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Where is all the water?

subaru400subaru400 Member Posts: 22
edited November 2019 in Strictly Steam
I’m kind of at the end of my rope. I had a leak in a pipe repaired in my crawlspace last week that set me back almost $. I also have two radiator valves with minor leaks that need to be repacked when I can afford it (no visible water, just a low hissing when the boiler is active). I discovered the leaks after I started my system maybe six weeks ago, and was investigating why I was feeding about 8 gallons a day back into my boiler. Two different ‘steam guys’ came out and said it was entirely possible that the escaping steam and dripping water from that leaking pipe (along with the vales) could account for that volume of water loss, so I was hoping that repairing the pipe would at least begin to help resolve the issue. They each also said that every system is different, and that a few gallons loss might not be unusual for this one. I know better from reading this forum. There are no more drips or steam coming out of the pipe that was repaired, and yet I’m still losing 6-8 gallons a day. My condensate return goes under my basement floor - two pipes that run about 15 feet and join at a Y or T somewhere under there - so now I have a lot of anxiety that that is where the water is going. My system is otherwise working perfectly - quick, even heating throughout the house, no water hammer, silent with the exception of the feeder valve slamming off every other cycle - so how is it possible that maybe 500+ gallons of water have disappeared under my floor without any sign of a problem in the foundation or even the floor itself? There are no billows of steam coming out of my chimney; no moisture at the bottom of the chimney cleanout; no excessive humidity in the basement or rest of the house, no water in the basement. The volume of loss seems to occur most when the system is running versus say at night when it is off, and the condensate has plenty of time (4mins) to drain back down. I am kind of poor, and probably won’t be able to sell my house with that kind of issue (to say nothing of the fact that there are lead and asbestos concerns, as well). I have nightmares of a sinkhole developing. Is there a way to at least test under my house? Could there be another reason, such as my feeder counter reading artificially high? How many gallons are generally represented by say, an inch in the sight glass? Sometimes I feel like I’m just gonna have to see if I can make it until Spring and hope my house doesn’t cave in...I apologize for sounding like a Debbie downer about it, but I don't know if I have any options.

Comments

  • ethicalpaulethicalpaul Member Posts: 1,617
    6-8 gallons a day is a massive insane amount of lost water and the buried wet return is a suspect, for sure. How do/will you keep your house from freezing when you leave for 3 days?

    Note: if I had a guy tell me that all boilers were different and therefore 6-8 gallons per day might be normal for me, I would laugh him out of my house and tell everyone I knew not to use him.

    Does the burying look “optional”? Like could the return be repiped lying on the floor?
    1 pipe Utica 112 in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
    Hap_HazzardIntplm.
  • subaru400subaru400 Member Posts: 22
    I am definitely considering piping on the floor and not digging when I can afford it, but even then, I'm worried about underneath the house - especially when there don't seem to be any signs of a problem (yet). I know the 'normal loss' comments were BS, but steam guys are few and far between in mid-Michigan. Re: keeping my house "from freezing when you leave for 3 days"? I'm guessing this is how long it might take to plumb new pipe? Thanks
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 12,937
    Getting kind of chilly, so the obvious test may not be usable: if there is a leak under the floor, it will keep going until the water level in the boiler drops to the Hartford Loop. In fact, that's what the Hartford Loop is for. So... if you fill the boiler a couple of inches above the bottom of the Hartford Loop and keep an eye on it and the water level drops with the boiler off but stops at the Loop, most likely that's the problem. Not that there couldn't be a leak into the firebox at just that level -- coincidences do happen -- but take the simplest solution first.

    Now a couple of other thoughts. First, there's no problem running a new wet return across the floor, and a good plumber or steam man should be able to make the switchover from one to the other in a few hours at most -- having already run the pipe, of course. So you wouldn't be without heat for long enough to make a difference.

    Second, a few hundred gallons leaking under a house sounds like a lot -- but from the standpoint on the house itself, unless it is concentrated in a stream (it wouldn't be) it's not much. In very round numbers here, say we are concerned with about 800 gallons of water over a year's time. That's around 100 cubic feet per year. Now if the house is about 20 feet square (kind of small, but a handy number, that means that each square foot of soil under the house is getting around a quarter of a cubic foot per year or the equivalent of 3 inches of rain -- per year. That won't show up outside the house (it rains more than that, unless you're in the southwest somewhere) and won't reduce the strength of the soil under the basement slab much, if any. So... not to worry.

    Going back to the boiler and the leak, though, that much fresh water feed into the boiler isn't going to do it any favours at all, and it would be worth finding the leak and fixing it.
    Br. Jamie, osb

    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England.

    Hoffman Equipped System (all original except boiler), Weil-Mclain 580, 2.75 gph Carlin, Vapourstat 0.5 -- 6.0 ounces per square inch
    subaru400GrallertNew England SteamWorks
  • subaru400subaru400 Member Posts: 22
    I have a call into a regular plumber and can hopefully get a decent estimate. From a previous post of mine, I know that since it's the return, a regular plumber can do it. Are there any steam-specific issues that a plumber may need to be aware of for this versus a steam expert?
  • subaru400subaru400 Member Posts: 22

    Second, a few hundred gallons leaking under a house sounds like a lot -- but from the standpoint on the house itself, unless it is concentrated in a stream (it wouldn't be) it's not much. In very round numbers here, say we are concerned with about 800 gallons of water over a year's time. That's around 100 cubic feet per year. Now if the house is about 20 feet square (kind of small, but a handy number, that means that each square foot of soil under the house is getting around a quarter of a cubic foot per year or the equivalent of 3 inches of rain -- per year. That won't show up outside the house (it rains more than that, unless you're in the southwest somewhere) and won't reduce the strength of the soil under the basement slab much, if any. So... not to worry.

    Interesting observation. We get about 35 inches of rain (not including 30+ inches of snow) per year, so thank you so much for that 'peace of mind' until I get this fixed. I'm glad I got the pipe leak fixed, but I'm convinced the water loss is occurring underneath. My house does not have a slab, but rather a somewhat thin layer of concrete poured over dirt (not skimmed or leveled) and the basement itself remains dry, so I'll keep my fingers crossed...
  • Hap_HazzardHap_Hazzard Member Posts: 2,263
    You might be able to get your radiator valves to stop hissing if you tighten the nuts around the stems. Make sure the valves are turned all the way open.
    Just another DIYer | King of Prussia, PA

    1983(?) Peerless G-561-W-S | 3" drop header, CG400-1090, VXT-24
    subaru400Intplm.
  • ethicalpaulethicalpaul Member Posts: 1,617
    > @subaru400 said:
    > Re: keeping my house "from freezing when you leave for 3 days"? I'm guessing this is how long it might take to plumb new pipe? Thanks

    No, I was mistakenly thinking you didn’t have an auto-feeder. I would think a new return could be plumbed in less than a day depending. And for sure the actual switchover time where they’d tie it in (with boiler turned off) a small part of the total time
    1 pipe Utica 112 in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
    subaru400
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