Welcome! Here are the website rules, as well as some tips for using this forum.
Need to contact us? Visit https://heatinghelp.com/contact-us/.
Click here to Find a Contractor in your area.

Is My Pressuretrol Broken?

Hey everyone. I got turned on to this website about two weeks ago and have been geeking out since - great job everyone. I even bought "We Got Steam Heat" from the store, but it just showed up yesterday, so I haven't been able to dig in yet. I'm a mediocre diyer with a steam heating system in a house that my wife and I bought about two years ago. So far, following your good suggestions, I've installed a new 0-5 psi (I didn't see a 0-3 psi on supplyhouse.com) pressure gauge, installed it using brass piping and cleaned out my completely clogged pigtail upstream of my (now two) gauges and pressuretrol. I saw that the ptrol was set to about 1.5 psi and the differential to 1.5 psi so I brought it down to 0.5 and 1.0, respectively. I was so excited to be able to finally see a pressure reading on a gauge that I sat in front of the boiler for 20 minutes while it fired and watched it blow past 1.5 psi all the way to 2.5 psi before my wife turned off the heat at the thermostat because water was spurting out of an air vent (Ventrite #1). The volcano vent had been an issue for a while (maybe the entire time) and is actually the reason that I started tampering with the pressure settings. Oh, one more thing that may or may not be relevant. After I cleaned and reassembled the pigtail and 1/4" piping I poured some water into an upturned elbow to reestablish the water seal in the pigtail.

So, is my ptrol definitely broken then? Could I have done it while I was making adjustments? Is there a way to test the ptrol to know for sure or does watching the pressure gauge cruise past 1.5 psi serve as the failed test?

Also, any thoughts on why my Ventrite was spurting water (on the second floor)? I'm guessing it's because the pressure was too high, but maybe there's another possibility? Thank you in advance for the insight. I've uploaded some photos of the boiler and near boiler piping.








2-family homeowner and boiler novice
Weil McLain SGO-5 Oil, 174,000 Btu/hr

Comments

  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,275
    You're by no means the first of us to sit there and watch the boiler as it fires up! And if your ne pressure gauge shows 2.5 and the pressuretrol is set for 1.5... it may be at least out of order, if not broken. The one thing to check before you really get annoyed with it is the little opening in the bottom of it. If the pigtail was gunked, there's a chance that little opening may be, too. I'd suggest a pipe cleaner or something of the sort, not something hard or sharp, to see if you can clean it out.

    If a radiator vent is spitting water, one thing to check is the inlet valve: is it really truly all the way open? And is the radiator pitched slightly towards the inlet? Both of those, if amiss, can cause water to be trapped at or near the inlet -- from which point the incoming steam (which is moving right along) can blow water droplets around and into the vent.

    There are other possibilities -- but those are the simple ones.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    keyserjose
  • neilc
    neilc Member Posts: 2,702
    if the pigtail was completely clogged,
    gunk could have forced up into the Ptrol port,
    did you, or you might check that the bottom of the Ptrol is clean and the port clear.
    That whole assembly is kinda close to the water line, you might think about raising the Ptrol with a short nipple, what ever the wiring allows you, or redo that also.
    The water looks a little dirty,
    how much does it bounce when firing ?
    you have a good skim port there, don't be afraid to use it.
    Look at that too, the skim is level with, or slightly higher than the pigtail, so if your skimming you might be forcing pig gunk up at the Ptrol, another reason to think of raising the trol.
    The rad that is spitting,
    is the supply valve completely open? it should be, and could be holding back condensate,
    is the rad pitched slightly back to the supply ?
    is the valve old, and maybe the disc is failed resting on the seat, and holding back condensate?
    has any floor work occurred and the rad is sitting lower,
    and the supply line to it may be holding condensate under the floor?
    can the supply side of the rad be raised ?(then the rad pitched again)
    All this and so much more are in that book.
    Read it this weekend.
    known to beat dead horses
    keyserjose
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,576
    Could the pressuretrol be slightly out of level?
    Sometimes, in an effort to lower the settings, the linkage screw can become dissatached and so no control.—NBC
  • keyserjose
    keyserjose Member Posts: 23
    Thanks for all the suggestions everyone, I've done some more poking and I'll respond as best I can below:

    Pressuretrol clog check:
    I took the ptrol back off and checked out the underside. It wasn't very gunked up at all and I cleaned out the 1/4" orifice with a qtip and then used a squirt bottle to shoot some water into the tiny orifice. I ran it again... no dice.

