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Still losing water...

SlowYourRollSlowYourRoll Member Posts: 28
edited November 19 in Strictly Steam
Hey all, this board is awesome! Thank you!

I have a gas boiler and one-pipe steam radiators. I'm losing water at a high rate, and need to refill the boiler once or twice a week.

So far this week I discovered that the vent damper had been switched off, so I switched that back on, but maybe that's still a source of lost steam cause it makes an awful sound when it spins, so maybe it needs some cleaning and possibly lubrication to make a proper seal when closed.

I also replaced the air valves on every radiator last weekend with Hoffman 1A valves (the same kind that was previously on some of the radiators). Those were probably 20 years old and some had been completely painted over. I also repacked the nut at the base of each radiator with graphite packing rope.

I thought these steps would take care of the water loss, but I'm still losing quite a bit. I was thinking the next step would be to find and clean or replace the air vents on the main lines, cause maybe the vents are clogged and stuck in an open position. So far I've only located one of these vents though, and from what I gather there should be at least two (one for supply line, one for return line) and possibly more. I also saw somewhere on here that doing something to one valve without doing it to the other can cause an imbalance. So I'm wondering what the next step should be. Also, if I can't find the other main air vents, if some are in fact held open due to an accumulation of scale or other buildup, I'm wondering if maybe using one of those descaling chemical treatments might be able to fix them from the inside.

Any and all advice is welcome. I'm really getting into steam these last few weeks (I'm a mechanical engineer, so on some level this stuff all makes sense and is really cool, and I'm looking forward to doing some of the other stuff like skimming once I get this water loss figured out).
ethicalpaul
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Comments

  • ethicalpaulethicalpaul Member Posts: 2,061
    Quick question: why would the damper cause you to lose steam do you think?

    The noise, if it sounds like little pieces of thin aluminum sliding and crinkling is the sound that mine makes. It's the little pieces of thin aluminum sliding and crinkling :)
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
    SlowYourRoll
  • neilcneilc Member Posts: 918
    big water loss is likely at the boiler, or wet returns,
    any buried wet returns down stairs?
    everything else look dry down there?
    shut the boiler off and let it cool some, now flood it up into the risers, let that sit a hour and look under the boiler, anything wet ?
    (drain back down to normal water line and refire)
    ethicalpaulmikeapolis
  • SlowYourRollSlowYourRoll Member Posts: 28

    Quick question: why would the damper cause you to lose steam do you think?

    The noise, if it sounds like little pieces of thin aluminum sliding and crinkling is the sound that mine makes. It's the little pieces of thin aluminum sliding and crinkling :)

    EthicalPaul, good question. It looks like I made a faulty assumption about how the whole system works. you are correct. thanks!
    ethicalpaul
  • ethicalpaulethicalpaul Member Posts: 2,061
    No problem :) You are going to be an expert in no time, I can tell!

    I like @neilc 's questions and suggestions above. They will guide you to find any major losses.
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
    SlowYourRoll
  • SlowYourRollSlowYourRoll Member Posts: 28
    neilc said:

    big water loss is likely at the boiler, or wet returns,
    any buried wet returns down stairs?
    everything else look dry down there?
    shut the boiler off and let it cool some, now flood it up into the risers, let that sit a hour and look under the boiler, anything wet ?
    (drain back down to normal water line and refire)

    oh dear. i will have to try this out. been spending a lot of time down there and everything is dry around the boiler. i guess if it is buried wet returns that would explain why all of a sudden i started losing much more water last season. i'll check the boiler like you said, but i'm thinking it might be buried wet returns now. thanks!
  • ethicalpaulethicalpaul Member Posts: 2,061
    If you do @neilc 's test and find that the water level dropped but it's still dry around the boiler, then the underground returns are about the only possibility.
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
    SlowYourRoll
  • SlowYourRollSlowYourRoll Member Posts: 28

    No problem :) You are going to be an expert in no time, I can tell!

    I like @neilc 's questions and suggestions above. They will guide you to find any major losses.

    thanks! yeah, it's pretty awesome stuff. i ignored the system except for monthly bleeds since i bought the house, but now that i'm learning about it i'm hopeful that i can do all the annual maintenance and fine-tuning myself to hopefully get some more years out of the boiler as well as bring down heating costs.
    ethicalpaul
  • ethicalpaulethicalpaul Member Posts: 2,061
    Sounds good! Since you are an engineer, get this book from the HH store: https://heatinghelp.com/store/detail/the-lost-art-of-steam-heating-revisited

    If you were a normal mortal I'd recommend We Got Steam Heat, but I think you'll get more out of the one above.

