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Losing steam thru chimney - how long do I got??

jim_14
jim_14 Member Posts: 268
I just discovered that my 16 year old boiler is losing steam up the chimney last week. I can also hear the steam crossing over into the damper while she's running. At the moment I can run a few steam cycles before needing to add more water to bring it back up to the center of the sight glass.

Any guess on how long I can go like this before she gives out? i am currently in the process of getting a few estimates after the holidays and luckily the weather is mild and I keep the boiler off all day while at work.

Comments

  • STEVEusaPA
    STEVEusaPA Member Posts: 5,687
    White steam...New Pope!
    Good thing you understand time isn't on your side.

    You have 1 minute up to who knows when. Continuously adding water will kill it faster obviously, but you don't want it to dry fire.

    Where are you located? Maybe you can land one of the guru's from this site.

    Good time to correct any near boiler piping, and any other deficiencies.
    What type of steam system? You can post some photos.
    steve
  • jim_14
    jim_14 Member Posts: 268
    Im in the bronx, ny. 1 pipe gas fired.. Burnham IN4


  • Double D
    Double D Member Posts: 414
    In some cases a temporary fix could get you through the winter depending on where the leak is. Other times you need to replace ASAP. Post some pictures of your current installation.

  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 11,987
    Depends on the size of the leak. You say you can run a few steam cycles without adding water. Sounds to me like a pretty big leak. I am afraid it won't be long.

    I would do what you are doing,

    get estimates,
    measure the radiation and come up with the right size boiler
    Pick the right contractor
    Run the boiler as little as possible

    Most important: Make sure the contractor pipes the boiler in accordance with the install manual.

    They may give you every excuse to pipe it differently or to not do a heat loss......

    Check "Find a Contractor" on this site
  • jim_14
    jim_14 Member Posts: 268
    Hi Ed, I did that previously with a steam pro who is no longer in business. Measured the radiation and came up with the right size boiler- even had the dual drop headers done!

    Me thinks they dont make em like they used too, that she slowly disentigrated from the inside.. I should have saw the signs.. I thought over the last few years I needed to add water more often then when she was new (or at least the first 10 years when I hardly needed to at all).

    Last year I had a no heat off the hot water loop for the basement. Changed the circulator pump even though I didnt think that was it... still no heat all the way thru.... turned out what "fixed" it was taking a garden hose and blowing out all this gunk from the copper loop... (how the heck did all that get in there?!?)

    Now I realize looking back all that gunk is probably the cast iron boiler sections that have been slowly been dissolving and settling at the bottom and then being pushed into the copper loop.... same problem this year again.. but now with the steam leak..
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 18,907
    Not going to even try to guess. However... find some way to make darn sure your low water cutoff actually works.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • jim_14
    jim_14 Member Posts: 268
    Yes it works! Ironically I just changed out the float a few weeks ago! And it saved me the other day!
  • STEVEusaPA
    STEVEusaPA Member Posts: 5,687
    edited December 2019
    Based on the room it now occupies, looks like that boiler should be turned around. Also make sure the installer addresses combustion air requirements.
    I'd take that side wall out and change it to a door. Something someone can pop off the hinges for service.

    There are a number of steam guru's on this site that service your area.
    steve
  • jim_14
    jim_14 Member Posts: 268
    If you turn the boiler around all the controls will face a concrete wall and be inaccessable..Its a tight set up. The wall you refer to wasnt there at the time of install. I installed that afterwards with a removable section of sheetrock to access all the controls. It just made the area look nicer and prevented accidental damage to the boiler while moving furniture, etc in and out of the basement area.