    Radiator inlet valve status:
    Fully open

    Radiator pitch:
    Pitched slightly toward the inlet valve (see photo). I had put a couple quarters underneath the feet on the vent side a month or so ago.

    Pressuretrol height:
    I'll add a 2" or 3" nipple to get it a little bit higher. I'll probably wait for you to tell me my ptrol is broken so I can get them shipped together.

    Dirty water:
    Bouncing amplitude was probably 2" or less for the most part with occasional 3" bounces.

    Water skimming:
    How often should I do this? Can you suggest a posting or website that might have a good procedure?

    Valve age:
    I'm guessing it's 100 years old like the house and probably the rest of the valves. It seems to be functioning properly when I open and close it, but I can't say much more than that.

    Radiator sitting lower?:
    No floor demo work has happened since I've lived here. I think that the hardwood floors are original to the house. Good question though, there are some sags in the house and I'm wondering if the radiator is lower than it used to be. For the most part though the room perimeters (where the radiators are) are high while the room centers are lower. I could check to see if the supply valve will come up at all if gently persuaded with a jack or something. One other thing that I neglected to mention / just sort of realized... the pipe on the first floor that leads to this 2nd floor spitting radiator tends to make a lot of noise. Not water hammer (don't seem to have any water hammer here) so much as a sort of very light metallic jingling and touch of gurgling. I feel like I buried the lead on that one. I'll also post a photo of the piping that leads up to the riser to this radiator. There is a good pitch on the majority of the piping and then it drops into the main so that whole part is good. But, I can't quite tell if the section between the 90 degree elbow at the bottom of the riser and the 45 degree bend right next to it might be a slight low point.

    Is Pressuretrol level or screw disconnected?:
    I think it's level. If it's out of level it's not really enough to see. I also confirmed that the screw had not become disattached (until I disattached it to see how far it would go). At some point when I was loosening the cut in screw while the boiler was firing at about 1.6 psi the Ptrol tripped. I had probably unscrewed it 2-3 full turns below the lowest set point. While that seemed like a positive thing I'm sure that's not how it should be working.


    2-family homeowner and boiler novice
    Weil McLain SGO-5 Oil, 174,000 Btu/hr
  • dabrakeman
    dabrakeman Member Posts: 552
    In the 5th picture it looks like your main vents are back near the boiler at the end of the returns? More importantly right now are they just Vent-Rites? Model number? I don't know how much EDR you have in radiators but the boiler is 548 EDR. Just a couple Vent-Rites is likely not enough main venting for what you have. You can do the skimming and all but if you are blowing past 1.5psi after only 20 minutes then it seems you have a venting problem.
    keyserjose
  • neilc
    neilc Member Posts: 2,702
    edited October 2020
    the dirty water 2~3" bounce = skim time.
    Do a search here for skimming, or maybe in the articles section, there's plenty written and linked to.
    You don't want much more than a 1/2 " movement in the sight glass. This may take a few skims.
    The Ptrol is a micro switch, not a mercury bulb type, so concerns for level and plumb are more cosmetic (just don't mount it sideways).
    try running that adjustment screw all the way down to just before it disconnects, (don't force it), worst that happens is the boiler doesn't fire and you have to put a 1/2 turn, or 2 halves, back into it
    The gurgling pipe and spitting rad,
    you hear the gurgle in the basement or up at the rad?
    if at the rad you might want to open the valve and check for a dropped disc.
    Not sure the 2 quick 90s in the basement could trap enough if the run to them is pitched well as your picture suggests.
    Are there any other rads off that riser ?
    known to beat dead horses
    keyserjose
  • keyserjose
    keyserjose Member Posts: 23
    dabrakeman - Good eye! Yes, those two main line vents are Ventrite #77's and they are right next to the boiler. The steam header off the boiler splits into two mains and there is a Ventrite at the end of each main right before the condensate drops down into the wet return. I think it's called a wet return anyway, it's right before the Hartford loop.

    I don't know how much EDR I have, or even how to calculate that, but I plan to look it up how to find out and I'll post it when I get it.

