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Newly on my own, need boiler direction

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pascack
pascack Member Posts: 25
Before I call a heating company, I want an idea of what’s what. I’m a senior and don’t want to be oversold. I have an old Weil-McClain boiler, working fine, but recently hit 30 pressure a couple times,  so the release valve/pipe spewed water. Have ancient vertically installed steel expansion tank on second floor in closet, which sounds empty - nothing attached except pipe going through wall at top with no turn off. There are two small cap like things(screws?) protruding on front side though. It has been bitter cold, boiler constantly running, and I am worried water has no place to expand, so I bled radiator to let some water out to make room.(this might be stupid?). I’m not in a position right now to replace boiler. What can/should be done here? Is this fixable? Are we talking a very high repair cost or reasonable? Any comments would be appreciated. It seems like a big deal, time consuming/messy, plus with Covid I don’t want repairman all over the house if possible. Thank you.
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Comments

  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,937
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    Sure that's the only expansion tank?

    If you can, post some pictures of the boiler and any associated hardware.

    Where are you located?
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
  • Alan (California Radiant) Forbes
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    The boiler sounds fine. All that might be needed is to add a diaphragm expansion tank at the boiler. Install it on the suction side of the pump.

    Yes, where are you located?
    8.33 lbs./gal. x 60 min./hr. x 20°ΔT = 10,000 BTU's/hour

    Two btu per sq ft for degree difference for a slab
    kcoppethicalpaul
  • pascack
    pascack Member Posts: 25
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    Thanks for comments. Yes, as far as I can tell only one ancient expansion tank. I’m worried about cost of adding another expansion tank because someone online said plumber quoted a thousand estimate for new tank/valve he did himself for 1/10th the price. .I can’t do this. I will need new boiler, just not in position now. Am fine with reasonable repair costs, just not putting a lot of good money into old boiler right now because I don’t know reputable/reasonable repairman. No one likes tricky repairs, so if they don’t want to tackle, they may estimate higher. In Illinois, by the way. Could it be the valve? (Doesn’t seem like it because no water release until 30 pressure) Am I stupid to bleed off water from radiator to try to reduce pressure? Im thinking there may be automatic feed replacing water.  Obviously, the pressure buildup worrisome. Old houses are fun? Thanks again. 
  • Ironman
    Ironman Member Posts: 7,385
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    As long as the tank isn't leaking or plugged at its inlet, it doesn't need replacing. Adding a bladder tank would also require an air separator (MBR).

    You may simply need a new fill valve. Try closing the shutoff valve upstream of the fill valve and see what happens. The compression tank may also be waterlogged and need draining. Do it at the boiler drain, not at a radiator.
    Bob Boan
    You can choose to do what you want, but you cannot choose the consequences.
    bucksnort
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,536
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    Is there a pipe connection to the bottom of that tank? If so, where does that go? And do you have any idea where the pipe leading out of the top of the tank goes? And how high is it in relation to the upstairs radiators? I have an idea about that thank -- but I need to know where those pipes go. Also any valves...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,088
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    I think Jamie is thinking of an open top expansion tank?
    As in gravity system.

    It would need a pipe connected into the bottom as a "stand pipe" from the system.
    Probably inside the wall.

    The few of these I have seen used different fill methods.
    One had overflow in tank (like toilet tank) connected to building drain in basement, you filled by watching the 6" altitude/pressure gauge that had the marker set at the right foot marking.

    But this one looks like the top had a plugged 1/2" check valve teed into the top pipe.
    Most did not have a PRV fill valve. Just check weekly.
    If the top of this tank was vented to atmosphere, assuming only 2 story house, then excess pressure would be vented out the top.
    Maybe a valve in the basement to isolate and drain the tank down there?
  • pascack
    pascack Member Posts: 25
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    Ironman, I’m the proverbial ‘little old lady’ so not sure where fill valve is and what to expect when I turn it off? And when you say drain, is that where pressure valve releases water? 
    Jaime, yes, I found a pipe coming out of bottom(pic)...of the two pipes up top, the one on right is capped off, and other goes in the wall. The radiators are well below, the top of tank is at ceiling. 
    Jughne...no other tanks in basement.
    im mostly worried about someone not knowing old system and tearing walls apart, and cost. This tank was probably for previous coal burning boiler, but ‘new’ system was here when we bought house 43 years ago. I jinxed it by thinking it was such a work horse. Obviously I want it working safely. I’m attaching me tapping expansion tank. It sounds empty? (Maybe this won’t accept video)
    And pic of bottom of tank with lower pipe. Thanks for your help. 
  • Alan (California Radiant) Forbes
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    Is that a pump in the shadows of the boiler return?