  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,518
    Near Boiler piping isn't too bad. The one thing I do see is I believe just about all manufacturers recommend about 12" to 15" from the last (in your case looks like the only) riser to the equalizer at the end of the Header. Helps keep the water out of the rising steam.
  • STEAM DOCTOR
    STEAM DOCTOR Member Posts: 1,483
    > @jim_14 said:
    > Im in the bronx, ny. 1 pipe gas fired.. Burnham IN4
    >
    > (Image)

    15 years is very typical for Burnhams. Just my findings. 30 years and up for Weil Mclain and Peerless.
  • Hap_Hazzard
    Hap_Hazzard Member Posts: 2,755
    Make sure your system pressure stays as low as possible. Too much pressure will force the steam through the leak. Better to have it short cycling than blowing steam up the chimney.
    Just another DIYer | King of Prussia, PA
    1983(?) Peerless G-561-W-S | 3" drop header, CG400-1090, VXT-24
    SlamDunk
  • SlamDunk
    SlamDunk Member Posts: 1,282
    if I were desparate, I would toss in a a can or two of oatmeal just to see if it would help slow the leak. It has been done before
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,518
    I would say your time is up. The boiler has failed and limping along could result in a catastrophic failure, especially if you have a finished basement or items on the floor that you don't want soaked. A leak in the boiler is just an indicator that one spot has broken through. You can be assured there are other weak areas.
    You are doing the right thing to get quotes. Make sure you know the size of boiler you need and select an installer that knows steam and that, at a minimum, installs to the manual.
  • jim_14
    jim_14 Member Posts: 268

    Make sure your system pressure stays as low as possible. Too much pressure will force the steam through the leak. Better to have it short cycling than blowing steam up the chimney.

    right now i have it cutting out at 1 ounce of pressure ,cutting back on at 1/2 ounce
  • pecmsg
    pecmsg Member Posts: 2,880
    I’m sorry but if your car motors banging and vibrating it’s done.

    Get the boiler replaced or chance loosing it in the middle of a cold snap.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 18,907
    1 ounce and back in at a half ounce? With what device? Perhaps you mean pound?
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • jim_14
    jim_14 Member Posts: 268

    1 ounce and back in at a half ounce? With what device? Perhaps you mean pound?

    Yes I misspoke.. Its cuts out a tad over a pound and cuts back in at 1/2 a pound
    ethicalpaul
  • jim_14
    jim_14 Member Posts: 268
    SlamDunk said:

    if I were desparate, I would toss in a a can or two of oatmeal just to see if it would help slow the leak. It has been done before

    What about the boiler seal /boiler stop leak products that I see on amazon? Worth a try? Its working now , its just the timing xmas and new years that I havent had anyone come out to give me an estimate.
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,518
    SlamDunk said:

    if I were desparate, I would toss in a a can or two of oatmeal just to see if it would help slow the leak. It has been done before

    Oatmeal, while it has been rumored to stop a leak, temporarily, and any stop leak products may work on leaks below the water line. None of them will do anything for a hole above the water line where steam is going up the chimney. Those products just can't get to the leak/hole.
    ethicalpaul
  • SlamDunk
    SlamDunk Member Posts: 1,282
    edited January 2020
    To buy time, i would try it. Chances are, most contractors are busy and there is a lead time from coming out to quote and installing.
    Also, temporarily, you can try raising the water level above normal. Chances are good the breach is at the waterline. It will spill onto floor if it is. If so, any voodoo juice you put in may work.
    Then again, it may not. You have nothing to lose at this point.

    But you should continue to work on getting that replacement. You wont make it through winter.
  • jim_14
    jim_14 Member Posts: 268
    SlamDunk said:

    To buy time, i would try it. Chances are, most contractors are busy and there is a lead time from coming out to quote and installing.
    Also, temporarily, you can try raising the water level above normal. Chances are good the breach is at the waterline. It will spill onto floor if it is. If so, any voodoo juice you put in may work.
    Then again, it may not. You have nothing to lose at this point.

    But you should continue to work on getting that replacement. You wont make it through winter.

    When I first discovered that I was losing water it was Xmas eve..I thought maybe it was the return line. After ruling that out I let the boiler cool down and raised the water level to above the sight glass - I didn't push it too far. But nothing spilled out. It was only after that when I brought the water down to halfway on the sight glass and ran the system did I go outside and look up to my chimney where I observed the white smoke (and the calling for a new pope!)...