    I'm not sure if I got past 1.5 psi in 20 minutes, but I don't think it could have been much more than 30. I'll try to pay closer attention next time.

    neilc - I'll check out how to skim and give that a go in the next day or three. Should I be blowing down the bottom of the boiler (mud leg?) as well? I don't have any valves to isolate the boiler from the system, so I can't run the pressure up.

    I'll try to loosen up the adjustment screw as much as possible and run it that way for a whlie. If I see it tripping off between 1.5 and 2.0 psi a few times do you think that's "good enough" or might I still need to replace the ptrol?

    I'm actually hearing the pipe noises in the 1st floor riser below the 2nd floor radiator. I don't hear any noises other than hissing (followed by spitting) from the air vents. There are no other radiators off of the noisy riser.
    2-family homeowner and boiler novice
    Weil McLain SGO-5 Oil, 174,000 Btu/hr
  • neilc
    neilc Member Posts: 2,702
    Your skimming is pretty easy as you're already piped for it.
    It will be time consuming, and tedious, and I'm too lazy to write more of the process.
    Draining the mud leg, I think you show a boiler drain on the return as it reenters the boiler, yeah, if that's muddy, clearing it will help also.
    The skimming removes surface contaminants, which make a rough boil and all that sight glass bounce, and throws water up into your piping, good news is your boiler piping looks good, and will perform even better, dryer, once you've skimmed.

    I think you're hearing the 2nd floor valve gurgle at the 1st floor riser, sound travels, I think you're gonna have to open that valve and check its internals. Post a picture of that valve and that end of the rad.

    Your pigtail, if and when you raise the Ptrol, consider changing out the iron tee and 90 under the Ptrol for more brass, iron and steel tend to clog more easily
    known to beat dead horses
    keyserjose
  • keyserjose
    keyserjose Member Posts: 23
    Thanks everyone for your comments so far. I've got some things to try this week and probably this weekend and I'll get back to you with some more results.

    In the meantime, I found an interesting discussion on the pressuretrol model (Honeywell PA404A) that I am currently having trouble with. The poster in the link below can't seem to get his boiler to stop cycling lower than 2.25# to 3.25#, which is about the same as I was seeing. The funny thing is that all responses to his post unanimously cited the model of his ptrol as being the issue and suggested that if he wanted finer controls he should swap it for a vaporstat. Is there any truth to this reasoning? Thanks again.

    https://forum.heatinghelp.com/discussion/81659/pressuretrol-honeywell-pa404a-1033-cant-get-low
    2-family homeowner and boiler novice
    Weil McLain SGO-5 Oil, 174,000 Btu/hr
  • dabrakeman
    dabrakeman Member Posts: 552
    I have been tweaking mine but it still goes a little over 2psi so if you are between 1.5-2.0 then yes probably good enough for this ptrol. Normal cold weather cycles of ~30-40min or so never generate more than ~0.1psi on my 3psi gage so when I say mine goes a little over 2psi this is really just if recovering from a setback. I have an oversized boiler so when it is really cold I tend to avoid any kind of setbacks of more than a degree or two.
  • dabrakeman
    dabrakeman Member Posts: 552
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,275

    Thanks everyone for your comments so far. I've got some things to try this week and probably this weekend and I'll get back to you with some more results.

    In the meantime, I found an interesting discussion on the pressuretrol model (Honeywell PA404A) that I am currently having trouble with. The poster in the link below can't seem to get his boiler to stop cycling lower than 2.25# to 3.25#, which is about the same as I was seeing. The funny thing is that all responses to his post unanimously cited the model of his ptrol as being the issue and suggested that if he wanted finer controls he should swap it for a vaporstat. Is there any truth to this reasoning? Thanks again.

    https://forum.heatinghelp.com/discussion/81659/pressuretrol-honeywell-pa404a-1033-cant-get-low

    Well, yes and no. For most situations, a reasonably well calibrated pressuretrol, which consistently shuts off between 1.5 psi and 2 psi, is fine. Now. It is simply not possible to get reliable operation of a pressuretrol below a 1.5 psi cutoff, because of the way it is built. Further, the repeatability -- the consistency of the pressure -- is not all that great. However, as I say, for most applications it's "good enough".

