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$K into my system with "steam experts" and minimal improvement

SeanBSeanB Member Posts: 22
edited November 10 in Strictly Steam
So far, I've had all the accessible copper pipe replaced, main vents replaced with big expensive ones, pipes insulated, skim port installed, and radiator steam vents replaces. I'm still getting significant water hammer and hiss from the radiators. Insulating the pipes and replacing the main vents provided ZERO improvement. I get a small amount of improvement for a short time when I drain and refill the boiler, but the issues return with a few hours.

FYI - all the work has been done by preferred vendors from this site.

If the system was not properly maintained before I bought the house, can it be permanently ruined? One thing I've noticed is that the there seems to be crap in the boiler water. The sight glass has crud inside it and when I drain the boiler, the first quart or so of water seems to have gunk in it, then it looks like normal, tea colored boiler water. I checked the boiler for a leak. No leak. Can there be other problems with a boiler that cause a noisy system?

Comments

  • JUGHNEJUGHNE Member Posts: 6,150
    Of course this requires pictures of the piping from floor to ceiling. How many times was the boiler skimmed?
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 11,409
    If you are getting water hammer, water is pooling somewhere and getting pushed along by the steam (unless you have gremlins). Either excess water is getting into the steam mains (pictures of the near boiler piping, please) or there are pipes with inadequate pitch or pitch the wrong way or sags. Has this been checked on every single nearly horizontal pipe?

    At risk of mild heresy, bad boiler water etc. can cause excess water carryover -- but it won't if the near boiler piping is at least to manufacturer's spec. or better.

    Hissing from the radiators with good main venting -- which you claim to have installed -- very much suggests that the operating pressure is too high. Which you don't mention.
    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
  • FredFred Member Posts: 8,098
    Did anyone skim the boiler properly and multiple times after all that pipe work was done? New piping adds a lot of oil to the boiler water and until it is skimmed off, very slowly, and probably multiple times as the oils wash back into the boiler, you will have these problems. Also make sure all the pipes pitch in the right direction. For one pipe systems, radiators and radiator pipes should pitch towards the mains and the mains should pitch towards their wet returns. For two pipe systems, radiators should pitch towards the trap side of the radiator and those trap side pipes should pitch towards their wet returns.

    If you need to drain and flush the boiler to get all the crud out, do that first and then skim.
  • ratioratio Member Posts: 2,132
    Skimming is required until all the oil is out. IOW, 1, or 4, or 40 hours might not be sufficient, if oils still remain in the boiler. Although, by the 40 hour mark it might be time to see if there isn't something keeping the oils from leaving the boiler.

    The fact that draining & refilling the boiler effects operation make it sound like a water quality issue of some kind. IDK how much piping was replaced, but that certainly introduces oils into the system. How much skimming was performed? Cold, or hot? I've heard that multiple-hour sessions, over multiple days, might be required.

    Describe the water hammer—when during the firing cycle, how often, where in the piping does it seem to be located at?

  • SteamheadSteamhead Member Posts: 13,340
    @SeanB , where are you located?
    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
  • SeanBSeanB Member Posts: 22
    Pressure setting is correct. Unless the gauge is bad, that shouldn't be the issue. Maybe I need to skim even more? A fair amount of piping was replace. I skimmed 2 hours 4 times. Hammer comes a few minutes into the firing cycle and it seems to be in the pipes near certain radiators. I don't hear it in the near boiler piping.
  • SeanBSeanB Member Posts: 22
    Steamhead said:

    @SeanB , where are you located?

    Boston.
  • SeanBSeanB Member Posts: 22
    ratio said:

    Skimming is required until all the oil is out. IOW, 1, or 4, or 40 hours might not be sufficient, if oils still remain in the boiler. Although, by the 40 hour mark it might be time to see if there isn't something keeping the oils from leaving the boiler.

    The fact that draining & refilling the boiler effects operation make it sound like a water quality issue of some kind. IDK how much piping was replaced, but that certainly introduces oils into the system. How much skimming was performed? Cold, or hot? I've heard that multiple-hour sessions, over multiple days, might be required.

