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Our Heat is Noisier than a Bad Punk Band

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GeekGirl913
GeekGirl913 Member Posts: 27
edited January 2022 in Strictly Steam
My husband and I were delighted to find a home last year that had a relatively new boiler installed (November 2019 install, moved in March 2021).

Little did we know, it was installed entirely incorrectly, and it literally keeps us up at night. Our cat actually hissed back at one of the radiators because it startled her...

The near boiler piping and the returns are a disaster, and I'm working on getting it remedied ASAP. (Consider the photos for the wall of shame.) There is a ton of water making its way into the system, and it's unable to return properly, so the water feeder turns on multiple times a day. (Note that the water feed has no bypass and goes into the returns and up the Hartford loop to get into the boiler.)

As it's been quite cold in the northeast the past few days, the heat has been on fairly consistently, and we've now noticed two leaks pop up in the house. Not sure if they're coming from the mains or the returns.

These leaks are obviously the result of the amount of water in the system (and the subsequent hammering). Question is, once there is actually dry steam in the system, will these continue to be an issue? Or can we patch these spots up and enjoy the peace and quiet of a proper steam system? Is there any way to fix these leaks without doing exploratory surgery on our ceilings?

Is there anything else to consider that may be wrong besides the near boiler piping and uphill returns?







Comments

  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,524
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    Too bad. The horror stories always show up here. It's a simple case of installer not reading or following the boiler instructions.

    As far as leaks go who knows? What pressure is on the boiler does it build steam pressure while its running??

    I would like to tell you the leaks will go away when the bad stops playing ....but I can't.

    I hope your really have the right steam man who can fix this once and for all.

    You can check "find a contractor" on this site and post your location someone may have a recommendation.

    Many say they know steam (they have seen it in a spaghetti pot) but don't know anything about how it works. Be forewarned, you want it fixed right not a band aid on top of an infection
    DaveinscrantonGeekGirl913
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,639
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    I dont see a way to fix that header that won't be inelegant.

    How do you know the leaks are even from the heating system? I'd look for leaking valves that are running down through the floor if there isnt a possibility of some other plumbing or an ice dam or something. The could also have plastered over some vents that are leaking
    GeekGirl913
  • GeekGirl913
    GeekGirl913 Member Posts: 27
    edited January 2022
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    I'm in Newark, NJ, and reached out to one of the contractors on this page already, and will reach out to more. I'm also not opposed to fixing it myself, as long as the local supply house can cut and thread the pipe for me that is needed. I started sketching a potential fix. (Picture below; not to scale as I don't have graph paper.)

    The spots where it's leaking are warm, and there's no other plumbing in the area. 

    In the spot where the beadboard ceiling is (which is original to the house, not MDF garbage), my suspicion is that the previous owner added a connection for another radiator that wasn't done right and that has come loose. 

    The leak in the plaster ceiling is right below a radiator that was completely turned off. I've turned it on to see if the radiator even heats properly at this point, or if that valve is shot or whatever.

    And I don't know for sure, but my guess is that the pressure is too high, too. Need to clean the pressuretrol with a Q-Tip as it's covered in rusty drips from leaking copper connections... 🤦🏼‍♀️


  • GeekGirl913
    GeekGirl913 Member Posts: 27
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    For the enthusiasts, here's a picture of the original boiler that was in the house. Might have been old, but I'm sure it was nice and quiet.
    kcoppWMno57mattmia2SuperTech
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,286
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    Let's see. I'll forget someone for sure. @EzzyT , @clammy , @JohnNY ... Your sketch looks good.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    Dave in QCA
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,639
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    Is that conversion burner a power burner, is that cylinder on the right a blower of some sort?
  • GeekGirl913
    GeekGirl913 Member Posts: 27
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    mattmia2 said:
    Is that conversion burner a power burner, is that cylinder on the right a blower of some sort?
    I have no idea, sorry. I got this picture from the son of the plumber who did the debacle above. 
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,524
    edited January 2022
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    It was nice that the plumber had the time to take pictures of the old boiler but could'nt take the time to read the piping instructions

    you need one of they guys @Jamie Hall mentioned to fix this up
    mattmia2GeekGirl913
  • archibald tuttle
    archibald tuttle Member Posts: 1,085
    edited January 2022
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    that old burner is a trip. your new diagram looks good although it is just the drop header to the return and doesn't indicate where you would hit your two supplies from there. looks to me like you could tee off the end where drops to the return and then "U turn" to supply the two mains, possibly even using the copper manifold to the mains with the other end capped off because it looks offset. that is a little bit of a hard 180 vs. coming out toward the front of the boiler and crossing to pick up the two mains.

    can't really tell which way to the boiler is on you picture of the wet return, nor with perspective can i tell which way each piece is tilted. i think it is going down to the right of the picture, might be level or slightly the other way where it 45's. can't tell, but that won't be a noise source because its a wet return at least for some distance from the boiler looking at the pictures.

    the water replacement being into one of the returns keeps relatively cool water from hitting the boiler without mixing with return water.

    looks like the mains run down from the boiler so they aren't counterflow and then drop into the wet returns. how long are the mains. are the rads one pipe?

