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Full steam ahead on The Knucklehead Express! All aboard!

We live in a two family house built in 1924 - rent out the first floor, live on the second. The house is heated with single pipe steam system. Apartments share ONE Utica PEG300CIDE steam boiler that we installed in 2008. Have since used the same contractor for yearly upkeep and service calls. System seemed to work okay - not great - occasional banging, hissy air vents in the radiators. The pipes weren't freezing, the tenants weren't complaining and the cotton was high. Then the heat stopped reaching radiators fartherst from the boiler. First the entry hall, then the far bedrooms. Tenants were not happy and it was getting ugly - F-bombs thrown our way - even on holidays - you get the picture - bad. We did not have air vents on the mains, and the vents on the radiators were probably installed by Abraham Lincoln - they were that old.

Twisted the contractor's arm, and in January 2017, he changed out all the air vents on the radiators. He did not want to add vents on the mains. Radiator vents improved the heat distribution - no more F-bombs from the tenants! Ho!Ho!Ho! But then, the big BUT: now the boiler takes on too much makeup water. The boiler kicks on, runs for 20 mintues, makeup water runs, boiler shuts off. Sprint down to the basement, water has filled the sight glass. Drain off about 5 gallons, boiler seems okay. A few days later, same problem.

Today, daytime temps are in the 50's/nighttime temps in the 40's. This.is.nothing. Winter in Michigan can get much, much colder, below zero is not unheard of. There is a reason our state is in the shape of a mitten. Very concerned about additional demand on this malfunctioning system.

The contractor's solution for the make up water problem was to dial down all the air vents on the radiators. This did not work. His final solution: install a vaporstat instead of a pressertrol. Holohan book says that a vaporstat requires big, main vents to vent the system quickly, or the burner might short cycle. But the contractor does not want to install vents on mains...hey...wait a second...what's that sound...in the distance...like a freight train? Oh no - we hitched our little red caboose to the Knucklehead Express!

We invite you to look at the pictures of the boiler and see if you can identify piping problems that would cause the boiler to take on too much water.




We appreicate any feedback that you can give us - Thank you!

Comments

  • Kahooli
    Kahooli Member Posts: 112
    Header is not standard. Looks like the first pipe is a counterflow drip but it's being used as the equalizer.

    Dry return is piped without a drop before the connection into the "hartford loop".

    It's really not horrible, but repiping the header to have a proper equalizer and separate drip for the main would be a good start. Repiping the wet section of the dry return is a must IMO.
    SteamHeat2017
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
    edited October 2017
    First off, you need good venting on the mains to move the air out of them so steam can move through them as quickly as possible. This looks like a counter flow system. I don't see any wet returns.
    Venting has nothing to do with water being added to the system. The only cause for the added water is that the auto water feeder is allowing water to flow through it when it should not or the Low water cut-off (LWCO) is calling for water when it should not be. Check those two devices for a failure of the water valve in the feeder or a problem with the LWCO. Make sure the water level in the sight glass doesn't bounce more than maybe an inch, when the boiler is running. If there is excessive water bounce, it can cause the LWCO to call for water when it really isn't needed. If there is a lot of bounce, in the water, have the boiler skimmed (especially if any new piping has been added to the system that may have introduced oils into the system.
    And yes, the fact that there really is not an equalizer, coming off of the end of the header, can allow water to be pushed out into the return, which will make the water level in the boiler drop and then the LWCO will call for additional water. Then when the boiler shuts down and all the water returns to the boiler, it is over filled
    Also, find a Steam service Professional that knows what he is doing. The guy you are using clearly does not.
    EDIT: One final note, the way that header ties into the main and is reduced on the horizontal, it will hold water there and that is probably a source for banging.
    SteamHeat2017
  • As mentioned, non-typical header with a lot of big pipe to heat up and the resulting condensate has to run back down the boiler risers rather than the equalizer we normally see. Potential steam quality/wet steam problems from that though the venting of those massive pipes would be my first thing to tackle. Then run it for a day or so and skim/flush the boiler to get rid of any oil from tapping the pipes.
    SteamHeat2017
  • Ironman
    Ironman Member Posts: 7,338
    Hold on fellas, if there's a return, then it's not a counter flow system. Part of it could be piped counter flow, but not the whole.

    Look at that Tee above the boiler. The pipe entering from the left is cross-thread/ caddywampus...whatever you want to call it. There is no true Hartford loop. This is in addition to the other piping errors already pointed out.