    Describe the water hammer—when during the firing cycle, how often, where in the piping does it seem to be located at?

    Skimming was all done cold. Probably 8 hours total.
  • ethicalpaulethicalpaul Member Posts: 1,035
    > @SeanB said:
    > Pressure setting is correct. Unless the gauge is bad, that shouldn't be the issue.

    Just for fun, what is the setting? The pictures would be cool too
    1 pipe Utica 112 in Cedar Grove, NJ, 1913 coal > oil > NG
  • clammyclammy Member Posts: 2,347
    Sometimes skimming just does not cut it ,I have started to wash the boilers out w a wand from the return .your only able to do this if you planned it out and used a tee right off the boiler so you can can use a wand to wash each section out and let it flush right out .Unlesss you washed out the new piping you have done you will get oil back even after operating a system for couple of weeeks been there done that . I have found I wash ,fill flush cycle skim till cold ,and let her rip return within a month and do it all over also pull the sight glass assembly and clean that ,flush all return and usually it’s all good .what manafactures boiler is it .on tough ones I have found feed water into the boiler opposite the skim port helps wash across the sections to the skim opening and of a good wanding. As for radiator bangs that’s either radiator or pipe pitch or a radiator valve issue where condensate is pooling . Is the boiler properly sized just asking and is the nbp on the up and up and is it insulated .also are you operating the boiler w the correct water level sometimes people like to over fill and w bad nbp it creates issues .sorry u feel that u put in money w out the desired results .i have run into these types of job and I remind the HO of what it was like before I got there oh how quickly they forget the no heat at any rads and a 120 degree basement .some times you have to remenber how it operated before the improvements or de knuckleheading then you realize a couple of things yeah I have heat and yeah my gas bill was cut in half .usually most can get them to behave and operate properly but sometimes it ain’t easy and usually unless something stupid happened they can be fix it just time ,patients and some detective work .on another note I don’t think piping repairs ( fixing leaks and replacing clogged return air vents and main vents ) are to be considered improvements this is maintance and it needs to be check and done .a lot of people think boiler and heating system should be fine forever it ain’t that way just like a car u do get your tires rotated and replaced every few years right ? Peace and good luck clammy
    R.A. Calmbacher L.L.C. HVAC
    NJ Master HVAC Lic.
    Mahwah, NJ
    Specializing in steam and hydronic heating
  • Danny ScullyDanny Scully Member Posts: 1,219
    edited November 10
    @SeanB, I looked at pictures from your previous post and the boiler is piped wrong, the main vents seem more like convector vents, and I see no obvious evidence of a skim station. How did they skim the boiler?
  • nicholas bonham-carternicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 7,965
    Good point Clammy-the differed maintenance has now been addressed on this system, and now for the detective work to begin to find the cause of the water hammer.
    In the interest of accuracy, I would suggest putting a good low pressure gauge, graduated in ounces, (0-3 psi) on this system, in addition to the factory supplied, and code required 0-30 psi. This will help to keep the pressuretrol honest, and enable the capacity of main venting to be analyzed.
    It can be a struggle to fine tune a system, which may have been mis-sized, and incorrectly installed to begin with..—NBC .
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 11,409
    Did you get @New England SteamWorks to look at it? He's the only one I'd recommend right in Boston (but not anywhere south of it), although @Charlie from wmass has been known to venture as far as the western suburbs.
    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
  • SeanBSeanB Member Posts: 22

    @SeanB, I looked at pictures from your previous post and the boiler is piped wrong, the main vents seem more like convector vents, and I see no obvious evidence of a skim station. How did they skim the boiler?

    A steam port was added since the last pictures. NE Steamworks didn't seem to think the near boiler piping needed to redone. They are agree it's not ideal, but the didn't think it's the root of the problem.

    Good point Clammy-the differed maintenance has now been addressed on this system, and now for the detective work to begin to find the cause of the water hammer.
    In the interest of accuracy, I would suggest putting a good low pressure gauge, graduated in ounces, (0-3 psi) on this system, in addition to the factory supplied, and code required 0-30 psi. This will help to keep the pressuretrol honest, and enable the capacity of main venting to be analyzed.
    It can be a struggle to fine tune a system, which may have been mis-sized, and incorrectly installed to begin with..—NBC .

