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Leaking Boiler/New Boiler Quotes

Hi, I've found myself in the position of finally needing to replace the boiler on my one pipe steam system (two days after totaling a car of course!). It's in a 1926 Bungalow in Detroit, MI. The other night, when fired with water maybe half way up the sight glass, occasional "shooting stars" could be seen landing on the tubes (If one was lying on the floor). But no leakage when off. Guy came out yesterday to give a quote and began to fill the boiler all the way up to diagnose, got maybe 3/4 or more up, boiler fired, and larger regular drips appeared. I've lowered the water since and drips not so evident. But obviously I need a new boiler.
I got a quote from the fellow who came out based on what he saw of the boiler and asking how many rads, and from another fellow who just asked me to take a pic of the boiler and the mains coming off and said he would get the sq ft of the house from googling my address. Neither measured any rads. Currently the Input is 175k BTU/HR, the DOE Heating Cap is 135k BTU/HR, and the Net I-B-R Rating is 102k Steam BTU/HR--425 sq ft Steam. The quotes I have received so far differ radically, one being 1.5 times as much as the other. One quoted a Slant/Fin 120k BTU Model#GXHA-120EDPZ, the other a Carrier model BS2AAN000112 (I think the end # indicating 112k BTU). I have another pro coming tomorrow to take a look.
Here are my questions (the first may be a sort of self answering plea for pity from the cosmos)
1. There's really no way to tell when this boiler's gonna give up completely, is there?
2. Help! Why is one quoting 1/2 again as much as the other?
3. What are the "better" or "worse" makes of boilers?
4. What if my rads are oversized (we do not "freshen the house" by opening windows in the winter). Is there anything to be done to correct it before I buy a boiler that will fill enough radiators to potentially fulfill a larger heating load than my house presents? Short of changing the rads, which I don't think I'm in for. Unless I definitely should be?
5. Where are the pro's in SE Michigan? The only two that pop on the search here are in Flint and Cleveland.

Any and all help appreciated!

Comments

  • STEAM DOCTOR
    STEAM DOCTOR Member Posts: 1,966
    Toss those guys out of your house. No measuring radiator heat output means that they are incompetent. 
    Hap_Hazzardethicalpaulmattmia2cross_skier
  • cross_skier
    cross_skier Member Posts: 201
    Hutzel is in Ann Arbor.  They have been around for over 100 years, reviews are mixed.  

    I'm in SE Michigan, I installed my own Peerless steam boiler 24 years ago.  It is going strong but it was a lot of work to get the system straightened out.  Dan Holohan and Steamhead were incredible resources.  Read Dan's books.

    I feel good about picking the Peerless and would recommend their 63 series boilers even though you are going to have to wait as they are back ordered.

    Heat loss calculations will get you in the ball park for boiler size.  Check the steam rating of boiler against the sum of the EDR of the existing radiators in your house.  

    Steam boilers tend to die slowly.  Use the time to your advantage, study, and make good decisions.  You'll likely make it until spring.  Many pros screw up on near boiler piping so memorize the boiler installation manual.

    Good luck.
    Hap_Hazzard
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,517
    @JasonDetroit

    If the boiler is still heating and you can keep it running (how often do you add water) you might make it a couple of months longer. Steam pros in that area are few and far so it seems. @offdutytech is out there somewhere don't know if he covers your area.

    Anyone who doesn't measure the radiators does not have a clue.

    You need to find the right installer to put the right boiler in correctly

    That should be a simple thing but it's far from it
    Hap_Hazzardcross_skier
  • Hap_Hazzard
    Hap_Hazzard Member Posts: 2,846
    +1 for Peerless boilers. Mine's 40 years old and still going strong.

    Considering the level of expertise you've found so far, I'd seriously consider doing it myself. If that's not feasible, at least find a plumber or heating tech who doesn't think he knows it all and is willing to accept the counsel and guidance of the outstanding professionals on this forum. Surely there must be someone out there who'd be willing to get a free education that will give him a competitive advantage in a market where steam heating expertise is apparently absent.

    Given the age of your home, the radiation may well be more than sufficient. Reducing the radiant load could be as simple as removing a few radiators, but it usually isn't that easy. You need to do a heat loss calculation for every room where there's a radiator and then try to figure out how to reduce the radiation. For example, you might be able to remove sections from radiators, or move smaller radiators to replace larger ones and then buy a few even smaller radiators to replace the ones you moved.

