Click here to Find a Contractor in your area.
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/.

Burnham America Series 4 (1978) Saveable or Move on?

Hi, been reading up a lot here as am a new homeowner with an older one pipe steam system. System has been a nightmare so far, lots of issues with water hammer, bad vents, wet steam, broken pressure gauge, water flooding out of one rad, broken thermostat, broken gas valve. All of these I've had fixed or am in the process of addressing but today marked a new low. Had flames from the burners coming out from behind the insulated panel that covers them. Boiler shut off and the pilot went out. Hopefully these photos come through ok. Wanted to know if I can get this serviced and get through the winter or start pricing out a replacement?






«1

Comments

  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,685
    Apparently the burners and heat exchanger has maybe never been cleaned....maybe a draft problem with the chimney.
    I am one old school, maybe fool, who would try to clean that mess....but you probably may not find another.

    It is worth asking someone about doing it and testing the combustion....most likely high CO readings.

    So if you decide for a new boiler show us your piping for judgement by all and pointers for improvement on new install.
    Many new replacements discussed here have been a cluster and worse results than the original install. And by the time the homeowners come here they have made final payment and stuck with a royal cluster/knucklehead/hack job. FWIW
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,685
    edited November 2020
    The typical first mistake made by "get-er-done" hacks is to replace with the same size or even bigger.
    You can measure your radiators and come up with the required boiler size. Not difficult to do. Highly recommended. Then ask potential new installer how they determined the boiler size.

    Where are you located....look for the "Find a Contractor" section above.

    How new of an owner are you to this house, seller has some liability in this issue...perhaps.....maybe.
  • adrian123
    adrian123 Member Posts: 25
    Thanks everyone. Closed on the house in April and didn’t try use the heat until October when all these issues became apparent. The last owner was 90 year old lady who’s deadbeat kids let the house rot around her, as I found out as soon as we started to do any renovations so would shock me if they did any upkeep or maintenance on this boiler unless absolutely necessary. 

    We’re in Westchester NY where labor costs are HIGH so my hope would be to be able to limp through this winter and replace if I have to when I have some more financial breathing room. Will take some photos of the near boiler piping and do a diagram of the other piping.
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,685
    No home inspection done before sale? If so this would have been an obvious oversight on the inspectors part.

    Perhaps the contract had some clause of basic things that were working. This issue has been an ongoing problem for more than a couple of years. Worth an inquiry IMO.
  • adrian123
    adrian123 Member Posts: 25
    Sorry for any confusion, system worked at inspection but we then didn’t use it after that as we weren’t living in the house. Only when we were getting ready to move in and the weather got colder in October did I discover the many underlying problems.

    I’ve replaced all the radiator vents, added a gorton #2, insulated all the pipes, just got a new pressure gauge to replace the broken one, replaced the gas valve (twice!). Still have water hammer but thought I was making progress with this system until today.
  • SuperTech
    SuperTech Member Posts: 1,670
    I've never had much luck with cleaning gas boilers and getting them back to good working order. Gas boilers aren't designed to be cleaned like oil fired equipment.  It can be done,  but it would likely be a time consuming,  messy process.  I'd only try to resurrect that boiler as a last resort. 
    I used to work in Westchester county,  currently working in Dutchess county.  A lot of companies down there aren't familiar with steam heating. I don't work on them myself, not many in my area, we recommend customers call steam heating specialists.  Make sure who you call is familiar with steam and combustion testing. 
    STEVEusaPA
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 3,089
    My old not-very-maintained gas boiler looked way better than that—that soot/carbon buildup is insane. Not enough air, right??
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
    Precaud
  • adrian123
    adrian123 Member Posts: 25
    Would that be because of the chimney? We haven’t gotten a chimney guy in to do a proper inspection yet so not sure if there’s an issue with the flue.

    Could I keep going with this thing if I have the gas going to the burners turned down? Or have some taken out, the ones that are blackened in the photos? Even if I wanted to replace this right away it looks like a lot of boilers are out of stock or on back order for a few weeks.
  • Lard
    Lard Member Posts: 115
    The combustion is obviously way off, likely has been for a while.  This creates a cascade where eventually the block clogs up and has combustion gasses (and sooty flame in your case!) rolling out, which then dilutes the combustion air even more, making more soot, and most of all, carbon monoxide right into your living area which can make you wake up dead.  Turn it OFF, kill the gas, and do not run until it is fixed or replaced.