    Yeah, I need to check the boiler size. I'm going to do that today. I have instructions and a template from one of the companies who did the work. I'm a little surprised this wasn't done by the tech when they came out ot assess the system.
  • Charlie from wmassCharlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,098
    @Jamie Hall Since when is Beacon Hill western suburbs?
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/charles-garrity-plumbing-and-heating
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 11,409

    @Jamie Hall Since when is Beacon Hill western suburbs?

    You go in that far? No, that's hardly western suburbs! -- @SeanB -- talk to Charles. Busy, but among the very best.
    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
  • Danny ScullyDanny Scully Member Posts: 1,219
    @SeanB, you can’t overlook things that are clearly wrong. That header is clearly wrong. It barely appears to be 24” above the waterline and it has a concentric reducer on the horizontal which hinders the headers ability greatly. I always start at the boiler and that boiler doesn’t meet minimum specifications. Don’t throw more money down the drain. Step 1, properly near boiler piping.
  • mattmia2mattmia2 Member Posts: 373
    Is this a case of so many things aren't correct and trying to guess which one (or ones) is the cause of the problem?
  • Hap_HazzardHap_Hazzard Member Posts: 1,578
    If draining and replacing the water helps temporarily, this sounds like a skimming issue. Draining gets rid of some of the oils, but running the boiler washes more loose and it starts surging again. Adding washing soda to the water while skimming might help. Also, using SteamMaster tablets in your boiler water seems to help address a multitude of water quality issues.
    Just another DIYer | King of Prussia, PA

    1983(?) Peerless G-561-W-S | 3" drop header, CG400-1090, VXT-24
  • SeanBSeanB Member Posts: 22
    mattmia2 said:

    Is this a case of so many things aren't correct and trying to guess which one (or ones) is the cause of the problem?

    The people who have looked at the system in person have not recommended

    @SeanB, you can’t overlook things that are clearly wrong. That header is clearly wrong. It barely appears to be 24” above the waterline and it has a concentric reducer on the horizontal which hinders the headers ability greatly. I always start at the boiler and that boiler doesn’t meet minimum specifications. Don’t throw more money down the drain. Step 1, properly near boiler piping.

    Neither Boston Standard nor NE Steamworks were terribly concerned about the header. I brought in NE Steamworks after Boston Standard did the first round of work. Boston Standard came back and installed the skim port and we talked about having them back to do the header. I had called Boston Standard because NE Steamworks was taking a very long time to get out to me and the hammer was getting worse and worse. Soon after Standard did the work, Steamworks finally called with an appointment time. When NE Steamworks came out, I was prepared to have the do the header, but they said, "No, just do the vents and the insulation. The header isn't the issue."

    I've reached out to Ryan from Steamworks and he wanted me to measure the rads and send him the measurements. I did that today. Maybe there is an issue with the boiler size. IDK. I'll see what Ryan says when he sees the rad measurements.
  • CantabHeatCantabHeat Member Posts: 15
    edited November 11
    Sounds like the boiler is just dirty and/or oily. The symptom you describe of it working better with fresh water but then getting worse sounds like that. Fresh water works until more oils and crud get back on the water.

    Skimming is key. You should also be able to clean and flush the boiler and your return lines until you basically get clear water. It won’t stay clear forever since this is water running though iron pipes, but a boiler that starts clean with good water chemistry shouldn’t be crazy dirty either.

    For stubborn boilers I’ve heard people have had success with dishwasher detergent flushed through the boiler and then thoroughly washed out, although check your boilers instructions. Gets oils off surfaces. Dishwasher detergent won’t suds up like other detergents.

    I’ve heard of others using lye and TSP to scrub out systems. Lye can be dangerous stuff and TSP is hard to get ahold of in many areas because of environmental issues.

    If the water isn’t good and causing issues at the point of steam creation then all sorts of odd things can start happening downstream. Fix the water issues and then go from there.