    Just so I know, what is a "monthly bleed"?
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
    SlowYourRoll
  • ethicalpaulethicalpaul Member Posts: 2,061
    So far I've only located one of these vents though, and from what I gather there should be at least two (one for supply line, one for return line) and possibly more.


    There should be one for each main, near the point where the "supply" (or "main") becomes the "return".

    You can tell the mains because they are fed by risers that hopefully come upward off of the "header", which should be a big horizontal pipe above your boiler.

    I'm always very curious, and we love to look at pictures of boilers around here, so send one or two showing your boiler from floor to ceiling if you like!
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
    SlowYourRollZman
  • SlowYourRollSlowYourRoll Member Posts: 28

    Sounds good! Since you are an engineer, get this book from the HH store: https://heatinghelp.com/store/detail/the-lost-art-of-steam-heating-revisited

    If you were a normal mortal I'd recommend We Got Steam Heat, but I think you'll get more out of the one above.

    Just so I know, what is a "monthly bleed"?

    Thanks, I actually bought it a few weeks ago and am working my way through it. I totally love it. Thanks though. Yeah, I love those old systems that needed mechanical solutions for everything. I used to operate an old Linotype Machine at a local museum. Now THAT was a crazy contraption. If you love steam you'd probably get a kick out of seeing one of those in action.
    ethicalpaul
  • SlowYourRollSlowYourRoll Member Posts: 28

    So far I've only located one of these vents though, and from what I gather there should be at least two (one for supply line, one for return line) and possibly more.


    There should be one for each main, near the point where the "supply" (or "main") becomes the "return".

    You can tell the mains because they are fed by risers that hopefully come upward off of the "header", which should be a big horizontal pipe above your boiler.

    I'm always very curious, and we love to look at pictures of boilers around here, so send one or two showing your boiler from floor to ceiling if you like!
    Thanks, will do a little later.
    ethicalpaul
  • SlowYourRollSlowYourRoll Member Posts: 28

    Just so I know, what is a "monthly bleed"?

    Oh, that is too funny! when I bought the house, the inspector told me to open the drain valve once a month to flush some sediment out. i think i just called it the monthly bleed in my head cause in aerospace we use "bleed air" from the turbine, so i guess i was thinking of bleeding as taking fluid out of a system, but now that you point it out, i see that "monthly bleed" could be mistaken for a totally different mammalian process... :D
    ethicalpaul
  • ethicalpaulethicalpaul Member Posts: 2,061
    OK cool, I suspected something like that. But I wanted to make sure because the float-type low-water cutoff devices do require a weekly "blow down".

    You may know that you do want to minimize the introduction of fresh water into the boiler to minimize corrosion, so although his advice is Ok, keep it minimal.

    And in hot water systems, you do bleed air out of the high points of the system but it's not a term used with steam :)
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
    SlowYourRoll
  • SlowYourRollSlowYourRoll Member Posts: 28
    edited November 19

    OK cool, I suspected something like that. But I wanted to make sure because the float-type low-water cutoff devices do require a weekly "blow down".

    You may know that you do want to minimize the introduction of fresh water into the boiler to minimize corrosion, so although his advice is Ok, keep it minimal.

    And in hot water systems, you do bleed air out of the high points of the system but it's not a term used with steam :)

    It is possible that I have a float-type low water cutoff that will need that servicing. Haven't gotten there yet though. was gonna get to cleaning the cutoff and cleaning out the sight glass and all that a little later, but first i was trying to tackle this water loss.

    anyway, if it is buried wet returns, that's definitely something i'll need a pro to do. anyway i'll be reading through the site later to pick up what i can about that work (already seen that black steel is better than copper), but if you have any quick advice to share i'm all ears. also i was looking to do some of the other things i've seen on here for the steam loop like descaling with a solvent and skimming, but am i correct in thinking there isn't much point to doing those things before replacing buried wet returns? i'm assuming there's all sorts of crud in the wet returns and it'd just be easier to worry about scale and skimming and sludge once i've got a nice clean pipe in place.
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 13,852
    If you do find that wet returns are leaking -- wouldn't be surprised -- it's OK to replace them in copper, so long as they are below the water line.
    Br. Jamie, osb

    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England.

