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Boiler cracked- how to limp along for a while?

jdavidse
jdavidse Member Posts: 5
We started to notice the automatic feed coming on quite a bit about two weeks ago. In that time, the feeder has pumped about 500 gallons of water and a small puddle has formed under the boiler. (This is a Columbia natural gas boiler installed in 2013 112000 BTU).

A plumber came today and proclaimed it dead. A new boiler is in our future. The problem is, we need to keep this thing limping along for a little while until we can afford it. So a couple of details:

1. It’s maintaining 63 degrees in the house (a two level row house + basement) with a lot of pumping of water.
2. Current temps are in the 20s and 30s for the foreseeable future here in the mid Atlantic.
3. The company that installed the boiler went out of business. The guy that came over today said the crack could have come because the automatic feeder is piped to go straight into the boiler instead of mixing with returning water. Thus, ice cold water is shocking the boiler every time the pump comes on.
4. There is a puddle below the boiler, but it does not account for the vast quantity of water being pumped. The plumber said that most of that water is going straight up the chimney as steam, because the cold water turns instantly to steam when it hits the hot boiler.

So how can I nurse this thing along for a little while? I read somewhere that if you want to add new water to a boiler, you should shut it down and let it cool, and then fill it and then turn it back on. Will that help to prevent too much water leaving the system?

Is there anything I can do to mitigate the crack?

Thank you for any help!

Comments

  • kcopp
    kcopp Member Posts: 4,397
    Its done.
    Its not going to get any better.
    500 gallons is a lot of water in 2 weeks...
    Perhaps you can work out a payment schedule w the new installer.
    Make sure its installed according to the mfg instructions.


  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 22,970
    I rather doubt that the cold water feed rooting is the root cause of the cracking -- although it should be fed into the wet return before the Hartford loop. Next time... but the present arrangement isn't going to make things worse, and if you need to add water to a warm or hot boiler, so be it.

    Your main problem at this point is to keep it running for a bit and not get rushed into something. Which is quite possible. What you have to do is make darn sure that it never actually runs out of water. To that end, test the low water cutoff and make absolutely sure that it is working -- that it really truly shuts off the boiler. Get some help from someone who actually knows how to work on steam boilers -- a few plumbers do, but by no means all.

    Then, once you are reasonably certain of that, all that's going to happen is that it's going to cost you a good bit to keep things warm, as every gallon of water that steams and goes up the chimney is a gallon of water which doesn't heat the house.

    Obviously, start thinking about a new boiler. I strongly recommend finding someone who actually has experience with steam -- again, I have nothing against plumbers, but steam heat and plumbing are two different trades, even though they both do things with pipes.

    Where, exactly, is mid-Atlantic? We may know someone in your area.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,350
    edited January 2022
    @kcopp said "Make sure its installed according to the mfg instructions.
    said "

    @jdavidse Take what Kcopp said to heart.

    We have horror stories coming on here every week of steam boilers installed not in accordance with the mfg instructions.

    Your plumber may have 20, 30, 40 years of experience and not know how to install a steam boiler correctly. It doesent cost any more to do it right.

    Find out what boiler he is going to install and go on line before the install and download the install manual. Make sure he follows the mfg piping instructions, size of pipe and the piping configuration is crucial. Insist on it.

    It also should be piped in black pipe....not copper tubing for the steam portion. Copper for the returns (below the water line and for the MU water is ok)

    If you don't have proper main venting get that addressed at the same time

    Make sure he skims the boiler in accordance with the manual

    He needs to measure all the radiators to determine the correct size boiler, no guessing, no sizing it of the old boilers name plate.

    You can try some boiler leak sealer but it probably won't help at this point
  • jdavidse
    jdavidse Member Posts: 5

    I rather doubt that the cold water feed rooting is the root cause of the cracking -- although it should be fed into the wet return before the Hartford loop. Next time... but the present arrangement isn't going to make things worse, and if you need to add water to a warm or hot boiler, so be it.

    Your main problem at this point is to keep it running for a bit and not get rushed into something. Which is quite possible. What you have to do is make darn sure that it never actually runs out of water. To that end, test the low water cutoff and make absolutely sure that it is working -- that it really truly shuts off the boiler. Get some help from someone who actually knows how to work on steam boilers -- a few plumbers do, but by no means all.

    Then, once you are reasonably certain of that, all that's going to happen is that it's going to cost you a good bit to keep things warm, as every gallon of water that steams and goes up the chimney is a gallon of water which doesn't heat the house.

