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Need new steam boiler: Maine

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New here,

Just bought a house near Bangor, with an existing steam system last July. There's about 3,000 sq ft and 10 registers, there's a date stamped on one of them from the 1920's.

Had the oil company out to do a cleaning last week and they told me the boiler is shot. They couldn't confirm with certainty, but they suspect the inner two exchangers are leaking or were leaking and it's only producing heat on the outer two. Incidentally, the heat and indirect hot water work perfectly despite the frightening appearance inside.

They offered to make an estimate for replacement, still waiting, but I got the feeling they didn't really want the job, but we shall see.

Came as a bit of a shocker, boiler was installed in 2003, but I am only realizing now after looking into this that there seems to be a lot more to consider when maintaining a steam system. I won't be replacing my steam registers, so it's time to get geeked out on steam heat, I know virtually nothing right now, but if I shell out the cash for this replacement, I'll be doing my darnedest to keep the next system tip top. So I'll be visiting this forum a lot for years to come is my suspicion.

I'd like to find a contractor who specializes in steam heat, so I can avoid another potential young boiler death after I get it replaced.

I can post some photos of the current setup later on. It's a little frightening in the basement of this 1800s home, fair warning. It's a Crown brand boiler.

After searching this forum, I saw that ScottinMaine was able to get a contractor from Gray to come to Bangor to install a Burnham Megastream. I'm interested in a similar solution.

I won't yammer on too long here for my first post, but just wanted to get a discussion started, to see if anyone knows places I could call to get estimates. It seemed like 4 years ago, when Scott had his system installed, the pickings were very slim who to select- but maybe that has changed since.

Thank you

Comments

  • nde
    nde Member Posts: 86
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    It is very hard to find a steam specialist outside of southern Maine, so if that contractor from Gray would do it that did seem like a nicely done job and would be worth the extra cost.

    If not you might try eastern maine mechanical, budge heating or maher heating as the smaller/independent contractors seem more open to doing the job as per your specs if you insist.....that is require black pipe near boiler piping as per the boiler manual, have skim port installed, do a edr calculation etc. Have a contract drawn up where you put in writing these things so you have something to fall back on if any issues.

    As you know the season has started so trying to line something up will mean less flexibility on best pricing but see if any of those companies will at least give you an estimate and agree to do the job as per the manual diagrams.
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,704
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    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
    kcopp
  • nde
    nde Member Posts: 86
    edited November 2020
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    You can find some of Dan's books at the Bangor Public Library as well. Looking around it appears maybe Budge and Maher are no longer accepting new customers. There is a lack of qualified licensed contractors across all heating systems in this area it seems. But I would contact them anyway just to check. There is another contractor in Old Town area, Jackson plumbing and heating that you might try.




  • WilliamME
    WilliamME Member Posts: 14
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    Awesome, thank you guys for the suggestions so far! Its too bad there are so few qualified in the area . I will try the companies suggested
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,478
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    If finding good contractors is going to be a probles I suggest Dan's "The lost Art of Steam Heat" it's much more comprehensive especially if you need to deal with folks that don't understand steam heat.

    Looking at the books at the library is a great idea.

    Bob
    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,544
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    @WilliamME

    Of course you should by some steam books and learn the system.

    But most important is your boiler leaking? Because your post says "Incidentally, the heat and indirect hot water work perfectly despite the frightening appearance inside"

    Rushing in to do a replacement at this time of year could result in a bad outcome with the wrong installer.

    Postponing until spring gives you time to research an installer, budget some money and learn about steam.

    If it's not leaking, run it.

    The service companies comment that only part of the boiler is heating is not true.
    ethicalpaulPrecaud
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,704
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    Maybe if it’s leaking a little, still run it 😅

    Getting the new boiler’s size right is number one
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,324
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    Agree with both @ethicalpaul and @EBEBRATT-Ed here. Yes, that photo shows a very sad boiler which hadn't been cleaned in quite some while -- but that doesn't mean it's shot. Fortunately, the key test is very easy to do. Keep an eye on the water level for a while. If you can remember, in fact, and it has an automatic water feeder, close the feed valve to the automatic feeder and then keep a close eye on the water level over several heating cycles. It will help to put a spring clothespin or somesuch on the water level sight tube on the front of the boiler. What you are looking for is two things: first, does the water level drop while the boiler is just sitting there, not running? If it does, you may have a leak in the boiler -- or you may have a leak in any of the piping leading to the boiler below the water line. If, on the other hand, it drops some while the boiler is running, but comes back to pretty much were it was after it has been sitting off for a half hour or so, it's not leaking -- nor are there leaks anywhere else in the system. If it doesn't come back to where it was, you do have a leak, but again, not necessarily in the boiler. It could be anywhere out in the system

    Opinions vary, but I would say if you don't have to add more than a gallon per week you're fine. Be happy. If you have to add more than that, then you need to start exploring for leaks -- even a leak as little as a couple of drips per minute somewhere from the piping can use that much water. Don't be too hasty to blame the boiler.