    Two things stand out that need to be dealt with and prove that your contractor is not a steam pro:
    1. The boiler needs to be re-piped correctly. See the attached diagram.
    2. You definitely need main vents. The system probably dates back to being coal fired which produced a slow, constant fire and slow venting was adequate. Once it was converted to oil or gas, the mains should have been vented.


    Bob Boan
    You can choose to do what you want, but you cannot choose the consequences.
    SteamHeat2017
  • Paul48
    Paul48 Member Posts: 4,469
    Like a recent posting.......this installer also made an oversight and didn't install an equalizer. It wasn't a mistake though. This installer chose to fix it this way. Now it's up to the Oversight Committee to check it out!... :)
    SteamHeat2017
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,021
    When you stand on the left side of the boiler looking into the archway door with the hand cart......that picture.
    The pipe going to the right looks counterflow, then after the 90 with the long insulated pipe coming towards you could it slope down as in parallel and come all the way around to the dry return.

    Is that 90 the high point of the steam main?

    It seems the existing drip is still needed in addition to a proper drip/equalizer off the header. IMO
    SteamHeat2017
  • New England SteamWorks
    New England SteamWorks Member Posts: 1,502
    Well, below is the correct piping from the manufacturer. I think your guy missed the mark.


    New England SteamWorks
    Service, Installation, & Restoration of Steam Heating Systems
    newenglandsteamworks.com
    SteamHeat2017
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,297
    another installer that can't read.

    risers should be 2 1/2"
    header should be 2 1/2"
    no Hartford loop
    no vents
    no equalizer on lower header to drain water

    Even if it is counter flow (which it may be only partially) you need to drain the lower header which is only 2"

    Thread protector couplings

    Doesn't explain why it "worked before"

    Run the pressure as low as possible and skim boiler. Re-pipe.
    SteamHeat2017
  • Dave0176
    Dave0176 Member Posts: 1,177
    edited October 2017
    That boiler IMO should have a 4" header, but then again I consider those Uticas and Dunkirk ECR boilers junk with their overfired skinny boiler sections, puny 2" (Utica) and 2-1/2" (ECR) side steam outlets.

    That said it can be made to work, must determine if that section is counterflow. The whole header and near boiler piping should be upgraded and reconfigured, a 4" header and 4" supply tapping should come off the header to match the main. Main vents ARE a must with a 4" main, there is ALOT of air to vent.

    Also an EDR should be done on the house to determine the heating load, all radiators measured to see where the boiler matches up. Then you can determine if oversized to add a two stage gas valve and stage fire the burner on high and low fire.
    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.......
    SteamHeat2017
  • Dave0176
    Dave0176 Member Posts: 1,177
    @EBEBRATT-Ed its a Utica they only came tapped with 2" outlets.
    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.......
    SteamHeat2017
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,714
    The recent high water usage tells me the boiler probably has developed a hole in it above the waterline. Call a pro to verify this. If so, you need a new boiler.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
    SteamHeat2017
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
    @Steamhead, seems to be over-filling, not actually make-up water.
    OP said: "The boiler kicks on, runs for 20 mintues, makeup water runs, boiler shuts off. Sprint down to the basement, water has filled the sight glass. Drain off about 5 gallons, boiler seems okay. A few days later, same problem. "
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,714
    I'd still check to see if the boiler was leaking. With all that make-up water one can expect a higher than normal amount of corrosion.

    If the boiler is not leaking, either 1- the improper piping and possibly other factors are causing the water to leave the boiler faster than it should, causing the feeder to come on, 2- the water can't return to the boiler fast enough, due to slow returns or radiator shutoffs that are not fully open, causing the feeder to come on, or 3- the feeder isn't shutting off properly (though it might shut completely after a while).
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
    SteamHeat2017
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,297
    No matter the size of the supply tapings they can be increased right at the boiler. Reduces velocity and keeps water ware it belongs
    SteamHeat2017
  • Mad Dog_2
    Mad Dog_2 Member Posts: 6,692
    Wow! Creative piping, man. Where is this? Mad Dog
  • New England SteamWorks
    New England SteamWorks Member Posts: 1,502
    Dave0176 said:

    That boiler IMO should have a 4" header, but then again I consider those Uticas and Dunkirk ECR boilers junk with their overfired skinny boiler sections, puny 2" (Utica) and 2-1/2" (ECR) side steam outlets.

