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School Steam Boilers/Pneumatics

Hello Everyone -
I am in a tricky situation, and some advice would be greatly appreciated. If any of you have experience with systems that are in public schools, that would be especially helpful.

This is a strange story that deals partially with the peculiarities of local school politics and the specifics of a two pipe steam system that has been severely neglected for over twenty five years. There are three steam boilers - all made by Hurst. They are the "LPE" model. Two were installed in 1995, and a third in 1998. The building is from 1952 and has vintage Nesbitt univents with a leaky and unreliable pneumatic DA control system. New Quincy compressor in 2007.

Temperatures in this building fluctuate with shocking severity - a student was once admitted to the ER with burns from a univent during a three month long pneumatic outage, and failed F&T traps have caused indoor temperatures to plummet to near freezing for weeks at a time. Condensate seldom makes its way back to the boiler room, going through warped return lines that run through dark and extensive tunnels. Because of this, the boilers are basically running on makeup water all the time, and the condensate gradually leaks out all over the building, at times flooding the boiler room. Here's the scary thing, and this is where I need some advice. The LWCO's on the boilers are unreliable. School District facilities people have told me that the boilers are drained "every few years", which means that the floats may not drop if they need to. And yes, there have been some frightening low water scenarios.

The school system knows about the problems, but refuses to make repairs. The building has been kept in this perpetual state of mayhem while other schools are outfitted with DDC controls and Aerco Benchmark boilers.

Based on what I've explained here (and I can certainly provide more information to paint a clearer picture) what is the most concerning mechanical problem from an immediate safety standpoint? Sadly, I cannot provide images due to retribution concerns within the school system. We are thinking that we can push for these repairs to be done if we come at it from a safety angle, so any ideas are appreciated. Have any of you worked on commercial steam systems in similar circumstances?

Thanks very much - know this is a pretty unusual post.

Cheers :)

Comments

  • nicholas bonham-carternicholas bonham-carter Posts: 7,876Member
    edited September 2017
    Certainly the suspicion that the LWCO system could be inoperative on any boiler is a serious concern, because of life safety. In Nebraska, boilers have to be inspected to make sure the pressure relief valve, and LWCO are in good working order, with the paperwork from those tests on display in the boiler room.
    Large boilers, over a certain rating also need to be overseen by an engineer who has specialized training and certification, and the annual inspections may be more thorough. The continued use of large amounts of fresh makeup water could cause rusting out of the boilers, weakening the pressure vessel, (BOOM!).
    Under the freedom of information act, you may be able to get the results of inspections from previous years, and this should show whether any unsafe conditions have persisted. This request may trigger a new inspection from the regulating body, especially if the media were making the request.
    These inspections will not necessarily reveal anything about comfort conditions; however, once the life safety can of worms has been opened, it should be possible to cast light on all the standards of proper operation.--NBC
  • MilanDMilanD Posts: 1,107Member
    Inoperable lwc can lead to explosion. Serious one. It can kill people, both on and off premises, when the boiler is ejected from the boiler room upwards or sideways. Think rocket or a bomb exploding. Super super serious.

  • GrallertGrallert Posts: 330Member
    First things first. LWCO relief valves then the leaks. I would imagine that there are records of annual inspection somewhere.
    I run two steam boilers in a high school here in Massachusetts and I have an engineer inspect them yearly with the certificate posted for each in the boiler room. My boilers are 1956 and 57 vintage Pacific Steel boilers. It's a lot of running after leaks and traps.
    Good luck. Get after those safety controls!
  • ScottSecorScottSecor Posts: 268Member
    We service or have serviced about a dozen public school districts here in NJ. Of the 100 or so boilers at these sites about 70 are steam. All 70 of the steam boilers were two pipe, with pumped returns. I could write a small book with some of the horrors we faced with pipe leaks, failed traps, pneumatic system leaks, ninety degree classrooms, miles of crawl spaces, and countless late nights trying to get the systems up and running after emergency repairs.

    That being said, every boiler (almost always two per boiler room, sometimes three) was inspected at least annually. The boiler inspector would find something that needed attention in almost every boiler room, every year. They were very picky and rightfully so. We changed steam traps one at a time in most cases, even though we suspected most of the traps (F&T, thermostatic and occasionally bucket traps) failed after fifty or sixty years.

