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Is She a Goner?

Tony_D
Tony_D Member Posts: 14
edited June 9 in Radiant Heating
1.2 million BTU output hot water boiler, 1967. Don't know how old the soot is. A couple of the protruding bolts are loose. Unit has not been thoroughly inspected or tweaked in at least 5 years. Gas bills did not noticeably jump.

Can anyone say what's required so we can limp by another couple years?
OR
Our CoOp board is thinking maybe replace asap and also add potable tanks to replace our two 90 gal hot water heaters - one of which just bit the dust (we do fine on just one for now). It will cost at least $7K to replace the heater and tune up/clean/repair the boiler. Why not just put that toward a new boiler with aux tanks?

I was told by one contractor (who did not come on site) that a new boiler might require new piping in many places so he won't touch it. How can this be if the water pressure remains roughly the same? Is he mistaken? The system isn't ancient.

Thanks for any insight!











Comments

  • Kickstand55
    Kickstand55 Member Posts: 49
    Pictures tell a thousand words but...Being on site and performing a detailed evaluation can tell more.
    With fuel costs where they are today, (June 2022), it may be well to consider a modern replacement due to the BTU's being used. Before that though, an energy audit is suggested. This way you will get to find out where your expensive heat is going, be it to the outside or staying inside.
    You may need insulation, windows, doors and general weatherproofing in addition to a high efficiency replacement system.
    Information may be available on this site, based on your location, to find a reputable contractor to help with this process.
    Tony_D
  • I've seen worse. It actually looks like what it is: A 55 year old boiler that's had a lot of use.

    Get a second opinion from someone that knows what they're doing; someone in their 50's or 60's that's been around boilers for most of their lives.

    What part of the country are you in?
    Often wrong, never in doubt.
    Tony_DIntplm.
  • Tony_D
    Tony_D Member Posts: 14
    We're right near Detroit. East side.
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 12,156
    maybe @offdutytech
    Tony_D
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 15,430
    For what it's worth, those 1960s-vintage American-Standard boilers were built like tanks. This looks like a combustion problem- need someone who can diagnose it.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
    Tony_DAlan (California Radiant) Forbesdelta Tbburd
  • Click on "Find A Contractor" near the top of the page and enter your zip code. There's at least one guy listed in Detroit.
    Often wrong, never in doubt.
    Tony_D
  • Danny Scully
    Danny Scully Member Posts: 1,334
    I've seen worse. It actually looks like what it is: A 55 year old boiler that's had a lot of use. Get a second opinion from someone that knows what they're doing; someone in their 50's or 60's that's been around boilers for most of their lives. What part of the country are you in?
    Ageism at its best @Alan (California Radiant) Forbes 🤣. 
  • pedmec
    pedmec Member Posts: 218
    you are ready for a new boiler. those burners are old cast iron burners. the problems with the cast iron burners is that the orifice's on the burners start to get larger over time due to heat and corrosion. This will affect your combustion. your fuel/air mixture suffers. as you can see by the soot developing on the sides you are not burning correctly. from experience and looking at the pics there is a good chance you are producing high levels of carbon monoxide every cycle. you need to have someone come over ASAP.

    From what ive been told by multiple manufacturers is that nobody makes those burners anymore either. And my guess is if some manufacturer could produce them its gonna cost a pretty penny. buy CO detectors for now. its a better investment.
  • Tony_D
    Tony_D Member Posts: 14
    Thanks. Good info. We have a fairly new CO detector 15 feet from the boiler. We'll have someone inspect soon.
  • pecmsg
    pecmsg Member Posts: 2,955
    Tony_D said:

    Thanks. Good info. We have a fairly new CO detector 15 feet from the boiler. We'll have someone inspect soon.

    Look up Low Level CO Detectors.

    UL Listed detectors need to exceed and maintain 70PPM or more for up to 3 hours before alarming. Dangerous levels!

    Low Level will alert at 15PPM.

    The Defender is one
  • Tony_D
    Tony_D Member Posts: 14
    Will do, thanks!
  • retiredguy
    retiredguy Member Posts: 613
    edited June 10
    As @steamhead wrote, "those boilers were built like tanks". They last until you crack a section and you can't find a replacement. That loose bolt in the 2nd picture is just to hold the inspection plate/flue cover for the flue passage. Me, I am from the old school and I would keep this boiler until it must be replaced. However, you can weigh your options, compare costs, get useful opinions and factual information, and make your decision. I can tell you that the boiler needs a good cleaning of the sections, burners and burner tubes by a reputable company and a good combustion test and adjustment. Are the gas orfices worn as @pedmec wrote, Probably. Are they worn enough the demand a replacement. I do not know since I am not at the job site. I would gather information and make a decision but the decision does not have to be made today. I have seen hot water boilers last 80-100 years. My 2 cents
    EdTheHeaterManTony_D
  • Click on "Find A Contractor" near the top of the page and enter your zip code. There's at least one guy listed in Detroit.
    Often wrong, never in doubt.
    Tony_D
  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 3,342
    edited June 10
    The problem with most contractors that work on gas heaters only (not oil heat), is that they don't know how to clean that heat exchanger. Looking at those inspection plates means nothing to them. If you find a contractor that works on oil heat and gas heat (a rare breed) he will have no problem removing those inspection plates, running a soft hair boiler cleaning brush thru that heat exchanger, vacuuming up the soot that falls to the bottom of the burner compartment and sealing the inspection plates with retort cement so that the boiler is properly sealed like the day it was installed.