    I think your repiping plans admirable but maybe but the first thing I would do is get a good size skim and chemical input ports on there. I've seen worse piped boilers that a good skimming cut the problems immensely.

    I don't see any convenient tappings for skimming (and i tend to doubt the installer skimmed it), but maybe somebody knows these boilers or you can find a CAD drawing from manufacturer that will show if there are such tappings. Otherwise you can cheat and temporarily steal the top tapping of the site tube. or for the most aggressive approach you could cut the 2" copper riser next to the site tube halfway up and maybe take 1/2" out depending on what minor flex there is in the copper to allow the geometry to spin the elbow a few degrees loose until you can back out the copper adapter and short pipe length and take off the elbow and replace with a tee to a big full port ball valve (you could go at the full 2" or take it down a little to 1 and 1/2 or 1 and 1/4 and still have a pretty good skim) on the run and a down leg to direct skimming to a bucket. coming back on with the tee to that similar few degrees off plumb angle and reinstall the copper adapter and leg, and clean up the joining area and put a slip coupling on it, spin it back plumb and raise the coupling and solder (or if you are into the new header project, just add this feature while you are doing it). In either approach with smaller temporary valve on upper site tube leg or larger valve teed off the bottom of the riser you would have to raise the water level for skimming to the point where its just dripping out the valve. There are numerous references on here for the process itself which in short is closing the valve and running up til hot and making steam and then avoiding hitting yourself or anyone else with the offal you open the valve which will carry oils and stuff making the water slippery out of the boiler (along with steam and hot water. You can close it then and reiterate a few times. And then you can treat the boiler and repeat the skimming.

    For access to add treatment chemistry, you could put a tee where your pressure relief is and put the relief on the branch leaving a nipple to a valve on the run with an adapter to larger pipe size which can serve as a funnel for adding a treatment like Squick. I've had incredibly good results with that in similar problem circumstances, smaller, lower water volume contemporary replacement of an older steamer.

  • SlamDunk
    SlamDunk Member Posts: 1,580
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    If you're going to do it yourself, wait until summer because it won't go as fast as you think. The majority of the header are nipples and fittings that you can purchase to length and threaded. My local Fergusons has a great selection . You could also order from McMaster.com.

    But, if you need it done now, you should hire someone.
  • GeekGirl913
    GeekGirl913 Member Posts: 27
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    @archibald tuttle

    Thank you for the feedback!

    I have a small T1 and T2 to indicate the takeoffs to the mains, but it would certainly look a little squirrely with the whole u-turn, but if it works, then I wouldn't care what it looked like.

    They are all one pipe radiators; the mains in the basement are 3" dia, and not sure how long until they hit the first radiator or the returns.

    You would be correct in that there's no way to skim this boiler, nor has it ever been skimmed. There's a glob of oil in the sight glass as it is. :s

    The plan would be to replace the elbows to the risers with capped tees in order to skim accordingly (as recommended by the manufacturer in the directions that weren't followed by the plumber), and I like the idea of using the pressure relief valve to add chemistry to help give this thing a good cleaning.
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,639
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    the oil will cause all sorts of havoc. it will cause the water to surge and throw water up in to the mains.
    ethicalpaul
  • GeekGirl913
    GeekGirl913 Member Posts: 27
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    SlamDunk said:
    If you're going to do it yourself, wait until summer because it won't go as fast as you think. The majority of the header are nipples and fittings that you can purchase to length and threaded. My local Fergusons has a great selection . You could also order from McMaster.com. But, if you need it done now, you should hire someone.
    We wanted to wait until late spring when the heat is still on, but we could reasonably rely on our minisplit if needed. I've amassed a significant cart at Supply House for the moment, but still waiting for the reasons you stated: no matter how long you anticipate a project will go, it will always go longer.

    I went to my local supply place, where I was told reducing the size to 2" is fine, as is using copper for everything. The manual for the boiler advises against both of those things... 