    Hoffman Equipped System (all original except boiler), Weil-Mclain 580, 2.75 gph Carlin, Vapourstat 0.5 -- 6.0 ounces per square inch
    ethicalpaul
  • ethicalpaulethicalpaul Member Posts: 2,061
    I agree with you, find and address the leak before you spend any real energy on anything else.

    when/if you or your pro replace the wet return, keep it above slab if you can and plumb a tee and a 3/4" full port valve on either end so the return can be easily flushed/drained.
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
  • Dan_NJDan_NJ Member Posts: 130
    if you have a leaking wet return and you're adding that much makeup water (you mentioned "refilling" the boiler once or twice weekly, I am assuming several gallons per week) that's a recipe for a rotted out boiler section or two. Aside from the LWCO and pressure relief valve being in working order, a leaky wet return should be the first order of business.
    ethicalpaul
  • SlowYourRollSlowYourRoll Member Posts: 28
    Dan_NJ said:

    if you have a leaking wet return and you're adding that much makeup water (you mentioned "refilling" the boiler once or twice weekly, I am assuming several gallons per week) that's a recipe for a rotted out boiler section or two. Aside from the LWCO and pressure relief valve being in working order, a leaky wet return should be the first order of business.

    LWCO is at least working. def could use some cleaning. pressure relief valve isn't looking so good. haven't tested it though, could be it's just old.
  • SlowYourRollSlowYourRoll Member Posts: 28
    edited November 20
    here are pics as promised. the drain valve has a slight drip (hence the bucket), otherwise everything under the boiler seems dry. the wet returns are above ground. some of the length is underneath some stairs and blocked by random junk, so i will have to dig those out to look for water, but the stretches of the wet returns i could see appear dry. right now the boiler is overfilled a bit, hence the full sight glass. i must've overfilled a little earlier when i topped it off. from reading "The Lost Art..." tonight i gather that my Pressuretrol is set too high, so maybe i can crank that down a little to the recommended settings in the book. i'm only about 70 pages into The Lost Art so i have a ways to go, and i also need to circle back and read through "We Got Steam Heat" to fill in gaps since The Lost Art appears to be mainly written for steam or HVAC pros. also that VXT water feeder has a slight leak (left that part out of the original post cause that was a whole other ordeal this summer), so i'm not using it at all and just using the valve upstream of that to fill the boiler when it gets low. will try the method recommended earlier to see if there's a leak somewhere in the boiler itself, but that'll have to wait until the weekend.











  • SlowYourRollSlowYourRoll Member Posts: 28
    also i haven't tested it, but that pressure relief valve isn't looking so good, so that might jump to the top of the to-do list as recommended earlier.
  • neilcneilc Member Posts: 918
    edited November 20
    yeah, that Ptrol could be dialed down some,
    set the main just at or under the 2, or try for 1 1/2.
    set the subtractive diff to 1, you'll have to scale that there.
    also note that your Ptrol has that mercury bulb, which means the Ptrol needs to be level and plumb, forward and back side to side.
    Inside and on the back of that Ptrol case there should be a pendulum and marker, check that,
    Your steel pigtail is more prone to clogging,
    I don't remember if we're discussing pressure issues, the pigtail should be checked for clean and clear so the Ptrol can see boiler pressure. Consider replacing the steel with a brass tail,
    And because the Ptrol is sensitive to level / plumb, the loop of the pigtail should face forward where yours is a bit skewed to the side, as it heats and cools / expands and contracts, the loop could play with level and plumb, so the loop wants to align with front and back of Ptrol.

    I think "We got steam" is a great read and primer for the bigger book.
    SlowYourRoll
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 13,852
    Yes -- the mercury types do have to be level. On the other hand, they are a lot more reliable, accurate, and precise than the newer microswitch types.
    Br. Jamie, osb

    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England.

    Hoffman Equipped System (all original except boiler), Weil-Mclain 580, 2.75 gph Carlin, Vapourstat 0.5 -- 6.0 ounces per square inch
    SlowYourRoll
  • neilcneilc Member Posts: 918
    I wasn't saying anything bad about the mercury,
    I know your loves,
    SlowYourRollethicalpaul
  • SlowYourRollSlowYourRoll Member Posts: 28
    neilc said:

    yeah, that Ptrol could be dialed down some,
    set the main just at or under the 2, or try for 1 1/2.
    set the subtractive diff to 1, you'll have to scale that there.
    also note that your Ptrol has that mercury bulb, which means the Ptrol needs to be level and plumb, forward and back side to side.
    Inside and on the back of that Ptrol case there should be a pendulum and marker, check that,
    Your steel pigtail is more prone to clogging,
    I don't remember if we're discussing pressure issues, the pigtail should be checked for clean and clear so the Ptrol can see boiler pressure. Consider replacing the steel with a brass tail,
    And because the Ptrol is sensitive to level / plumb, the loop of the pigtail should face forward where yours is a bit skewed to the side, as it heats and cools / expands and contracts, the loop could play with level and plumb, so the loop wants to align with front and back of Ptrol.

