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Need help with inefficient steam boiler system

timmc Member Posts: 2
I recently bought an old house with a steam boiler system.

The boiler is 225000btus, and uses one supply to a main that Ts after about 20 feet. One side of the T is a loop feeding the back side of the house, the other side services the front side of the house. There is one main vent connected at the end of the loop that services the back side of the house, a Dole 1B, I believe. At some point, the front loop return which runs down towards the Hartford replumbed as copper. It seems okay, but I know this is a no-no.

The system will run 24/7 when it is cold out (10 degrees or less), and only a few of the radiators nearest to the boiler (in distance) will ever get fully hot. So, few of the radiator vents ever actually warm enough to close. I regularly turn off half the radiators to let some of the other ones heat up.

The water feed on the system stuck open last year in February, filling the whole system with water, until one of the upstairs radiators leaked and the problem was discovered. This was before I purchased the house. They added a new automatic feeder at that point.

I have been regularly draining debris out of the system at about half a pail full at a time once a week, sometimes twice.

I have also done one flush draining it from the valve just after the Hartfood loop, and then from the valve at the base of the back of the radiator.

I also flushed one feed/return by pulling a radiator off, opening the valve, shoving a garden hose down it, and letting the water run out the open valve at the end of the Hartford. That was based on some notion I had that a feed there was clogged somehow.

The sight glass exhibits a small amount of bouncing when the system is in operation (bouncing about 1/10th of the total height of the sight glass).

The pressure gauge never reads above zero, and only once have I pulled a radiator vent off and experienced any sort of pressure in the system.

There are a total of 14 radiators connected to the system of various sizes.

When I first bought the house, there were at least 3 I could not feel any warmth at ever, not even below the valve on the feed. After some tuning with venting, I have been able to get all of them to feel warm, at least the first few baffles, some of them will eventually get hot all the way across.

Some of the vents seem to "pant", alternately pushing air out, and drawing it back in.

I have had at least two service calls on this, and been charged over $500 for people who are clearly not steam heat experts to basically walk around, blow through radiator vents, and do next to nothing.

Sorry for all the details, but I've got no decent theories, and I'm a total steam heat novice. I am attaching some pictures. If anyone has some ideas of what is actually wrong with this system, I'd appreciate hearing them. I will be calling more "professionals", but I'd shocked at what little these people who claim to be "steam boiler experts" actually seem to know.


  • timmc
    timmc Member Posts: 2
    Is it possible I'm dealing with a scale issue in the pipes?
  • clammy
    clammy Member Posts: 3,113
    That type of boiler needs both of it tapping used to make it perform properly . I would guess it been tossing wet steam into those steam mains all these years due to its improper near boiler piping ,and now that it was flooded and flushed all the garbage has returned to the boiler to roost and cause havoc . Unfortunately for u they never installed it correctly so cleaning aside from just adding more chemicals is not gonna happen unlesss someone gets a skim tapping and a tee on the return side .it also appears that you have some flame roll out issues on the front of the boiler . It may be time to check and see if a contractor from this website can take a look being u haven t had luck getting anyone competent there otherwise u would not be here . To myself it looks like your gonna be in the market for a new boiler if so go with peerless or Weil McLean forget about Utica unless u gonna move in 5 years peace and good luck clammy
    R.A. Calmbacher L.L.C. HVAC
    NJ Master HVAC Lic.
    Mahwah, NJ
    Specializing in steam and hydronic heating
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,605
    Well the boiler piping doesn't look great but I would leave it until you change the boiler if you can get it working decently.

    two mains with 1 air vent is bad. Need some pictures of where the returns tie together and or drop so we can see the venting. I would start by checking the pitch of all radiators and piping and adjust as necessary.

    Don't worry about not building pressure. You don't want pressure.

    I see you have two pressure controls. I am wondering if you have a 2 stage gas valve. Maybe you can post a picture of the gas valve model #
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,074
    Do you have any of Dan Holohan's steam books?
    If not start with "We Got Steam Heat". Then next would be "The Lost Art of Steam Heating"....both are great reads and will put ahead of any of the Experts you have paid already.

    Have you ever cleaned the pigtail?
    Add another pigtail and a 0-3 PSI gauge on a Tee with the original gauge, (worthless, but required).

    The flooding and/or high pressure could have wrecked rad vents.
    You want to know pressure is low before replacing any.

    Main vent is most likely too small and maybe not working.
    You should have one for each main.

    Simple things you can do your self.
    Boiler piping is not good but don't worry about that now.