    Once clean steam master tablets, 8-way or similar will help keep things in good shape, but putting such things in a dirty system will often just make things worse in the short term as they loosen up crud deposits. Helps keep a clean system clean though.
  • SeanBSeanB Member Posts: 22

    Sounds like the boiler is just dirty and/or oily. The symptom you describe of it working better with fresh water but then getting worse sounds like that. Fresh water works until more oils and crud get back on the water.



    Skimming is key. You should also be able to clean and flush the boiler and your return lines until you basically get clear water. It won’t stay clear forever since this is water running though iron pipes, but a boiler that starts clean with good water chemistry shouldn’t be crazy dirty either.



    For stubborn boilers I’ve heard people have had success with dishwasher detergent flushed through the boiler and then thoroughly washed out, although check your boilers instructions. Gets oils off surfaces. Dishwasher detergent won’t suds up like other detergents.



    I’ve heard of others using lye and TSP to scrub out systems. Lye can be dangerous stuff and TSP is hard to get ahold of in many areas because of environmental issues.



    If the water isn’t good and causing issues at the point of steam creation then all sorts of odd things can start happening downstream. Fix the water issues and then go from there.



    Once clean steam master tablets, 8-way or similar will help keep things in good shape, but putting such things in a dirty system will often just make things worse in the short term as they loosen up crud deposits. Helps keep a clean system clean though.

    I'm going to skim it hot tomorrow, then flush it again and see if that helps. Meanwhile, I'll wait to hear about the sizing of the boiler.
  • Charlie from wmassCharlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,098
    What steam vents were used on the radiators? What Main line vents were installed? Is this the job in Cambridge?
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/charles-garrity-plumbing-and-heating
  • New England SteamWorksNew England SteamWorks Member Posts: 1,276
    I haven't personally seen this boiler, but one of the things we try very hard to avoid is: "We spent $$$ on our steam system with minimal improvement". So we like to progress in a measured manner, fixing the obvious stuff, and then seeing how things go. For this customer we insulated all the pipes, installed a skim port, and installed Big Mouths as first steps. All were needed investments, and good first steps.

    I am not sure I agree that the header is not the issue. Those side-supply boilers are notoriously finicky with steam, and the manual is very specific to use both tappings, and to pipe with 2-1/2".

    No other steam boiler in this size range mandates 2-1/2", let alone due risers. Better if you do, of course, but it's not mandated.

    Working with 2-1/2" pipe is a lot more complex than 2", and so is using dual risers. Doesn't seem logical to me that (in this case) Utica would make those specifications (and thereby curtail sales if the installer were to read the manual before hand) unless they know that it's the only way to get satisfactory results.

    Having said that, one does have to worry about the "We spent $$$ on our steam system with minimal improvement" syndrome when contemplating a header re-pipe, which is far from cheap, especially for this boiler.

    We've never installed a side-supply boiler, and do not intend to. The knowledge we have of them is exclusively from problems on this board, and the few we encounter in the field. I don't recall one that ever ran well (though the squeaky wheel gets the grease...), however, I also do not recall ever seeing one that was piped "by the book" either, with dual 2-1/2" risers.

    I do think, with the boiler piped the way it is, that the boiler water is going to pile up on one side of the boiler, making for a very uneven waterline. Carry-over seems likely.

    The silver lining might be that a change in boiler water seems to help, which obviously points to more skimming. Skimming, in our opinion, can't be rushed and takes it's own sweet time. We think short daily sessions are far more effective than one-day marathons. We rarely need anything to accomplish satisfactory skimming beyond time and diligence.


    New England SteamWorks
    Service, Installation, & Restoration of Steam Heating Systems
    newenglandsteamworks.com
  • wz25wz25 Member Posts: 10
    To add another anecdotal data point, we have a proper install (this is ours), now insulated, with two big-mouth main vents . I've since skimmed at least 4 times, for 1-2 hours each time. The telltale sign that I need to skim is slight, but audible noise from radiator vents. Early symptoms are whistling/panting, and if I check the sight glass, I see about 1" of bounce (+/- 1", so 2" total).

