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New house owner, steam boiler questions

Hey all, new to the forums and recently became home owner with a steam heating system. I have some questions to hopefully better understand my setup and how to properly operate/maintain it. I’m not entirely new to steam as I’ve helped my parents maintain theirs as best as I could. I am new to having to constantly maintain one for my home. 

First my boiler is a Dunkirk PSB-5D 150kBTU, it has the basic Honeywell pressuretrol, and a Cycle Gard LWCO, no auto water feeder. 

My questions are: how can I tell if my system is 1 pipe or 2 pipe. I believe 2 pipes or zones? My header goes into a Tee and splits to the front/back of the house. I also have 2 return pipes with vents. 

Should I add an auto water feeder? Not sure if steam boilers these days need as much hands on maintenance during heat season anymore. Could I install an auto feeder and just periodically check it till season is over?

Should I be topping off the water to the level in the sight glass periodically or wait till it’s super low or LWCO enables?

I have been having a weird issue, I did a flush, re leveled radiators and adjusted/changed vents before starting the season. So the system ran perfect and quiet. I topped off the water after a few days and then I started getting hammering in the pipes, because I topped off? Should I wait till the level is lower or am I missing something here? I had to re flush/fill the system to get it quiet again. 

I have found the sweet spot to run my boiler since getting a smart stat. I am going on about a week an half and water level has only dropped about 1-2gal, haven’t topped off yet till I get some feedback. Basically I set my temp to 69 during the day, 70 at night with a 2 degree threshold. This gives the condensate enough time to fully return and keeps my level pretty consistent. 

Appreciate any input, thanks 

Comments

  • ethicalpaulethicalpaul Member Posts: 2,617
    How many pipes are connected to each radiator? 1 = 1 pipe, two is left as an exercise for the reader 😄

    1-2 gallons per week is too much. You have a leak or leaks of water and/or steam somewhere.

    you can add water as you like but keep an eye on how much. Adding water adds oxygen and rots your iron. So find those leaks.

    buy “we got steam heat” from the store on this site, it will answer your questions plus many you haven’t thought of yet. Welcome! 
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
    ruben356foresthillsjdksd99
  • ruben356ruben356 Member Posts: 19
    Thanks, I see I have read this before but did not understand. So I do have a 1 pipe system- 1 pipe entering each radiator. 

    Sorry, I wouldn’t say 1-2gals. I am sure it’s probably a 1/4 of a gal. I manual valve on for about 5sec max to fill.

    I have recently found people saying you need to run the boiler right after you top off. Maybe this is why I have had the hammering issue. Because I am not running the boiler right after. 

    I will look into getting the book, thanks. 
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 14,945
    If it's really that little -- 5 to 10 seconds -- I'd not really worry about it, although I would go around and make sure there are no obvious drips and that the vents really are closing.

    You could add an automatic feeder. You may not need one, if you check the boiler a couple of times a week. The ideal water level may be marked on the boiler; if not, try to maintain the water level after all the condensate returns at about the middle of the sight glass. Too high, and you get carryover -- and bangs, as you discovered! Just when you do check, just give it a shot to bring it up if that's needed (you can use a marker to mark the sight glass -- or a spring clothes pin).

    No need in the heating season to run the boiler right away -- the next cycle is plenty soon enough.
    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
    ruben356
  • ruben356ruben356 Member Posts: 19
    Yeah I’m going on a week tomorrow without having to touch the water. My sight glass has the fill mark and it’s just slightly below. 

    I went and tightened all valves, and also packed the stems with graphite. I replaced one valve which was leaking pretty bad.

    i will double check the manual for fill level as it seems whoever installed it added the mark. Might be a bit high and I am slightly overfilling causing hammering  as you said. 
  • JUGHNEJUGHNE Member Posts: 7,915
    You should check the water level after the boiler is off and about cool....as the all the condensate should have returned by then.

    What pressure does the boiler run at and where are the pressuretrol settings at?
  • ruben356ruben356 Member Posts: 19
    edited December 2020
    Yes, that is when i check/top off after it’s pretty cool. 

    The pressuretrol is set to .5psi cut in/ 2psi cut out. I have verified proper operation. 