    I think "We got steam" is a great read and primer for the bigger book.

    thanks so much! i will add cleaning the pigtail and aligning the Ptrol to the To-Do list.

    i didn't specifically mention pressure issues yet because my hunch was that the water loss problem needs to be addressed first, but i really appreciate the feedback and will get to that soon (although i will probably dial down the Ptrol today since that is quick).

    that's another thing, if anyone wants to check the order i was thinking of doing things to see if i've made a mistake in planning...

    1. tackle the water loss problem. could be water damage in the home, and it's making the boiler work too hard and corrode faster with all the extra tap water being added. also it seems like the steam loop should be roughly a closed loop if all the airvents are working properly and all the fittings (like the nut at the radiator supply valve) are sealed, and since it's not a closed loop right now it doesn't seem to make sense worrying about the pressure, since wherever the leak is, it is functioning as an open vent that shouldn't be there.
    2. clean the boiler itself. this is where i'm worried years of neglect have lead to some of the problems i first learned about from YouTube videos where there's now hotspots on the heat exchanger that will eventually break the heater. i would very much like to salvage this guy and take better care of him from now on. and i figured this came next cause it might also affect any fine-tuning of other systems like pressure.
    3. this is where i was going to do the serious cleaning and servicing of things like the Ptrol, clean the sight glass, clean any other probes, clean the returns if possible, maybe do a little descaling (although not all at once since it's currently heating season, if i dislodge too much stuff and it accumulates in a clog downstream i don't want to be without heat for days while i have to add more and more solvents. i'll probably go back over the summer and really try to clean out these old 1927 pipes.
    4. then skimming.
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 13,852
    Your sequence looks good. Finding and fixing the source of the water loss is very much number 1.

    And you are right -- a steam system is, or should be, a closed loop, and most residential size systems shouldn't need more than a gallon or two of makeup in a month, if that.
    Br. Jamie, osb

    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England.

    Hoffman Equipped System (all original except boiler), Weil-Mclain 580, 2.75 gph Carlin, Vapourstat 0.5 -- 6.0 ounces per square inch
  • neilcneilc Member Posts: 918
    #1, definitely want to get a handle on where the water is going,
    another simple check is on a cool/cold morning, watch your chimney, if it's billowing steam / condensate , , , bingo.
    #2, fire side, I don't do, and neither do you, if you did do a cleaning, you need a competent burner tech with equipment to dial in and tune the burn, find a competent burner tech.
    #3, check the pigtail (now) if the pressures are not behaving to what the Ptrol is set to.
    the sightglass is clean enough to see the water line, and is prone to leaking or breaking just when you think you're done with it, if it isn't leaking now , , , leave it be. wait till Spring.
    #4, Skimming, I don't see that you have a skim port, although not ideal, the pigtail 90 could be changed to a tee, and could be extended and skimmed from there.
    are you seeing the water line bounce when firing?
    #0.5*, check the low water cutoff, close the feed water valve, slowly drain the boiler while it's firing, it should trip off when the water level in the sight glass gets below the probe port, if the sightglass gets to the bottom then shut the boiler off and figure on cleaning or replacing the probe.
    reopen the feed valve.
    #0.75, the auto feeder picture, is the bypass ball valve over the vxt open ? am I seeing that wrong?
    SlowYourRoll
  • SlowYourRollSlowYourRoll Member Posts: 28
    neilc said:

    #1, definitely want to get a handle on where the water is going,
    another simple check is on a cool/cold morning, watch your chimney, if it's billowing steam / condensate , , , bingo

    AHA! remember earlier when i thought the vent damper might have something to do with lost steam? it was because one morning i noticed a bunch of steam (or what looked like steam) coming out of the chimney. that's when i went and checked and found that the vent damper had been turned off for the last decade. so i was mistakenly thinking it was somehow a part of the steam loop in my initial post...

    but if only exhaust gases are supposed to go up the chimney through the vent...then there's a hole in the boiler?
  • SlowYourRollSlowYourRoll Member Posts: 28
    neilc said:

    #0.5*, check the low water cutoff, close the feed water valve, slowly drain the boiler while it's firing, it should trip off when the water level in the sight glass gets below the probe port, if the sightglass gets to the bottom then shut the boiler off and figure on cleaning or replacing the probe.
    reopen the feed valve.

    the low water cutoff has been working, since it shuts everything down every couple days when i've lost more water, but i haven't checked it to see when it shuts off and make sure the shutoff water level is properly calibrated. and that minimum water level is the bottom of the sight glass? that is very doable. can knock that out tonight.
  • neilcneilc Member Posts: 918

    neilc said:

    ...then there's a hole in the boiler?
    flood test will tell ya
    SlowYourRollethicalpaulJUGHNE
  • neilcneilc Member Posts: 918

    neilc said:

    the low water cutoff has been working, since it shuts everything down every couple days when i've lost more water,
    ok, that works then,
    flood it and figure from there
    ethicalpaulJUGHNE
  • SlowYourRollSlowYourRoll Member Posts: 28
    neilc said:

    #0.75, the auto feeder picture, is the bypass ball valve over the vxt open ? am I seeing that wrong?

    you see, i cut some of my previous adventures out of the initial post cause i didn't want to take up too much of anyone's time, but now that you ask...yes, that ball valve is open...

    i'll spare you the whole back story. the short version is there was a leak over the spring and summer. turned out to be a combination of a leaky drain valve and a leaky water feeder. i was able to tighten the drain valve with a wrench so it has maybe a drip every 10 minutes. but since the drain valve shouldn't have been a continuous problem with the boiler off and the water feeder not working (it hasn't worked properly in years), it should've dripped until it ran out of water and then stopped, i figured the only way new water could be getting to it was if the water feeder also had a leak. so now i have the bypass open and i add water manually using the cutoff valve upstream of the water feeder.
  • SlowYourRollSlowYourRoll Member Posts: 28
    neilc said:

    neilc said:

    ...then there's a hole in the boiler?
    flood test will tell ya
    thanks so much! only question i have is how do i know when the water has reached the riser? i was figuring i would be able to tap the pipe and hear the difference, but if you've got a better method i'm all ears
  • neilcneilc Member Posts: 918
    edited November 20
    you'll feel the riser cool off if its been running, or might warm up a bit if its cold. ya might hear the water as it floods the copper header, (I'm surprised no one has jumped on that copper, though yours is almost, ok) really shouldn't have copper above the water line
    time how long it takes you to fill the sight glass, then calculate how much more time to get water up into the pipe out the top,
    stop flooding before the water comes (from t)he vents.
  • ethicalpaulethicalpaul Member Posts: 2,061
    Or at least stop flooding when you see water come out of the vents :p

    Or install one of these:
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
    Neild5
  • JUGHNEJUGHNE Member Posts: 7,408
    edited November 20
    If you have a hole in the boiler it is possibly caused by fresh water being automatically for some time.
    That loss could be from buried wet returns that just leak into the ground under the concrete.

    You could check that now, do you understand the concept of a water tube level?

    It looks like the high horizontal pipe in the return is below the Hartford Loop or boiler water line.
    It looks like you could attach a clear plastic hose to the lowest hose bid near the floor. You only need maybe 3' of hose.
    with the hose bib open, the high end of the hose open and tied to a pipe, then overfill the boiler just a little so that water will certainly get into the Hartford Loop.
    This water will go into the wet return if not full (as it should be) already. If you then drain the boiler down below the Loop the wet return should remain steady and full.

    Then observe the water column to see it it drops.
    If it does the water is leaking under ground or somewhere.
    It may take some time and I would do the test several times.
  • SlowYourRollSlowYourRoll Member Posts: 28
    Bad news, it's a leak in the boiler somewhere.
  • neilcneilc Member Posts: 918
    yup, sorry to hear that, wet floor or steamin chimney ?
    start measuring up your radiators and figuring your EDR,
    you'll know when you have the right installer when they do the same, or ask for your figures, check that,
    , , , when they do their own take off.
    where are you located ?
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/
  • neilcneilc Member Posts: 918
    edited November 21
    you also want the installer to show you the manual, and how they are going to, and are following, the piping diagram to the T, or better, including pipe size, no copper above the water line, swing joints, black iron,

    if you have extra cash get them to pipe in some glass, like Paul did, #kidding
    SlowYourRoll
  • SlowYourRollSlowYourRoll Member Posts: 28
    neilc said:

    yup, sorry to hear that, wet floor or steamin chimney ?
    start measuring up your radiators and figuring your EDR,
    you'll know when you have the right installer when they do the same, or ask for your figures, check that,
    , , , when they do their own take off.
    where are you located ?
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/

    Thanks! Baltimore, Maryland. yeah, i'll definitely be going over all the figures myself now that i know a bit more about what i'm doing. probably do some more reading on here and finishing We Got Steam Heat and The Lost Art... before I contact someone, but it'll be good to make sure whoever I get knows what they're doing. i had an addition put on the house this past year and i don't think the HVAC guy knew what he was doing with steam. that's when a lot of this mess started (although my lack of maintenance is really where it started).

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