    Oh -- do remember to turn the automatic water feeder back on, if you have one and turned it off!
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    ethicalpaul
  • WilliamME
    WilliamME Member Posts: 14
    edited November 2020
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    Okay guys. I would love to keep running it, because I wasn't prepared to have it replaced budget wise, although I'm sure that's not a unique statement.

    The tech from the oil company quickly became distraught when he started cleaning it, I took that photo after he brought me down to the basement to look with him.

    It looked to me like in between the inner exchangers it fused together like a monolithic rust blob. He was hesitant to clean in between there and only cleaned the outer two exchangers. I was in agreement with him not cleaning the center part, because I was afraid it may have been a small leak that had sealed itself with rust and that it might be undone,  and I'd have no heat and hot water immediately.

    I will buy a copy of Dans book. If I can push this boiler through the winter, and get better spring pricing, that would be great. It is true , my home is roasting warm and my water is piping hot, so I feel lucky in that regard. The technician changed the nozzle so that it would underfire. Not sure what that means, but it doesn't seem to have affected anything. I do want a boiler that doesn't scare people off for annual cleanings, so I think a replacement is in order regardless.

    I will also take a look at the glass on the front and try to identify where the auto feeder is. I'm a bit blonde at this point trying to make heads or tails, but I'll take more pictures today. It would be good to know if its not holding water.

    Thank you guys so much for your quick input.
  • WilliamME
    WilliamME Member Posts: 14
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    Here are some photos. These shots made me realize I ought to get a shop vac out and deal with some of the cobwebs to make it a little more pleasant for the next folks to look at it. A little embarrassing, sorry! We just moved here, and with everything else we're doing in this old house, the basement has been lower priority. At some point we plan to clean it up and either put down a vapor barrier, or even better yet concrete on top of that , budget permitting.

    I looked at the glass, the bottom part is obscured by rust or scale, so I can't tell if there's water in there, but it doesn't look like there's any. The upper part of the glass is clear, and I'm more confident that section is dry.

    I believe I found the auto feeder, I see that there's a copper water pipe plumbed into the steam pipe, down low, and that there are some ball valves which can be moved to close it off from the system.

    Our current water heater is indirect, connected to a circulator down low on the boiler. It's the same age as the boiler, 2003. You may see a dead oil fired water in the background here and there, that was discarded and left down there from times past.

    There's also a steam vent, up high on the piping. Is this called the main purge? I can't tell if this blows off steam periodically or not, but it seems like the floor is somewhat rotten above it, though it's currently not damp- perhaps it malfunctioned in the past? I was thinking of putting a piece of sheet metal above it to protect the floor from condensation.

















  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,324
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    Wow. Just... wow. I confess that I can't really make out just what goes where! You do have an automatic feeder -- you did find it! Unfortunately, it's an older one with no gauge on it, so you really can't figure out how much it's feeding. But it's there.

    You also have a pretty reliable low water cutout -- the CycleGard. It drives some folks slightly wild, since it will shut the boiler off every 15 minutes or so to check for foaming, but it is pretty reliable. However, it would be worth checking.

    Which brings up the sight glass. You really should make an effort to figure out where the water level is in it. This may be easier said than done. Given the state of the boiler, it is entirely possible that the openings to it from the boiler are clogged and it truly doesn't read at all. The water level should be about two thirds of the way up the glass You may be able to tell if there is water in it -- even in the cruddy part -- by sliding a piece of lined paper behind it with the lines at about a 45 degree slant. If there is water, it should bend the lines very differently than if there isn't. Hard to describe. I'd suggest replacing it, but I have a feeling that that may be much more easily said than done. In theory, it's easy -- but the glass tube is remarkably fragile, the nuts that hold it may be frozen, and the gaskets may be shot. Perhaps better left to someone who has done it before!
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • WilliamME
    WilliamME Member Posts: 14
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    I tried the paper trick. I think I understand what you're asking - but I still think theres no water in it.

