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Next steps on steam boiler with internal leak?

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Hi all. I believe my steam boiler from 1979 (43 years old) has developed an internal leak and am trying to figure out how urgent the situation is.

Symptoms:
It is requiring a lot more make up water than last heating season, there are no leaks anywhere in the wet return or anywhere else I can see (no buried pipes), and the flue gasses coming out of the chimney are whitish. I also did a pressure test on the cold boiler by closing the king valves and the valve to the wet return so that boiler is completely sealed off and then added water while observing the low pressure gauge; it took a lot of water to reach .5 PSI which quickly dropped off when I shut the supply. Despite this the boiler is limping along. I don't have a meter on the make up water but I'd estimate 1-2 gallons/day are required at this point.

Considerations:
We are in the middle of the heating season so perhaps not an ideal time to be replacing it. This week it's been about 20 degrees F here in NJ. I'd like to the job myself but it would take me too long to do it while we need it to be in operation. (The family would be too unhappy with me.)

Additional info:
The current boiler has gross output of 120 MBH which I do not think is terribly oversized for a connected load of 80 MBH (50% pick up factor). I'm thinking I'd get a similarly sized replacement.

My Question:
Is it overly optimistic to try to make it a few more months and then replace at my leisure? Would this be a good use case for "Boiler Solder" as a temporary solution to buy me a little time?

Thanks!

Comments

  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,704
    edited January 2022
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    Hello fellow NJ steamer!

    First congrats on your long-lived boiler!

    A 50% pickup factor is way too much. I would argue strongly that 30% is too much but others would disagree.

    Your units confuse me...Do you have the EDR and the sq ft of your boiler to report instead? But that's probably a discussion for the springtime when you are getting ready to order your new boiler.

    Given the supply problems of boilers right now, plus the weather as you mentioned I would try like heck to limp it along until spring.

    If it were me (I'm somewhat recklessly prone to attempt things myself) I would remove the jacket and attempt to see the leak and then try to patch it with the appropriate JB Weld-like product. This would be strictly to get me through to spring.

    I would then make sure my boiler was running below 1psi using whatever means necessary. You should be doing that anyway :smile:

    Also, regardless of if you try patching, be real sure your main vents are functional and appropriately sized...you need to do everything you can to coax the steam into your radiators and not up the chimney. You might even enlarge your radiator vents to make it easier for steam to go that way, despite any resulting imbalancing, although that's an idea I don't remember seeing before and just came up with :sweat_smile:

    If you are hesitant to try patching yourself (and you should be) then you should refer to "Find a Contractor" on this site to see who is near you. @JohnNY (Toro) and @EzzyT (E-Travis) are two contractors we are very lucky to have in our area and I wouldn't hesitate one second to have them over to see if they could get me through to spring. If they are willing to patch it, you can trust them that it's worth a try.

    I'm not familiar with the other two contractors who appear in my area in that tool (northern NJ), but since they support this site, they are likely to be fine too (caveat emptor of course)
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
    Hap_Hazzard
  • pecmsg
    pecmsg Member Posts: 4,861
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    I agree with a temporary patch if possible. Yes supply shortages are in effect limiting your choices. 
    Hap_Hazzard
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,323
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    A temporary patch is feasible if the leak is from the water/steam side to the atmosphere. If it is from the water/steam side to the firebox or flue passages... honestly I wouldn't even try, even if I could get at it without disassembling the boiler block.

    That is not to say you can't make it through the winter. You probably can, even with a pretty dramatic leak. @ethicalpaul has some good suggestions for that -- to which, however, I would add one more: at this point you are critically dependent on your low water cutoff to prevent catastrophic damage. Do not even think of depending on your automatic feeder, if you have one (but keep it in operation). Make a strict habit of going to the boiler at breakfast and supper time and manually checking filling the water every single day.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    ethicalpaul
  • JohnNY
    JohnNY Member Posts: 3,231
    edited January 2022
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    I've been installing replacement steam boilers once a week since November. I've got to do a little shuffling with brands, suppliers, and pick-up/delivery options but no one is waiting more than a day or two except for one building in Brooklyn I've got limping along until their Weil-McLain LBG arrives.
    As the driver of the only pickup truck in the company, I'm covering a lot of miles lately.
    And I'm tired.
    Contact John "JohnNY" Cataneo, NYC Master Plumber, Lic 1784
    Consulting & Troubleshooting
    Heating in NYC or NJ.
    Classes
    ethicalpaulCLambHap_Hazzard
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,704
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    That's a good update, John, thanks for that! I daresay we are maybe in better shape since we have so much steam here in NY/NJ. I'm still amazed by that recent post where the contractor in VA had to send his driver to North Jersey to find a boiler they needed.

    Stay healthy and as rested as possible!
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,540
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    @davidsorkin

    Your in luck their are good contractors in Jersey @JohnNY @clammy & @EzzyT
  • EzzyT
    EzzyT Member Posts: 1,295
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    @davidsorkin you can reach me at 2018878856
    E-Travis Mechanical LLC
    Etravismechanical@gmail.com
    201-887-8856
  • davidsorkin
    davidsorkin Member Posts: 18
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    Thanks all for your feedback! I will try to limp along until the season is over and then replace it.