    I'd say someone installed the fill valve and capped the expansion tank vent. Over the years, the tank filled up and now it's waterlogged.

    Maybe drain the system to drain the tank and install a hose bibb in the lower tank outlet for future maintenance.

    I've never seen a gravity tank piped at the top like that.
    8.33 lbs./gal. x 60 min./hr. x 20°ΔT = 10,000 BTU's/hour

    Two btu per sq ft for degree difference for a slab
    bucksnort
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,088
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    Somewhere in the basement there may be 2 pipes coming down in that stud space.
    One might be connected to the system and the other is over flow...maybe plumbed into house drain lines.

    But the check valve on the tee is a mystery to me.
    Maybe it would let air in to drain tank down ??
  • Alan (California Radiant) Forbes
    Alan (California Radiant) Forbes Member Posts: 4,075
    edited February 2021
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    But the check valve on the tee is a mystery to me.
    Me too.
    8.33 lbs./gal. x 60 min./hr. x 20°ΔT = 10,000 BTU's/hour

    Two btu per sq ft for degree difference for a slab
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,536
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    Agree with all you guys -- and if the system can be arranged to work again, it's got to be the simplest and most reliable was of handling pressure in a hot water system that ever was! Hope that someone hasn't mangled it...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,088
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    There could be "air heads" in some of the 2nd floor rads that were not purged completely and that is acting as the expansion tank also.

    What pressure and temp is shown on your gauge, picture would be good?

    You will not need a new boiler until this one leaks water.

    After this cold snap your boiler should run less and the temp and pressure may drop.
  • pascack
    pascack Member Posts: 25
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    Everyone. Except for installing a new coupler in 9/20 on the pump(in shadows on exterior of boiler), and cleaning, and yearly oiling the B&G pump & yearly bleeding of radiators, nothing has been done to this boiler system in the 43 years. Until this water expulsion from pressure valve/pipe, I didn’t think the expansion tank did anything. I have to say here that in tapping expansion tank, it sounds empty to me. (I couldn’t attach the video so you could hear) What should I say when I call HVAC people? I don’t want someone taking one look at me/old boiler and overselling me because it’s not necessarily a quick, easy fix.  When the coupler was installed, he quickly suggested measuring radiators for new boiler. I don’t know how much longer I will keep the house. I know young house buyers will want central air, so I am trying not to put a new furnace in that may or may not be used. What should I expect them to do here? I don’t mind them looking in the one bedroom with expansion tank and being all over basement, but don’t want them all over the entire house with Covid if I can help it. I know you all know your stuff. I wish I knew what you know, so I will be confident in speaking with, understanding and communicating with repairman to get best outcome. Clearly, high pressure is a safety issue that must be addressed. Thank you!
  • Alan (California Radiant) Forbes
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    You have an elegant heating system. Anyone wanting to replace it with forced air will be making a mistake.

    Tell us where you live. Maybe one of us is in your area.
    8.33 lbs./gal. x 60 min./hr. x 20°ΔT = 10,000 BTU's/hour

    Two btu per sq ft for degree difference for a slab
  • pascack
    pascack Member Posts: 25
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    Jughne. 
    I bled all radiators. Don’t think there is air in them. And you are right, when the temp is warmer(it’s been 5-10 degrees for days) it hasn’t purged water for pressure relief. The problem seems to happen when the boiler has to run longer than 40 -60 minutes to hit set temperature. I will send starting pic, 1hour later....pressure valve did not leak because boiler stopped...but wanting to test it, I turned the heat up...after another 30 minutes running, that’s the 3rd pic when pressure valve released. So...start, 1hour...1 hour 30. 
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,088
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    Your lowest pressure looks like 5 PSI at less than 100 degrees.
    It goes up to 30+ PSI with 160 degrees.
    Just no air anywhere that can be compressed to absorb the expansion.
    Just stating the obvious that you, a very aware homeowner, already know about.

    If your basement ceiling is open, can you go down there directly below the 2nd story tank.
    There may be the two pipes coming down there inside a wall that is lined up for both floors. They might be about 10" apart. If you find them please post pictures and where do the pipes go to?
  • bburd
    bburd Member Posts: 926
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    I believe that type of tank was sometimes plumbed with both flow and return pipes, so that some heated water was circulated through the tank to prevent freezing. This was for tanks mounted in attics.

