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Restarting oil boiler for steam radiators this winter

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lenbyker9
lenbyker9 Member Posts: 22
Hello!

How do I safely make sure that our oil boiler for our steam radiators is good to go after not using it for the past few months? Can I trust it will be fine to start up? (Happy to provide photos if helpful!)

I did briefly turn up the heat and it kicked on, but want to be careful!

Background: We moved in last March, the system looks old and well-used but it worked well for months before we stopped using it because of warm weather. The thermostat control is a Google Nest which also seemed to work fine.

Thanks so much!

Comments

  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,657
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    Ideally you would have a qualified technician come and change filters, possibly change the burner nozzle, and check and adjust the burner. But...

    The most important thing is to make sure that the water level seen in the boiler sight glass is reasonable. The ideal level may be marked on the boiler -- but if not, halfway up the sight glass is as good a place to start as any. Then there are two safety or control devices: a pressure control and a low water cutoff. If you are unfamiliar with the boiler, it can be a bit difficult -- or daunting -- to check them (and in some installations the pressure control may not come into play). The low water cutoff is best checked by starting the boiler and then draining enough water out to bring the water down to the bottom of the sight glass. The boiler should turn itself off. Then add water back to where it belongs and let the boiler really come up to steam. The pressure control may be harder, as some systems never do come up to the pressure set on it.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    lenbyker9
  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 8,167
    edited November 2020
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    I see that you had at one point a 30+year-old boiler when you move in... have you replaced it? If yes, then you should not need to do the nozzle, oil filter thing Jamie mentioned. Just turn it on... But it is important to make sure the water level is proper.

    If you still have the original boiler, You should have an oil burner professional (that understands steam boilers) do the recommended annual maintenance. as touched on briefly above

    It appears that you are new to oil heat and to steam heat. You may want to talk to and have someone look at it, to go over the weekly and monthly things you should do now that you are a steam-heat homeowner.

    Edward Young Retired

    After you make that expensive repair and you still have the same problem, What will you check next?

    lenbyker9
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 17,008
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    @lenbyker9 , you really should call a pro. Where are you located?
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
    lenbyker9
  • lenbyker9
    lenbyker9 Member Posts: 22
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    @Jamie Hall Thanks so much! I think I can handle the low water cut off that you described. The water level is where it was last year and is about half way, which sounds good.

    @EdTheHeaterMan Thank you! It is the same system and hasn't been changed. I have reached out to New England Steamworks for an annual maintenance visit but waiting to hear back for now. In case the temperature drops drastically, I wanted to see if it might be safe to turn on the system for a short period until our maintenance gets scheduled.

    @Steamhead Much appreciated! We live near Boston. I have reached out to New England Steamworks for an annual maintenance visit but waiting to hear back for now. In case the temperature drops drastically, I wanted to see if it might be safe to turn on the system for a short period until our maintenance gets scheduled.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,657
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    If you can get Ryan of @New England SteamWorks to come, you're golden. He's one of the best. It's worth waiting for him! In the meantime it should be safe enough -- but keep an eye on the water level. That really is most critical thing.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 8,167
    edited November 2020
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    Edited:

    Before you turn it on, you should do @Jamie Hall's test. here is how to do it. There is a valve at the bottom of the heater on the right side indicated by a blue arrow. First turn off the water feed valve (Not in the picture) on the pipe indicated. Then Turn on the boiler and open the valve. Water should spill out. It's ok to just let it soak into the floor. There won't be that much.


    It is important to shut off the water feeding the boiler to di this test.

    The burner should stop once you see the water lever drop in the sight glass. if the burner does not stop then DO NO USE THE HEATER. turn of the switch.

    If it does go off, then close the drain valve and open the fill valve in the back of the heater you closed to do the test.

    Edward Young Retired

    After you make that expensive repair and you still have the same problem, What will you check next?

    lenbyker9
  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 8,167
    edited November 2020
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    This will allow the water to automatically fill the boiler and will turn off when it is at the correct level. The burner will automatically turn on and the heater will operate normally.

    Now you can turn the thermostat down (or not) but you are not finished.

    After the burner relights, you will want to watch the water level to make sure the water stops filling the boiler at some point near the middle of the gauge glass. If it stops, then you are ready to operate the system.

    If it does not stop filling, the water will go above the sight glass and that is not good. shut off the valve and you may need to drain some water to get the boiler water level back to the center of the sight glass. (Gauge glass). Sometimes I use 2 different words for the same thing

    Edward Young Retired

    After you make that expensive repair and you still have the same problem, What will you check next?

    lenbyker9
  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 8,167
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    Now if your test has gone as smooth as a presidential election, you will need to call the service company with a "NO HEAT" call, and not a maintenance call that can wait a couple of weeks.