    One thing I forgot to mention is, I have 4 radiators on my second level, 2 which are bit finicky. The pipe leading up to one of them is where I usually have the hammering issue I mentioned. I’m not sure if my thermostat  is not letting the boiler run long enough to properly get the steam up to all the radiators. Or it could possibly be the Cycle Gard not letting it get up to proper pressure. All other radiators get hot and close their vents and by the time steam starts getting to these last two, the boiler usually shuts down as the thermostat is at temperature. The thermostat is on the first floor which is usually 3-4 degrees colder in general. 
  • ruben356ruben356 Member Posts: 19
    Wasn’t sure if I could post pictures right away. Seems the mains are dropped down to 1 1/2” or 2”, the returns and wet return seems like 1”. Could be wrong. Just noticed there is tape where the 2 returns meet under the insulation, as I took pictures, I will take that off and see if there’s a possible leak there. 

  • Zipper13Zipper13 Member Posts: 196
    edited December 2020
    The horizonal reducer on you header could collect water and hammer. but you say it was quiet until you changed some things. the same has been pointed out about piping several times here, but it's not really causing me problems so I don't care about it much. boiler piping may not be "right" but it also might not be an immediate problem. Copper is frowned upon as it the joints can fail over time with the constant expansion and contraction cycles.

    You say you re-leveled the radiators, this could be a source of noise, especially in a 1 pipe system I understand. you want the radiators to pitch slightly to the pipe so condensed water can drain back out perhaps you have extra water pooled the radiators now and the steam has to fight harder to get in against it?
    New owner of a 1920s home with steam heat north of Boston.
    Just trying to learn what I can do myself and what I just shouldn't touch
  • ethicalpaulethicalpaul Member Posts: 2,617
    Or it could possibly be the Cycle Gard not letting it get up to proper pressure

    I have to ask: what is the proper pressure?
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
    PC7060
  • ruben356ruben356 Member Posts: 19
    Zipper13 said:
    The horizonal reducer on you header could collect water and hammer. but you say it was quiet until you changed some things. the same has been pointed out about piping several times here, but it's not really causing me problems so I don't care about it much. boiler piping may not be "right" but it also might not be an immediate problem. Copper is frowned upon as it the joints can fail over time with the constant expansion and contraction cycles. You say you re-leveled the radiators, this could be a source of noise, especially in a 1 pipe system I understand. you want the radiators to pitch slightly to the pipe so condensed water can drain back out perhaps you have extra water pooled the radiators now and the steam has to fight harder to get in against it?
    Yes, i have been reviewing proper piping techniques, and have heard that about copper. Not sure if this is allowed now, or the norm, or the inspector didn't care. Yes, most of the radiators were not pitched at all, and the system was hammering upon first startup, which prompted me to do the maintenance items, slope, and flush. Could water still be trapped in i guess the U shaped fins on a radiator? I thought the center channel of them is leveled to allow water to drain back?

    That **** can sweat copper like a champ. Too bad that aint what you’re suppose to make the header out of lol. Get someone here to repipe that near boiler and use both supply tappings and about 1/4 the fittings!

    nice bluestone foundation? You in Hudson valley?
    Yup, that is actually what I said myself, haven't seen such clean job on copper in a while. I am planning to maybe tackle this myself on the off season, if it seems like too much I will get someone. I am in Northern MA, foundation needs a repoint soon.
    Also, you need the water line to be at least 2in (manual says six, prob to account for water up as steam and any surging )higher than that close nipple meets the equalizer(hartford loop) 

    Also need full size 2.5in on side takeoffs from everything I have read. i have a similar **** show I have been taming. 

    I bet it hammers if you fill the water level because it is throwing massive wet steam up that rinky dink header
    https://dunkirk.com/sites/default/files/PSB%20Series%20II%20IOM%20Rev.%20C.pdf


    Yep, i am gathering the info to properly size and pipe this soon. The existing black steel pipes seem to be 2". They are reduced to 1" when they branch off to the radiators, or to the pipes heading up to the 2nd floor. I have a feeling the way the header is and the angled Tee off might have something to do with the issue.
    Repipe it. Or you’ll just spend a lifetime figuring it out. Make sure your main vents are’t plugged off like mine were. Plumbers only seem to understand water goes up and **** goes down. That thing looks like a plumber piped it lol.  I have only rudimentary steam knowledge,(though it is a fairly rudimentary heating system), and everything I see here  lines up with with my experience as a general contractor-most people suck at everything, and the good ones are busy.  That propress fitting on the relief valve lol. 
    Yes, the main vents are next, they're the only thing i haven't changed. Was doing some research, and think i am going with some Gorton #1's in 3/4. It definitely does look like plumbers, or general handyman work.
  • ruben356ruben356 Member Posts: 19
    Or it could possibly be the Cycle Gard not letting it get up to proper pressure

