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

Gas fired One Pipe Steam Heat headscratcher

richardjcrosby
richardjcrosby Member Posts: 11
edited December 2020 in Strictly Steam
Hi everyone.

So in a week where I've had a baby one month early, had my car's transmission quit while en route to the hospital, as well as a number of other fun surprises, my steam system has chosen to start acting up. The boiler is firing up just fine, and the pipes running up to the second floor get hot to the touch, and then, only two or three radiators in the house get hot, while the others remain cold, though the pipes running to them are hot. When I remove the vents from hot radiators, I dont get any steam or hot air coming through.

I live in Rockland County, NY. I've got a very old Weil McClain E-8 Series 2 (not sure of date of manufacture, but maybe as old as the 60's or 70's). I bought my very old house a year and a half ago, and in that time, I've replaced my main vents with big mouths, checked out all regular vents to see they're all in working order, installed Danfoss valves in each room I don't use often so I can cut the heat, and insulated most of my piping in the basement.

Pressure reads at .25psi? maybe .3? definitely not .5

I have one heating loop at the front of the house and one at the back. 6 Radiators on the first floor, 4 on the second, and two in the attic. All vents are working.

The 93 year old woman that owned the house since 84 instructed the realtor that the blowoff valve should be opened to flush the float chamber weekly, so I've done that.

The only variable I've changed was installing a whole house water filter and saltless water conditioner at the beginning of the month, so after trying everything else, I drained the boiler, bypassed the filter, and refilled it from the straight tap water. I fired it up and had the same issue.

I brought in a heating contractor that was recommended for steam work, and he was unable to solve as well.

Is it possible this is a wet steam issue?

Any thoughts? Getting nervous here.

Thank you,
RIch

«1

Comments

  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,323
    @richardjcrosby

    sounds like you improved the venting. Thats always the first step

    if you can take some pictures of the boiler and the piping around the boiler (stand back 8-10') that will help.

    how is the water line in the boiler when it is steaming? it shouldn't bounce more than 1/2--3/4"

    you might want to look on this site and total up the EdR of your radiators so we can compare it to your boiler size.

    you can also check "find a contractor" on this site
  • richardjcrosby
    richardjcrosby Member Posts: 11
    Thank you, I'm not sure how I mistakenly posted this under Job Opportunities, so my apologies- I've since reposted on the main wall.

    The water line in the sight glass holds steady where it always has while functioning properly, rising only about 1/4" at most from where I marked it after refilling.

    And thanks, I did take a look at the contractor list for my area and will be making some calls tomorrow morning.

    I'll need to look into getting my EdR as well.




  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,429
    Is that boiler just straddling the hole in the floor where the original boiler was before the floor was poured?

    I'd watch the burner and the pressure gauge and the pressuretorol, sounds like the burner is shutting down for some reason.

    How is the thermostat set up as far as cycles per hour or the heat anticipator and where is it in relation to radiators? Is the radiator near the t-stat heating faster than the others and turning off the boiler before steam gets to the rest of the system?
  • If this is a sudden hange, then I would check the pigtail under the pressuretrol for obstruction, and the batteries in the thermostat, if there are any.—NBC
  • motoguy128
    motoguy128 Member Posts: 394
    Anyone else shocked that it’s actually piped correctly.  

    So you remove the vents while the boiler is firing, not cycling on/off and you do not get air?  

    Are the radiator valves open?   Old lady might have shut off rooms she didn’t use.   Could be the discs broke off when you finally did open them and not it’s stuck.  You’d have to pull the valve apart to I find out.  
  • richardjcrosby
    richardjcrosby Member Posts: 11
    edited December 2020
    The floor was poured in 1926- the house was built approx 1760. Yes there's what may have been a drain hole under the boiler. 

    The burner isn't shutting down at all- in fact, it will run all night burning fuel heating only the pipes running to the radiators and two to three radiators, but never reaching the rest of the radiators in the house. 

    The radiator nearest the thermostat (changed over to an ecobee from honeywell a year ago) isn't heating up at all.  

