Welcome! Here are the website rules, as well as some tips for using this forum.
Need to contact us? Visit https://heatinghelp.com/contact-us/.
Click here to Find a Contractor in your area.

Black/Brown oily and sticky substance near boiler and auto fill activates on every cycle?

JRobert Member Posts: 6

I have a 17 year old Burnham steam boiler for my one pipe system.

This season I have two issues:

1. The boiler is emitting a black brown oily and sticky substance near the chimney. It's on the floor in front of the chimney where the boiler is vented, higher up on the chimney and on some pipes in that area as well. However, I cannot determine what pipe or part of the boiler that it is coming from.

2. The auto fill is activating every cycle and often multiple times in a cycle. The water level gets depleted and then it refills to the proper level.

I have 10 radiators in the house: 6 on the first floor and 4 on the second floor. I use the maid o mists on the first floor and vent rite #1s on the second. I have not noticed any leaks from the any of the radiators.

Any suggestions would be appreciated.



  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,415
    The black sticky stuff is tar and soot coming down the chimney or from the exhaust pipe -- and suggests that the burner may be way out of adjustment. However, if the autofill runs every cycle, odds are you've got yourself a serious leak and -- if it's above the water line suggests a reason for the liquefied tar and soot to drip down like that. Steam going out the flue.

    Probably time for a new boiler...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • JRobert
    JRobert Member Posts: 6

    Thank you for the prompt response - that makes sense.

    Is it normal for a Burnham to go in 17 years? I thought the shelf life was more like 25?
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
    I assume this is an IN series Burnham? They seem to have a life of anywhere from about 10 to 15 years. Water quality is a big issue with them and I think the Burnham owner's manual even speaks to that issue. It does sound like a hole in the boiler, above the water line.
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    You can verify the presence of a leak, by overfilling the switched off boiler, when just warm, to the header, and letting it stand for a couple of hours. Look for water on the floor. Don’t forget to drain it down to the correct level, and turn it back on.—NBC