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Odor from system

HeatingHelp
HeatingHelp Administrator Posts: 635
This discussion was created from comments split from: Awful smell & health concerns from new Weil McLain install.
ethicalpaul

Comments

  • Ellen_07
    Ellen_07 Member Posts: 15
    edited December 2020
    @Justin_11
    Two weeks ago, I had the same gas boiler installed that you have, initially the odor was slight and relegated to the basement, even when having the heat on intermittently.  Last night we had the the heat on higher and heard one radiator hissing then it emitted a huge release of toxic  fumes (steam heat).  It was untenable and  made us sick.  We turned off the heat on a 32 degree night and opened the windows. Plumber came by this afternoon  to flush the boiler — water stunk to high heaven w/same toxic odor.  They drained 50 gallons. He says they used “Steam Clean.” And that all should be well. Turned heat on a bit higher tonight now all 7 radiators are profusely  emitting same toxic odor and it’s made us all nauseated with headaches, stomach aches, terrible taste and burning feeling on tongue/ throat/nasal passages. It is not CO.
    Am I understanding correctly that this is most likely a result of any/all of the following :
    a) plumbers not skimming properly after the install
    b) not fully flushing the system after adding the “steam cleaner” cleaner
    c) a foreign object in the boiker
    d) the use of “Blue tape” on piping 
    e) oil/toxic substance got pushed into radiators and there’s no way to get rid of it

    additionally, when heat is cranking, I also smell a wood burning smell in the basement and the radiators are not heating as well or as evenly since the conversion from oil to gas w/this new boiler.

    WHAT CAN BE DONE?
    Plumber seems at a loss so I’m hoping for some sound theories so I can make reliable suggestions.  My young son and I are stuck inside together during the pandemic (it’s very cold in NJ) and we need heat, but it’s making us very ill.
    thank you all!
    ellen 
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,701
    I don't know what WM boilers have inside them, but my new Peerless didn't have much of a smell at all, even before/while skimming it. I can't imagine that WM would manufacturer a boiler that was filled with a noxious smelling thing. The guys who install WM will know better.

    I suppose there could be some smelly manufacturing oil in the boiler. The installer should have run some cleansing agent in the boiler before letting it steam up into your radiators. But it doesn't seem like that would cause such a massive reaction in your family.

    I doubt there's a foreign object in the boiler.

    It's not the blue tape no matter what anyone tells you.

    From here, I would wonder what cleaner/treatment they used. That would be my number 1 suspect.

    Adding to the problem might be the main venting. If you don't have any main vents, then all the air from the system's pipes is going to get pushed out of your radiators, carrying the odors with it.

    If you have good main venting, then much less air is going to get pushed out of your radiators' vents.

    Also, it would be better if this were a new discussion, maybe @Erin Holohan Haskell will create one for you. Otherwise it gets confusing with the earlier posts from the other person.
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
    Charlie from wmassEllen_07
  • EzzyT
    EzzyT Member Posts: 1,295
    @Ellen_07 most likely the smell is coming from residual oils still left inside of the boiler due to installation. The boiler needs to be skimmed and steam clean isn’t going to fix that. If the plumber you had install the boiler who doesn’t know what skimming the boiler is then it’s time to find a different plumber.
    E-Travis Mechanical LLC
    Etravismechanical@gmail.com
    201-887-8856
    Charlie from wmassEllen_07ethicalpaul
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,667
    I would also question the main venting and piping of the boiler at this point.
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
    Charlie from wmassEllen_07ethicalpaul
  • Erin Holohan Haskell
    Erin Holohan Haskell Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 2,284

    Also, it would be better if this were a new discussion, maybe @Erin Holohan Haskell will create one for you. Otherwise it gets confusing with the earlier posts from the other person.

    Thanks, @ethicalpaul. @Ellen_07, I've moved your post here.
    President
    HeatingHelp.com
    Ellen_07ethicalpaul
  • Ellen_07
    Ellen_07 Member Posts: 15
    Thanks everyone! 
    I’m not sure if the plumber/installer skimmed after the install though I know he flushed the system.  Will skimming still help now, even after the fact? I will ask about the main venting. I don’t think there is any?  I am also concerned about the piping, but am wondering why this wasn’t an issue with my oil burner/boiler that was working fine and w/out noxious fumes.  Assuming the piping is different?
    Thank you!
  • Charlie from wmass
    Charlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,322
    One thing it IS NOT BLUE TAPE! Sorry for the all caps but I use it too much for it to be an issue. It is bordering on slander the myth being perpetuated about blue tape. System needs skimmed and flushed also water needs tested for ph and boiler water may benefit from treatment.   
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/charles-garrity-plumbing-and-heating
    Ellen_07ChrisJethicalpaul
  • Neild5
    Neild5 Member Posts: 167
    Can you post pictures of the boiler from several angles and include a picture of the piping above the boiler and one ofthesight glass?  
  • Ellen_07
    Ellen_07 Member Posts: 15
    The plumber is here skimming the boiler again, he says.  He says he’s installed a hundred of these and the smell has never been this bad.  Now I’m not sure if that’s this particular boiler or he did something differently this time, but he’s for sure not having my questions.  Wont entertain the piping questions or the venting.  The smell is truly sickening — let’s hope the 3rd time skimming works.  He says he’s going to add a de-scaler 

