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3,300,000 BTU Steam Boiler

New poster and this seems to be the authority for steam boilers...

I'm starting renovations on a, new to me, 8-story building. Total square footage is around 80K. The steam boiler was installed in 1994. The caretaker of the property was there when it was installed and knows how to run it. it hasn't been run at all since 2005. There were no steps done at all to winterize the boiler except draining it down.

Full disclosure; I have no experience with steam boilers, but have above average HVAC experience. I'm comfortable working on and repairing a traditional water boiler.

I'm trying to figure out:

1) What are the odds that this runs?
2) If it does, what are the things that I should be considering first or looking out for? As an example; I've noticed that some of the radiators in the building are missing the steam air valves (presuming they were scrapped or otherwise stolen). Are steam radiators prone to cracking when frozen like a traditional radiator or am I more likely to get lucky because they don't hold water?
3) Long term; should I look to replace this system? The building is 100+ years old. The radiators and piping all appear original save for a few repairs that are visible along the way. Apparently tenants had previously complained about uneven heat and it being too warm in the summer (obviously a separate issue that needs addressed).

Quick background. System is natural gas and the brand is a "Peerless Cast Iron" boiler.

I appreciate your feedback.



  • Danny ScullyDanny Scully Posts: 1,153Member
    Where you are located Jon?
  • JonSPittsburghJonSPittsburgh Posts: 9Member

    This system is in Pittsburgh. And I forgot to add that it is a single pipe system.


  • Intplm.Intplm. Posts: 680Member
    It should run, but how well? The boiler has been "layed up" dry for some fourteen years now. Sometimes they leak when put into service other times they do not. Getting it to start is surely a thing that can happen. But leaking at the push nipples and gaskets is going to be an issue.
    I would start at the boiler. Getting it running and leak checked.
    After that, what I have done and what I would do would be to go to each area that has radiators and check on them one at a time to see how they are working keeping careful notes along the way.
    After that tackle the areas that do not have radiators , working your way through, making the best decisions you can working the system into different sections or one floor at a time or areas, so not to get to overwhelmed.

    This is when heck of a project ! Are you doing this alone !?
  • ratioratio Posts: 1,929Member
  • SteamheadSteamhead Posts: 12,868Member
    What model Peerless boiler?

    Steam is one of the best ways to heat a building. Often when we take apart old steam pipes they are in very good shape. Any issues can be easily dealt with.
    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.
  • EBEBRATT-EdEBEBRATT-Ed Posts: 5,618Member
    Most steam systems drain back to the boiler so "most" of the piping and radiation "should" be ok.

    You could put water in the boiler and look for leaks. You could hydrotest the boiler but with a 25 year old boiler that would require disconnecting and capping the boiler.

    Either way if it does hold water I would disconnect, clean,replace all the safety controls
  • JonSPittsburghJonSPittsburgh Posts: 9Member
    edited March 3
    I'll get some better pictures and a model number tomorrow. The tag is very hard to read so I'll have to spend a bit of time figuring out what the model number is. It took me a few minutes to see, and confirm (in disbelief!) that the unit has max output of 3.3 million BTUs. I believe minimum output was 2.2M.

    I agree that this is a big project and one of only a few major ones (the building is sprinklered and has 5 elevators; everything has been offline for years). Fortunately the building is gorgeous and worth saving. It is composed almost entirely of structural steel, poured concrete, marble, granite, and fine wood work.

    I'm not alone. There are a few of us working on the building and I can call in favors to get more guys brought in if we need to put people on each floor of the building when / if we fire this up.

  • Intplm.Intplm. Posts: 680Member
    Hope the isolation valves to each rad. Work. It will make this job go that much better
  • JonSPittsburghJonSPittsburgh Posts: 9Member

    Are you suggesting to turn off all the radiators or perhaps turn them off if we've confirmed there is a problem with it? I'm assuming many of the valves do NOT work because the handles are missing on a lot of them. Obviously that doesn't mean that they don't work, but it's not a good start. I've mentioned we noticed a lot of the steam vents are missing. We'll make a note of what is missing before we start and replace them before we fire it up.

    We don't need heat in the building and realistically won't have tenants for at least 12 months. We have time to do trial and error.

    Do you have a recommended procedure for checking each radiator or just run around in circles while making notes of what is bad / needs replaced?

  • Intplm.Intplm. Posts: 680Member
    Would be best to post some pictures of what you have to work with to help prevent you from running around in circles. Would like to help prevent you from doing that👍
  • ethicalpaulethicalpaul Posts: 659Member
    They might have removed handles on those valves to prevent tenants from trying to incorrectly use the valves to adjust the heat on this one-pipe system.
    1 pipe Utica 112 in Cedar Grove, NJ, 1913 coal > oil > NG
  • JonSPittsburghJonSPittsburgh Posts: 9Member
    Paul, I think you are correct. Here is the information I have:

    Boiler is a Peerless 211A-17-N. The peerless is max input 3.3M and Gross Output 2,688,000 if I'm reading the tag correctly.

    I also have a Dunkirk 47-500 Boiler that serves a smaller part of the building and is fed into an air handler. It is 520,000 (I think) BTU in and 400,000 BTU out.

    And here are the long awaited pictures...

    I have way more pictures if you need to see anything specifically.


  • JonSPittsburghJonSPittsburgh Posts: 9Member
    And more:

  • nicholas bonham-carternicholas bonham-carter Posts: 7,817Member
    When it’s a bit warmer, flood the system as high as possible, and then watch for leaks. They may hopefully be few and far between.
    I see from the picture, it has a "boiler Buster" welded header, but that can be changed without breaking the bank, by introducing some elbows into the piping.--NBC
  • JonSPittsburghJonSPittsburgh Posts: 9Member
    Nicholas, when you say "fill the system as high as possible", I'm assuming you mean to actually try to get water up to the 8th floor? Basically pressurize the whole thing?
  • nicholas bonham-carternicholas bonham-carter Posts: 7,817Member
    First fill up to the header, and let it sit for a while. It would be useful to have some reference height, (an open nipple a couple of feet above the boiler, where you can see a drop in level easily) to detect any slow leaks.--NBC
  • JUGHNEJUGHNE Posts: 5,574Member
    Clear vinyl tubing connected to a boiler drain and fastened up near the ceiling would let you see the height of the water.

    If you notice the level drop it could be some return piping issues.
    Does this have any pumps at the boiler? Pictures please.
  • JonSPittsburghJonSPittsburgh Posts: 9Member

    I took a better look today. There are no pumps. Is there a specific picture you'd like to see?

    Thanks for all the help thus far.

  • JUGHNEJUGHNE Posts: 5,574Member
    If you have under floor wet returns they would fill with water as you flood the boiler. Hopefully they did not freeze and break.
    So pictures of your return piping would be interesting.
    If dry returns above the water line then the wet return at the Hartford Loop could have been frozen....this fill will tell you.
  • JonSPittsburghJonSPittsburgh Posts: 9Member

    I'm still a few weeks away from filling this monster up, but I'll be sure to post my results.

    Thanks for your feedback / advice!

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