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Losing a ton of water in the boiler

Hello everyone,

I am having a very concerning problem that I hope someone can illuminate what may be happening. In the last 24 hours we had to refill our boiler from low water cutoff to low water cut off. This seem super excessive and I cant figure out where the water/steam may be going. The last week it has been low 20s here in MA, and we had our house insulated this summer ( roof + exterior walls). Last year I recall the boiler only needing to be filled like every 3-4 days on the coldest weeks. I looked everywhere and cant seem to see any signs of water from a leak. I am worried it may be in the wall and the new insulation is absorbing it all or we have a cracked boiler somehow. Our boiler is 3 years old and we have a new theory that one of the upstairs bedroom radiator vents may be stuck open as it is he first to start whistling and the last to stop when the heat is on and maybe alot of our heat is really going to that room compared to the downstairs living room where the thermostat is, which would make the heat run excessively and maybe use that much extra water? Any ideas or things to check would be appreciated. Thank you all so much

-Paige
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Comments

  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 22,874
    It is excessive. Go outside when the boiler is firing and check to see if you see a good deal of white "smoke".
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    Zman
  • To check for a leak in the boiler, turn it off, and overfill it up into the header. Let it sit for a couple of hours, and then check inside the firebox for leaks.
    If that is the case, then you need a good steam man to make a replacement or repair. A properly installed boiler, on a tight system should only need a few gallons added a year, so last year your 3-4 days between refills was a sign that something was amiss.
    If you see a big leak, then post some pictures of the boiler and it’s piping, so we can see if there were any mistakes in its installation which may have resulted in its early failure. It may have been improperly piped, improperly sized, or the rest of the system may have a leak, causing it to take on excessive fresh water.—NBC
    unclejohnmidiman143
  • midiman143
    midiman143 Member Posts: 61
    Thank you for the replies Jamie and NBC. Jamie there is no sign of any smoke, when we had our energy assessment last year it was burning very efficiently, I think around 85+ percent. NBC is there any easy way to know when I have filled it to above the header? Im assuming the glass gauge is below the header and therefor wouldnt tell me much about where the water level is after the gauge is filled.
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,470
    Do this when the boiler is just warm, not steam hot. T detect water reaching the header, wrap your hand around the warm steam riser coming off the boiler. Open the water feed valve and turn it off when the temperature of that pipe changes.

    Let it sit for a couple of hours with the power off and then check around and inside the boiler for any signs of water, if it's a good size leak it will show itself in minutes.

    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
    midiman143
  • midiman143
    midiman143 Member Posts: 61
    Here is a picture of the boiler if that helps at all. Thank you all again for the suggestions. I will try and check the boiler itself tonight.
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,021
    edited December 2017
    Do you have any return pipes connected to the boiler that are under the floor?
    Pictures of all sides of the boiler will tell more.

    Your boiler piping is "good looking" but doesn't look good. :|

    While you are doing the flood test you can take more pictures.
    midiman143
  • midiman143
    midiman143 Member Posts: 61
    Good point, we luckily do not have any ground returns, but I can take another photo showing the hartford loop and return later tonight!
  • midiman143
    midiman143 Member Posts: 61
    Jughne, is the pipe not looking good because of the copper pipe or the actual configuration?
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,021
    Probably both, but more pictures of it will help.
    Especially the other side including the existing older pipe connections.
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
    edited December 2017
    @midiman143 , where are the returns?
  • midiman143
    midiman143 Member Posts: 61
    @Fred I plan to take a picture to show it more clearly, but we have a 1 pipe system and an above the boiler wet return. The returns can be seen in the photo but not that clearly.
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
    @midiman143 , if it's above the boiler, it's a dry return but somewhere I ought to see it drop to the floor. I'll wait for more Pictures.
    midiman143
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,295
    @JUGHNE said "Your boiler piping is "good looking" but doesn't look good. :| "

    Sad but true.

    @midiman143

    The good news is the boiler is probably to new to be leaking but your loosing water somewhere. Gotta be a detective. Do you have any air vents really spewing steam??