  • Neild5
    Neild5 Member Posts: 167
    The wood burning smell in the basement is probably normal, mine smelt that way for about 3-4 weeks as the oils and dust on the outside of the castings was fully cooked off.
    Ellen_07
  • Dan_NJ
    Dan_NJ Member Posts: 247
    Ellen_07 said:

    The plumber is here skimming the boiler again, he says.  He says he’s installed a hundred of these and the smell has never been this bad.  Now I’m not sure if that’s this particular boiler or he did something differently this time, but he’s for sure not having my questions.  Wont entertain the piping questions or the venting.  The smell is truly sickening — let’s hope the 3rd time skimming works.  He says he’s going to add a de-scaler 

    You don't need to spend much time reading this forum to know how critical piping and venting are for any steam system. The fact that your questions are being ignored is a bad sign.
    ethicalpaulEllen_07
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,701
    > Wont entertain the piping questions or the venting.

    Oh, I didn't realize he was paying you to install your boiler. If you were paying him, it would be different, you could ask him anything you want.
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
    Ellen_07
  • Ellen_07
    Ellen_07 Member Posts: 15
    Plumber skimmed for over an hour until the boiler water didn’t smell as nearly as badly.  He suggests I crank the heat to 80 for a few hours, leaving all the windows open, but that I should expect some faint smell for a few more weeks. 
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,060
    edited December 2020
    The new boiler install may have sent debris up into your main air vents in the basement. They may not be functioning as designed and requiring more air venting thru the radiator vents upstairs.

    Do you have any pictures of boiler piping and basement air vents?
    Can you show us where the skim port is that was used?
    If you are not sure just pictures of all sides of the boiler...floor to ceiling.
    ethicalpaul
  • Charlie from wmass
    Charlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,322
    Describe what he did to skim please.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/charles-garrity-plumbing-and-heating
    ethicalpaulBobC
  • Ellen_07
    Ellen_07 Member Posts: 15
    So, I’ve been out of the house because the smell is still so bad.  Will go back in today to snap pics of the boiler, as I didn’t watch the skimming process.  Cranking to 80 w/all the windows down didn’t resolve the issue.  What I’ve noticed is if I turn the heat down to 65 or so overnight, then turn it up (on) to 67/68, the smell comes back in earnest — which definitely is in sync w/the comments above about venting and the VOCs(oil residue?) being trapped in the radiators.
    The  plumber doesn’t have a solution for the radiators beyond cranking the heat and openings windows to burn it off ....and I believe is asking for continued weeks of patience.  But as you can imagine, the fumes are sickening. 
    I’m just wondering, is there possibly residue inside the radiators that can be cleaned somehow? 
    I really appreciate your comments and expertise. This is such a great forum!
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,477
    There may be some small residue in the radiators but the overwhelming portion is in the boiler's water.

    Skimming a boiler properly takes hours and that is why most installers want little or nothing to do with it. If it's not done right it may not help. Did they install a pipe in the skim tapping?

    Most boiler makers used to have a procedure for cleaning with TSP. I suggest you look and see what the manufacturer suggests, call them if the manual has no info on this.

    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
    Ellen_07
  • Ellen_07
    Ellen_07 Member Posts: 15
    Hello all,
    ive taken a bunch of pictures. The worst of the smell is from my bedroom radiator, which is where the smell first whooshed out a week ago, but it’s also elsewhere.  The basement doesn’t really smell, but I’m guessing that’s because the oils residue is venting into the radiator?I’m at my wits end.  And of course we are nauseous and headachy.  It’s bad. 
  • Ellen_07
    Ellen_07 Member Posts: 15

  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,701
    Some of us mentioned your main venting. If you have no or insufficient main venting, then most or all of the air in the system will get pushed into your living space each time the boiler fires. (the air comes back in when the firing stops).

