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Saw my first GE Downfire Boiler today

SteamheadSteamhead Posts: 12,301Member
Never worked on one before. It looks in decent shape, and the owner probably won't get it replaced due to having to cut it apart and get rid of the asbestos. Someone has retrofitted it with a Beckett burner so that part should be pretty much standard, but how do you even get into this thing to clean it? All I can find is a small opening on the front.
All Steamed Up, Inc.
"Reducing our country's energy consumption, one system at a time"
Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
Oil & Gas Burner Service
Baltimore, MD (USA) and consulting anywhere.
https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/all-steamed-up-inc
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Comments

  • Danny ScullyDanny Scully Posts: 987Member
    No pics?!
  • HVACNUTHVACNUT Posts: 1,403Member
    I haven't seen one since the late 80's but is the top plate on a hinge?
  • SteamheadSteamhead Posts: 12,301Member
    Could be, but I didn't get that far. Beckett says this burner setup used a special air tube assembly, but it takes an 80° solid nozzle like any other F-head unit, so at least I have that.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    "Reducing our country's energy consumption, one system at a time"
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Baltimore, MD (USA) and consulting anywhere.
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/all-steamed-up-inc
  • HVACNUTHVACNUT Posts: 1,403Member
    I was just a puppy then but I do remember some Beckett conversions. I can't remember if they were AF or SR.
  • EBEBRATT-EdEBEBRATT-Ed Posts: 4,196Member
    Hard to imagine that there are any left. I only saw one about 40 years ago that had already been converted to a Beckett.

    Used to be a guy in Hartford, CT that specialized in servicing those...I am sure he is long gone
  • newagedawnnewagedawn Posts: 549Member
    who ever designed that model should be shot,lol
    "The bitter taste of a poor install lasts far longer than the JOY of the lowest price"
  • GBartGBart Posts: 547Member
    From what I remember there isn't a lot to clean, you may have to pop the burner to look down, it's just a down fire into an open tank, what you're really missing out on is the GE burners themselves, they used a compressor. This cutaway from Dan years ago gives you a look inside.

    https://heatinghelp.com/assets/documents/162.pdf
  • rbeckrbeck Posts: 54Member
    Wow a blast from the past. Clean from the front and if converted can pull burner but not much to clean there. If my old memory banks can still be trusted there was a round refractory in the center of the floor of that product that needed to be removed and clean under it. That get access to the vent pipe which came off the bottom.
    Pull the vent pipe and clean from the back and hopefully they bypassed the old puff switch on the vent pipe. If they ever opened you just stepped on them to close and make the switch again.
    They had to be the heaviest boiler I ever removed and major top heavy. We had quite a few in the Harrisburg, PA area. The original had an onboard compressor for the combustion air. You had to be factory certified to install and service them in the day. Never liked working on them but they were efficient beyond their time and hardly ever had a leaker.
  • EBEBRATT-EdEBEBRATT-Ed Posts: 4,196Member
    It's a type of Air Atomizing burner. Installed many Power Flame and Iron Fireman air atomizers back in the day. They would burn #2 oil but usually were used on #4 and #6 oil only
  • ScottSecorScottSecor Posts: 171Member
    I know the GE Oil boilers very well, please see the PM I just sent you.
  • ScottSecorScottSecor Posts: 171Member
    I do not recommend pulling the aftermarket burner, most in this area were converted with Beckett AF. With regard to the burner, you are correct the blast tube is reduced diameter (this was required to fit inside the relatively small hole in the top of the down-fired boiler), real pain in the neck to get the drawer assembly out, especially the very long ones. Trick was to disconnect the jet tube and take off the retaining nut, lift the nozzle assembly slightly and rotate it 180 degrees, then gently lift it up towards the ceiling.

    With regard to the boiler, all of the oil boiler interiors were accessed through the roughly ten inch front door (often fitted with a Pyrex flame sight glass). They are tricky to clean, but certainly not impossible. I think you'll find at least eighty percent efficiency at zero to trace of smoke.

    Steam or hot water? Notice the odd piping, especially for a boiler of this time era?
  • GBartGBart Posts: 547Member
    Yeah the Carlin retrofits were more popular because I believe the tubes fit, they made a kit for the GE as well. Those are the only ones I remember using.

    and double yeah, they are extremely heavy, probably heavy gauge virgin steel so they may last forever.
  • John MillsJohn Mills Posts: 838Member
    Is that what was used in Levittown?
  • Danny ScullyDanny Scully Posts: 987Member
    No I don’t think so @John Mills, much too big for the kitchen.
  • SteamheadSteamhead Posts: 12,301Member
    I think those were Yorks. @Ron Jr. would know for sure, he's replaced a bunch of them.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    "Reducing our country's energy consumption, one system at a time"
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Baltimore, MD (USA) and consulting anywhere.
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/all-steamed-up-inc
  • HVACNUTHVACNUT Posts: 1,403Member
    > @Steamhead said:
    > I think those were Yorks. @Ron Jr. would know for sure, he's replaced a bunch of them.