    I have to ask: what is the proper pressure?
    I worded that wrong. I meant up to full operation pressure. I noticed when I monitored the boiler running. It would barely get up to 1psi, before the cycle Gard would shut it down for 90 seconds. On the second run (20min delay) it would get up to about 1.5psi and by this point the thermostat would satisfy on the first floor and not fully heat up the upstairs. What I did today was adjusted my thermostat threshold to a 3 degree differential, to have the boiler run a full cycle and allow the pressuretrol to shut it down at 2psi if not satisfied by then. Does this seem ok to do?
  • KC_JonesKC_Jones Member Posts: 4,562
    You want the pressure to be as close to zero as possible.  Pressure roughly speaking means steam isn’t moving, or moving slower than it should.

    Boiler is oversized, venting is inadequate, or both.

    Length and diameter (sch 40 pipe size) of the mains will help determine proper main venting. Measuring rads and doing the EDR calculations will help determine how well the boiler is sized, not that it will be changed, but does give you an idea what to expect performance wise.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
    https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10202744301871904.1073741828.1330391881&type=1&l=c34ad6ee78
  • ruben356ruben356 Member Posts: 19
    Figure out length of main and then vent accordingly, sometimes limited by space. My 10 foot section does well with a gorton 1 before it heads upstairs. My 40 foot section has 2 big mouths (each one equiv to 2 gorton 2’s I think), basically the volume of pipe is the cf you need to vent and if you take the vent out wait til header of boiler is hot and then go see how long it takes. Vent it so it takes as close to as if there is no vent as you can. (Raise them up above the main as far as you can especially big mouth cause does not like water), my guess is with that piping your steam is awful wet. I’d repipe, or it’ll prob just keep filling vents with water. I know because mine is reduced and funky piping that if I run it a out 1/2-3/4 inch below water line it gives off dryer steam, and check if the damn thing is level, mine wasn’t on one axis. 

    Tuck pointing is super fun...ummm...nope never mind its not ...do not let anyone use portland cement based mortar its harder than the stone and you’ll end up with cracked stones. Lime based mortar and then waterproof with masterseal 583. If they want to use non lime based mortar throw them out of your house and into the copper header guys trailerpark
    I need to figure out how to properly measure the main. Are we talking from the header, all the way till the return where it vents? My returns take a few minutes after the header is hot to get hot. The vents are probably a few inches higher. I noticed one of my returns is kinda leveled not pitched towards the boiler. 

    I will keep that in mind. Don’t know much about pointing and what to use. I will keep in mind what not to use from your input, thanks. 
    KC_Jones said:
    You want the pressure to be as close to zero as possible.  Pressure roughly speaking means steam isn’t moving, or moving slower than it should.

    Boiler is oversized, venting is inadequate, or both.

    Length and diameter (sch 40 pipe size) of the mains will help determine proper main venting. Measuring rads and doing the EDR calculations will help determine how well the boiler is sized, not that it will be changed, but does give you an idea what to expect performance wise.
    Ok, I read in a few threads about people having issues with the cycle guard, and not enough pressure to move the steam through the system.

    boiler is definitely oversized. My home is roughly about 2100sqft, with 4 radiators per floor, ranging in size according to location, and 1 small radiator in the front hallway. I changed all vents and got the specific numbers for the vents according to how quickly I see how fast they got and how much head the room they’re located in seemed to need. 

    I will figure out how to properly measure and do my EDR calculations. 
  • ethicalpaulethicalpaul Member Posts: 2,617
    Don't obsess about the Cyclegard, there is plenty of time for that. Steam requires very little pressure to move through the system. Like under 1 oz psi.
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
    ruben356
  • ruben356ruben356 Member Posts: 19
    Haven't been messing much with the boiler lately with the holidays. I will be getting around to calculating my EDR sometime this week for the return vents replacement.

    The changes I made at the thermostat seem to be running the boiler better. My setpoints are 70 degrees during the day, 71 during sleep hours, with a 3 degree setback before cycling on again. This drops the temperature enough, so that the boiler runs a bit longer to get to setpoint, and is allowing all radiators to get hot.

    Still noticing I get hammering on the one riser to the coldest room in the house on the second floor. This is the one I had mentioned takes the longest to warm up, and wasn't warming up at all before I made the thermostat changes.