    You said no to underground returns. Do you have a crawl space with any steam line running through it?
  • Overfill the boiler like Nicholas said, but I don't see any sign of moisture on the smokepipe, do you have any radiator steam vents leaking? The windows in that room where there is a leak will have lots of condensation on them, single digit temperatures in Ma coming tonight. I wouldn't depend on the low water cutoff to shut the boiler off, I saw a boiler catch the floor joists on fire when the boiler fired up with no water, and the pipes were almost a foot away from the joists!
    Thanks, Bob Gagnon
    To learn more about this professional, click here to visit their ad in Find A Contractor.
    midiman143
  • midiman143
    midiman143 Member Posts: 61
    edited December 2017
    Hey guys here are some of the picture of the night. Took a freaking hour and a half to just get into the thing because the exhaust stack was so snug and I ended up breaking the mortar/chimney/exhaust flue bond in the process.




  • midiman143
    midiman143 Member Posts: 61
    @EBEBRATT-Ed - There are no crawl spaces that have piping, luckily everything is viewable from the basement above my head. As for the vents, I am not sure what is normal, they dont spew visible steam or water but they dont shut off either I will have a link later today of a video I took of what they tend to sound like.

    @Fred - I hope these pictures clear things up. I was wrong before about the system just being 1 pipe all the way. The returns are the smaller pipes that run to the back of the furnace/hartford loop. They are all above head till they get back to the boiler.

    @Bob Gagnon plumbing and heating - We dont have much evidence of the windows steaming up or excess steam coming out from the vents other then the fact that if the boiler runs for say 15 minutes straight the vents really dont shut off on the radiators, they tend to hiss the whole time even after the radiator is hot. This is further confusing because we bought a new vent last year and it does the same thing. I was under the impression after watching a steam video yesterday that these radiator vents should shut off completely after the radiator gets hot.

    We didnt appear to lose much if any water last night which is confusing as well. I plan to do the water test this weekend where I fill it to the header, but unless I take the whole covering off I am not sure where I am going to see much for a potential leak. Exposing what I believe is the heat exchanger only allowed me to see a small bit of the boiler itself. Any further information would be greatly appreciated about this.

    Thank you everyone for your wisdom and experience, and please keep it coming. I am going to try everything suggested and hope to track this down somehow. Again ill link the radiator vent hissing later today to show what is our normal operating.

    -Paige
  • The vents should shut off when the radiator is hot and the air is vented out of the system, replace the vents that continue to hiss, there are usually some main vents in the basement piping, that often need replacing too.
    Thanks, Bob Gagnon
    To learn more about this professional, click here to visit their ad in Find A Contractor.
    midiman143
  • midiman143
    midiman143 Member Posts: 61
    Hey gang so here is a short video of what our vents tend to sound like.

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/1dHBsFYxDJjgsXaHrDjJYAMTdGoL47EAM/view?usp=sharing

    @Bob Gagnon plumbing and heating - thank you for sharing your knowledge on that. We bought a new vent last year for one of our radiators and it does this as well so I guess I am confused as to when the vent should be off/be silent vs what is normal. I do have two vents down stairs on the system that do vent.

    Is it possible that if say 75% of our radiator vents are not shutting off that that would account for the water loss?
  • Look for water on the floor during the test. I don’t think you will need to take the sheet metal off to see the results of a leak.
    I think your vents are unable to close because of high pressure, disguised by a faulty gauge. A 0-3 psi gauge would show you the pressure more accurately.—NBC
    midiman143
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,021
    Is there a name and number on the main vents near the boiler?
    They are the brass devices up high on each of the dry return small pipes.

    They look too small, they should be doing most of the air venting for the pipe. Your rad vent sounds like it is doing most of the air removal.
    As NBC said you need to get a 0-3 PSI gauge, make sure the pressure is as low as possible.

    Your piping, while far from good, will probably work if the pressure is kept low as possible.