    Since you can't smell it in the basement, that makes me think you don't have any main vents (which are located in the basement, or should be).

    Do you think your extra-sensitive installer might entertain a question about if you have any main vents?
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
    Ellen_07
  • Ellen_07
    Ellen_07 Member Posts: 15

    @BobC
    i didn’t see them use any kind of pipe, they just filed buckets.   What I do know is that the skimming did but take hours either at install or when they came back. 
    Is there any remedy at all?
    @Justin_7 I think said he’d figured it out but his situation doesn’t seem the same as mine.  This is quite unlivable
    thanks all
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,701
    Yes, the pipe is there. It is in the center with the brass valve on it with the white handle. It's the thing the water comes out of when they are skimming.
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
    Ellen_07
  • Charlie from wmass
    Charlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,322
    Piping is quite good actually. The copper on the part of the equalizer above the Hartford loop is my only complaint. I try to keep any propress strictly below the water line. It is rated by the manufacturer for use with steam though. 
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/charles-garrity-plumbing-and-heating
    Ellen_07ethicalpaul
  • Ellen_07
    Ellen_07 Member Posts: 15
    @ethicalpaul
    how can I tell about the venting? 
  • Ellen_07
    Ellen_07 Member Posts: 15
    @ethicalpaul I mean what can I look for if the plumber won’t entertain this idea — I sorta know he won’t because it was one of the first questions I asked.
    is it possible to install extra venting and if so, will that solve the issue?

    ethicalpaul
  • Ellen_07
    Ellen_07 Member Posts: 15
    also that was a typo above — what I meant to say is that neither skimming took hours
    ethicalpaul
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,701
    I mean, you should be able to say "please show me the main vent(s) or I'm not going to pay you".

    But it would look something like the round gold colored vent in this thread. It could be silver or gold or rusty, but it would be a vent like a radiator vent but possibly larger coming off the horizontal steam main somewhere near or just beyond the last radiator supply pipe that comes off the main.
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
    Ellen_07
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,477
    Your boiler has a valve and pipe for skimming so you should consider skimming the boiler yourself.

    Place a bucket under the that pipe and valve and set the thermostat up a few degrees to the boiler starts to heat up. You want the water hot but you don't want it to start boiling so turn off the service switch when the water is nice and hot, turn it back on when the water coming out of the pipe starts to cool

    Remove the pipe stopper and slowly open that valve so water can drain into your bucket. Then very slowly feed water into the boiler so it trickles out of that pipe. It should be a very slow trickle so it takes an hour or two to fill that bucket, when the bucket starts to get full slide another bucket under and empty the bucket with the hot water in it.

    after emptying 2 or 3 buckets close up the pipe and bring the boiler up to steam and see if the smell is less. It may take several skimming sessions to get it cleaned up. You may have to resort to cleaning out that boiler with hot water and a wand to remove anything sticking to the inside of the boiler.

    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
    Ellen_07
  • Can you describe the smell?
    Like "20 questions", is it animal, vegetable, or mineral?--NBC
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,701
    edited December 2020
    > is it possible to install extra venting and if so, will that solve the issue?

    I couldn't say for sure it will "solve" the smell issue. But I can be quite sure it will make it less severe and probably make it go away faster (in conjunction with cleaning with TSP and/or skimming)

    The main venting is really separate from the boiler piping itself...it can be physically distant and a lot of installers won't even look at it when they cut the old boiler out and slide the new one in.

    I'm kind of disappointed in your installer that he's not more willing to discuss your system with you because as @Charlie from wmass said, the boiler piping itself is quite good, which believe it or not is quite a rarity in this forum (which makes sense because people come here when they have problems)

    To best learn about main venting, and your system in general in a friendly way, get the book We Got Steam Heat from the bookstore on this very site
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
    Ellen_07
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,701
    edited December 2020
    Hey gang, what's the deal with this tee off the riser that then leads back to the wet return?


    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
    Ellen_07
  • Ellen_07
    Ellen_07 Member Posts: 15
    Thank you all for your excellent advice and expertise.  My plumber is coming back this afternoon to “have a look” so I will follow up with him on the venting and skimming now that you’ve given me a better understanding.
    I spoke to the tech person at Williamson for awhile and his take away is that it’s a combination of the boiler needing a proper skimming and the heating system itself.  Prior to this installation I had a heavy duty oil boiler — apparently the Cadillac of boilers — probably 10 years old. No smells at all.  
    Williamson says these new efficient boilers can let out steam at 35 mph which can break up all kinds of sludge and bacteria in the system and emit fumes — and it can take weeks to mitigate.
    what I’m smelling smells like fuel/chemical  ...it’s noxious. And it’s making us sick. 
     The water the plumber flushed from the boiler smelled awful, like the fumes.
    so of course now I’m wishing I’d left things as they were and just dealt with the pain and expense of oil and the sound of a jet engine every time the boiler turned on. 
    I don’t mind a bad smell as long as it doesn’t make me sick and isn’t actually harming me. But this ain’t good.
    I will pick up the steam heat book, thank you!!
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,701
    edited December 2020
    Although it seems horrible now, please don't worry too much. I'm sure this situation is temporary, and you're going to like your quiet gas boiler.