    Myself, I would keep it going by brushing the block out, cleaning the burners, (that being an older design, the block may be easier to clean than newer gas pinners),  then have a tech set up combustion on it. You mentioned gas valve replacements—-was the combustion ever set up after those? The valve has an internal regulator so with a changeout, gas pressure and combustion must be checked. That valve replacement alone may have started the failure cascade that clogged her up.
    ethicalpaul
  • adrian123
    adrian123 Member Posts: 25
    Thanks, when rewiring the thermostat our electrician shorted out the gas valve, so that was replaced but the plumber who replaced the valve didn’t do any tests after just said the system was now running fine. That was maybe two weeks ago, 
  • Zman
    Zman Member Posts: 6,790
    Please tell us that you have current CO detectors and your homeowners insurance is paid.
    I don't think I would sleep in a home with that mess. It is beyond repair.
    I would keep the steam and replace the boiler ASAP. 42 years is a long life, it is time for new.
    "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough"
    Albert Einstein
    ethicalpaulSuperTechunclejohn
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 3,089
    I don’t know how any licensed tradesman could possibly have left that boiler running in that state. My mind boggles
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
    mattmia2SuperTech
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,685
    Some older pin type boilers had front door panels that were removed for better cleaning.
    The ones I have seen were about 2 1/2" wide and 6-10" high.
    They were behind a jacket panel above the burners.
    If lucky they might be there.
  • Chris_L
    Chris_L Member Posts: 206
    I have a couple Burnham 404 series boilers a few years newer, and they do have the front door panels behind the jacket (which is a bit of a pain to remove.) Not sure if your boiler is the same.

    But you really need to address the draft issues before cleaning. In addition to having the chimney checked, I'd take the flue pipe off the top of the boiler and see what kind of obstructions you have looking down into the boiler with a light shining up from the burners (after turning the boiler off, of course.)

    When I cleaned my boilers after 20+ years, I found some boiler cement had fallen down from the flue collector, but nothing like the black soot on yours. Just some light rust and a light coating of grey soot.

    I also wonder about the rust on the burner tubes, which seems to only be on one side. A leak maybe?
  • MikeL_2
    MikeL_2 Member Posts: 290
    I would confirm that there is enough combustion air as a part of the chimney inspection. Are there other appliances, exhaust fans, dryers, etc. competing with the boiler for make up air?
    Zman
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 9,700
    @adrian123
    That boiler can most likely be cleaned and put back into service.

    Anyone with some mechanical aptitude can remove and clean the burners and the boiler but I would get a chimney guy to check and clean the chimney and flue pipe. It will be a messy job

    But then you must get the combustion checked

    I would not run the boiler as is
    mattmia2Precaud
  • adrian123
    adrian123 Member Posts: 25
    Thanks all for the advice, much appreciated. The only other thing on the chimney is the hot water heater. I’ll schedule a chimney inspection and see about cleaning the burners.
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 3,677
    It seems like the burners being so clogged up with corrosion that was never cleaned off could change the mixture a lot.
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,685
    Make or break test:

    You can overfill the boiler to where you feel the piping above get cold as the water rises. Let sit for even 2 hours.
    Any water on the floor is replacement time for sure.
    Dry floor indicates possible survival.

    I will admit to having cleaned a hot water boiler this bad.
    The chimney draft was border line.
    It was usable, but the problem continued only because of the chimney issue.
    The boiler was replaced with a ModCon side wall vented boiler, not an option for your steamer.

    If you have chimney (draft) problems they will have to be resolved in any event.
    You can get sidewall power venter for both the boiler and a water heater that power vents.
    Both are annoying with noise and maintenance issues.
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 9,700
    Since the boiler has been there since 1978 this is not a constant problem it must have run ok at one time.

    Anything on that boiler that would cause bad combustion can be fixed unless the burners are shot and no replacements are available
  • unclejohn
    unclejohn Member Posts: 1,736
    The first photo show's flame roll out. Turn it off and get a new one. A boiler is not like a antique car you take out and drive on a nice sunny Sunday. You have to depend on it everyday of the winter season. You will be throwing money away if you try and get it to work safely. And after you have spent all that money and your house is full of soot you still have a 42 year old boiler.
    ZmanSuperTech
  • adrian123
    adrian123 Member Posts: 25
    edited November 2020
    Yes I definitely agree that in general I need to replace this thing, was just hoping that if possible I can put that off till next spring or summer. The $ to replace it right now isn’t exactly in the 2020 budget. Also it’s not like I can get someone to just come over tomorrow and out a new one in, could we weeks before I have all the quotes and pick an installer.
  • Precaud
    Precaud Member Posts: 368
    I'd follow @EBEBRATT-Ed 's advice. Clean the burners and do anything else you can handle. Then call in a specialist to check the chimney, adjust the flame, etc.
    1950's Bryant boiler in a 1-pipe steam system at 7,000 ft in northern NM, where basements are rare.
  • adrian123
    adrian123 Member Posts: 25
    Got some quotes for both cleaning and replacement, cleaning was $1500 decided to try myself. Got a brush and a soot saber and went at it. Seemed like the soot would never stop dropping out but I think I have it pretty clean. Hard to get a good photo but you could see to the burners between each section when before it was compacted black soot. But did have some white bits falling down too, would that be boiler putty and is that a concern that it’s crumbling? 

    Will have a plumber back tomorrow to test the unit. This guy also said I should have ConEd replace the gas meter as that might not be moving the gas at high enough pressure. No idea if that is a factor. 
    PrecaudSolid_Fuel_Man
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 9,700
    @adrian123

    Good job! I would also take the burners out and clean them as well they may have soot in them.

    Hopefully the combustion test is ok.

