high temp goop, and I've used them all, but they're all just gimmicks. I'd get it fixed right so you aren't worried about it seems worth it to me. Get replaced when you need to. If you get another season out of it you're way ahead of up the game.
    Peter Owens
    SteamIQ
    j a_2
  • j a_2
    j a_2 Member Posts: 1,796
    Plenty of commercial aircraft flying around with patches just as sailah recommended.....On the fuselage and the engines.....Just go for it.....Post your proposal when you get one for your new boiler, less pricing of course...What's the heat loss , or tell us how many sq.ft. Site members can help you with a heat loss....That's were to start
  • j a_2
    j a_2 Member Posts: 1,796
    Whoops forget the heat loss, your steam....
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 11,565
    edited December 2016
    I'd still try the red RTV, after drilling the hole to stop it from spreading.

    WM has red RTV shmeared all over my EG series block to fill gaps. While it's an atmospheric gas boiler, gas burns a lot hotter than oil, technically. Blue flame vs yellow \ white.

    Biggest problem with red RTV is it failing, if it fails move on and try something better. If it stays and survives until the spring you're set.

    It's a temporary repair to last a few months, not years.


    Here's a picture of my block. That area is water cooled and may run cooler than that door but the point is it's not unheard of to use on boilers.

    Like I said, most of the loose jiggling rattling peep holes I've seen leak more than that crack.

    Also, @captainco and @Tim McElwain hopefully will chime in, but I thought the one good thing about oil was you would smell the stink long before the CO became a concern? Unlike natural gas and LPG where it'll kill you without any signs or smells at all.



    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
    New England SteamWorks
  • ChrisJ said:


    For anyone that thinks oil can burn as clean as natural gas, I would like to see them cook food over an oil fire.

    It is true a properly setup oil burner runs nice, but it's not as clean nor as low maintenance as gas.

    It also seems near impossible to find a guy to properly service and actually clean an oil burner.

    1. In order for oil to burn clean the fuel must be pressurized, atomized, and mixed with air at exacting ratios. Such a process is hardly conducive to cooking, but very conducive in oil fired boilers.

    2. You are correct, it runs very nicely. And the annual maintenance is hardly a drawback. It is the lack of maintenance in gas boilers that causes grief. Steam boilers need their low water cutoffs and pigtails checked every year, and a blowdown is advisable. These are automatic with oil heat. Rare with a gas appliance.

    3. Not impossible at all. There are a great many of us. I realize you had a bad experience, but it is bad form to tar and feather an entire industry as a direct result of your follies.
    New England SteamWorks
    Service, Installation, & Restoration of Steam Heating Systems
    newenglandsteamworks.com
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 11,565
    edited December 2016

    ChrisJ said:


    For anyone that thinks oil can burn as clean as natural gas, I would like to see them cook food over an oil fire.

    It is true a properly setup oil burner runs nice, but it's not as clean nor as low maintenance as gas.

    It also seems near impossible to find a guy to properly service and actually clean an oil burner.

    1. In order for oil to burn clean the fuel must be pressurized, atomized, and mixed with air at exacting ratios. Such a process is hardly conducive to cooking, but very conducive in oil fired boilers.

    2. You are correct, it runs very nicely. And the annual maintenance is hardly a drawback. It is the lack of maintenance in gas boilers that causes grief. Steam boilers need their low water cutoffs and pigtails checked every year, and a blowdown is advisable. These are automatic with oil heat. Rare with a gas appliance.

    3. Not impossible at all. There are a great many of us. I realize you had a bad experience, but it is bad form to tar and feather an entire industry as a direct result of your follies.

    1 : You can run LPG and Natural gas fork lifts indoors. You cannot do this with diesel or gasoline. Neither burn near as clean as Methane and Butane.



    3 : I'm just going by my own experience as well as several friends and what I've read online. Seems like your chances of getting an oil fired boiler serviced correctly are about on par with getting a steam boiler sized and piped correctly.

    I'm not out there at the front lines, so as you know, it's not fair for me to judge. I'll agree with that.

    @Bob Bona @Steamhead @Robert O'Brien Am I being unfair to the oil industry? Do most oil service guys do a good job? Do many pull out the Sootmaster, tear the boiler apart, scrub the passages with brushes, vacuum out the flue pipe, combustion chamber, change the nozzle, filter, strainer and use a combustion analyzer when done? How many use a combustion analyzer?

    Or do most change the filter and nozzle and leave a boiler looking like it was never touched?



    Yes, I realize there are some good guys out there who actually service oil burners like they should. There's plenty on this site and I know a few on Facebook.

    I understand there's probably a lot of people likely ignore their boiler until it's packed with soot and then claim they get it service yearly. Just like the people who just changed their air filters last month and the thing is half sucked into the blower and packed with dirt.


    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
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 14,466
    ChrisJ said:

    @Bob Bona @Steamhead @Robert O'Brien Am I being unfair to the oil industry? Do most oil service guys do a good job? Do many pull out the Sootmaster, tear the boiler apart, scrub the passages with brushes, vacuum out the flue pipe, combustion chamber, change the nozzle, filter, strainer and use a combustion analyzer when done? How many use a combustion analyzer?

    Or do most change the filter and nozzle and leave a boiler looking like it was never touched?

    Yes, I realize there are some good guys out there who actually service oil burners like they should. There's plenty on this site and I know a few on Facebook.

    I agree, many of the good ones are here and on Oil Tech Talk and DragonTalk. And I do see well-maintained oil-fired boilers where we weren't the last ones to service them, once in a while, but not nearly often enough. But in general, the oilheat industry does a great job of convincing people to switch to gas.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
    ChrisJj a_2
  • Bob Bona_4
    Bob Bona_4 Member Posts: 2,083
    As far as the crack goes, if there is just a few months before replacement, I'd drill a 3/16 hole at the end, but be very very cautious on the penetration- there's refractory just on the other side, you do not want to be pushing it into firebox. I'm not sure what temp ratings job weld or rtv has, but know that plate gets super hot.

    I think generally, tune up techs strive to do a responsible job. I think there is direct relationship between the ease of cleaning a particular make of boiler and the quality of the finished job. If a h.o. presents a hunk of junk 30 yr old cemented up boiler, many techs will do the minimus.
    j a_2
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