    If you want better repeatability, or control to a lower cutoff pressure, you have to use a vapourstat. They're built very differently, and can reliably (again, with calibration for the mechanical ones -- the old mercury ones didn't need it) control the cutoff down to a few ounces per square inch. Do you need it? I'd say, on your system, probably not -- and they are pricey.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    keyserjose
  • keyserjose
    keyserjose Member Posts: 23
    Pressuretrol Update: Thanks dabrakeman for the link to your discussion with Fred on the pressuretrol calibration. I dove right in (after waiting for my new pressuretrol to arrive so that I could replace the one I was likely to break during "calibration"), chipped off the blue stuff (locktite?) from the tiny tiny adjustment screw, set the cut in at 0.5 psi, set the differential to 1.0 psi, waited for the boiler to fire up to a 1.5 psi reading on the gauge and then slooowly adjusted the tiny tiny adjustment screw with a tiny tiny (0.05 in) hex key until the boiler shut off. Then, I got my best lawn chair and some coffee and watched the boiler shut off right on the money at 1.5 psi over three cycles. My wife opened the basement door and asked if I was spending time with my Pressure Troll again and when breakfast might appear. I came clean that I was and that, in the name of science, breakfast would have to wait. I raised the cut in to 1.0 (diff still at 1.0) and watched the boiler run two more cycles cutting out right at 2 psi. Lowered the cut in back to 0.5 psi and again the boiler cut out at 1.5 psi. We did it!

    Now that the Pressure Troll has been tamed we may have revealed a new set of issues. Being that I snuck out of bed first thing this morning when the heat initially kicked on it was 58 in the house. It must have taken 10-15 cycles to get up to 67. Is that what "short cycling" is? This makes me think of dabrakeman's keen observation that I had two Ventrite #77's on my mains and that they may not be adequate. Do I need to get air out of the system faster or is this OK? I paid closer attention to how long it took to get up to 1.5 psi during a cold start this morning and it was in the neighborhood of 20 min. Also, if this is now a venting issue, should I start a new post?
    2-family homeowner and boiler novice
    Weil McLain SGO-5 Oil, 174,000 Btu/hr
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,275
    Argh. That much of a turndown at night is going to take a long time -- and only a dozen pressure cycles on a somewhat larger boiler than necessary isn't surprising at all for that much turndown. 20 minutes to get up to 1.5 psi sounds quite reasonable. Venting, therefore, is probably quite adequate. Go and get your breakfast.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    keyserjose
  • keyserjose
    keyserjose Member Posts: 23
    neilc
    neilc said:

    That whole assembly is kinda close to the water line, you might think about raising the Ptrol with a short nipple, what ever the wiring allows you, or redo that also.

    neilc said:

    Your pigtail, if and when you raise the Ptrol, consider changing out the iron tee and 90 under the Ptrol for more brass, iron and steel tend to clog more easily

    Pressuretrol piping assembly changed to all brass and raised unit with 3" nipple. Thanks for the tips!

    2-family homeowner and boiler novice
    Weil McLain SGO-5 Oil, 174,000 Btu/hr
  • neilc
    neilc Member Posts: 2,702
    now for adventures in skimming , , ,
    known to beat dead horses
  • dabrakeman
    dabrakeman Member Posts: 552
    Let us know when you calculate what your EDR is. Just total up your radiators and compare to the steam EDR listed on your boiler tag. Below guide sheet can help.

    https://dunkirk.com/sites/default/files/Dunkirk Radiation Tables.pdf
  • keyserjose
    keyserjose Member Posts: 23

    Let us know when you calculate what your EDR is. Just total up your radiators and compare to the steam EDR listed on your boiler tag. Below guide sheet can help.

    https://dunkirk.com/sites/default/files/Dunkirk Radiation Tables.pdf

    Sometimes I get real busy and lose track of the thing that I was in the middle of... "better late than never" I say.

    So, I just used the Dunkirk boiler sizing table to estimate my EDR. The radiators, 6 in total, have a total of approx. 151sf of radiation for a total load of 36,240 BTUH. The ASME tag on the boiler (scroll up to see photo of tag) says that it has a D.O.E. Heating Capacity of 174,000 Btu/hr. Seems to be way oversized, right? And, if it is oversized, are there any safe adjustments that could be made to the boiler tone it down a bit? I'm going to estimate that the boiler is going through 4 or 5 cycles (maybe more, but not less) before satisfying the thermostat and we are having a pretty mild winter so far in NH.