  • SlamDunk
    SlamDunk Member Posts: 1,282
    edited January 2020
    The timing was bad! Just don't ignore the fact you may need a new boiler or, at the very least, have a pro declare it dead if it can't be repaired. Keep us posted on your progress!
  • Hap_Hazzard
    Hap_Hazzard Member Posts: 2,755
    Using oatmeal to stop a cast iron boiler from leaking sounds like a good subject for a Mythbusters episode.
    Just another DIYer | King of Prussia, PA
    1983(?) Peerless G-561-W-S | 3" drop header, CG400-1090, VXT-24
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,564
    It might be a good idea to look at the size of the hole in the section first, as there will always be a certain size hole which cannot be plugged. Maybe using an inspection camera on a flexible stalk.
    Flax seed was also used.
    You probably have to overfill to get a top of section leak plugged.—NBC
  • jim_14
    jim_14 Member Posts: 268
    > @nicholas bonham-carter said:
    > It might be a good idea to look at the size of the hole in the section first, as there will always be a certain size hole which cannot be plugged. Maybe using an inspection camera on a flexible stalk.
    > Flax seed was also used.
    > You probably have to overfill to get a top of section leak plugged.—NBC

    That should be a challenge. I guess I can go thru the damper vent with my camera? I was thinking of removing the boilers outer jacket out of curiosity or maybe disconnecting the damper vent for a better look but that’s as far as I would go.. even then I don’t know if that would help me any. I.e if I would see anything
  • Hap_Hazzard
    Hap_Hazzard Member Posts: 2,755
    You'd probably get the best results by inspecting the flueways with a borescope or endoscope. You would want to shut off the gas and use the same access procedures you'd use for cleaning the flueways.
    Just another DIYer | King of Prussia, PA
    1983(?) Peerless G-561-W-S | 3" drop header, CG400-1090, VXT-24
  • jim_14
    jim_14 Member Posts: 268
    I have the poor mans drain camera. 50’ usb camera taped to a fiber glass fish tape plugged into my laptop. Works pretty well I must say!
  • jim_14
    jim_14 Member Posts: 268
    I took some of jacket off for a better look and ran a heating cycle. No visible steam leaks but it does take a while to build up pressure to 1lb. Forget the camera thing - I don’t need that to tell me steam is escaping thru the vent into the chimney.

    Getting some estimates this weekend. Thanks for all the advice!
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 9,750
    You probably have to take off the top collector box.
    Looks like 4 nuts. Sealed with furnace cement or a gasket.
    Hap_Hazzard
  • Intplm.
    Intplm. Member Posts: 1,375
    Can't really see the leaks from your pictures.

    Go ahead and try some "Boiler Seal" The type I have used is made by a company called Hercules. They make a lot of fine products.

    The boiler seal might work. Could buy you some time. I have used it with mixed results , but is worth a try. Especially in your case.

    Be sure to follow the manufacturer's directions carefully.

    Good luck to you......hope it works.
  • STEAM DOCTOR
    STEAM DOCTOR Member Posts: 1,483
    > @Intplm. said:
    > Can't really see the leaks from your pictures.
    >
    > Go ahead and try some "Boiler Seal" The type I have used is made by a company called Hercules. They make a lot of fine products.
    >
    > The boiler seal might work. Could buy you some time. I have used it with mixed results , but is worth a try. Especially in your case.
    >
    > Be sure to follow the manufacturer's directions carefully.
    >
    > Good luck to you......hope it works.

    I know colleagues who have used these products and ended up sealing pipes shut.
    Intplm.
  • Intplm.
    Intplm. Member Posts: 1,375
    Me too my brother.

    That's why I stressed to the OP to read the directions carefully.
    "Mixed results" I also mentioned.

    I had that happen to me. But never with the hercules.
    Had it happen with some liquid made by "Gunk"

    Added just a little too much to a commercial boiler. Was able to get thing going just the same.