    The Williamson tech I think is a little off suggesting sludge and bacteria broken up by fast steam but some stuff could have flushed out of the wet returns (the pipes along the floor). But that stuff doesn't stink like you are describing in my rather limited experience and I don't see how it could.

    My best current theory is it is the manufacturing oils of the boiler and the new pipe that you're smelling.

    Has your plumber agreed that he can smell it, or do you get the idea he is just humoring you? Different people are affected differently by these petro smells I speak from personal experience. I don't mind them at all and they make my wife want to move out if I dare spray a solvent in the basement.
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
  • Ellen_07
    Ellen_07 Member Posts: 15
    @ethicalpaul
    Thank you!!
    plumber is here skimming and it smells awful.  He can smell it in the bedrooms, too.  He agrees it’s the boiler...and says it might be that the vent size on upstairs radiators are larger so the smell is coming out more strongly (stronger? Argh, grammar.  My mother would be disappointed in me haha). 

    He is also flushing the boiler carefully.  
    I am sensitive to smells so it could be that I am more sensitive to these fumes, so is my son. I empathize with your wife for sure.  
    I have a migraine and am nauseas — feels pretty demoralizing thinking this could go in for a month.

  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,701
    edited December 2020
    This is pretty good news, that he can smell it and he is working to fix it!

    He agrees it’s the boiler...and says it might be that the vent size on upstairs radiators are larger so the smell is coming out more strongly


    He could be very right about this!!! And this is exactly what we're talking about when we ask "what is the main venting like?"

    Because, (and he must know this or be on the verge of understanding this), if the main venting were working, then all that air wouldn't get pushed out of the radiator vents!

    (that's what the main venting is for, to get the majority of the air from the boiler and mains out of the pipes fast, and in the basement, rather than forcing it through all the radiator vents)

    See if you can impress him with your knowledge of main venting and see if he thinks maybe you should have them working. Because smell or no, your system will run way better and more efficiently if you have working main vent(s)

    The place where he's not thinking correctly is that he seems to think the big vent in the upstairs radiator is at fault. He is right that because the vent is large, the most air is going to get pushed out there. But that doesn't mean the large vent there is wrong. If it were a small vent there, then the stinky air would be pushed out of some or all of your other radiators instead.

    So to summarize, there is a two pronged attack. Get the stinky stuff out of the boiler with skimming and with washing with TSP or similar cleaner and then draining, and prong two: getting the main venting in order or at least checking it.
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
    Ellen_07
  • Ellen_07
    Ellen_07 Member Posts: 15
    Thank you so much @ethicalpaul and everyone who has tirelessly answered questions and offered guidance and support.  I really appreciate it! I will keep you posted. Of note, there was another air vent all the way across the basement by the gas meter that was corroded abs leaking.  Plumber replaced that — not sure if it will make a huge difference but what your wrote me got him thinking to look for it and replace it.  Thanks!
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,701
    That’s a main vent! Send us a picture of it!

    see if you can feel it puffing air at the beginning of a heat cycle when the boiler starts steaming 
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
    Ellen_07
  • Ellen_07
    Ellen_07 Member Posts: 15
    @ethicalpaul the other issue is that now the fumes are incredibly powerful coming up through the radiator vent in my bedroom, much more than before.  Sigh. So I’ve shut off the heat completely.  It’s unbearable. The vent the plumber replaced in the basement is directly under my bedroom radiator. I think it is a D
    but I will snap a pic. I’m so bummed it is worse :(
    Just FYI, I know every plumber has their own method for skimming but he wanted the water boiling when he skimmed, rather than cooled after being hot. He didn’t skim for an hour of two, more like 20 mins. Then emptied the boiler and refilled with hot water (so he didn’t crack the boiler).  
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,701
    You don’t want to boil while skimming because it roils the oil and it doesn’t stay on the top of the water. 

    Try turning the vent in your bedroom upside down. That should prevent any air and also heat I’m afraid from exiting the radiator 
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
    Ellen_07