    Yes just flood the boiler for an hour or more and watch for water on the floor.
    midiman143
  • midiman143
    midiman143 Member Posts: 61
    I have 2 #35 vent rites, and I agree the guage I have on my boiler is completely useless as i believe its a 0-30 psi gauge and these systems should operate at low psi.
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
    Get some larger vents on those two returns. Those Vent-rites are too small. When is the last time you took the Pressuretrol off of the pigtail and cleaned that pigtail out? If the pigtail is clogged, it will let pressure build well beyond the settings. Are the radiators hot all the way across? If not, the radiator vents may not close. That is normal but they shouldn't hiss like that, unless the main venting is inadequate or the system pressure is way too high. Vent's that don't close or can't stay closed because of high pressure will cause some loss of water through those open vents.
    midiman143
  • midiman143
    midiman143 Member Posts: 61
    @Fred Thanks for the info Fred. I have never taken the pigtail off, the system is about 2-3 years old now and maybe I will also try that this weekend. The radiators do tend to get hot all the way across. Could you recommend a link or resource how to clean this pigtail or is it just take it off and clean what may look dirty. I found this link on the site.

    https://forum.heatinghelp.com/discussion/132789/cleaning-pigtail
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
    @midiman143 , just take the Pressuretrol off, using the hex fitting under it. Do not take the four screws out of the bottom of the Pressuretrol. Once you have the Pressuretrol off, unscrew the pigtail from the other end so you can take the pigtail to a sink. See if you can hold it up to a faucet and run water through it. If you can, just run water through it until the water runs clean. If water won't run through it, use a pipe cleaner or wire to push the crud out of the pigtail and then wash it out. It's a simple maintenance item that only take 10 minutes.
    midiman143
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,021
    edited December 2017
    If you have a pigtail that is impossible to rotate/unscrew, if you can blow thru it without breaking your ear drums it might be clean enough.
    Also a large cable tie might pass thru it for cleaning.

    Then if you pour water into it and hear it dribbling into the boiler you should be good for now. Prime it with water before putting things back together.
    midiman143
  • midiman143
    midiman143 Member Posts: 61
    Thanks guys all great advice, I didnt get to it this weekend but I plan to this week for sure and Ill be sure to update. I was having a thought today that I hope one of you knowledgeable guys could clear up for me. Once I do the calculations to fix/ figure out the main steam line vents and assuming I have decent venting at the radiators, what would I gain from doing all this work? The way it works now the radiator vents are probably stuck open more then they should be, but I was thinking if the whole system heats up and steam stops flowing to the radiators but they are warm, it will take time for the house thermostat to register the new room temperature and while the room "warms" the boiler will still be running and the excess steam will just be coming out of the main vents correct? So I guess I see it as the steam being blown into the house now, but if i fix the system the excess steam will be blowing in the basement. Could guys please poke holes in my theory and let me know if having the radiator valves over pressured does have ill effects on the life/maintenance of them. Thank you so much and hope everyone had a nice weekend.

    -Paige
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
    edited December 2017
    @midiman143 Nope, not correct. The main vents are there to exhaust the air in the mains so that steam can fill the mains and then push out into your run-outs to your radiators. When the steam hits the main vents, they will close and all the steam will move into your run-outs/radiators. Having good main vents will help keep your system pressure low and help save fuel, in that a lot of time won't be spent on pushing air out before the radiators can fill. All vents, main and radiators should close when steam hits them. No steam should be escaping into the house or basement.
    midiman143
  • MilanD
    MilanD Member Posts: 1,160
    edited December 2017
    Depending also on your near boiler piping and steam velocities, you may be blowing rust particles into those rad vents and with excess op pressure, they are not closing.

    1st order of business is op pressure. After checking the pigtail is clean, make sure it's dialed down to no more than 1.5 Psi cut out. Get a 0-3 psi gauge an add to the control branch. Well vented system, depending on size and length of mains won't go beyond 10 oz (I have 3 mains of about 200ft each from 4" down to 2.5", op pressure on a heat call and temp rise is no more than 6 oz, regular maintain heat call on a moderate winter day no higher than 4 oz).

    2nd order (or at the same time), is making sure your main venting is adequate - the faster the better. If you have more than one main, you must 1st balance them to vent at the same rate against each other.