    I can only recall doing a complete steam trap replacement at two of these schools. We did a "trap survey" at two of the schools in this district and learned that there were many rotted pipes in the dirt floor crawl spaces. We took photos with the system running and added them to our report, you could see the mold beneath the sub-floor and the steam billowing from the piping. I believe the photos convinced the board it was time to replace the failed piping, insulate same and install new traps. I never actually saw the utility bills but we were told the fuel savings was substantial. Needles to say many classrooms now had heat that were cold for years (due to the failed traps "damming" the returns) and the building heated much more rapidly on cold mornings. We also noted that the vacuum pumps and condensate pumps were not failing at an alarming rate. In addition the systems used approximately one quarter of the boiler treatment.

    With regard to the low water cutoff and all other boiler safety controls, I would demand they are tested, maintained and replaced if necessary. Safety is and should be a big concern.
  • JUGHNEJUGHNE Posts: 5,852Member
    Safety should be a big concern.......but no one can "see" safety. Only after a major event can they see unsafe. Then the stuff rolls down hill as an inverted pyramid and crashes on the lowest paid (non-union) employee who suddenly is responsible for a lot of high tech equipment that is way above his pay grade.
    Or the last contractor with insurance who even just looked the system may get blamed.

    Money will be spent on visible items such as the gym BB floor or the shiny travel bus for the athletes etc.

    I am in NE, and as NBC stated above we have required boiler inspections for commercial buildings. They are typically done by the insurance company that sends the report to the state. It was usually a very quick walk thru. Steel tube boilers had to be open for internal inspection. CI only got a safety operation check out during operation.
    I have used the "inspector is coming" ploy to open up all the LWCO's, pull and clean burners etc. He never really looks at these but the owners understands/believes all this is necessary for his visit. Maybe some would say I am just making work for myself but if I didn't do this it would never get done.

    One owner changed insurance companies and a new inspector showed up, he actually put his own hands on the controls to make them operate, even opened the PRV under pressure. (previous ones did not). He was the only one after more than 10 years asked about combustion air, (none was dedicated) and included in his report to the state that it was needed. A letter soon arrived to the owner giving them a time frame for correction.
    I had suggested this in the past but met with some hesitation from the owners. An official letter from a state agency gets attention.
    Permanent record is kept of these....may be available to the public.
    I have called the state and they seemed inclined to share info.
    FWIW.
  • ratioratio Posts: 2,072Member
    Failing safety devices is not just unsafe, but opens up an amazing amount of liability. If you can't get them to pull the trigger from a safety standpoint, maybe they should ask their lawyer what would happen to them financially if there was a catastrophic failure that was traced back to a documented lack of maintenance?
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Posts: 10,823Member
    Safety first. That's your LWCOs and the PRValves. Test them (the LWCOs are easy; the PRVs may be more difficult).

    Traps and leaks are a little harder ( :) ) but I made a suggestion to @Grallert which might work (it will in the school he's in; he's got a good faculty to work with): find an interested science teacher and get them to provide the kids with IR guns and go around and check all the traps they can find (heck -- just getting them to find the traps will be a project!). It will work if you can get the science department on board. That, with curriculum regulations and all that sort of thing, will be the hard part.
    Jamie

    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England.

    Hoffman Equipped System (all original except boiler), Weil-Mclain 580, 2.75 gph Carlin, Vapourstat 0.5 -- 6.0 ounces per square inch
  • RayWohlfarthRayWohlfarth Posts: 770Member
    Smith19
    I would look to see if your state follows ASME CSD1 code. If they do, the code requires all boilers to be inspected and all controls tested. If something is defective, the code requires it to be repaired. It takes the all the responsibility from you.
    Good luck
    Ray
    Ray Wohlfarth
    Boiler Lessons
    Click here to take Ray's class.
    Click here to buy Ray's books.
  • JUGHNEJUGHNE Posts: 5,852Member
    IMO, those are relatively "new" boilers as far as public schools go.
    Many people believe that getting new boilers did fix everything.
    But they need to be convinced that replacing the boilers is like putting a new engine in a car that has a slipping transmission, 3 flat tires and also a leaking gas tank.
    Same for the new air compressor, (which probably wore out because of massive air leaks in the system). The new AC should have fixed the control issues.....as the logic goes.
  • MilanDMilanD Posts: 1,107Member
    As a parent of 2 small kids - I would not only care who is responsible if tragedy was to happen. I would also care WHY it wasn't PREVENTED. Operating any heating equipment without it being in a proper operating state, serviced and inspected is - CRIMINAL, and premeditated, esp. if it's known that some or all safety devices are inoperable.

