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Steam from main vent/frequent water fills in 2-pipe system

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Hi,

Looking for ideas for an issue I'm having. I have a 2-pipe, gravity return steam system in a single family home from the late 1930s.

This is my third winter in the house, and I've always noticed that the automatic water fill runs too often. When the system is running a lot, it can fill 3 times a day. I'd say average across the whole winter is 1-2x/day. I haven't been able to take the good advice in Dan's book to put a water meter on it, but I'm pretty sure it is running too much.

I do have a small leak on the supply side of the radiator closest to the boiler. It hisses a little and a couple drops of water come down the outside of the pipe. Nothing major.

Occasionally, I'll see steam coming out of the main air vent next to the boiler. It definitely doesn't happen on every cycle or I'd notice it more. Most of the time it is air. I can tell the difference by putting my hand over it and feeling the moisture.

If that is the cause of my frequent water refills, any ideas what causes it? Bad F&T trap? Bad radiator steam trap(s)? If bad radiator steam traps, how do I know which one?

I've had two contractors out, but both basically said "eh systems works well enough. don't worry about it."

Thanks in advance for any thoughts,

Mike

Comments

  • STEAM DOCTOR
    STEAM DOCTOR Member Posts: 1,973
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    Boiler might be leaking steam above the water line. 
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,842
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    @mike__c , it shouldn't feed that often, and it shouldn't leak. Where are you located?

    This sounds like a Vapor system. Can you post some pictures?
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
  • mike__c
    mike__c Member Posts: 3
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    Thanks for the reply. I'm in upper NW Washington DC.

    Here are a couple pics of the boiler and near-boiler piping





    The basement is finished so I can't see everything. However, I think through 3 winters I'd know if there were a more serious leak.
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,702
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    Respectfully, if the autofiller is happening three times per day you have a more serious leak.
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,842
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    Part of the problem is the piping around the boiler. The boiler was made by Dunkirk, no matter what it says on the label, and the instructions were not followed. So you're throwing a lot of water up into the system with the steam.

    It also looks like the drips from the steam main and the dry return are tied together above the boiler's waterline. This would allow steam to reach the vent and close it before the radiators can heat up fully.

    Call this company: https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/foley-mechanical-inc . Tell them you got their info from us. They can straighten this mess out, and they install much better boilers should replacement be needed.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,738
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    3x a day, I'd speculate based on my auto feeder that's 1/2-1 gallon per fill. In 4 weeks you are feeding as much as I've fed in 7 years.

    You have what I would consider a monster leak and need to fix it ASAP. You shouldn't get steam out, you shouldn't leak any actual water...ever. 2 pipe should be relatively tight. You need to find a good contractor. Not sure how busy he is, but @Dan Foley services DC and he is excellent, you should call them.

    All those contractors are a complete joke and shouldn't be allowed in the house again.

    Things I see wrong in the boiler piping:
    Reduction in the horizontal
    No header
    Copper is incorrect, should be steel

    That's a do over for sure.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,313
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    Respectfully, if the autofiller is happening three times per day you have a more serious leak.

    Three times a month s a significant leak. Three times a day is a real problem. While the near boiler piping has a good assortment of the various ways it can be done wrong, that isn't likely to be the source of the water loss, and I note that there don't seem to be buried return lines -- so my next best guess is a leak in the boiler above the water line, sending steam (and money) up the chimney.

    You might try getting in touch with @Steamhead (near Baltimore) or @Dan Foley (last heard from in Lorton, VA) --- both among the best of the best.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • mike__c
    mike__c Member Posts: 3
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    Thanks for the comments. I talked to Dan Foley and I'm going to try to work with him on this.

    I'll try to see if I can spot steam coming out of the chimney, which would presumably be visible? That seems like a good theory of how I could lose so much water without noticing anything inside the house (other than a small radiator leak and occasional steam from the main vent)
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,702
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    Yes, I would expect you to see significant white condensation visible coming out of the chimney in cold weather if there was a boiler leak. You can also overfill the boiler up to the steam supply riser to see if a puddle starts forming under your boiler.
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,313
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    If you can get @Dan Foley to take a look at it, you'll be in good hands.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    Erin Holohan Haskell