    Right. The steel drum York Shipley.
  • Danny ScullyDanny Scully Posts: 987Member
    @John Mills I stand corrected. Apparently that was common among Levitt houses.
  • SteamheadSteamhead Posts: 12,301Member
    Well, I spent a whole day working on this. There was quite a bit of "hey-bubba-hold-my-beer engineering"- exposed wires, unnecessary rise and fall in the oil feed line and such- that had to be cleaned up. The owners know they won't have to go through this every year B)

    Shout out to @ScottSecor who came down from Rahway and went over it with me. He says this is the oldest GE he's seen. We found the date 1931 in one of the original toilet tanks, and the boiler looks like it's original to the house. It looks a lot like the one in the brochure @GBart linked to that is described as the first one they sold. Scott even helped brush it out. Despite the fact that the nozzle was probably at least five years old (and the unit had been "serviced" last year- sound familiar?) the fire side wasn't that dirty.

    The Beckett AF on this boiler was firing at 2 GPH. One of the complaints the owners had was that it was difficult to reach the reset button. I solved this problem by running a 4-wire plus ground BX cable to a new 1900 box next to the service switch, and installing a GeniSys primary there (tossing the old 3-wire primary with 45-second TFI). The new cable has leads for the motor, ignition and oil valve, so we are now duplicating the pre-purge that the original burner had, with post-purge added. I hooked up the cad cell with a length of thermostat wire to the primary.

    Someone had installed an 80° hollow nozzle. This resulted in a very short flame that did not reach into the firing zone. Since the exit openings (leading to a secondary exchanger) are at the top of the firing zone, the flame needs to be longer so the heat will radiate better into the boiler and so the exhaust gases will wipe the metal surfaces better. I went with a 1.65x70B at 150 PSI.

    The combustion test showed just below 80% efficiency- on a 1931 boiler! Stack temp was higher than I like, and so was the draft- no barometric on this job. We'll test it again after we install a barometric. This should be interesting.

    And this thing heated up FAST! We hardly ever see steel boilers so were not used to this. I was impressed.

    Scott took some pics- maybe we can sweet-talk him into posting some of them?
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    "Reducing our country's energy consumption, one system at a time"
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Baltimore, MD (USA) and consulting anywhere.
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/all-steamed-up-inc
  • STEVEusaPASTEVEusaPA Posts: 2,154Member
    edited June 7
    Amazing how much they knew about design, combustion, the effects of high draft & stack temperature, low mass, low CO2, all the way back in the 30's.

    This made me crack up, as it would of been the death of the company today...
    "Here's a special section for fact-minded men..."
    steve
  • ScottSecorScottSecor Posts: 171Member
    Certainly not low mass, but they were amazing boilers for there day. I'll post more details tonight or tomorrow when time permits.
  • ScottSecorScottSecor Posts: 171Member
    edited June 8
    This is what the original GE boiler Steamhead just worked on and improved.
  • ScottSecorScottSecor Posts: 171Member
    edited June 8
    Besides replacement Beckett Burner and some hack wiring by others, the boiler and piping look mostly original. Check out the pressure reducing valve, now that's some iron...
  • ScottSecorScottSecor Posts: 171Member
    Looking upward at the burner end cone.


    I'm wondering if this was the last company that did any work on it before Steamhead (notice the phone number)


  • ScottSecorScottSecor Posts: 171Member
  • ScottSecorScottSecor Posts: 171Member
    This was an exciting job-site visit for me. I grew up in my parents Levittown style radiant slab heated home with a GE oil boiler and tankless coil. Back in 1991 the lovely Tracy and I purchased our first home (same neighborhood) that also was built with a GE oil boiler. Worked in my Dad's business since the 1980's on hundreds of GE oil boilers and furnaces. Almost all have been replaced with newer equipment (often gas boilers as the underground oil tanks became troublesome and gas became more readily available).

    It was nice going down memory lane with Steamhead. As with many of the GE boilers we worked on back in the day (besides the modest Levittown style homes), many of them were in the better neighborhoods. This job certainly fit the bill, as I think this home was almost 5000 square feet.