    Upon closer look, it looks like there's almost a solidified rust icicle in the bottom of the glass, and the fissures inside of it make it look like dry rust.
  • WilliamME
    WilliamME Member Posts: 14
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    Forgot to do 45 degree angle on the lines , oops.
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,704
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    Kind of curious...was this an "as-is" sale, or did you actually have an inspector look at that boiler?
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
  • WilliamME
    WilliamME Member Posts: 14
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    Don't blame you for asking, it wasn't inspected, so that's on me.
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,704
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    No judgment-- I agree that it sure looks dry. Maybe it was drained and left dry for a while. Is that a valve across from the auto-feeder that will allow you to manually feed water? Like maybe the valve has the handle removed?
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
  • WilliamME
    WilliamME Member Posts: 14
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    I guess I don't really understand how this arrangement with the feeder works. I know very little about plumbing, I'm an electrician - to me this looks like a parallel circuit, what's to keep it water from flowing into the steam pipe indefinitely with that vertical length of copper line bypassing the autofeed? Unless there's a one way valve I'm not seeing with my untrained eye ?

    Also - is this an auto feeder ? It has this manual button to push. The green feed indicator light is NOT illuminated.
  • WilliamME
    WilliamME Member Posts: 14
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  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,324
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    The green light will only light if the feeder is activated -- either by you with the button or by the CycleGard -- the manual button allows you to feed water to the boiler just by pushing the button. Most autofeeders have that.

    The valve on that vertical pipe simply has to be closed. Looks like there is no handle on it anymore... but it has to be closed. Otherwise you are quite right -- water would go right by it.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    ethicalpaul
  • WilliamME
    WilliamME Member Posts: 14
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    Ahhh, im having a revelation . On the days I'm home all day, about 2 or 3 times a day I'll hear this loud noise that sounded like someone running a shower. I thought it just had something to do with the boiler building up a head of steam. I've ran down to the basement the times it's happened, looking for a valve blowing steam or something and but could not locate the source of the sound, because I didn't know at the time what the auto feeder was or what it looked like, so I wasn't looking at it.

    But I can now confirm the noise is the auto feeder, because the sound just happened and I went down there and could hear it coming off the feeder and the green light was on .

    So it runs about 3 times a days , for 7 or so seconds . Don't know how much water that equates too, I'm guessing a lot.


  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,324
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    Yeah, that is a lot. On the other hand, it's working -- which is Really Good News.

    What it means, though, sadly, is that somewhere you have a significant leak -- and it's most likely in that poor old boiler. The upside: it's amazing how long a steam system will run under those conditions. The downside: it won't run forever.

    So... I'd plan on having to replace it, and getting the whole system vetted and straightened out. Unfortunately, steam guys are a little thin on the ground, but I've heard that there is a firm in Gray (the name of which I forget), at least. Not sure where you are. I think there's someone in the Portland area, too, and someone in Rockport was recently on the Wall...

    You might try a new thread along the lines of "Help! Need Steam guru willing to come to [insert town}, Maine for boiler replacement!"
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    ethicalpaul
  • nicholas bonham-carter
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    Check with the local plumbing wholesale house for anyone local to you who does steam.—NBC
  • Dave0176
    Dave0176 Member Posts: 1,177
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    It looks to me like that boiler shares the same line with the Burnham V8 series oil boiler as Crown and Burnham belong to the same company. The V8s were horrible for steam and it seems most rot out after 8-12 years of use. Burnham recommends the Megasteam.
    DL Mechanical LLC Heating, Cooling and Plumbing 732-266-5386
    NJ Master HVACR Lic# 4630
    Specializing in Steam Heating, Serving the residents of New Jersey
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/dl-mechanical-llc

    https://m.facebook.com/DL-Mechanical-LLC-315309995326627/?ref=content_filter

    I cannot force people to spend money, I can only suggest how to spend it wisely.......
  • WilliamME
    WilliamME Member Posts: 14
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    Okay, I can see how the autofeeder has added that extra layer of confirmation that my boilers days are numbered in small figures.

    That's a good idea checking with the plumbing supply house, thank you, I plan on doing that too now.