    No one commented on my idea about using "boiler solder" so I will take that as a sign that it is not recommended and hold off on that.

    @Jamie Hall
    Couldn't agree more on the LWCO. I proactively replaced it a few years back and routinely blow it down to test and maintain it. I've been trying to educate others about the importance of doing this.

    I gave up on the automatic feeder some years ago after it malfunctioned and overfilled the system until it squirted out the main vents and made a mess in my basement. This happened to my cousin's neighbor in RI; in their case the water came out of all the radiators and they were afraid they would get electrocuted if they went to the basement to shut it off. Instead they went outside and called the fire department who took over an hour to respond. By the time the water was shut off they had major damage to the house.

    @EzzyT Thank you for your offer, I will definitely call you if it turns out I need help.

  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,704
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    Sorry, I didn't realize it was the actual name of a real product....I thought you were referring to JB Weld type products.

    yes, try it, you have nothing to lose
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
  • davidsorkin
    davidsorkin Member Posts: 18
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    There are a few products from different manufacturers going by that same name. According the MSDS are just Benzoic Acid. I'm hesitant to try it though, I don't want to end up with a worse problem than I currently have.
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,704
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    There are always exceptions, but the one I saw is by a real company in the plumbing trade and I can't believe they would sell a product that had any reasonable chance of hurting people's stuff
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,323
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    There are a few products from different manufacturers going by that same name. According the MSDS are just Benzoic Acid. I'm hesitant to try it though, I don't want to end up with a worse problem than I currently have.

    The stuff won't hurt you. But, if it's a hole and not a hairline crack below the water line, it won't help either.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    davidsorkin
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,704
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    I wondered about that. So you think it's the same kind of stuff as radiator stop leak? That's rather useless for the failures we see here, I agree.
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,323
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    I wondered about that. So you think it's the same kind of stuff as radiator stop leak? That's rather useless for the failures we see here, I agree.

    Pretty much... I once put stop leak in a car radiator... sort of stopped the leak. Also plugged up the heater core beyond recovery :'(
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    JohnNYHap_Hazzard
  • STEAM DOCTOR
    STEAM DOCTOR Member Posts: 1,973
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    Had a colleague who put boiler solder in a leaking boiler. Ended up in the returns. Wasn't fun. 
  • cross_skier
    cross_skier Member Posts: 201
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    Hard to believe if the system had a Hartford loop
    ethicalpaul
  • davidsorkin
    davidsorkin Member Posts: 18
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    In the interest of helping others learn from my mistakes I'd like to share that the problem was not with the boiler at all. I discovered that one of my radiators was leaking condensate from the union and once I tightened it the problem is gone. I didn't notice what was happening because the leak was going into a crawl space.

    The leak must have started when I adjusted the pitch on that radiator towards the end of heating season last year.
    ethicalpaulWMno57
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,323
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    Thank you for that. And for others, I'll note what I've said before -- it is quite amazing what even a relatively minor appearing leak in a joint or union can do in terms of water use. Don't overlook anything before you jump to conclusions!
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    ethicalpaul
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,062
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    What Jamie said;
    also I now realize the value of VXT and/or water meter.
    Had a gain of several gallons within 7-10 days.
    Found leaking 2" coupling under valve on 3rd floor.
    Steaming away but not enough to wet the carpet.

    Had to slide 99 EDR away, (was on 4" blocks), remove valve and tape and re-dope the fittings. 2 man and a boy job 5' wrench handles.
    The boy was just to carry the wrenches up 3 stories.
  • Hap_Hazzard
    Hap_Hazzard Member Posts: 2,846
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    Has anyone tried using refractory cement to temporarily patch a boiler above the water line?
    Just another DIYer | King of Prussia, PA
    1983(?) Peerless G-561-W-S | 3" drop header, CG400-1090, VXT-24
  • Daveinscranton
    Daveinscranton Member Posts: 148
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    My father was a weldor in a railroad shop battalion in WWII.  Most of them came off the Milwaukee Road.  Steam fitters, millwrights, sheet metal workers etc.  In France in fall of 1944 my father patched a variety of boilers for the French.  Hospitals, orphanages, schools.  There were no replacement boilers in wartime. Probably a good will gesture towards the French by the US Army if time and resources could be spared.

    He didn’t like any of it.  Whether it lasted a month, year or several years, is lost to history.  They did have the resources to build a boiler from scratch if they needed to.  That must have been a comfort.  
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,540
    edited January 2022
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    I have seen car radiators "patched" by pouring Quaker Oats in it :)

    Makes me afraid to eat oatmeal LOL
  • cross_skier
    cross_skier Member Posts: 201
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    Mine hasn't leaked yet but I certainly will give furnace cement a try if I detect a leak mid-winter to get me through to spring
    ethicalpaul
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,540
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    Furnace cement won't work. Pound a rag or a piece of wood in the hole or crack if below the water line
    cross_skiertommay
  • da13ear
    da13ear Member Posts: 30
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    This is a great thread. Just like the issue I'm facing now. Thanks for all the positive feedback and out of the box thinking guys. I'm gonna do one more lap on my elbows tomorrow to make sure none are leakkng.