    Couldn't agree more. These boilers are no good for steam.
    New England SteamWorks
    Service, Installation, & Restoration of Steam Heating Systems
    newenglandsteamworks.com
    SteamHeat2017
  • Steamer1928
    Steamer1928 Member Posts: 34
    I have one from the early 90s. While I agree that they are finicky and poorly designed, I am lucky to have a boiler that has lasted 25 years. Still, I am always worried about it since it is piped horribly. Their customer service seems to be equally horrendous from what I have read on here.
    SteamHeat2017
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,576
    I’ve been installing steam for 40 years like this so I know what I’m doing!


    SteamHeat2017
  • Ironman
    Ironman Member Posts: 7,338
    edited October 2017
    While that's not by any means my favorite steam boiler, I have to disagree about ECR's customer service. I've found it to be excellent. If you'll look a little closer, almost every , if not all, of the negative comments have come from HO's who've had their CONTRACTOR knucklehead the install and then expect ECR to come out and fix it. No manufacturer does that.
    Bob Boan
    You can choose to do what you want, but you cannot choose the consequences.
  • SteamHeat2017
    SteamHeat2017 Member Posts: 3
    Everyone -Thank you very much for your interest in our steam heat system. We are amazed by what you are able to call out from a few photographs, just blown away by the amount of good information and advice that you generously provided! Thank you!

    General question - if we need a new boiler, what is a good manufacturer to pick for a one pipe steam system?

    Mad Dog said:

    Wow! Creative piping, man. Where is this? Mad Dog

    Mad Dog,These pictures were taken in the Fifth Circle of Hell, otherwise known as "The Furnace Room" in the basement of our house, near Detroit, MI. We are not supposed to talk about money on the wall, but I will say this; "The Furnace Room" is an overheated vortex of doom, relentlessly trying to suck away all of our spare units of an unspecified monetary system.
    JUGHNE"When you stand on the left side of the boiler looking into the archway door with the hand cart......that picture.
    The pipe going to the right looks counterflow, then after the 90 with the long insulated pipe coming towards you could it slope down as in parallel and come all the way around to the dry return.

    Is that 90 the high point of the steam main?"
    JUGHNE, Yes, you identified the high point of the steam main. The main loops around the basement, pitching away from the boiler. A dry return at the low point returns to the boiler. Back at the high point of the main, there is a pipe run of about 8 feet, perpendicular to the main. The far end of this run is above the high point of the main. Looks like a combination Counter-Flow and Dry Return system.
    Tim Potter
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,021
    Do I see a red dot on the 90 drop of the dry return? Main vent needed there. Then drop to floor and up to Hartford Loop.......just a beginning but would help a lot. IMO

    If boiler not leaking. Have you flooded the boiler above the height of the boiler and see if the floor gets wet...after an hour or so?
    SteamHeat2017
  • SteamHeat2017
    SteamHeat2017 Member Posts: 3
    JUGHNE said:

    Do I see a red dot on the 90 drop of the dry return? Main vent needed there. Then drop to floor and up to Hartford Loop.......just a beginning but would help a lot. IMO

    If boiler not leaking. Have you flooded the boiler above the height of the boiler and see if the floor gets wet...after an hour or so?

    JUGHNE Red dot is the 90 drop of the dry return. Boiler is not leaking. Two weeks ago, we were out of town for 10 days, temps were in the 70's D/60's N, and the tenant was cranking the heat. When we came home the sight glass was full of water. Drained about 8 gallons of water out to get the level back to normal.
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,576
    Replace the thermostat with a remotely sensored Honeywell Visionpro, with the main unit in a locked area. and keep the lower temperature constant for better fuel use, and comfort.
    Close off the auto feed, and see whether the overfilling persists.
    The bad piping is not helping either.—NBC
    SteamHeat2017
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,021
    I agree with NBC to see where you end up with the water level with the auto fill water valves off.
    However IIWM, I would drain down the boiler while it was firing to assure that it positively shuts down the boiler without re-firing.
    It should stay off until you bring the level back up and reset LWCO.

    Then I would feel comfortable to shut off all water supplies to the boiler and restart.
    It may shut down and stay off and after some time the water level may return to the original level. If so then you have slow return to boiler which was triggering water overfill.
    SteamHeat2017