    Perhaps splitting the difference for now in getting it cleaned out as best I can, and waiting about three months to do it is a reasonable plan of attack. 
  • GeekGirl913
    GeekGirl913 Member Posts: 27
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    KC_Jones said:

    That helps to further explain how the boilers get piped wrong, even the supply houses don't read manuals, or care.

    Yep. And he was going to pull the manual out for it from a binder, but then stopped himself like he knew he was going to be proven wrong or something. It was odd. And aggravating.
    JakeCKSuperTech
  • Dan_NJ
    Dan_NJ Member Posts: 247
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    @archibald tuttle
    You would be correct in that there's no way to skim this boiler, nor has it ever been skimmed. There's a glob of oil in the sight glass as it is. :s

    It has a sight glass and can be skimmed via that port. Granted it's not the best or fastest way of doing it but you can skim some of the crud out of there using that method. I don't think the Ptrol mounted on there would interfere, but mine is not set up that way.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lO2oR9JhF0M

  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,061
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    Are there reducing bushings screwed into the boiler where the 90 connect?
    That would be 2 1/2 X 2" bushings.
  • archibald tuttle
    archibald tuttle Member Posts: 1,085
    edited January 2022
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    i wouldn't underestimate the utility of skimming vs. repiping header at least short term and as @Dan_NJ points out, pro tem you can use the top gauge glass port. Or it wouldn't be that big of a project on a recent install to get one of 2" elbows to the feeds loose and put in a tee.

    on that topic @JUGHNE at least the current spec lists 2 and 1/2" tappings although it cryptically says 2.5" OD. i think that must be a mistake. It's called out as 2 and 1/2" nominal in the install manual.

    The install does call for maintaining 2.5 inch through header and actually calls out a 2.5 inch tee for skimming although I honestly don't see that much of a problem in 2" risers to 2.5 or 3" headers. Again, skimming before any major repiping could help reveal the likely adequacy of 2" risers. If it calms down significantly I wouldn't worry so much about sticking with 2" if getting back to the 2.5 inch boilers tappings proves daunting. It is difficult to see the nature of the bushings although this being a recent install they might be removable without dynamite. If I were going to try to remove them, i'd invest in a heavy custom socket and use a 1" breaker bar and cheater. (I have been know to sawzall and chisel 3" bushings and install replacements with setting joint compound to fill the inevitable nicks in the female threads.)

    Although you shouldn't get repeats of install chemistry that needs skimming, I'm a big believer in using a [full port] ball valve rather than a plug for the skim port.

    Now these occasional brass/bronze valves and fittings within the system go to some of the arguments about copper. I have yet to see any copper mains fail and have seen a fair amount of them in refits like this–although there is plenty of testimony here that such problems are possible and virtually never occur with steel threaded pipe. As best I can follow, it is the volume of cooper in the system that is of concern, so a little for convenience soldered with 95/5 (although some go for brazing, i've never seen that) is not any kind of early death sentence. If you were to repipe in copper the mains (or wet returns, esp. without attention to water chemistry which is virtually never regularly monitored in small residental systems) there would be more galvanic potential for boiler damage, but I don't see that a few uses for convenience with offsets to manage expansion not being applied with no other relief to boiler tappings is off the table (them's fighting words here at the wall). That said, copper isn't that much more foregiving installation, I think it's just a more comfortable medium for those who don't swing pipe all the time.

    Lastly, you mention something dripping on the pressuretrol? That is hard to observe in the photos. The manual specifiies relatively low operating pressures and, depending on the balance of the system consumption of steam vs. btu input of boiler, you might not even be reaching those low specified pressures (i.e. manual calls out 1/2 lbs. cut-in pressure and 1 lbs. differential.

    I think the experience here is the even a 1/2 lbs differential is plenty and the lower you keep the pressure the better performance and less problems including surging although getting a control that can regulate accurately within those ranges is difficult and I suspect the pressuretrol you have (regardless of getting dripped on or not) is not particularly accurate even with the factory specified ranges.

    Just looking for a quick access monitoring tap, you could put a cross where I had recommended a tee for chemical addition and I kick out a nipple and leaveing the direct verticl for a valve and increasing coupling as funnel, I kick out the back of the cross to a nipple, elbow and valve and long 3/4 riser reduced to 1/4" with a hose adapter permanently mounted and I can have successfully used digital manometer, e.g. which given your apparent level of interest in the operation of the system isn't perhaps the minor overinvestment it might seem. The length of piping and lack of air vent on this testing appendage has meant I have no problem leaving the manometer in place for an hour/ monitoring cycles (although I wish I could defeat the auto-off which requires popping the flexible hose connection loos to rezero each time i don't hit buttons for a few minutes, are you listening UEI?) while watching the operation of a system I'm testing without compromising temperatures actually reaching the manometer setup.