    If however, the burner stops as it should with low water... then restarts with water added... and the water does not over fill... then... PRESTO... you are ready for the cold.

    But don't put off the maintenance

    Edward Young Retired

    After you make that expensive repair and you still have the same problem, What will you check next?

    lenbyker9
  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 8,167
    edited November 2020
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    OOPS. wrong valve

    that is the fast-fill valve in the back.

    Look for a valve above that one (out of the picture) to shut off to do the first test I'm fixing the pictures as we speak.

    OK EDIT IS DONE

    Sorry for the wrong directions, I hope I caught it in time.

    Edward Young Retired

    After you make that expensive repair and you still have the same problem, What will you check next?

    lenbyker9
  • lenbyker9
    lenbyker9 Member Posts: 22
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    SO much gratitude @EdTheHeaterMan !!

    I've attached a photo from a different angle just to be sure. There is a valve that was hidden behind the Waterfeeder that couldn't be seen in the original photo you had!



    But that valve isn't the shut off valve, is it? I don't actually see any other valves except for one far away in the corner of the basement when I follow that same pipe... ( below)

  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 8,167
    edited November 2020
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    There is the valve to shut off to test the LWCO


    Edward Young Retired

    After you make that expensive repair and you still have the same problem, What will you check next?

    lenbyker9
  • lenbyker9
    lenbyker9 Member Posts: 22
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    @EdTheHeaterMan Excellent!! Quite a bit of water came out, but the system did stop when the water in the sight glass got low. Then it refilled a bit when I opened the shut off valve. But it did not fill it back up to half way and the yellow "low water" light is on.
    Do I just feed it water till it is back up to half way?
  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 8,167
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    That LWCO has a switch to open the water feed valve (the black box on the pipe with the yellow handled valves. Sometimes there is a maximum amount of water that can be fed at one time on those controls. This is so the boiler does not get overfilled. After a set amount of time, the auto feeder will kick back in by itself. That may take some time... an hour or more.

    If you want to speed up the process you can open the manual valve (the only one in the first picture). Open it partially and let water in slowly until the burner starts, then shut it off.

    Let the automatic stuff do its job after that.

    Edward Young Retired

    After you make that expensive repair and you still have the same problem, What will you check next?

    lenbyker9
  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 8,167
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    By the sounds of things, you should be ok to run the burner once the water level is back to normal.

    Sorry about the amount of water. I thought the semicircle around your boiler was dirt and the water would just seep in there.

    Edward Young Retired

    After you make that expensive repair and you still have the same problem, What will you check next?

    lenbyker9
  • lenbyker9
    lenbyker9 Member Posts: 22
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    @EdTheHeaterMan Incredible! Can't thank you enough for your help and time and pictures! Feeling more comfortable using it a little until we get the maintenance visit scheduled!
  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 8,167
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    You can hit LIKE on all my posts

    Edward Young Retired

    After you make that expensive repair and you still have the same problem, What will you check next?

    MaxMercyneilcCanucker
  • lenbyker9
    lenbyker9 Member Posts: 22
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    Thanks again @EdTheHeaterMan! Ever since opening the valve on the boiler to let water out, it has been dripping. No matter how tight I turn it closed, it continues to drip. It hadn't ever leaked before, is there something I can do to stop it? 
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,109
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    Get a brass hose cap with washer. That is a band-aid repair.
    Then if you have someone there who can remove it and install a full port 3/4" ball valve with hose adaptor, you will be able to drain the boiler better and remove any mud that is in it.
    lenbyker9
  • lenbyker9
    lenbyker9 Member Posts: 22
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    @JUGHNE Much appreciated! I got a brass hose cap with a washer but then saw after that the leak is coming from outside the cap, unfortunately. thanks for your help! 
  • nicholas bonham-carter
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    Post a picture close up, and perhaps we can think of a solution.—NBC
    lenbyker9
  • lenbyker9
    lenbyker9 Member Posts: 22
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    Thanks so much for the offer @nicholas bonham-carter!
    I had a hard time getting a good photo but here is a look at it up close. 



    It looks like the drip is coming out of the faucet itself but with the cap on it I found the water was coming from outside. I think you can see how it is wet on the outside and is originating to the left of the picture at that seam/threading. Am I right? If so, is there anything I can do to seal/fix it?

    There was no drip until after I opened the valve for the first time. 

    Thanks very much!
  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 8,167
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    Use the cap and then tighten the packing nut.
    This is the reason you need someone to do thorough maintenance. If the maintenance was done properly over the years, that valve would have been opened and closed every other year or so. My guess is the valve has not been opened for some time.



    Edward Young Retired

    After you make that expensive repair and you still have the same problem, What will you check next?

    MaxMercylenbyker9