    Obviously, start thinking about a new boiler. I strongly recommend finding someone who actually has experience with steam -- again, I have nothing against plumbers, but steam heat and plumbing are two different trades, even though they both do things with pipes.

    Where, exactly, is mid-Atlantic? We may know someone in your area.

    Thank you for the response. By “plumber” I mean he was with a heating company. I guess I don’t know the term for a boiler specialist- not offense to the professionals here. We are located in Baltimore, Maryland.

    Is there any merit to the idea of shutting it down and then starting it cold, to hopefully retain more water in the system? (Avoiding the large amount of steam escaping via chimney) Or will it exacerbate the crack by letting it go cold?

  • kcopp
    kcopp Member Posts: 4,397
    If you are Baltimore you have one of the BEST contractors near to you. All Steamed up. @Steamhead
    Rich_49KC_Jonescross_skierJUGHNE
  • jdavidse
    jdavidse Member Posts: 5

    @kcopp said "Make sure its installed according to the mfg instructions.
    said "

    @jdavidse Take what Kcopp said to heart.

    We have horror stories coming on here every week of steam boilers installed not in accordance with the mfg instructions.

    Your plumber may have 20, 30, 40 years of experience and not know how to install a steam boiler correctly. It doesent cost any more to do it right.

    Find out what boiler he is going to install and go on line before the install and download the install manual. Make sure he follows the mfg piping instructions, size of pipe and the piping configuration is crucial. Insist on it.

    It also should be piped in black pipe....not copper tubing for the steam portion. Copper for the returns (below the water line and for the MU water is ok)

    If you don't have proper main venting get that addressed at the same time

    Make sure he skims the boiler in accordance with the manual

    He needs to measure all the radiators to determine the correct size boiler, no guessing, no sizing it of the old boilers name plate.

    You can try some boiler leak sealer but it probably won't help at this point

    I will keep this in mind. I’m looking through the current boiler’s manual now.
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,708
    kcopp said:
    If you are Baltimore you have one of the BEST contractors near to you. All Steamed up. @Steamhead
    ^^^^^ This 100%
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
    cross_skierJUGHNE
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,736
    Thanks for the kind words, all.

    @jdavidse , here's our info:

    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/all-steamed-up-inc

    We're not in the office much, but if you leave a message we'll get back to you ASAP. Make sure you say you're the guy from The Wall.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
    kcopp
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,021
    Could we ask a favor?
    How about a picture of the chimney exhaust when it is at full steaming?
    It could be a poster child for white steam/smoke/exhaust that we often try to explain to others with problems.

    Boiler piping is always good to see also.

    Thanks and be sure to call Steamhead and Gordo.
  • neilc
    neilc Member Posts: 2,671
    JUGHNE said:


    Boiler piping is always good to see also.

    it may be good to post a picture or 2 of the boiler, and the piping above,
    if the piping was done wrong, it may have contributed to the cracking, also,
    and if your current heating contractor doesn't see and recognize the possibility that some of us are thinking of,
    then you probably don't want them installing your next boiler,
    but you're going with Steamhead anyways, RIGHT?
    known to beat dead horses
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,021
    And pictures of piping and chimney would be educational here for all of us.
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,350
    @jdavidse

    Your in luck in Baltimore. @Steamhead is your guy
  • Intplm.
    Intplm. Member Posts: 1,803
    @jdavidse Something to buy you some time? You can use a chemical called "boiler seal". It's made for just what you are experiencing. It is a temporary fix that will buy you some time.

    Best of luck getting your boiler changed.
  • ScottSecor
    ScottSecor Member Posts: 846
    I strongly recommend @Steamhead as well.

    With regard to "boiler seal" I'd recommend not using it, in my experience it causes more troble than it's worth. As far as "patching the boiler there really is no easy way. Like others have mentioned in many leaking steam boilers that we see, there is often a hole the size of a golf ball by the time we get called in. Hard to patch a hole that big with epoxy or some other product. Not to be negtive, but I've never been sucessful patching a cast iron boiler.