    Now that you know - tell the responsible parties, show them the video of an explosion, to get it across, then share your findings publicly: Community MUST know if the board is doing nothing.

    Many people who are on school boards, have no clue about how dangerous something like a steam boiler with inoperable safety controls can be. They will think the thing will just turn off and stop working. If I didn't know any better, I would too. Most have hot air furnaces at home, and they don't blow up.

    I cannot overstate the urgency of this. There is no money that is too much to spend when safety of our children is on the line, and when safety is ignored, criminality should be established BEFORE THE FACT. God forbid that thing blows.
  • Smith19Smith19 Posts: 89Member
    edited September 2017
    Hello everyone and thank you so much for your responses. Very helpful.

    Some more information: Some of you mentioned state inspections, and yes - our State requires bi-yearly pressure vessel insurance inspections for scotch marine type steam boilers. I do have a photo showing a state inspection tag from 2012. The photo was taken in February of 2015, and the tag had expired a year earlier. We were operating on high fire with two units and an expired inspection. I don't know what the policies are, nor do I know if this is still the case as I have not been in that boiler room for a year - but it is nonetheless concerning.

    I also discovered some auto cad drawings of the 1998 replacement, and it tells a strange and concerning story as well. It would appear that the building originally had two giant Pacific steal boilers. One was replaced in 1995, (with two smaller Hursts) and for some reason the other wasn't done until 1998. The drawings show that the engineer wanted the pressuretrols set at 12 pounds each boiler. Way too high - probably has been adjusted since then to a lower pressure. The engineer also noted in the drawings that two LWCOS would be required for each boiler, as is state policy. This is the other scary thing: It looks like the aux LWCO was removed by less than competent district maintenance people. There's lots of strange things from these drawings that don't line up with the current set up. I also should mention that there are no Hartford Loops on these units. I've seen this with newer two pipe scotch box installs. Hurst requires hartford loops for the LPE steam, and it's also interesting to me that the engineer's drawings from the late 1990's spec out hartford loops but they were never done.
  • EBEBRATT-EdEBEBRATT-Ed Posts: 5,951Member
    What @RayWohlfarth said is your best advise.

    All steam boilers need to be inspected.

    Who is the insurance company? Go at them it is their liability. What the hell are they doing putting peoples lives at risk?

    Does your state have a "Public Safety" or "Consumer Protection" dept, a "state insurance regulating board"

    Contact them!!

    And who the hell is in charge of facilities for the schools? No one with a brain that's for sure

    NEGLECT< NEGLECT< NEGLECT

    This could very well cost some lives.
  • JUGHNEJUGHNE Posts: 5,852Member
    edited September 2017
    NE state requires the aux LWCO to lockout and require a manual reset, that may have been a nuisance call-in late at night and it was easier to just get rid of the damn thing.

    There is a train of thought that Hartford Loop is not needed or desired with a pumped return. SIHR

    The people really most interested about their deepest pockets are the insurance companies that cover these boilers. A bug in their ear might cause things to happen.

    FWIW: I have a 1970's print from engineers that tell you to run the boilers at 15 psi, with a 15 psi PRV .......??
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Posts: 10,823Member
    Some further thoughts.

    Yes those boilers should have two LWCOs each, and the lower of the two on each boiler should be manual reset. Period.

    Second, I chuckle a bit about the engineers' drawings -- since theoretically I am one. We don't always have the right answers, particularly younger ones... I doubt very much if those things should be running at anything over 3 psi, and probably less.

    Third, may I ask what, if anything, is your responsibility for this disaster? There are times, my dear madam or sir, when you need to watch out for your own responsibility, and this may be one. In short, you may need to walk -- and speak up at the next school board meeting.
    Jamie

    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England.

    Hoffman Equipped System (all original except boiler), Weil-Mclain 580, 2.75 gph Carlin, Vapourstat 0.5 -- 6.0 ounces per square inch
  • Smith19Smith19 Posts: 89Member
    edited September 2017
    Thanks all to your responses. I have been considering speaking to a local newspaper that has done some stellar investigative stuff with the school district before. However, I know for a fact that if it is exposed that this kind of ineptitude exists, retribution against people in the system will be the first thing we see. I know the custodian of this building - he's a great guy. (He doesn't work on the equipment. In this district only facilities people can touch the stuff). I also know that he would be the first to go - they would wonder who was allowing photos of the boiler room to be snapped, and I don't want to rope myself or anyone else into this mess who doesn't need to be part of it. So -Jamie Hall - your point is very valid. It's a conundrum.
  • MilanDMilanD Posts: 1,107Member
    Well, I'll say it: if you do nothing and this thing explodes - how will that make you feel? Retributions if you talk? Are you seruous?? Main point is safety! It's a school with children! Am I the only one seeing this as a really dangerous hazard??