    Bburd
  • pascack
    pascack Member Posts: 25
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    Jughne,  the ceiling is plastered, but I paced off what I thought is the correct amount of steps in basement parallel to where the steel tank is on second floor. There are two sets of two pipes. The 1st one I’m posting, I feel is too far away from tank, but pipes are further apart like you mentioned. You will see it feeds into bigger pipes. The 2nd pic,  with two pipes right next to each other, I feel is right below steel expansion tank on second floor. (But side by side) The third pic shows a connecting pipe that shoots off of the right pipe of the 2 side by  side pipes. There is what looks to be a newer pipe(unpainted) with cap going to nowhere? Is this what you want to see? Could that pipe with cap be a pipe to drain water or air? 
    Also, am I safe until this is addressed, or should I watch and make sure the release valve works every time the boiler starts/runs? I did open valve to let about a gallon of water out at boiler just now.  Thank you for your consideration of a complete stranger! 
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,088
    edited February 2021
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    Can you see where the left pipe is connected to?

    Is there a drain line below the right hand pipe that it may have been connected to in the past?? or even a floor drain.
    Yes, the unpainted nipple and pipe cap were added recently, (I mean in the more recent decades anyway).

    I see the temps are warming up in your area (in Chicago anyway).
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,735
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    @pascack

    Your 4th picture down shows the PRV fill valve.. The gate valve behind that on the same pipe is the manual water shut off for the boiler.

    As far as the expansion tank goes you need someone to partially drain your system and recharge the expansion tank with air
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,735
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    @pascack

    Check 'find a contractor " on this site
  • pascack
    pascack Member Posts: 25
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    Jughne, the left hand pipe goes to a bigger pipe, the same pipe that the left hand pipe of other pair of pipes go to. In the pic, it’s the thinner crooked pipe going to larger left hand pipe. There doesn’t seem to be a missing connection to the right pipe, but my floor is pitched to a drain not far from there, maybe 3 feet. 
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,088
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    Then upstairs the tank bottom pipe may well be connected to the system piping, so the water may rise up to the tank.
    The right hand pipe with the cap may have been the overflow pipe coming from the top of the tank. It may have been directed to the floor drain.

    If I had to make a guess to recharge the tank, I would shut the water off and drain the system down to a level well below the top radiators. You could tell by no water coming out of those rad air vents and them sucking air in.

    Then carefully loosen the right hand cap to let air in to drain the tank down lower and allow air into the tank. Put the cap back in place and refill the system. You would have to bleed air out of radiators before firing.
    The pressure reducing valve would need to be set to 12-15 PSI cold.

    I would not expect you to do this yourself rather it is just a theory for some service person to analyze and make on site decisions. Good Luck!
  • pascack
    pascack Member Posts: 25
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    Thank you, Jughne. I will call heating people and say I have an steel expansion tank on second floor and pressure valve is releasing water because PSI is going above 30. Could you clarify which cap they will take off? The one right next to steel expansion tank or one in basement?  Also, where will they drain water? In basement by boiler? Or upstairs at expansion tank?(that’s in small closet). I can bleed radiators myself so less foot traffic in all rooms. Thank you very much. 
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,088
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    Before draining they should check the pressure reducing valve, that it is adjustable as it also requires draining the system to replace it.
    If working and adjustable, then there is a strainer in it that should be cleaned, that could be done when the system is drained down.

    I would take off the cap in the basement (near the floor drain).

    The water would be drained down thru the boiler into the basement, probably with a hose going to the floor drain. The entire system would have the water level lowered by doing this, at least all the way down to the pressure reducing valve (for strainer cleaning).

    They may want to just change the reducing valve (PRV)....many companies want some sales for a service call.....otherwise it is just draining water and refilling.

    If they just checked the operation of the PRV and it is working, and they did not push a new one off on you then you have found a honest reputable company/worker IMO.
  • pascack
    pascack Member Posts: 25
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    Thank you. Don’t worry, I’m sure they will charge a high hourly fee regardless. Maybe I’ll  look online at testing if PRV is good. If I understand you correctly, they can drain from basement boiler. Also they should open that closed cap in basement that comes from upstairs expansion tank, which will get water all over the floor, so make a path to drain. Also, perhaps expect them to say I need a new pressure relief valve and/or PRV.  Do I have it right? Does it take hours to drain? (And only need to drain second floor radiators?)
    I truly appreciate the comments, I feel more confident calling for service. 

  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,088
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    IF my theory is somewhat correct, then the pipe with the cap may have little if any water in it.
    You need to drain the water down to the components you need to replace, perhaps the PRV and relief valve which is just about everything except the boiler itself.
    Draining and refilling will take some time, depending upon how many radiators you have.
  • pascack
    pascack Member Posts: 25
    edited February 2021
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    To update. Though I asked company to send someone who had decades of experience with old house boilers, that didn’t happen. Of course, new boiler broached, the possibly of installing a bladder expansion tank. I was concerned. Had him call owner. I’m sure owner thrilled. In the end I agreed to drain boiler and put in new release valve for the old one that was spewing water. He said he thought it could work for a while, because he could see pressure dropped. Good news is draining the boiler didn’t take the possible two hours they estimated. Not sure how this could fix this, as nothing done with expansion tank or it’s piping. (He did not open the capped pipe from expansion tank. He did nothing about those pipes.) 