    This is resolved by skimming. Multiple sessions needed in my case because this is the first heating season since re-piping, so as it gets colder on a more regular basis, I suspect we're continually bringing down more oils. I expect we'll be mostly clear after this season.

    Even with the original, awful near-boiler piping, things mostly "worked" as long as I skimmed. With the new piping, everything definitely works, as long as I stay on top of the skimming.
  • Hap_HazzardHap_Hazzard Member Posts: 1,578
    SeanB said:

    I'm going to skim it hot tomorrow, then flush it again and see if that helps. Meanwhile, I'll wait to hear about the sizing of the boiler.

    Add some washing soda (aka soda ash) to the water while you're skimming. It helps dissolve oil.
    Just another DIYer | King of Prussia, PA

    1983(?) Peerless G-561-W-S | 3" drop header, CG400-1090, VXT-24
  • CantabHeatCantabHeat Member Posts: 15
    edited November 11
    > Even with the original, awful near-boiler piping, things mostly "worked" as long as I skimmed. With the new piping, everything definitely works, as long as I stay on top of the skimming.

    This has been my experience too. On a boiler that had work done and thus likely had some oils in it hearing the vents hissing is almost like an alarm telling new to check the water and do another skim.

    Posts on this site tend to be obsessed with the header. The usual post path is

    - ”I have a problem with my system”

    - “We need pics”

    - “Here’s some pics”

    - Queue a parade of people commenting on how terrible the piping is.

    The header is very important but it’s not the only thing that’s important. Everything starts with the water and the water chemistry. A really good header buys you some wiggle room but I’ve seen systems with less than optimal headers still work very well if the water is clean and boiling well. Equally there are many cases where a great header is ruined by bad water in the boiler with crud and oils.

    I think people here often pick on the header because it’s easy to take pics and comment remotely but don’t overlook the water. Re-piping a header isn’t cheap so get things optimized with good water and take if from there. Ultimately it may work fine even with piping that’s less than perfect.
  • Charlie from wmassCharlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,098
    The water was roughly the same with the old boiler or the new boiler. very seldom does water chemistry change when the boiler is changed.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/charles-garrity-plumbing-and-heating
  • SteamheadSteamhead Member Posts: 13,340
    edited November 11
    I went back and looked at the original pics, here:

    https://forum.heatinghelp.com/discussion/168623/questions-about-results-of-job

    That header needs to be repiped, not only to use both full-size risers and header, but also to remove the concentric reducer. And, just from looking at the pics, the header doesn't seem to be high enough above the waterline- measurements will tell for sure. All these factors will result in wet steam, especially from that type of boiler.

    The Utica boilers I've seen, however, have 2-inch steam outlets. This does not keep you from installing a 2-1/2-inch or larger header. Dunkirk side-outlet boilers are the ones with 2-1/2-inch steam outlets.

    @New England SteamWorks , you need to look at this job personally. I bet once you see it up close, you'll agree.
    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
  • Charlie from wmassCharlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,098
    The reason the near boiler piping is spoken about so much on here it's because it's the most important part of the equation. Unless somebody was a total slob a couple of skimmings usually takes care of any cutting oil. Copper pipe i treat more as a symptom than a cause. Copper can function on steam without causing water hammer. It tends to be the workmanship not the material that is the issue when copper is used on steam.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/charles-garrity-plumbing-and-heating
  • Charlie from wmassCharlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,098
    Looking at the original photos that boiler installation was never inspected in the state of Massachusetts. Gas line to the water heater is against code and the black fittings on the chimney piping are not to code. As far as the hammering goes is it at the beginning or the end of the heating cycle?
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/charles-garrity-plumbing-and-heating
  • SeanBSeanB Member Posts: 22
    > @Charlie from wmass said:
    > Looking at the original photos that boiler installation was never inspected in the state of Massachusetts. Gas line to the water heater is against code and the black fittings on the chimney piping are not to code. As far as the hammering goes is it at the beginning or the end of the heating cycle?

    I feel like it it’s the beginning, but I’ll double check.
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