    Did you clean the upper end with the flue box, smoke pipe and look up the chimney?
    SuperTech
  • adrian123
    adrian123 Member Posts: 25
    I vacuumed out the flue box and smoke pipe, will have the plumber reattach that to the chimney and put new cement as the current stuff is crumbling. 

    I removed the burners to clean them but didn’t want to mess with the one that has the thermocouple linked to it so just turned the shop vac on it. 
    ethicalpaulSuperTech
  • SuperTech
    SuperTech Member Posts: 1,670
    Wow, you did a really good job of cleaning that boiler! I know that was a very messy time consuming process. I hope that shop vac had a good filter. Hopefully the reason for the soot is found. It's gotta be a blockage somewhere, either at the top of the boiler or the chimney. Gas pressure could also do it, a tech with with a combustion analyzer and manometer will be able to figure it out and make sure that the boiler is safe to put back in service.  Just please get a good low level CO detector.  All that soot is an indication that the boiler was producing tons of carbon monoxide.  Thousands of PPM. Deadly for anyone in the house. 
    ethicalpaul
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 9,700
    What @SuperTech said
  • Is there enough combustion air coming into the boiler room?--NBC
  • adrian123
    adrian123 Member Posts: 25
    Thanks again everyone. Plumber came back and "tested" it by turning it on and looking at it, no equipment, didn't measure anything. Said he could still see whisps of rollout. I wasn't home so he spoke to my wife. I turned it on when I got home and let it run with the lights off, couldn't see anything. So I don't know what to say. Everyone who has come to help me has either broken something or is trying to convince me to just replace it. I am not interested in pursuing a dead end or having an unsafe boiler in my house but I feel like I'm not getting anything useful from the professionals who are supposed to know this stuff.

    The boiler sits in an open basement, no boiler room, so there shouldn't be an issue with air getting to the boiler.
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 3,089
    You need to find a pro with a combustion tester and not these "combustion whisperers". It's not your fault of course, but you just have to keep looking.
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
    mattmia2Solid_Fuel_ManSuperTechZman
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 3,089
    That's a great post, @EdTheHeaterMan
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
  • unclejohn
    unclejohn Member Posts: 1,736
    I really can't believe you cleaned that. But you did so good for you. Keep trying to get someone with a combustion analyzer cause it has to be done for safe operation. The last tech said he saw a wiff of rollout. You can try using compressed air and blowing up through the heat exchanger. You really need a brush to clean a boiler and you have to go from top down and bottom up.
    ethicalpaulEdTheHeaterManSuperTech
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 9,700
    @adrian 123

    Post where you are located and check "find a contractor" on this site.

    Even if no contractors are listed in your area, once we know where your located someone may know someone in your area
  • adrian123
    adrian123 Member Posts: 25
    edited December 2020
    @EBEBRATT-Ed

    thanks, we’re in Eastchester, NY. I called one of the plumbers listed on the site, MJ Plumbing. The boss came, very friendly and reasonable sounding guy, but also just looked, no testing. Quoted me $ and $ for replacement, so thats when I decided to do the cleaning myself. At least if it doesn’t work I’m not out the $.
    ethicalpaul
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,209
    No point in testing a boiler if it's packed solid with soot. Now the real inspection and testing can begin. i would try inspecting the chimney as best i can with a mirror, maybe you cn get to it via a cleanout door on the chimney. barring that the flue pipe has to come off so you can get to the inside of the chimney. I used to use a mirror in my cleanout door to inspect my chimney but since the liner and cap was put in that's not very helpful now.

    Any work that has to be done to the chimney or flue will be the same if you run the old girl or replace her. Get someone in that can do a combustion analysis.

    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
    ethicalpaul
  • Precaud
    Precaud Member Posts: 368
    Around here if you call the gas co and report a possible combustion issue they send out a tech with a combustion analyzer, at no charge.
    1950's Bryant boiler in a 1-pipe steam system at 7,000 ft in northern NM, where basements are rare.
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 3,089
    edited December 2020
    You might try techs who do oil work. I bet a lot of gas techs just don’t bother having combustion analysis equipment, but the oil guys should.

    This is just conjecture. Keep calling places and tell them you have a questionable draft/combustion issue and you require combustion analysis.

    I’m sorry it’s so frustrating. After that great job you did cleaning it, if it were me I’d be tempted to rent an analyzer online and give it a go.

    You might try a smoker to see where the air is going:
    https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07TDC8LCX/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_glc_i_m65YFb878MWG5
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
  • adrian123
    adrian123 Member Posts: 25
    Thanks all, this forum has been so helpful, I'm sorry I'm not really contributing much myself, maybe after I get the hang of this system, I can give something back.

    ConEd came this morning and changed our gas meter as it was making a ton of noise. Their tech measured the gas pressure at 8.3 WC so that was not the issue. I started it up again today to see how it looked, don't see any rollout but there's some yellow in the flames, couldn't get a great picture, but it's blue along each burner and yellow higher up with some movement of the yellow flames towards the back of the boiler. I'll keep calling around to see if I can get a proper combustion analysis done.