    Another method of reducing the EDR of radiators is usually done accidentally by homeowners with a yen for woodworking: cover them with an enclosure or cabinet that impedes air flow. There's a common misconception that radiators provide heat through radiation alone, but they also warm air directly through convection. An enclosure can either enhance airflow by creating a chimney effect or impede it. Most do the latter. The result is a radiator that can't live up to its rated EDR potential. Since enclosure design is easier to get wrong than to get right, you should be able to make some attractive wooden enclosures that seriously reduce the effective size of your radiant load. The hard part is measuring the result.
    Just another DIYer | King of Prussia, PA
    1983(?) Peerless G-561-W-S | 3" drop header, CG400-1090, VXT-24
    cross_skier
  • nde
    nde Member Posts: 86
    edited February 2022
    Lack of steam professionals means you will need to manage the project. Ideally you would measure edr yourself since nobody else seems to know to do it, i can tell you my edr is approx 425 fired on 170k input which is correct sizing. For references my house is 2 story approx 2000 sqft, input vs net varies due to efficiency losses so my boiler is net approx 145 btu. Boiler manual/specs sheets will show the steam edr values to match to.

    If like me you do not have the luxury of tossing out contractors who lack steam knowledge b/c nobody in your area really knows proper steam installs...therefore you need to find a contractor willing to sign a drawn up a contract specifying what you learn here and then put in writing,

    1)all necessary permits pulled and post install inspection done if required by local code
    2)boiler will be piped in black threaded pipe as per exact boiler manual recommendations, including proper pipe sizes, equalizer, hartford loop, etc
    3)skim tapping must be installed and either you or contractor skim properly post install
    4)combustion check performed post install using professional equipment and print our results to attach to boiler
    5)(optional but highly recommended) VXT feeder properly installed to track water usage
    6)(optional but highly recommended) main vents checked/replaced, rad vents check replaced
    7)(optional but highly recommended) check return piping, clean out return near boiler, install cleanouts at hartord loop, boiler base, return line before Hartford loop

    Price varies b/c some installers may be pricing piping costs other not. Some charge more b/c they can and are in demand. Low prices usually should be a warning flag but high price does not guarantee competence, see above. I would focus on Peerless or Weil Mclain as both have good reputations when installed by competent contractor. I would avoid burnham, not sure who makes carrier units but would likely avoid them as well,
    Hap_Hazzardcross_skier
  • cross_skier
    cross_skier Member Posts: 201
    When I was looking at steam boilers I learned from Dan the key area of focus were section width, water capacity, and area of supply tappings.  Peerless won.  The cast iron block is shipped separate from the sheet metal and trim.  For you it may be around 500lb.  Getting the block to your basement will probably be the most challenging part of the installation.

    There are a half dozen people on this board who have installed boilers mainly because they were worried about being screwed by bad contractors.  An obvious disadvantage is that it can void the warranty.  Most of the near boiler piping can be done with precut nipples.  Your work will get extra attention from the inspector. 
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,701
    edited February 2022
    Welcome Michigan steam producer! I grew up and lived there for 40 years so I always like to hear about steam systems there.

    To say again what others have said, just so you have lots of voices to hear:

    Do not consider any contractor who has not personally measured and sized each of your radiators and given you a total EDR for them.

    Then ask that contractor to show you in the installation manual how he is going to pipe that boiler. If he can't point to the installation drawing in the manual and explain how he is going to follow it, then rule him out too.
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
    cross_skier
  • Jon_blaney
    Jon_blaney Member Posts: 316
    How about a few pix of your current install.
  • veteransteamhvac
    veteransteamhvac Member Posts: 73
    Please don't flame me but seeing as you seem inclined to research this personally and have an interest I think the encouragement to diy should be considered. It's actually a good time to be a consumer of slightly used steam boilers as there are a lot (too many) being uselessly ripped out in favor of ducted solutions. Facebook marketplace is a useful place where you can actually find boilers that, in pictures at least, look in reasonable condition. You might find one that suits your needs. In one sense people trying to sell them really just want them hauled away and you can get them for a song.