    I will disconnect the pigtail and check for obstruction.  *UPDATE* the pigtail was clean and clear of obstruction, unfortunately. 

    I'm not getting any air or steam when removing vents from cold OR hot radiators. 

    This isn't an issue of valves being closed- all of these radiators have worked up until this week.  I installed danfoss valves in the rooms I wanted to easily cut on and off. 

    Thank you
    Rich


  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,608
    The burner isn't shutting down at all- in fact, it will run all night burning fuel heating only the pipes running to the radiators and two to three radiators, but never reaching the rest of the radiators in the house. 

    I would fear a steam leak up the chimney from a hole rusted in the boiler
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
    kenlmadrichardjcrosbybburd
  • acwagner
    acwagner Member Posts: 505
    edited December 2020
    If the boiler will run continuously and only a few radiators get hot, it sounds like the boiler is now underfired somehow. Did the contractor check the gas pressure at the burner? You could also clock your gas meter while the boiler is firing to see if it's firing near the rated output.
    Burnham IN5PVNI Boiler, Single Pipe with 290 EDR
    18 Ounce per Square Inch Gauge
    Time Delay Relay in Series with Thermostat
    Operating Pressure 0.3-0.5 Ounce per Square Inch

    kenlmadmattmia2MilanD
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,021
    Look at the chimney exhaust, if white plumes of steam coming out, that could be the leak.
    But to confirm, with boiler off and fairly cool, you can overfill the boiler with water and check the floor underneath for leaks.
    Overfill only up about 2' above the boiler. You do not want the burners to get wet if it is leaking.
    If you are in a cold snap maybe do this on a warmer day.

    Does the flame height off of the burners look normal?
    You could be lucky and suffer from low gas pressure.
    How are other gas appliances working?
  • dabrakeman
    dabrakeman Member Posts: 526
    If running continuously and not heating radiators then either its not producing enough steam or the steam is going someplace other than the radiators.  Do the flames look and sound the same as they always have?  Seems like the contractor should have been able to note a gas pressure or gas valve issue.  Do check the chimney for billowing white steam.  
    ethicalpaul
  • richardjcrosby
    richardjcrosby Member Posts: 11
    There is no visible steam leak out of the chimney or the back of the boiler.  The flames look and sound the same.  

    I've removed all air vents from all radiators. At the mains I have some steam and air movement,  not a lot.  On hot radiators, some air movement.  This decreases on the second and third floors. the loop at the back of the house is totally cold on the first floor but heating second floor radiators that branch off from the end of the loop.
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,323
    @richardjcrosby

    Something is amiss.

    I would clock the gas meter or have someone check the burner manifold pressure, should be 3.5"wc normally.

    Seems the boiler is low on steam output. Also check the stack temperature. Has the fireside of the boiler ever been cleaned?

    If the water level is normal and not bouncing then steam going up the flue could be the issue.

    Do you have any under the floor wet returns? Is the auto feeder adding a lot of water?

    Also the dry return that drops down by the boiler is there a vent on that?

    @motoguy128

    Yes piped by someone that can read, LOL
    acwagner
  • dabrakeman
    dabrakeman Member Posts: 526
    Any sags in the mains anywhere where water could have collected and created a blockage?
  • dabrakeman
    dabrakeman Member Posts: 526
    Maybe a hangar break somewhere?
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,429
    Make sure the gauge glass isn't clogged and is an accurate reflection of the water level too.
  • richardjcrosby
    richardjcrosby Member Posts: 11
    I made the mark on the sight glass last night after refilling the boiler. 

    No broken hangers from what I can see, and no sags. 

    If I'm clocking correctly,  gas meter is showing 100-120 CFH and seems to vary with each revolution.  That's along with the water heater pilot running. 

    I do not know how recently the boiler has been cleaned. 
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,323
    @richardjcrosby

    What's the BTU INPUT of your boiler from the nameplate?