    Only things I can offer are keep the thermostat low and you may just have the cleanest chimney interior in all of Baltimore (steam cleaned).
    jdavidsewmgeorge
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,576
    New sections may be available, and somewhat less expensive than a new boiler. If the present boiler has been improperly sized, then you are stuck with various problems, which you would not have with a perfectly sized boiler.
    Read up on EDR, and sizing boilers here.—NBC
  • jdavidse
    jdavidse Member Posts: 5
    Thanks for all the replies from everyone. You can tell which chimney it is from the photo lol. Also, I can’t post video here but by standing on the bathtub and putting my phone near the skylight I captured a pretty good video of the steam billowing out the chimney (through frosted glass though) Also, here are pictures of the pipes.

    A question: how is the excess steam related to the crack in the boiler? I realize all that cold water gets changed to steam right away, but why doesn’t that steam travel to the radiators? 

    Give the amount of water under the boiler, I would expect it’s not losing much water there in comparison to the chimney. If it would just circulate the water it heats, wouldn’t that lower the amount of pumping? 


  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,627
    edited January 2022
    A question: how is the excess steam related to the crack in the boiler? I realize all that cold water gets changed to steam right away, but why doesn’t that steam travel to the radiators?

    Give the amount of water under the boiler, I would expect it’s not losing much water there in comparison to the chimney. If it would just circulate the water it heats, wouldn’t that lower the amount of pumping?


    Your questions are rather confusing, let me try to help.

    The hole is likely in the steam chamber part of the boiler (the part above the boiling water). So a lot of the steam your boiler making is escaping out of that hole and going up your chimney. Some steam is condensing at the hole and probably dripping the water onto your floor or some boiling water is splashing out.

    Your boiler doesn't circulate water to heat your house, it generates steam which makes its way to your radiators under what should be very light pressure.

    the "pumping of water" you are referring to I assume is the additional water that your boiler requires to make more steam since it's losing so much of its water out of the chimney.

    Cold water doesn't get changed to steam right away. The boiler heats the water and starts it boiling which produces a rather precise amount of steam over time, just like a pot on your stove would.

    The bright side of all of this is that you have a chance to get a correctly-sized boiler and you can have it piped correctly (the current piping is a nightmare). But you'll have to find a good contractor. We can help with that. Don't let a plumber install it, let a steam professional (like Steamhead previously mentioned) install it or you will be back here immediately after the installation asking what went wrong.

    Buy the book "We got steam heat" available on this site, you are a steam owner and should know what it will teach you.
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
    bucksnort
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,021
    Thank you. Yes, we can see where you live.....or else a new pope has been chosen. ;)

    Did you notice the digital readout on the VXT before having problems or noticing water?
    This should only show an increase of a small number of gallons per month.

    You may have some serious water loss problems in the system.
    Fresh water flowing into the boiler contains oxygen which can eat a hole in cast iron.

    Do you have any pipes below the floor connected to the boiler, they are the first suspects for leaks that you can not see.

    Or any air vents and valves leaking steam and/or water?

    Homework to do while waiting for boiler replacement....in addition to the book that Paul recommended.
    Erin Holohan HaskellCLamb
  • JakeCK
    JakeCK Member Posts: 1,356
    Just a Homeowner chiming it: Get a contractor from this site such a @Steamhead seriously. When it comes to boilers regardless if it's steam or hot water most HVAC and plumbing contractors are clueless. 
    ethicalpaulcross_skierdelcrossv
  • jdavidse
    jdavidse Member Posts: 5
    A question: how is the excess steam related to the crack in the boiler? I realize all that cold water gets changed to steam right away, but why doesn’t that steam travel to the radiators? Give the amount of water under the boiler, I would expect it’s not losing much water there in comparison to the chimney. If it would just circulate the water it heats, wouldn’t that lower the amount of pumping?
    Your questions are rather confusing, let me try to help. The hole is likely in the steam chamber part of the boiler (the part above the boiling water). So a lot of the steam your boiler making is escaping out of that hole and going up your chimney. Some steam is condensing at the hole and probably dripping the water onto your floor or some boiling water is splashing out. Your boiler doesn't circulate water to heat your house, it generates steam which makes its way to your radiators under what should be very light pressure. the "pumping of water" you are referring to I assume is the additional water that your boiler requires to make more steam since it's losing so much of its water out of the chimney. Cold water doesn't get changed to steam right away. The boiler heats the water and starts it boiling which produces a rather precise amount of steam over time, just like a pot on your stove would. The bright side of all of this is that you have a chance to get a correctly-sized boiler and you can have it piped correctly (the current piping is a nightmare). But you'll have to find a good contractor. We can help with that. Don't let a plumber install it, let a steam professional (like Steamhead previously mentioned) install it or you will be back here immediately after the installation asking what went wrong. Buy the book "We got steam heat" available on this site, you are a steam owner and should know what it will teach you.