    I've been reading Steamhead's posts for years and you never really know somebody until you meet them face to face. The first thing I noticed about him was his hat, it was a 'Deadman's' baseball cap. I knew we had some kindred spirits as soon as I saw the hat. I appreciate what Steamhead does even more after actually meeting him. Keep up the good work, don't hesitate to call me if you find another GE!
  • SteamheadSteamhead Posts: 12,301Member
    edited June 8

    .....I'm wondering if this was the last company that did any work on it before Steamhead (notice the phone number)

    LIBERTY 9000 tells me that sticker can't be older than about 1952 or newer than about 1954.

    The original Baltimore dial telephone exchanges, dating from the 1920s and using Western Electric "Panel" switching equipment, had six digits- two letters for the exchange name, and four numbers for the line number. Around 1954-5 they were changed to seven digits by adding the number corresponding to the third letter of the existing exchange name. So that number would then be given as LIberty 2-9000.

    The night number is newer than that- PLaza was opened in about 1939 with the name SOuth. This name was changed in the early 1950s to prepare for customer-dialed long distance- there was another exchange with the same numbers somewhere else in Maryland, so they changed this one.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    "Reducing our country's energy consumption, one system at a time"
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Baltimore, MD (USA) and consulting anywhere.
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/all-steamed-up-inc
  • SteamheadSteamhead Posts: 12,301Member

    Almost all have been replaced with newer equipment (often gas boilers as the underground oil tanks became troublesome and gas became more readily available).

    Makes you wonder how one of these would run with a conversion burner like a Carlin EZ-Gas................

    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    "Reducing our country's energy consumption, one system at a time"
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Baltimore, MD (USA) and consulting anywhere.
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/all-steamed-up-inc
  • EricFormanEricForman Posts: 2Member
    Hi all! I took my shapely GE 21LA35E (140k btu) out of service in 2000 when we switched to gas, though it was still running fine with an original burner. It has an internal domestic hot water coil too. My family's been in the same house for about 80 years, and my grandfather put in the GE in 1949. Other than cutting the hot water zone piping above the ancient Taco circulators and pulling off the stack to the chimney, I didn't take apart anything else in hopes of bringing it back to life one day, maybe for a pex snowmelt system in my driveway if I ever get it repaved and as a backup for domestic. Gotta love it for the exotic and advanced design, stylish exterior, plus it's a family heirloom. I should be able to handle this myself with enough research and patience, but is there anyone left alive in the world who I could send the burner to for a complete expert rebuild? Or, and I know it's highly unlikely, but are rebuild parts kits/gaskets available anywhere? Thanks for any tips!
  • SteamheadSteamhead Posts: 12,301Member
    Pictures!!!!!
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    "Reducing our country's energy consumption, one system at a time"
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Baltimore, MD (USA) and consulting anywhere.
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/all-steamed-up-inc
  • Ken D.Ken D. Posts: 834Member
    Wow, takes me back. All of Levittown, Pa. and some of the first homes built in Levittown, NJ (now Willingboro) had the York Shipley table top oil boilers with radiant heat. Having worked on Long Island for a little while, I know that the original Levittown had the GEs. Some of the Levitt homes in the outlying areas on LI used the York. GE was really popular in Philadelphia. Most were LA 20s and most were from the 1930- 50 era. With that bottom flue and the original burner, you could get 90% combustion efficiency. No one ever said the GE wasn't good, just different. They did have a lot of asbestos insulation on them. To properly abate, it really adds to the cost of the job. We started out using Becketts, but changed to Carlins because of the smaller air tubes. We used a heavier duty solenoid valve on the nozzle line and a control with a post purge, because we got a lot of coke on the nozzle and electrodes from all the heat at the top of the boiler on the the downfired burner due to nozzle drip. The last one I saw was probably about 20 years ago. Sid Harvey's was the only place you could get parts and they were all rebuilt. The first time I saw one was, like, "how do I get the jacket off?" I'm sure there are still some around, but like the York Shipleys they are going away a little at a time.
  • Big EdBig Ed Posts: 1,086Member
    I don't know if you figured out how to clean the unit yet , the chamber is used for baffling . The unit fires into the chamber and the spent gas passes between the space between the chamber and boiler down into the lower flue.. Thats where it may need to be cleaned .. We used the small flex snoot . Years back you could remove the chamber when you had replacements ... On the chamber there where bump outs to keep the proper distance ... You may notice chunks of fire brick where the bump out has worn away ... Hope this helps
    I have enough experience to know , that I dont know it all
  • NYplumberNYplumber Posts: 503Member
    I had a GE downfired boiler without the insulation on it in the home we rented a few years back. Between the boiler crack and a leaking main vent somewhere in the wall, the oil bill ran $2,000/month @$4/gal. It was a nice boiler to look at!

    We went to a wood pellet stove to keep things affordable till we moved.
    :NYplumber:
  • Big EdBig Ed Posts: 1,086Member
    Simple boiler ...
    I have enough experience to know , that I dont know it all
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