    Now i noticed something new, in the radiator directly below the problematic one on the first floor. It sounds as if the system has too much water in it. I can hear water sloshing around the radiator on the first floor, and then sort of sloshing up the riser to the second floor. I feel as if there is definitely water in there and causing the hammering. Is there something I might have missed here? As I said, all radiators have new vents, and properly pitched, and no water coming out of the vents.
  • JUGHNEJUGHNE Member Posts: 7,915
    Has the boiler been skimmed to remove oils from the top of the water?
    You will need to remove the 2 1/2" plug from the Tee on the side of boiler.
    Then reduce to 1 1/4" on the horizontal for skimming at that point.
    ethicalpaul
  • ruben356ruben356 Member Posts: 19
    JUGHNE said:
    Has the boiler been skimmed to remove oils from the top of the water? You will need to remove the 2 1/2" plug from the Tee on the side of boiler. Then reduce to 1 1/4" on the horizontal for skimming at that point.
    No I have not skimmed the boiler. I have flushed and refilled a couple times so this might be my issue. I don’t see an actual Skim port, so what you’re saying is reduce the 2 1/2” Tee plug to 1 1/4” to use as a skim port? Thanks 
  • ethicalpaulethicalpaul Member Posts: 2,617
    Yes, that's what he's saying. Here's the one I put onto my old boiler which was similar to yours


    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
    ruben356
  • ruben356ruben356 Member Posts: 19
    Yes, that's what he's saying. Here's the one I put onto my old boiler which was similar to yours
    Thanks, that looks really good. I will grab some materials and make a skimming pipe with valve. 
    ethicalpaul
  • JUGHNEJUGHNE Member Posts: 7,915
    You might start by getting that plug loose first.
    Maybe several shots of PB Blaster over several days, if stubborn.
    ethicalpaul
  • ruben356ruben356 Member Posts: 19
    JUGHNE said:
    You might start by getting that plug loose first. Maybe several shots of PB Blaster over several days, if stubborn.
    I will take a crack at it. The boiler was installed 2 years ago so shouldn’t be that bad on those pipes. I do have some PB blaster handy, was great fro helping loosen up a valve I had to replace on one of the radiators. 
  • JUGHNEJUGHNE Member Posts: 7,915
    Good luck, sometimes "steam years" age fittings like "dog years".
    ethicalpaulruben356Canucker
  • ruben356ruben356 Member Posts: 19
    edited January 13
    Just want to update. Finally got the parts necessary to build my skim port from the 2 1/2 tee in the supply line. I had originally planned to go with 1 1/4” pipe reduced from 2 1/2, but my colleague that I ordered my parts from understood 1” so I made due with that. Couldn’t find a proper hex bushing locally, so reason I just ordered everything. Boiler is skimming right now, I will see how it goes. I might have to do it again. I let it warm up till it was registering about .5 psi on the gauge. Not sure if I should’ve let it get hotter? Anyway we will see if this remedies my issues. 
  • ethicalpaulethicalpaul Member Posts: 2,617
    edited January 13
    I think the 1" will be fine...you want it to run slowly anyway. And as @JUGHNE told you it's good to raise the level of the water slightly above the bottom of that side tapping and the 1" reducer does that.

    But I would take off the elbow. This lets you better see how much water is flowing out and you can see if there are any floaties/oil slicks coming out.

    I let it warm up till it was registering about .5 psi on the gauge

    Well, hmmm, that's not "warmed up", that's full steaming. Typically you would heat it up to just before steaming then start skimming. The reason is, if it's steaming, then the boiling water stirs up all the gunk that you want to be gently floating on top.

    What I do is slowly fill it up to the skim port, THEN run the boiler but don't let it steam, THEN slightly open the supply to start skimming.
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
    ruben356
  • ethicalpaulethicalpaul Member Posts: 2,617
    I see you have an oil slick in the sight gage. You can close the bottom valve on the glass, then open the drain, then open and close the bottom valve to let water in and out to drain clean that out.
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
    ruben356
  • ruben356ruben356 Member Posts: 19
    I think the 1" will be fine...you want it to run slowly anyway. And as @JUGHNE told you it's good to raise the level of the water slightly above the bottom of that side tapping and the 1" reducer does that. But I would take off the elbow. This lets you better see how much water is flowing out and you can see if there are any floaties/oil slicks coming out.
    I let it warm up till it was registering about .5 psi on the gauge
    Well, hmmm, that's not "warmed up", that's full steaming. Typically you would heat it up to just before steaming then start skimming. The reason is, if it's steaming, then the boiling water stirs up all the gunk that you want to be gently floating on top. What I do is slowly fill it up to the skim port, THEN run the boiler but don't let it steam, THEN slightly open the supply to start skimming.
    Yes, I took the pictures before starting the process. I did also order a Tee that I was to install before the elbow, for the purpose of seeing the flow. But because it’s cold and don’t want the boiler out of commission for too long I just quickly assembled this. 