    I had a picture of this setup on the long lost thread on the dwyerstat conceived on a lost thread between myself and @MarkS who also deserves credit for recreating the thread so that the knowledge was not lost in very addressable fashion with super graphic representations (but my picture is gone, if I can find it or next time I drop by that job i'll take another).

    I have often found that the pressuretrol is irrelevant depending on the relation of EDR to net BTU output with systems never cresting 1 lbs. and the pressuretrol serving as a runaway safety rather than an operating control. I kind of like this although it does foretell a longer leadtime to steam from cold start but a small price to pay for the consistent stable operation.

    there is a

    brian

    the author of this novel is quite longwinded and has no awards . . . :-)
    ethicalpaulSlamDunk
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,061
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    Has anyone addressed what pressure this runs up to?
    With sludge in the sight glass the pigtail could be plugged producing high pressure.

    When this shuts down and is cool is the boiler overfilled?
  • archibald tuttle
    archibald tuttle Member Posts: 1,085
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    @JUGHNE that's a good point and a fairly easy check. overfilling must be an issue here because if the water is being driven up into the piping the autofeeder will run but i'm still laying money it's the slippery water vs. a clogged pigtail. if it doesn't snow next weekend in the northeast i'll make it to vegas to settle up. :-)
  • GeekGirl913
    GeekGirl913 Member Posts: 27
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    After investigating further, I realized there was more wrong with our system than just the near boiler piping, so I called a professional I found listed here to come do an assessment.

    Still waiting on the final write up, but early takeaways in addition to already noted issues are:

    No vents on the mains
    Improper insulation
    Grossly oversized boiler*
    Radiators removed amplifying oversize issue
    Bad pitch on a bunch of radiators

    *My guesstimate is that the currently connected rads work out to about 88.6 MBH, and the boiler is 137 MBH. Even reconnecting missing radiators and right sizing the kitchen would bring us up to about 106ish MBH.

    So, our CBGB's Sunday hardcore matinee lineup will continue its residency a bit longer. But after consulting a true steam professional I'm happy to wait to get it all sorted out at once, and hopefully for good.

    This weekend I plan on opening ceilings to figure out the leaking. 🥴
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,639
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    This weekend I plan on opening ceilings to figure out the leaking. 🥴

    Maybe those are your main vents.

    There are certainly better sizing choices, but that isn't so oversized that it in itself is your problem.

  • GeekGirl913
    GeekGirl913 Member Posts: 27
    edited January 2022
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    mattmia2 said:
    Maybe those are your main vents. There are certainly better sizing choices, but that isn't so oversized that it in itself is your problem.
    Spoke to the plumber today who did the assessment for us who calculated the square footage and he said it's about 100 ft² over where we need to be. I'm still surprised because our house is large (3,000+ ft²), and this isn't the largest boiler available for that brand/series. How often are these giant ones needed?!

    So on its own not the cause of the problems, but definitely part of the band. Irony being that our music room radiator is one of the quiet ones...
  • GeekGirl913
    GeekGirl913 Member Posts: 27
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    If anyone wants to have a good laugh, here you go. Discovered this gem earlier today. (Copper pipe to a radiator off the wet return.)

    (Inherently funny? No. But I'm laughing so I don't go insane.)

  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,061
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    How does that rad preform?
  • archibald tuttle
    archibald tuttle Member Posts: 1,085
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    @GeekGirl913 is the union not tight?, you have to be seeing this somewhere at the rad. or maybe someone tightened it up and the damage is previous?
  • archibald tuttle
    archibald tuttle Member Posts: 1,085
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    JUGHNE said:

    How does that rad preform?

    bet it gets the air out of the piping no problem
  • archibald tuttle
    archibald tuttle Member Posts: 1,085
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    @GeekGirl913 that boiler is not grossly oversized at all. that's only like 25,000 btus. If anything I like the boiler capacity you get and more steaming chamber of being a little large and, in any event, if the near boiler piping conforms to boiler specs that is not your problem. i forget who i bet this was slippery water but i'm in vegas to pay off if its not.
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,639
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    Copper is fine for returns.
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,061
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    IIUC, OP stated that copper is a radiator connection.

    And I believe this is a one pipe system.