    Talk to the school's superintendent. Then stay on it. This thing should not go away until fixed, and those boilers should not be used until the issue with the controls is resolved. People can die.

    I can't believe this.
  • ratioratio Posts: 2,072Member
    I understand. Someone may die, but someone will be fired. Bad enough when it's your own you-know-what on the line, but someone else? Hard call.
  • Smith19Smith19 Posts: 89Member
    MilanD said:

    Well, I'll say it: if you do nothing and this thing explodes - how will that make you feel? Retributions if you talk? Are you seruous?? Main point is safety! It's a school with children! Am I the only one seeing this as a really dangerous hazard??



    Talk to the school's superintendent. Then stay on it. This thing should not go away until fixed, and those boilers should not be used until the issue with the controls is resolved. People can die.



    I can't believe this.


    Your right, and it's all very valid. This is a huge district, however, with some very serious ramifications involved if it's not handled correctly. Superintendent was unanimously fired by the board, and no reason was given - so there have been some issues. It will either be something that happens with a local newspaper or the assistant superintendent.
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Posts: 10,823Member
    Big school district. School Board. Lots of money. Lots of politicians. And sadly you may be sure that the responsibility for problems -- whether they are kids who don't learn or buildings which are in bad condition -- will be bucked to the lowest person they can find.

    @Smith19 , I really truly do feel sorry for you and all the soldiers in those schools. Teachers, custodians, lunch staff, aides, the whole lot. I'm not usually really keen on unions (nor, before someone throws something at me, am I opposed at all!) but this is the kind of situation where you need a really strong one. Or ones.

    Good luck, good buddy.
    Jamie

    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England.

    Hoffman Equipped System (all original except boiler), Weil-Mclain 580, 2.75 gph Carlin, Vapourstat 0.5 -- 6.0 ounces per square inch
  • MilanDMilanD Posts: 1,107Member
    Perhaps you can get allies, other parents or people in the district as not to carry the burden alone.
  • EBEBRATT-EdEBEBRATT-Ed Posts: 5,951Member
    @Smith19 , you don't have to be the bad guy. Find out about the inspection authorities, insurance companies etc. Drop a dime on them, send them a letter don't sign it no pictures, they don't have to know where it came from. If the insurance co doesn't follow up then that's their problem.

    I wouldn't go to anyone in the school dept. They don't understand boilers and as you said the wrong person will get fired.. The one that should understand is facilities and they don't care.

    if these boilers have pumped returns no Hartford loop is needed (but they should have a header drip or a way to remove condensate from the supply piping)

    School superintendent will not stick his neck out. He will pit you against facilities and facilities will win

    Insurance company, state inspection board, or consumer protection or public safety would be the best avenue
  • Smith19Smith19 Posts: 89Member

    Big school district. School Board. Lots of money. Lots of politicians. And sadly you may be sure that the responsibility for problems -- whether they are kids who don't learn or buildings which are in bad condition -- will be bucked to the lowest person they can find.

    @Smith19 , I really truly do feel sorry for you and all the soldiers in those schools. Teachers, custodians, lunch staff, aides, the whole lot. I'm not usually really keen on unions (nor, before someone throws something at me, am I opposed at all!) but this is the kind of situation where you need a really strong one. Or ones.

    Good luck, good buddy.


    Thank you very much for the encouragement. It certainly is absurd.


    I am working with a student advocate who has the ear of the assistant superintendent (the superintendent was fired during a scandal) and she will convey the information to him. She has years of experience with district chaos, and if we can't move forward that way, then it will have to be the media. In the interim, state policies and insurance stuff is certainly the way to go. Thank you all so much - the help is greatly appreciated!!
  • GrallertGrallert Posts: 330Member
    Boy oh boy this all sounds so familiar right down the the Pacific Steel boiler at 12psi :o I'm lucky in that I have a reasonable budget to make needed repairs and improvements. @Jamie Hall made an excellent suggestion as he mentioned above. I've spoken to the physics professor and he will offer the "Trap Temp Survey" as an extra credit activity. Thanks Jamie.
    @Smith19 Maybe the custodian should be they one to ring the bell. But I'd back out of that boiler room if nothing gets done. Good luck.
  • Smith19Smith19 Posts: 89Member
    Grallert said:

    Boy oh boy this all sounds so familiar right down the the Pacific Steel boiler at 12psi :o I'm lucky in that I have a reasonable budget to make needed repairs and improvements. @Jamie Hall made an excellent suggestion as he mentioned above. I've spoken to the physics professor and he will offer the "Trap Temp Survey" as an extra credit activity. Thanks Jamie.
    @Smith19 Maybe the custodian should be they one to ring the bell. But I'd back out of that boiler room if nothing gets done. Good luck.

    Love the idea of the trap survey! I think I know some faculty who'd be into it...:)
  • Smith19Smith19 Posts: 89Member
    edited September 2017
    Hello everyone - thank you so much for all the helpful comments. I have given the information (photos, brief description of the problem, and some technical drawings) to a surrogate who will have a conversation with high up officials in the district. They have a good relationship with the admin and they're willing to be the one to give the information to the newspaper if no one acts to address the issues. I have two questions however:

    1) In recent days, I have seen a few installs of similar scotch marine boilers (newer models from Burnham, Hurst, and Clever Brooks) that only have one LWCO with no low limit. It was mentioned that our three units must have a low limit - I completely agree. After all, it was drawn into the plans back in '97. However, I seem to be seeing more low limits on cast iron steam boilers rather than steel ones. How dangerous is it to not have the low limit with manual reset on these Hurst boilers?

    2) I want to be clear about the risks associated with the feed water situation. We've all seen boiler rooms like this - steaming mucky condensate all over the floor, makeup water being used constantly, bad traps... but how dangerous is it to be using mostly makeup water? It's not chemically treated, which is an issue, but does it pose an immediate low water threat?

    Thanks!

  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Posts: 10,823Member
    In my opinion, and it is just that of one man, one basically has a choice on the manual low limit, assuming that the AHJ doesn't actually require one. Either you have a competent person in the boiler room at all times when the boilers are firing, or you have manual reset low limits on them. But that's just me.

    On the second question, it's not actually dangerous in itself, although poor housekeeping in the boiler room is a danger. If you can keep the place clean, well ventilated and slip hazard free, using excess water isn't dangerous. Except to your budget, since it may lead to early failure of the boilers...
    Jamie

    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England.

    Hoffman Equipped System (all original except boiler), Weil-Mclain 580, 2.75 gph Carlin, Vapourstat 0.5 -- 6.0 ounces per square inch
  • EBEBRATT-EdEBEBRATT-Ed Posts: 5,951Member
    edited September 2017
    running with too much make up water will contaminate and corrode the boiler rapidly. What do you think will happen to a fire tube with super hot hot flue gas running through it with the water side of the tube coated with muck?

    No heat transfer, an overheated tube with tube failure, leaking tube or god forbid an explosion

    what are you calling a low limit?? A commercial steam boiler should have at a minimum:

    1. a modulating steam control to control the burner lo-hi fire. This could be a two position like a Honeywell L404A or a L91 or B depending on the burners controls
    2. a manual reset high limit control Honeywell L404E
    3. a steam operating control L404A
    4. 1 low water cut off with a manual reset
    5. 1 low water cutoff with automatic reset
    6.
    #4 & #5 above may in some cases be in combination with a boiler feedwate pump control

    The only time I have seen a "low limit" on steam is a control (aqustat) used to keep the boiler on low fire if the boileris cold and then allowing the boiler to go to high fire when the water gets hot
  • Smith19Smith19 Posts: 89Member
    I am concerned that the district will tell us that they are "on top of it" and are taking care of it. I don't think they understand the connection between poor performance and significant danger, and I want to make sure that what we have here is legitimately concerning.
  • MilanDMilanD Posts: 1,107Member
    Show someone a video of a boiler blowing up. That would be pretty descriptive. If what you described is true, with lwco probe not working, this is a dangerous situation.
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Posts: 10,823Member
    Smith19 said:

    ...I want to make sure that what we have here is legitimately concerning.

    It is, good buddy, it is. Whether you can convince the powers that be of that is another question.

    ..
    Jamie

    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England.

    Hoffman Equipped System (all original except boiler), Weil-Mclain 580, 2.75 gph Carlin, Vapourstat 0.5 -- 6.0 ounces per square inch
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