    3rd order - as your rad vents look fairly new, after 1 and 2 is done, with the system off, remove rad vents and shake out/clean out any debris from them. You can slosh some warm water inside them and rinse them out. Then test that they close by blowing through them and rotating them upside down. If they close, they should be fine to reinstall. When reinstalling, use some Teflon tape - 3-4 turns of Teflon, and be careful not to cross the threads on the rad when reinstalling.

    Barring any other unforseen system issues, this should take care of spitting and hissing vents.

    Good luck!

    Ps. One more afterthought: if you had a lot of make up water over the past few years, it could be possible that the boiler has a hole rusted through above the water line. You can flood the boiler to see if it has a hole. That would be bad news a you'd need a new boiler.
    midiman143
  • MilanD
    MilanD Member Posts: 1,160
    That's the one I have - exact one from Amazon. It's good.
  • Have you overfilled your boiler, and changed the vents yet, you might be spinning your wheels for nothing, you have to find out if the boiler is leaking first...
    To learn more about this professional, click here to visit their ad in Find A Contractor.
    MilanDNew England SteamWorks
  • midiman143
    midiman143 Member Posts: 61
    @Bob Gagnon plumbing and heating That is a great point and we have not, that is on the adgenda tonight! Do you think an hour would be enough time once it is filled to find out the information we would want? AKA does this sucker leak or not.
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
    If you fill the boiler, an hour should tell the story. Make sure you check the burner compartment for water as well.
    The gauge from Amazon is fine. A lot of us use this one too: https://www.valworx.com/product/low-pressure-gauge-25-0-3-psi
  • midiman143
    midiman143 Member Posts: 61
    Thanks as always guys. To see the burner compartment that would require me to take off the burner/pump correct or should I be able to see it if I take off the metal skirt that sits around it?
  • MilanD
    MilanD Member Posts: 1,160
    edited December 2017
    This was when I had a failed section on our LGB7 boiler last January. I'm assuming that if there was a leak, you will see it on the floor eventually. We had major water loss issue before I realized it was an issue. At any rate, let's hope that's not it with your newer boiler.

    https://www.amazon.com/photos/share/ZWdLLLlIiQVHI8ZSdaciAqkfcCbdyyxy3pyVVUCCc26

  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
    @midiman143 there should be an access panel on one side of the boiler that lets you see into the burner compartment. You shouldn't have to take anything off except that access panel.
    midiman143
  • midiman143
    midiman143 Member Posts: 61
    @MilanD - thank you for sharing your video, sorry to hear you had to deal with that!
    @Fred - When checking the boiler compartment, was I supposed to check inside as well as outside I assume correct? I assume you ment inside over outside but correct me if I am wrong.
    @Bob Gagnon plumbing and heating - Thanks again for the great advice on order of operations

    Good morning everyone, there is good news! I filled the boiler up to essentially the pressure release valve above the boiler and let sit for an hour and no signs of any water. I even got the big tail to move a tad so that should be a job that should go smoother then not.

    I did drain a little bit of water out of the pressure release valve (picture attached) as I couldnt tell where the water level was by temperature, it appears as though the boiler was hot enough to heat up the cold water slowly entering it so I couldn't tell by feel or by temp gun.

    I plan to measure the pipes tonight to figure out what kind of venting I need. From reading the great article by Gerry Gill and Steve Pajek, called Balancing Steam Systems I get the idea that I need to measure the main steam lines/returns to size the main vents (Blue and pink in my diagram) and the pipes that come off the mains along with the radiators are a different calculation to size the radiator vent per leg. Is this correct? thank you as always everyone, your help is so appreciated!




  • The perfect venting capacity would be equivalent to an open pipe with no vents. This would enable you to run at very low pressure without the boiler stopping and starting during the venting phase. Your low pressure gauge will show you when you have enough main vents, by measuring the backpressure, which hopefully can be lower than 2 ounces.—NBC
    midiman143RomanGK_26986764589
  • midiman143
    midiman143 Member Posts: 61
    @nicholas bonham-carter - Great advice NBC, but should I treat the main system separately from the radiators and their legs. I am under the assumption from my reading yes.

    PS- I am ordering the new pressure gauge today as well.