    I'm also recently started having an issue, probably unrelated to this, with the boiler rumbling and shaking the house a bit for the first 15 or so seconds of each firing cycle. I'll post some details on that in another discussion... hopefully soon... I've got some knob and tube wiring to attack today.

    I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and has a Happy New Year :)
    2-family homeowner and boiler novice
    Weil McLain SGO-5 Oil, 174,000 Btu/hr
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,736
    If your EDR calculations are correct that boiler is ~260% over sized. That might be a new record for this website.

    Keep the pressure down is about all you can do. If you have a tech with the proper equipment they could tune the burner lower, but not so much to even get you in the ballpark you need to be in, anything would be better than nothing.

    Hard to imagine someone did that. With your radiation you basically need the smallest boiler available, and even it will be too big.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
    ethicalpaul
  • neilc
    neilc Member Posts: 2,702


    I'm also recently started having an issue, probably unrelated to this, with the boiler rumbling and shaking the house a bit for the first 15 or so seconds of each firing cycle. I'll post some details on that in another discussion... hopefully soon...

    that could be a burner ignition issue,
    and should get some prompt attention,
    houses are not supposed to shake.
    known to beat dead horses
  • bburd
    bburd Member Posts: 912
    That rumbling suggests a problem with the oil supply to your burner, or with the burner itself. Possibly a clogged fuel filter. You need a good oil burner tech with combustion test instruments.

    Bburd
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,275
    Whatever else, the problems you are having aren't the pressuretrol. In answer to the direct question.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • keyserjose
    keyserjose Member Posts: 23
    @neilc I recently pulled the radiators out in order to have the wood floors refinished and then remembered you asking me for a photo of the valve internals last year. I can't tell for sure, but they seem ok except for maybe the living room valve, which seems to have something like a deteriorated seat or gasket or something hanging down. Don't think that would cause condensate to not be trapped in the radiator though. I'll just attach photos of all four valves since I have them open. Better late than never I suppose...
    neilc said:

    Your skimming is pretty easy as you're already piped for it.
    It will be time consuming, and tedious, and I'm too lazy to write more of the process.
    Draining the mud leg, I think you show a boiler drain on the return as it reenters the boiler, yeah, if that's muddy, clearing it will help also.
    The skimming removes surface contaminants, which make a rough boil and all that sight glass bounce, and throws water up into your piping, good news is your boiler piping looks good, and will perform even better, dryer, once you've skimmed.

    I think you're hearing the 2nd floor valve gurgle at the 1st floor riser, sound travels, I think you're gonna have to open that valve and check its internals. Post a picture of that valve and that end of the rad.

    Your pigtail, if and when you raise the Ptrol, consider changing out the iron tee and 90 under the Ptrol for more brass, iron and steel tend to clog more easily





    2-family homeowner and boiler novice
    Weil McLain SGO-5 Oil, 174,000 Btu/hr
  • keyserjose
    keyserjose Member Posts: 23
    I was hoping that the file names would show up for the photos, but it looks like they might not have. In order from top to bottom, the valves are located in the following rooms:

    Dining room
    Bedroom 1
    Bedroom 2
    Living room
    2-family homeowner and boiler novice
    Weil McLain SGO-5 Oil, 174,000 Btu/hr
  • neilc
    neilc Member Posts: 2,702
    that last picture looks a bit deteriorated,
    but it's not a fallen disc sitting on the seat,
    so I thinking your ok,
    you may want to pull out any pieces you can that they don't cause trouble otherwise,

    what did you do about skimming ?
    is there still gurgling upstairs?
    or do you not hear it over the burner rumble?
    known to beat dead horses
  • SteamingatMohawk
    SteamingatMohawk Member Posts: 1,003
    You only mention 4 radiators, how many, if any, have been removed? It's quite common in older houses.

    You need to install a valve to isolate the low pressure gauge. Unless it can handle 15psig (maximum allowed working pressure and relief valve setpoint), it could become damaged or worse if your system had a pressure problem. Many gauges are only good for about 130% of full range. There are some that are OK.