    A question: how is the excess steam related to the crack in the boiler? I realize all that cold water gets changed to steam right away, but why doesn’t that steam travel to the radiators? Give the amount of water under the boiler, I would expect it’s not losing much water there in comparison to the chimney. If it would just circulate the water it heats, wouldn’t that lower the amount of pumping?
    Your questions are rather confusing, let me try to help. The hole is likely in the steam chamber part of the boiler (the part above the boiling water). So a lot of the steam your boiler making is escaping out of that hole and going up your chimney. Some steam is condensing at the hole and probably dripping the water onto your floor or some boiling water is splashing out. Your boiler doesn't circulate water to heat your house, it generates steam which makes its way to your radiators under what should be very light pressure. the "pumping of water" you are referring to I assume is the additional water that your boiler requires to make more steam since it's losing so much of its water out of the chimney. Cold water doesn't get changed to steam right away. The boiler heats the water and starts it boiling which produces a rather precise amount of steam over time, just like a pot on your stove would. The bright side of all of this is that you have a chance to get a correctly-sized boiler and you can have it piped correctly (the current piping is a nightmare). But you'll have to find a good contractor. We can help with that. Don't let a plumber install it, let a steam professional (like Steamhead previously mentioned) install it or you will be back here immediately after the installation asking what went wrong. Buy the book "We got steam heat" available on this site, you are a steam owner and should know what it will teach you.
    Thanks, I think this makes some things more clear. 

    But I'm still unclear about why the steam goes into the chimney. If there was a hole or crack in the steam chamber, wouldn't that steam just escape directly into the basement? And a hole below the water line would manifest as a drip? 




    wmgeorge
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,627
    No, the steam doesn't escape into the basement for the same reason that the combustion gases (hopefully) do not escape into the basement-- there is a draft that pulls the gasses (and in your case the steam) up the chimney. The hole is right there adjacent to where the hot gasses flow upward from the flame past the boiler sections.

    On this forum if you look around you will find pictures of typical holes and that will give you a better idea of the physical details of boilers. I'll try to find a good one to link here.

    We don't typically see holes below the water line in steam boilers because the actions that cause corrosion are much more active above the water line (alternating wet and dry, higher levels of heat, more oxygen exposure).
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,350
    @jdavidse

    A leak in a steam boiler can show up a few different ways.

    Water under and around the boiler
    steam up the chimney
    steam leak to boiler room area
    Intplm.
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,627
    Here is the inside of a boiler like yours (an atmospheric gas-fired boiler--oil fired has a different design but still the same idea): https://www.supplyhouse.com/Weil-McLain-321-114-289-Replacement-Section-Assembly?gclid=Cj0KCQiAosmPBhCPARIsAHOen-PGbSSo-EoKzOqLEUtbAHjQFHoLj1gMvkvwLFqBeny8_md6klPOgGcaAppLEALw_wcB

    It is made up of sections, between which are the channels where the combustion gasses flow upward and transfer most of their heat to the cast iron which then heats the water. Your hole is likely at the top or side of one of these sections.

    Here is a thread showing some sections from a failed boiler: https://forum.heatinghelp.com/discussion/152778/holes-in-burnham-v8-above-waterline

    Note that the addition of fresh water into a boiler is probably the biggest cause of steam boiler failure. Fresh water has a lot of oxygen which is forced into the boiler chamber when it's heated causing corrosion. That's why it's vitally important as a homeowner to repair or have repaired any leaking vents or valves.

    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
    cross_skier
  • JK_Brown
    JK_Brown Member Posts: 24
    There's a recent video posted by Mikey Pipes on youtube of his crew tearing down an old boiler that developed a steam leak and replacing it with a new one. You can see the damage then how the boiler is sectioned as they tear it down.

    The boiler is a number of cast iron sections pressfit together with a water inlet pipe common on one lower corner and a steam outlet pipe on an opposite upper corner. If a section corrodes through at the top of a section, steam is released but into the combustion exhaust that flows the boiler into a draft hood over the boiler, then up the chimney with the exhaust gases.