    If it's more that the 100-120cfh you clocked the meter at that could be your issue. Seems like that boiler is larger than that
    mattmia2
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,429
    What is the rating plate input of that boiler? 1 ft^3/hour is roughly 1000 btu so that is consuming 100,00 - 120,000 btu/hr. That boiler looks to be much larger than that. If that is the case either the regulator in the gas valve in the boiler is bad or the regulator at the meter is bad or there is a problem with the utility's gas distribution. Note that the reading on the meter is dependent on the regulator at the meter holding the pressure constant, the meter measures volume so if the gas is more or less compressed it will misread the actual amount of gas. The utility might be the place to start to have them verify the meter regulator is working properly.
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,457
    Does the pressure gauge go back to zero when the boiler is off?

    What radiator vents did you use?
    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
  • richardjcrosby
    richardjcrosby Member Posts: 11

    I did notice that the pressure gauge does not return to zero after the boiler is cut off.
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,457


    I did notice that the pressure gauge does not return to zero after the boiler is cut off.

    So the pressure gauge is clogged, or the pigtail feeding it is.

    Are you 100% sure you clocked the gas meter correctly?
    Different manufacturers and different size meters etc have different scales.
    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
  • richardjcrosby
    richardjcrosby Member Posts: 11
    I did clean the pigtail, there was no visible obstruction,  i can try to remove the gauge and clean it. 

    Not 100% sure I'm clocking correctly.  I clocked the half pound per rev dial at 15- 18 seconds.
  • jhrost
    jhrost Member Posts: 57
    Does the burner really keep firing all nite without shutting down?
    One thing I've experienced is that if the water feeder overfills the boiler it will caused the burner to fire constantly without satisfying the thermostat or heating the radiators much. If it is really high I suppose you might get some water hammer to.

    You say the water level in the site glass looks normal, but as someone suggested maybe for some reason it isn't giving you a true picture of the actual water level. You might want to try varying the water level. If your actual water level is high then draining some might have an effect on the heating . You probably don't want to drain too much unless you've tested your low water cutoff and know that it works.
  • kenlmad
    kenlmad Member Posts: 56
    Given 1/2 Cu Ft (1 revolution) in 15 seconds (is this accurate?)
    = 2 Cu Ft per minute
    = 120 Cu Ft per hour
    = roughly 120,000 BTU per hour.

    That does not align with your boiler rating of 245,000 BTU per hour. It's way too low.
    mattmia2
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,457
    I'd want to see what the burner tubes look like and if they're all firing.
    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
  • Chris_L
    Chris_L Member Posts: 334
    Are you saying that black mark near the bottom of the sight glass is the normal water level? It looks very low. Usually the normal water level is half-way up the glass if not higher.

    Could LWCO be shutting the boiler down as the water leaves the boiler?

  • panick007
    panick007 Member Posts: 24
    I'm just a homeowner with one-pipe steam, but your story bears a strong resemblance to the one told by Gerry Gill and Steve Pajek in their article on balancing systems. Maybe your new main vents are causing a vacuum to form? Scroll to the end and read "Can you vent too fast?" https://heatinghelp.com/systems-help-center/balancing-steam-systems-using-a-vent-capacity-chart/
    Paul
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,457
    panick007 said:

    I'm just a homeowner with one-pipe steam, but your story bears a strong resemblance to the one told by Gerry Gill and Steve Pajek in their article on balancing systems. Maybe your new main vents are causing a vacuum to form? Scroll to the end and read "Can you vent too fast?" https://heatinghelp.com/systems-help-center/balancing-steam-systems-using-a-vent-capacity-chart/

    Since the pressure gauge is broke, its highly likely.
    But since the gas meter is suggesting the boiler is only using half the gas it's supposed to, it may not be the fault of the venting.

    We need to know what radiator vents were used, and if all of the burner tubes look like they're firing correctly.

    If half are out due to spider webs etc, or rust, it would explain a lot.
    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
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,429
    A dirty burner wouldn't change the gas consumption. The gas would still exit the orifices on the burner, it just wouldn't burn completely.

    The symptoms of the burner fires constantly but it does't make enough steam to fill the system is consistent with the burner being underfired. One of the regulators failing is something that could have happened suddenly. The meter also doesn't read the rated consumption and the consumption rate is varying, also consistent with a failed regulator.