    Heat just went on. The pressure did climb up to 30 or almost 30, but new pressure/water release valve did not blow. It looks a bit different from old one. Hopefully, it’s functional. I guess I’ll see what happens. If it doesn’t work, I guess I’ll have to move to plan B. Too bad I don’t have a plan B!  (Maybe installing 2nd expansion tank?!) I’m also wondering if he could tell if pressure reducing valve was working correctly? He originally said he was going to adjust it, but he didn’t. 


  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,088
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    If the entire system was drained down then any water in the tank would have eventually drained down also.
    Then refilling would capture air in the tank and compress it. It may be 2/3 water on the bottom and 1/3 air on the top.

    As the weather warms and less boiler run time you may get along OK.
    The pressure could have been near 30 in the past and went unnoticed until opening relief valve.
    The spring inside it could have been getting weak from running close to the edge.
  • pascack
    pascack Member Posts: 25
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    Jughne, you are so kind to respond again. FYI, he didn’t drain all the way, he drained until he could put new water release valve in. I hope that’s ok. I’ve done nothing but worry about this for days. Maybe you are right, though, that the pressure has always been near 30, but now, after 50 years, that part wore out. The owner said they can get sediment, which sounded plausible. I wanted to give them a list of all 12 radiator sizes, for a ball park estimate for new boiler. He refused, saying someone had to assess. The current boiler is about 240,000 btu’s, though when we bought the house, they said it was bigger than needed. I just wanted to guesstimate boiler pricing(I know they will upcharge over internet pricing) even if it was a big range. He should have said something like, off the top of my head it’s about x-x for boiler, this many hours, then of course old removal and various parts. Oh well. Here’s a pic of ‘apollo’ part. I hope it’s ok. I also see he added a pipe to what was there...not metal. I didn’t see him do that; I would have wanted metal. Double oh
    well. I’m going to try not to think of this, hoping no more water on floor! Fingers crossed!
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,088
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    Apollo is a very good brand for that relief valve, very upper tier.
    The only pipe I see in your last picture is black iron (steel) pipe (metal).
    Is there an extension to the floor?
  • bucksnort
    bucksnort Member Posts: 167
    edited February 2021
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    This is why I'm glad the steamfitter/plumber that put my system in 33 years ago didn't put an auto fill valve in. His motto was KISS. Never had to "add" water in those 33 years. System pipes he put in look like brand new. no drips or leaks.
  • pascack
    pascack Member Posts: 25
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    Jughne, the new, short vertcal Black pipe is steel? I didn’t touch anything because of Covid, but it looked like black tape on vinyl/plastic threaded pipe! That’s an extra piece he added. I thought the boiler’s hot water would melt it. I‘m happy the Apollo part is quality. 
    Bucksnort...my boiler was installed in 1969! Workhorse. I’m just trying to keep it going a tiny bit longer. 
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,088
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    If pipe is threaded it is metal/steel/iron.
    What kind of pipe is pointed to the floor, if any?
  • Larry Weingarten
    Larry Weingarten Member Posts: 3,354
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    Hi @pascack , That pipe looks like steel, but just to be sure, you could get a magnet and see if it sticks. ;)

    Yours, Larry
  • Alan (California Radiant) Forbes
    Alan (California Radiant) Forbes Member Posts: 4,075
    edited February 2021
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    It sounds as though the young buck did the right things and that he wasn't trying to rip you off. Just goes to show, all that worrying for nothing. :)

    It's good that you checked in with us and that you seem to have a good grasp of mechanical systems. JUGHNE took good care of you!
    8.33 lbs./gal. x 60 min./hr. x 20°ΔT = 10,000 BTU's/hour

    Two btu per sq ft for degree difference for a slab
  • pascack
    pascack Member Posts: 25
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    BAD NEWS!  Leaking!  I don’t think anyone trying to rip me off, I just think they don’t know what to do to fix. Maybe not draining boiler completely the issue? Not opening the basement capped pipe?
    I don’t know what to do. Could it be the automatic feed? What if I flipped that to the up position? So frustrated!
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,088
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    The boiler was drained enough and the tank would have "glug-glug" drained even without opening the capped pipe.
    Do not flip that lever up, it is the fast fill lever to fill the system quickly.

    The valve before the auto feeder.....was that always open or closed?
  • pascack
    pascack Member Posts: 25
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    If you are talking about the valve that was not replaced, I think from the previous pic I sent, it looks to be down? 
  • pascack
    pascack Member Posts: 25
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    I don’t know if that’s opened or closed. It’s down now, parallel to floor