    Then take each burner out and brush and vacuum all the burner ports. Inspect and clean if needed the gas orifices at the opening of each burner, then properly set the burners in place. Those burners have primary air adjustments and can most likely be opened to allow more combustion air in the burner primary air opening. Getting the air open a little more may be all that is needed. You just need to find the right guy. or maybe his son who has learned rom him the right way to do this.

    Best wishes on your quest.

    Mr. Ed

    P.S. Many here will tell you to use the "Find A Contractor" link above. If that does not work for you... I like to recommend that you take a trip to one of the oldest plumbing supply houses in the area. They know their professional customers. They know which ones work on both oil and gas heat and which ones are good at what they do. Ask the counter man or the store manager (or owner) who might be able to help you with this. My supply house used to call me to see if I was interested in solving rare problems. I love a challenge. My competitors would call me to solve stuff they could not do. I'm just that friendly guy that everybody can go to!

    Edward Young
    Retired HVAC Contractor from So. Jersey.
    Services first oil burner at age 16
    P/T trainer for EH-CC.org
    Larry WeingartenTony_D
  • @EdTheHeaterMan Cleaning HX's is never any fun and you can't find many contractors that will do it. When necessary, I will pull out the burners, remove the lid and flush the HX with a garden hose spray nozzle with my wife down below with a shop vac removing the very dirty water. It's a mess, but satisfying to give the boiler a few more years of service.
    Often wrong, never in doubt.
    Tony_D
  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 3,342
    edited June 10

    @EdTheHeaterMan Cleaning HX's is never any fun and you can't find many contractors that will do it. When necessary, I will pull out the burners, remove the lid and flush the HX with a garden hose spray nozzle with my wife down below with a shop vac removing the very dirty water. It's a mess, but satisfying to give the boiler a few more years of service.

    Now that is true love!
    Edward Young
    Retired HVAC Contractor from So. Jersey.
    Services first oil burner at age 16
    P/T trainer for EH-CC.org
    Tony_D
  • retiredguy
    retiredguy Member Posts: 613
    If that were my wife and I, she would be doing the cleaner job from above and I would be down on the bottom with the soot and dirty water. That is how it is after 59 years.
    EdTheHeaterMan
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 12,156
    I agree most "gas technicians" wouldn't know a clean out cover if it smacked him in the head.

    The best thing to seal the cleanout covers is red RTV (clean the castings first) If the insulation on the inside of the clean out covers is shot use strips of kaowoll
    Tony_D
  • Tony_D
    Tony_D Member Posts: 14

    I like to recommend that you take a trip to one of the oldest plumbing supply houses in the area.

    Great next step, thanks.

  • Tony_D
    Tony_D Member Posts: 14
    Thanks for all the great input. I've concluded that we can most likely get a few more years out of this boiler barring any catastrophic findings from the experienced boiler guy I intend to find to clean, adjust, and repair what now sound like basic issues. Have a great weekend!
  • pedmec
    pedmec Member Posts: 218
    you can clean that boiler out all day long if you want. but if your burners are defective your wasting your time. you can slide them out and look at all the orifice holes on top. there is probably 100 per burner tube. if they are different sizes then they are cooked. you can tell from looking at them. you will see them noticeably different.
    a properly properly operating gas burner would never have soot marks left on the boiler cast iron. those soot marks are telling you that you have incomplete combustion. and not just a little out of range. you are seriously out out of range.
    Also, those marks are telling you that you are leaking combustion gases into you boiler room space. i don't even need to tell you that if i walked into you basement and saw that i would shut that boiler down without hesitation. and any tech worth there weight would do the same thing. any work done to that boiler is like putting lipstick on a pig. but i guess some guys like pig.
    Tony_D
  • Tony_D
    Tony_D Member Posts: 14
    We'll keep all that in mind when we grill the boiler guy who inspects it. I know for a fact that nothing has been adjusted on it for at least 5 years (most likely closer to 8) so that could be the cause of much of the soot. The company/guy we end up with most likely would make good money selling us a boiler so I don't think they'll hold anything back.