    The big billowing "smoke" associated with old steam locomotives was mostly the exhaust steam mixed in with the combustion gases from the firebox. They tried to keep the fire burning as cleanly as possible for the most heat and to avoid carbon build up in between the boiler sections even when they used wood and coal.
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,627
    I assume Mikey has a lot of these since he tells his customers to completely drain and refill the boiler monthly or whatever.
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
  • Pipe
    Pipe Member Posts: 16

    I assume Mikey has a lot of these since he tells his customers to completely drain and refill the boiler monthly or whatever.

    is this a joke? every LWCO says "test monthly" by removing water to test LWCO.
    Niss3zx
  • Pipe
    Pipe Member Posts: 16
    Pipe said:

    I assume Mikey has a lot of these since he tells his customers to completely drain and refill the boiler monthly or whatever.

    is this a joke? every LWCO says "test monthly" by removing water to test LWCO.
    correction, some say weekly. If you ain' testing, you are guessing.
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,708
    Pipe said:

    Pipe said:

    I assume Mikey has a lot of these since he tells his customers to completely drain and refill the boiler monthly or whatever.

    is this a joke? every LWCO says "test monthly" by removing water to test LWCO.
    correction, some say weekly. If you ain' testing, you are guessing.
    Hydrolevel says to clean and test the probe LWCO once per year. Draining to test monthly is terrible advice, no matter what the source.

    Page 3 at the bottom, "Maintenance".

    https://hydrolevel.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/400-Series-Instructions-051118-web.pdf
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 22,970
    edited January 2022
    Misunderstanding. So. to be clearr -- which is what someone says when they want to confuse you.

    Float type low water cutoff: the float chamber only should be blown down two to four times a month, using the blowdown valve on the float chamber, and operation of the ow water cutoff switch checked. Draining and refilling the boiler, or using the boiler blowdown drains, will not clear the low water cutoff float chamber and is not recommended.

    Probe type low water cutoff: the probe should be removed and cleaned ideally yearly. The will require draining the boiler below the probe, which can also be used to check the operation of the probe. No blowdown is required.

    That help?

    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,627
    Pipe said:

    Pipe said:

    I assume Mikey has a lot of these since he tells his customers to completely drain and refill the boiler monthly or whatever.

    is this a joke? every LWCO says "test monthly" by removing water to test LWCO.
    correction, some say weekly. If you ain' testing, you are guessing.
    Well Mr. Pipe, all due respect, there is a big difference between lowering the level to test the LWCO and draining the boiler, which I have seen on his (your?) videos several times. And it looks like KC found that an annual test was what was recommended regardless.

    But even if M&M said to test it monthly, I would never do it. I don't want to perform a test (recommended by a corporate lawyer) that will help rot out my boiler faster...So many probe LWCOs go years without checking or cleaning, I think my annual routine is not guessing.
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,350
    Taking a quart out of a M/M float control every week isn't going to rot any ones boiler. Draining and refilling the boiler monthly probably is a very bad idea. i wouldn't do much of anything Mikey says. He doesn't even skim a new install just put some powder in
    ethicalpaul
  • Intplm.
    Intplm. Member Posts: 1,803

    I strongly recommend @Steamhead as well.

    With regard to "boiler seal" I'd recommend not using it, in my experience it causes more troble than it's worth. As far as "patching the boiler there really is no easy way. Like others have mentioned in many leaking steam boilers that we see, there is often a hole the size of a golf ball by the time we get called in. Hard to patch a hole that big with epoxy or some other product. Not to be negtive, but I've never been sucessful patching a cast iron boiler.

    Only things I can offer are keep the thermostat low and you may just have the cleanest chimney interior in all of Baltimore (steam cleaned).

    Boiler seal was invented for this purpose. This situation is exactly what it is meant for.
    Used CORRECTLY! it will get you through to (limp by) as said earlier.
    So seriously consider using it.
    I had a lot of success with this and other products that do the same thing. The trick is to follow the directions and not to add the wrong mount. Some folks I have found add too much thinking that more is better. Many put too much in and seal up controls. That's not good.

    So...that said. Consider it as a temporary leak stop because it is not a permanent fix.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 22,970
    Yes, boiler seal, properly used, will work -- for a crack or a pinhole. It will NOT work for a rusted out area.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • cross_skier
    cross_skier Member Posts: 201
    I proposed furnace cement but that idea got shot down.  I know it really sticks to metal but must not be resistant to steam.

    Another idea would be to stuff a fire fighter's nomex /kevlar glove into the hole.  I use them with my Big Green Egg, they can be found occasionally on eBay