    You should get this sorted out immediately, if the boiler is that underfired it may not burn cleanly or draft properly so it could cause carbon monoxide poisoning, at very least you should have a couple working carbon monoxide detectors if you continue to operate it in this condition.
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,457
    mattmia2 said:

    A dirty burner wouldn't change the gas consumption. The gas would still exit the orifices on the burner, it just wouldn't burn completely.

    The symptoms of the burner fires constantly but it does't make enough steam to fill the system is consistent with the burner being underfired. One of the regulators failing is something that could have happened suddenly. The meter also doesn't read the rated consumption and the consumption rate is varying, also consistent with a failed regulator.

    You should get this sorted out immediately, if the boiler is that underfired it may not burn cleanly or draft properly so it could cause carbon monoxide poisoning, at very least you should have a couple working carbon monoxide detectors if you continue to operate it in this condition.

    If the orifices are plugged, it should at least in my mind effect gas consumption.

    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
  • richardjcrosby
    richardjcrosby Member Posts: 11
    edited December 2020
    oook, so I had the gas company come by, and he removed the plate in front of the burners to reveal that 3 out of 7 burners are currently firing.  

    I did have a couple of inches of water in the basement around 6 months ago when the old water softener popped a bypass plug and flooded us- likely the culprit.

    I'm making calls to see if anyone is up to the task of cleaning them- Ken Ciesla out of NJ has actually been instrumental on the phone walking me through troubleshooting this issue but isn't able to come my way until after the new year. 

    Anyone have any experience with something like this happening?  I really hope this isn't a catastrophic failure. 

    Thank you all so much for your help with this. 
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 22,918
    Um... if any fuel burning equipment has been under water it is done. Finished. Through.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    STEAM DOCTORCanucker
  • richardjcrosby
    richardjcrosby Member Posts: 11
    Wowee, well, I called the plumber up who had come by yesterday and he showed up nearly immediately and cleaned the burners and jets. All 7 burners are currently firing strong.

    I can't tell you how relieved I am, and I want to thank everyone for your input in helping me through this. 

    Cheers, 
    Rich
  • jhrost
    jhrost Member Posts: 57
    Now that you know what the problem is, if it is safe to use your boiler at all that is , I wonder whether it wouldn't be a bad idea to actually drain out a portion of the water in the interim. With only 3/7 of the firing you thought you had, with less water to boil you will probably get whatever heat you can faster , whereas now you are heating a volume of water beyond the burners capacity , more like simmering than boiling? As long as it isn't so low it triggers the low water cutoff.
    mattmia2PC7060JUGHNE
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,429
    Given the history someone that knows how to should at minimum do a combustion analysis, check the draft, and check the manifold pressure before it is deemed safe.
  • richardjcrosby
    richardjcrosby Member Posts: 11
    He checked manifold pressure and it was good.  We let it run a bit and he gave it the ok.  The plumber I called is well regarded in the area by other tradesmen I've spoken to.
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,021
    Did your gas valve get wet? That is the main concern with water damage.
    If water got into the gas valve, it could cause the valve to not close reliably with dire consequences with runaway fire.

    Did the water extinguish the pilot light?
    mattmia2
  • richardjcrosby
    richardjcrosby Member Posts: 11
    JUGHNE said:
    Did your gas valve get wet? That is the main concern with water damage. If water got into the gas valve, it could cause the valve to not close reliably with dire consequences with runaway fire. Did the water extinguish the pilot light?

    The water never put the pilot out, so it was never on my radar after the flooding happened. 

      After cleaning the burners, he concluded that he didn't think water was the cause of the problem. 

    AFAIK the gas valve did not get wet. 
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 22,918
    On the boiling, @jhrost , the volume of water in the boiler hasn't changed now that all the burners are firing. What will happen is that more steam will be produced in a given time. If there are slow returns, this could be a problem -- but otherwise not.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,021
    I asked the question as the pilot light is quite a ways below the gas valve. If it stayed on then the water was below that point.
    richardjcrosby