    One question I asked was never answered - If the boiler IS replaced, is there any reason to believe we'd need a lot of new piping as one guy told me over the phone?
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 5,747
    My suspicion is that whatever the combustion issue is has to do with draft and stack temp and combustion air, not setting of the appliance itself so a new boiler would likely have the same problem.

    I might be missing something, but you can fire a burner at a wide range of firing rates. I dont see why the holes having eroded slightly or being a but uneven would prevent you from getting the correct mixture of fuel and air in to the assembly.

    The circulators are an old style and it uses a compression tank. Modern circulators would be more efficient but may have issues with ferrous debris in the system but there are dirt traps that can solve that. The compression tank requires more maintenance but could last another 70 years. A diaphragm tank will eventually fail. If I replaced the boiler I would replace it all and set it up as pumping away with modern air elimination, circulators, a diaphragm tank and a magnetic dirt separator.

    That being said, once you solve the combustion problem the boiler could last another 40 years or it could leak tomorrow.
    Tony_D
  • Tony_D
    Tony_D Member Posts: 14
    I'd like to understand the reason and the likelihood of it starting to leak. Are there others here who agree with that statement? And how long could it limp along at that point, knowing that to get a new boiler we'd need at least 3 months (22 weeks is actually what I'm hearing right now)?
  • pedmec
    pedmec Member Posts: 218
    Because your fuel air mix is off. they are finely tuned opening. Its an atmospheric boiler that's been set up at the factory thru tried and true engineering methods.

    And yes you can fire at different firing rates on boilers DESIGNED to fire on different rates. you don't make an arbitrarily decision to start changing firing rates on boilers not designed to fire at fixed firing rates. You are not changing the fuel air openings to accomplish this. its would be designed to change firing rates.

    for example what would you think would happen if you changed the orifice size on the gas manifold for a burnham series 2 boiler. you think you would get the same combustion numbers? would you consider that safe?

    And what contractor is going to stick is neck out for that boiler looking at the way its is burning and take on the liability? not to mention the amount of money invested in trying to that thing to operated safely. and there is no guarantee that can even be accomplished. i know we all have different strategies but there is no return on investment.
  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 3,342
    edited June 11
    I look at soot on a gas heater and think "Wow what went wrong here. Is there reduced combustion air due to refinishing the basement? is this heater all of a sudden in a confined space? Is the air adjustment closed by some Unknowing person? Was there a critter in the chimney that has since been removed. Just because that soot is there, does not mean that the boiler MUST be replaced. I would clean the Heat Exchanger, brush off all the soot, seal the access openings then light it off and see what the combustion numbers say.

    Make sure there is sufficient combustion air, so that carbon build up will not happen again. If in a month there are no carbon streaks, then you solved the problem. If that did not solve the problem and you need a new boiler, I might offer you 1/2 of that service call cost applied to your new heater purchased from me. (of course I would only offer that deal if I was confident that the problem was solvable). Many customers would eventually purchase that new equipment from me in a few years when they could better afford it.
    Edward Young
    Retired HVAC Contractor from So. Jersey.
    Services first oil burner at age 16
    P/T trainer for EH-CC.org
  • Not that it has to do with what the heat exchanger looks like, but have those pumps ever been oiled?
    Often wrong, never in doubt.
  • Tony_D
    Tony_D Member Posts: 14
    The motors/impeller get oiled twice a season with a few drops in each of 3 openings. They don't stop all winter.
    Alan (California Radiant) Forbes
  • pedmec
    pedmec Member Posts: 218
    I agree with all your points and i would head the same say the same thing but you got to be honest with yourself. do you really believe all those things happened. that somehow they just recently lost there combustion air. and even if the mechanical room is tight, the boiler doesn't even run long enough to consume all the o2 until January and February.

    i'm just telling you from experience that I've had with cast iron burners, and i have had plenty. that when they go bad you can't correct it. so why waste your time and money on something that can't be fixed. ill guarantee you that the burner flames have 6" yellow tips from the start of ignition.

    its the same reasoning with your car. you gonna replace your suspension system on a 15 year old car with a bad engine? doesn't seem logical. at some point you gotta cut the cord. i know you old timers love your cast iron boilers but its 2022. just because its simple doesn't make it better.

  • Tony_D
    Tony_D Member Posts: 14
    Thanks @pedmec. I'm forwarding all this to the board.

    Just for further reference, the boiler is in a fully open 2100 sq ft basement, 6 ft from an 2' x 3' air intake opening in the wall to the outside. Nothing has changed unless there's an animal blocking the chimney flue. For the last two winters, I've also opened 2 or 3 small hatches in the glass block basement windows (unless super cold out) just because the units above get a little hot.

    The main reason we'd unfortunately need to waste time and money right now is because it's highly unlikely we'll be able to procure a new boiler before winter.