    Is it worth the risk? I have a bit of personal experience in this and since I work (PT) in the industry anyway I can afford to experiment a bit. But my most recent boiler cost me $150 on FB and is a champ (Dunkirk). I do have some buyers remorse as I feel as perhaps I overpaid :wink:

    We are over the hump in regards to this year's heating season which gives you plenty of time IMO to work a solution for next year.
    CLambethicalpaul
  • JasonDetroit
    JasonDetroit Member Posts: 7
    First of all, thank you, really thank you, to everybody who has taken the time to post to this thread.
    I hear the encouragement to go ahead and try this myself, and appreciate it. But I'm also attempting to learn the maxim "know thyself," and with that goes balancing the rest of life.
    In any event, I absolutely want to know as much as I can about how things should be done.
    I reached out to the companies that already gave me a quote prior to measuring EDR, and both told me that the initial quote was a ballpark, and that if hired to do the job, measurements would be done.
    But to be sure, I've attempted to calculate it myself. And of course, I've run into some questions. I'm gonna post some pics and give my guess as to the EDR measurement, and hopefully you dear reader can tell me where I goofed. For the record, I came up with around 330 (I believe about 80K BTU)
    I will post pics with description and my understanding of measurement in their own post,
  • JasonDetroit
    JasonDetroit Member Posts: 7

    This is in our dining room. I measured it as a 38" by 3 column by 7 sections for 35 sq.ft and 8,400 btu.
  • JasonDetroit
    JasonDetroit Member Posts: 7
    edited February 2022

    This is in our downstairs bath. I measured it as 32" by 2 column by 6 sections for 20 sq ft and 4,800 btu. I was thrown by the apparent lack of "void" between the "columns," if that is indeed what I have here.

  • JasonDetroit
    JasonDetroit Member Posts: 7

    And this is the upstairs bath, and I wasn't sure if this was "tube" or "column?" I measured it as 20" by 3 TUBE by 8 sections for 13.75 sq ft and 3,300 btu.
  • JasonDetroit
    JasonDetroit Member Posts: 7

    These are pics of the boiler and I don't know is it the "plate?"
  • JasonDetroit
    JasonDetroit Member Posts: 7

    Whoops, here it is.
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,701
    edited February 2022
    So your 330 value (EDR) would compare to the 425 sq. ft value on the plate, showing a typically oversized boiler. Forget the BTUs and just look at the EDR and sq feet which already take into account losses from piping, etc.

    The problem with them giving you ballpark numbers is they don't know the size of boiler they will use, so they are padding their numbers apparently. They are really hurting themselves because their estimates could be potentially lower with a smaller, correctly sized boiler.

    Also your boiler is improperly piped, so if you want to test them, ask them if they see anything wrong with the boiler piping.
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,631
    From @offdutytech 's comments on another post, Detroit i think is in his area. The negative reviews I read of Hutzel's looked very suspect, it looked like a competitor was trying poorly to smear them so it is possible they are ok, they would be worth investigating, maybe get some references of steam installs and see if you can get the owners to send you some pictures of their boilers and see if they did it right.
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,631
    you can also undersize the boiler a bit based on the edr of the connected radiation and as long as you balance the system the radiators will all heat just not completely so there will be less output.
  • offdutytech
    offdutytech Member Posts: 133
    @JasonDetroit

    Shoot me a PM if you like. We can provide you a quote for boiler replacement and look at your system as a whole. As far as steam boilers go in the Detroit area Slant Fin, Crown, New Yorker and Weil McLain are available. It's a little more challenging to get Perless. I have service a few Carrier boilers in the area which are sold through their dealer network. 
  • offdutytech
    offdutytech Member Posts: 133
    I forgot Utica is available, but def not my first or second choice. All the brands that I mentioned are close in price, the cost variance is usually in the near boiler piping / labor and of course what extras you would like. 
    ethicalpaul
  • Daveinscranton
    Daveinscranton Member Posts: 148
    Depends on the person and the pro.  And diplomacy.  I have found that making fresh coffee, getting lunch etc. helps.  Many real pros will appreciate it if you clean pipe dope off of wrenches, prep threads (the way they want them prepped), run for parts etc.  Keep the work area clean and swept up.  You learn a ton.  You are not a bother, and usually, the masters love to teach.  You can’t get in the way, or be a safety hazard.  Depends on company policy, the pro, liability (increasingly).  And you.  And you may be allowed to help more than you think.  Absolutely great education.  Take a couple days off work if you can.  Time well spent.  

    best wishes with your project.
    BobC
  • cross_skier
    cross_skier Member Posts: 201
    I got my Peerless from a supply house off I-96, Livonia  It's possible they are not there anymore.  Supply house.com sells them with reasonable shipping.

    According to the Peerless rep the 63 casting is about a quarter of an inch thick. The WMs are no where near that heavy.
    A 4 section 63 is about 80-100 lbs heavier
  • Jon_blaney
    Jon_blaney Member Posts: 316
    If you are interested in Peerless, check their web site. Numerous vendors in your area. Also a list of installers.