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Cleaning of a new boiler

georgede54 Member Posts: 55
I hope to be installing a new oil fired steam boiler soon. In numerous places I have read that it should be cleaned after the installation process has been completed. And somewhere I read that the system should run for a few days before cleaning.

If I install it in the summer, which appears likely, what should be done? Wait until the heat goes back on in the fall before doing the cleaning?

I might be using a coil to heat the domestic hot water. If I do, would use of the coil to heat hot water give the system enough of a workout so that someone could come back and do the cleaning before the heat goes on in the fall.




  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 5,650
    edited May 2020
    The cleaning you are referring to is most likely called Skimming.

    When iron and steel pipe is manufactured, and the threads are cut into the components, the machining process requires cutting oil. Keeps the tools from overheating so they last longer. That OIL along with the pipe thread sealant and other contaminants will float on top of the water in a steam boiler. This covering of oil and contaminants causes the steam to form unevenly, and you may get surging and noise if the residue is left there.

    All the oil and other junk will only get "Washed Away" from the pipes above the waterline with the Steam that is created by the boiling water. Domestic hot water will not get the boiler hot enough to "Wash Away" the contaminants in the pipes above the boiler and into the near boiler piping needed to connect to the system.

    That is why you should do this "Skimming" after the boiler makes heat in the radiators for a week or so. After the boiler is installed the contractor should fire the boiler and see that the radiators get hot. Then Skim the boiler that day. Then come back in the fall after you have used it for a week and skim it again.

    Ask him to put that in the contract!

    Read through the Strictly Steam section of WALL on this site. You will find that some plumbers may not know the best way to install steam boilers. If it is not done right, it won't work and you will have a nightmare instead of a heating system.

    The experts there will help you ask the right questions of the contractor. Try the Find a Contractor section of this site to see if one of the contributors here is near you.

    Edward F Young. Retired HVAC ContractorSpecialized in Residential Oil Burner and Hydronics
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 10,580
    You have the opportunity to insist upon correct near boiler piping as shown in the install manual.
    One thing for sure is to get a proper skimming tapping.
    And the installer should do the initial skimming and show you the process for future skimming.

    Many sad stories are told here of promised results, pictures posted of terrible installs and the check had already cleared the bank and no one answers the phone.

    Are you adding an indirect tank for the hot water?
    Do you have wet returns under the floor?

    How about pictures of the existing boiler and piping.
  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 5,650
    @georgede54 My compliments to you for doing the research. I read your other posts. In the greater NY city area, there are contractors that will do a good job for you. Don't go with the lowest price. (He probably does not know what he is doing.)

    I think @STEAM DOCTOR is near you. I would definitely get a price from them along with others. Another source is the plumbing and heating supply companies near you. The manager or owner will know which contractors give them the least amount of "Problems". Mostly because they know what they are doing. In my few years of working for a local supply house as the Technical Associate (the guy who would go out to our contractor customers "Problem " Jobs), I found most of the problems were installer error. I also remember those who knew what they were doing and did not need my help. That is the guy you want!

    Edward F Young. Retired HVAC ContractorSpecialized in Residential Oil Burner and Hydronics
  • georgede54
    georgede54 Member Posts: 55
    First of all, thanks to you people for reaching out. Secondly, I keep reading and I keep getting more confused. I thought skimming and cleaning were two different things.

    I thought a boiler had to be skimmed when oil had gotten into the system, which would cause unacceptable surges in the level of water in the water gauge when the boiler was creating steam.

    Then, somewhere else, I have read that "after installation, a steam boiler should be cleaned and flushed."

    Are these two different procedures or the same?

    But I am coming to the conclusions that

    1) it should be cleaned even if the water level in the gauge does not wildly fluctuate

    2) I have to bring the installer back after the boiler has been running for a week or so in the fall.

    Right now, I am running my domestic hot water off of a coil in the boiler, but I may be installing a hot water heater also. (It may depend on whether the "right" boiler comes with a coil.)

    I'd like to send some pictures but right now I'm away from home, hoping to return in early June, at which time my number one priority will be to replace the boiler. Pictures will be forthcoming.

    I had a new boiler installed in 2003 and it probably cracked in 2017 or 2018, when I noticed my heating bills had jumped. I say probably because it was not until the 2019 when a tech finally told me it had cracked, which I figured had to have caused the jump in the heating bills.

    All of this, and much more, led me to this site. After all the reading I've done, I feel I'll be lucky if the new boiler does as well as the last one did.

    I did look on the contractors page of this site, but none of the people who seem to be writing seem to be advertising. (Of course, someone could be writing under one name and doing business under another.) I looked to see whether there was some place where the people who are advertising on the site are evaluated by past customers, but I could not find it. Did I miss it?

    Thanks again to one and all.

    Time for me to go read some more stuff on boilers.

    STEAM DOCTOR Member Posts: 1,658
    @georgede54. Where are you located.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 21,112
    edited May 2020
    Well, let's see here.

    Skimming and cleaning are different. Of the two, skimming -- in my opinion -- is the more important, as it -- and only it -- will remove oils from the boiler and the system, and it is the oils which will cause surging and such other evils. It isn't hard to do (if someone actually puts in a skim port...) but it does take patience.

    Cleaning, which involves an actual cleaner being put in, should not need to be done more than once on an install, and then -- maybe -- once in a while.

    A quality steam boiler installer will do both, simply as a matter of course. It's part of the job.

    Many of our people -- including many of the best -- don't advertise. They don't really need to. The New York area is a bit problematic, too, as various counties have varying requirements, and not everyone is willing or needs to jump through all of the hoops required to work in the whole area. The ones I'd be happiest to see you talking to are @JohnNY (John Cataneo, either as a consultant
    (646) 598-7230 or through his company, Gateway Plumbing 212-980-0909; @Danny Scully , 516-887-1122, or the @STEAM DOCTOR , 917-613-0193 . I've seen the work of all these men (not in person, but in numerous photographs) and they do know what they are doing. This is not to say that others might not -- but I can say that these men do.

    The Wall does not provide customer reviews -- for advertisers or for any of the many other people who contribute to the discussions. One could always ask the contractor for previous customers to talk to, but it has been my general experience that customer reviews on web sites are at very best unreliable. What you will find on The Wall, however, is that sometimes the initial poster who comes here will post follow up comments which can be very helpful.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • georgede54
    georgede54 Member Posts: 55
    I am located in New Rochelle, N.Y., slightly north of the Bronx.
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,573
    I’m not sure you will be completely pleased with the output of a hot water coil, depending on the needs of your family.
    Have you had a look at any of the steam heating books from the library here? They will give you insight into the wonderful world of steam.
    The most important part of the installation is the man who installs it, as all boilers are much the same with only minor differences. Some makes are more sensitive to bad water chemistry than others, such as Burnham.
    The right man will measure all your radiators to get their square feet of steam, and choose a boiler, whose size equals that figure.
    He will follow the manufacturers instructions for piping, and then will clean, and skim, after a short period of operation.
    Don’t forget to post some pictures of your present piping, so all here can comment. Your new boiler, if properly installed should last 30-40 years.—NBC