    I just quickly glanced at the gauge and looked like .5 psi. It wasn’t steaming because I opened the relief valve first and no steam came out, but water was super hot. I actually ran the boiler with water at normal level, turned off and opened relief to let out any steam, opened skim valve then began filling till water streamed out, closed fill valve until water stopped from skim port, then cracked open slightly to a consistent flow. Flow is probably a bit less than the thickness of a pen. 

    I see you have an oil slick in the sight gage. You can close the bottom valve on the glass, then open the drain, then open and close the bottom valve to let water in and out to drain clean that out.
    Yes, if it comes back I will follow your suggestion. Once I filled up to skim level it kinda went up and into the boiler. 
    ethicalpaul
  • ethicalpaulethicalpaul Member Posts: 2,617
    OK, cool. You might see it fall into your bucket :smile:
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
  • ruben356ruben356 Member Posts: 19
    OK, cool. You might see it fall into your bucket :smile:
    So it did come back, I did what you suggested and drained it out. Looks much better now. Slight rust residue a bit above. Next drain I will need to clean the tube. I should’ve taken it out and cleaned it when I drained the oil slick, but skimming for about 2 hours and I keep my thermostat pretty low at 68 during the day, so was getting complaints from the other inhabitants asking for heat haha.


  • ruben356ruben356 Member Posts: 19
    edited January 13
    So I skimmed for about 1hr 40min - 2hrs, till the water was cool to the touch. Buckled everything back up and fired her up. So far looking good, very quiet operation compared to how it was. No hammering at all, no water sloshing noise in radiators, or water spewing out of vents. My gauge rise/surging is down to about 1/2”-1” compared to 5”+ before. I am feeling confident, however I will need to perform another test once it is time to top off/ add more water. That is when I was getting the returning hammering after adding fresh water to the boiler. So if that stops, I will be happy and report back with good news. 

    On a side note, one of my previously designated “cold” rooms is now working splendidly. The radiator is a small 5 fin one. I installed a #6 vent here, as before it was barely heating. What I am noticing is despite the entire radiator now getting hot, I don’t hear the vent close. So the pipe that goes to the radiator directly above this one takes a while to heat up. Could my issue be the need to reduce the vent to maybe a #5 or #4, so that it can close and allow the flow to continue upstairs?
    ethicalpaul
  • neilcneilc Member Posts: 1,118
    don't be surprised, or discouraged, if you have to skim again, a time or 2,
    as you boil a while you will steam clean the rest of the system where all your wet steam and hammering, were,
    and that all returns to, the boiler
    ruben356
  • ethicalpaulethicalpaul Member Posts: 2,617
    edited January 14
    Don’t mess with the gauge glass, it is fine.

    why do you think a smaller vent is more likely to close than a large one? All working vents close when steam hits them regardless of size. 

    PS nice job
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
    ruben356
  • ruben356ruben356 Member Posts: 19
    neilc said:
    don't be surprised, or discouraged, if you have to skim again, a time or 2, as you boil a while you will steam clean the rest of the system where all your wet steam and hammering, were, and that all returns to, the boiler
    Yes, If I get a bit more noise especially once it’s time to top off, I will skim again. I’m hoping that the steam does clean the rest. I feel some other slight issues might be related to small amounts of condensate not draining back enough. 

    Don’t mess with the gauge glass, it is fine.

    why do you think a smaller vent is more likely to close than a large one? All working vents close when steam hits them regardless of size. 

    PS nice job
    I was gonna take it off and pass a cleaning brush wand through it. 

    Well I was just thinking in terms of path of least resistance, not sure if this really applies to steam. So this radiator in question seems to have minimal condensate that I believe is not draining back. Maybe after a few cycles it will rid of it, as neilc mentioned above. I don’t think the vent is actually getting enough steam to close. It sounds a bit more wet when it’s hissing, and very very minimal water comes out. I double checked the pitch and it’s good. So I would think since this one doesn’t really close fully, the steam doesn’t continue to rise up the 2nd floor pipe. 
  • ethicalpaulethicalpaul Member Posts: 2,617
    I was gonna take it off and pass a cleaning brush wand through it.


    Do you have a spare? They break. Yours looks very clean. Once the water is skimmed and clean, it tends to clean itself with help from occasionally draining from its drain. If it does break, you can close the valves to keep your boiler running, but then it's hard to see the water level :)
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
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