    I also didn't know Crown was part of of Burnham until you told me. Are some Burnham products good, some junk? My previous home had a Burnham boiler set up as hydronic, never had a single issue with it in 8 years I lived there, and it was already 15 years old when I moved in.
  • Dave0176
    Dave0176 Member Posts: 1,177
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    WilliamME said:
    Okay, I can see how the autofeeder has added that extra layer of confirmation that my boilers days are numbered in small figures. That's a good idea checking with the plumbing supply house, thank you, I plan on doing that too now. I also didn't know Crown was part of of Burnham until you told me. Are some Burnham products good, some junk? My previous home had a Burnham boiler set up as hydronic, never had a single issue with it in 8 years I lived there, and it was already 15 years old when I moved in.
    If it’s oil, you can’t get a better product than the Burnham Megasteam or the rebranded Crown Freeport. They are three pass heavy cast iron boilers made for steam.
    DL Mechanical LLC Heating, Cooling and Plumbing 732-266-5386
    NJ Master HVACR Lic# 4630
    Specializing in Steam Heating, Serving the residents of New Jersey
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/dl-mechanical-llc

    https://m.facebook.com/DL-Mechanical-LLC-315309995326627/?ref=content_filter

    I cannot force people to spend money, I can only suggest how to spend it wisely.......
  • selibby
    selibby Member Posts: 1
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    Hi WilliamME. Wondering if you found a Maine-based contractor to assist you with servicing your boiler in Bangor?
  • cross_skier
    cross_skier Member Posts: 201
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    You got some really good advice here.  I would caution that there seems to be a shortage of the better boilers, most are backordered.  Be a little careful if the installer recommends a product you never heard of.  It may pay to limp along for a few weeks and wait for a Megasteam.

    There also seems to be a shortage of good installers.  You hopefully are a little scared of getting screwed with a bad installation and this will drive you to study Dan's books and the installation manuals.  I would ask for pics of steam installations completed by anyone you are considering along with references.

    Good luck
  • AdmiralYoda
    AdmiralYoda Member Posts: 629
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    My unprofessional advice...

    1. Safety First. Find a heating pro that at least has some idea about steam. I'm not talking about for replacing it...but more immediately cleaning the pigtails if any, skimming the boiler and cleaning out the site glass. Clean and adjust the burners, perform a combustion analysis etc. Just the basic maintenance stuff.

    2. Look for leaks!!!! The boiler is suspect but listen to all the radiators and try to find even the smallest leak. A few years ago I thought my boiler was toast but I had a small steam leak between two sections of a radiator. I was adding a 5 gallons a week to the boiler. I replaced the nipple between sections and I top off once a month max.

    3. Make sure it is operating at the minimum possible pressure. That should take a little stress off of the boiler. 1.5psi max with a 1psi differential is a good start.

    4. Take it easy on the old girl. Don't use setbacks on your thermostat, i.e. reduce the temperature at night or when you are away. The boiler has to work extra hard to bring the house back up to temp when you do that. You want to baby this boiler so just let it cruise at a set temperature. And keep that temperature as low as you can do reduce its workload.

    5. Chemicals!!!! I've never put much faith in them but this may be your hail-mary moment. Those "boiler stop leak" products may be enough to slow your leak down if it gets even worse. Might help you limp through the winter. Maybe someone will recommend one that they've used and had some success with. Get a couple bottles on hand just in case things start to get even worse.

    You have an old house, but if your wiring will support it...supplement with some small electric heaters where needed. Look into the safer oil filled ones. Keep the thermostat as low as you can handle and get through the winter...then get a new boiler in the spring.
    cross_skier
  • Hap_Hazzard
    Hap_Hazzard Member Posts: 2,846
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    This is not a good time to be buying a new boiler. Winters are always bad, but those supply chain problems you've been hearing about seem to be hitting this market hard. Finding the boiler you want in the size you need at the price you want to pay is going to be difficult, and if you end up settling for what you can get, you'll have to live with it for a while, so keep that Crown going through the winter if you possibly can.
    Just another DIYer | King of Prussia, PA
    1983(?) Peerless G-561-W-S | 3" drop header, CG400-1090, VXT-24
    cross_skier
  • AdmiralYoda
    AdmiralYoda Member Posts: 629
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    Just realized I posted advice on a revived post from roughly this time last year. I'm curious how this turned out.... OP hasn't signed on since April.
  • Hap_Hazzard
    Hap_Hazzard Member Posts: 2,846
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    Last active in April. At least he didn't freeze to death. :D
    Just another DIYer | King of Prussia, PA
    1983(?) Peerless G-561-W-S | 3" drop header, CG400-1090, VXT-24
  • Dan_NJ
    Dan_NJ Member Posts: 247
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    Last active in April. At least he didn't freeze to death. :D

    He's in Maine, you never know :smile:
  • Erin Holohan Haskell
    Erin Holohan Haskell Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 2,293
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    I'm going to close this old thread. Thanks!
    President
    HeatingHelp.com
This discussion has been closed.