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American Radiator Co No. 1 Ideal Redflash Boiler | Update or Replace? [Photos]

Globalksp
Globalksp Member Posts: 18
TLDR: Old, intact, operative boiler system. Update or replace considering I want to keep the hot water radiators?

Photos: https://imgur.com/a/6Xabo6S

Recently purchased and moved into a c. 1915 home with dual zone, central AC as well as a gas fired, American Radiator Co No. 1 Ideal Redflash Boiler.

We haven't yet spent a winter in this home mind you. Had little contact with the sellers prior to purchase and so have little info about the boiler system aside from the home inspector saying it was in good shape and that he was told they had it maintained every year. Tried calling a bunch of HVAC companies to see if they had their account, but no luck. Few HVAC contractors and companies in the area deal with boilers (I've asked). Because of this, I'm wanting to educate myself as best I can before committing to a contractor who may be inexperienced and/or less than enthusiastic to come out and give me an honest assessment. So here we are.

Here's what I know:
  • Boiler info as stated above.
  • Connected to Lennox digital communicated HVAC system; boiler is switched on/off via the Lennox tablet controllers.
  • Hot water radiator system kept at or below 12PSI (see photo with pressure gauge marking)
  • Pilot has been kept on all summer. Pilot was ripping.
  • With no one in the home, we used 47 THM's of natural gas. Hot water heater and this pilot were the only things burning.
  • I've reduced the flow to the pilot so it burns less, but is still able to ignite quickly should the heat accidentally be turned on. This is the flame you see in the photo.
  • Sellers lived in the home for 23 years and used this as their only source of heat, so I assume it works.
Here's what I'd like to know:
  • Pilot
  • Why is/should it be left on during the summer? If it can be shut off, how do I also shut off the flow to the burner to avoid gassing my family? The shutoff valve to burner gas line won't turn.
  • First use
  • Is it as simple as turning the heat on and letting it rip and see what happens?
  • Or, is it wiser to call a contractor to inspect / maintain the system.
  • What should be checked, what maintenance would need to be performed?
  • Updating
  • I've lived with both steam heat and hot water radiator heat in the past and am glad we have this. I'd like to keep this system in place.
  • What could be done to update this boiler to make it as efficient as possible considering its age? What about the system as a whole?
  • I've read elsewhere that since this was originally coal fired, the flueways are probably larger than needed for gas and thus less efficient
  • In the photos you can see some gaps in insulation, joints, etc.
  • Would it be wiser to update this boiler or scrap this one and update to a newer unit?
  • I like old things. I like efficiency. Not sure if I can choose between the two, but safety and a substantial savings on gas $ could sway me.
  • I assume we'll live in this house for at least 5 years, but probably not 10.
Thank you all and sorry for the crap HTML

Comments

  • Globalksp
    Globalksp Member Posts: 18
    Photos here as to not clog up the main post:





















  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 3,633
    WOW that is an old one. Probably uses more fuel than necessary because of the efficiency of that burner.

    You may want to put a new boiler in your budget for the next few years. Get an estimate today but know that you don't need it right away.

    Plumbers who advertise Plumbing and Heating will do more boiler work than HVAC contractors.

    That was installed 80 to 100 years ago as a hand fired coal boiler. Some of those controls that are not connected to anything ware to operate the dampers to control the rate for coal burning by opening and closing dampers based on water temperature. Some time in the late 1940's to 1950's that gas burner was added so the customer did not need to tend the boiler daily banking the fire over night and shoveling coal several times during the day.

    I would not b e surprised if that burner is very economical or if it a gas guzzler. If the heating bill is affordable this winter then you can take your time getting the replacement. If it seems too high this winter then you can get it sooner.

    Hope this helps
    Edward Young
    Retired HVAC Contractor from So. Jersey.
    Services first oil burner at age 16
    P/T trainer for EH-CC.org

    Globalksp
  • pecmsg
    pecmsg Member Posts: 3,063
    Why is that gas shut off valve partially closed?
    Globalksp
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 12,362
    If it was mine and I wasn't going to stay in the house long term I would rip the gas burner out and install a modern Carlin EZ gas burner and update the controls. That is probably a 1930-40s boiler do you know how old the house is
    Globalksp
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 15,516
    edited September 1
    There are two other issues:

    1- There does not seem to be any means of controlling the draft, i.e. draft hood or barometric draft regulator. Excessive draft will pull the hot flue gases out of the boiler too quickly, and the heat will just go up the chimney.

    2- The flue passages in this type of boiler are rather large, which was necessary for coal burning but not for oil or gas. On conversion jobs, the Dead Men used to install baffles in these boilers so the hot flue gases would have better contact with the cast-iron, instead of barrelling down the center of the flue passages into the chimney. If you open the upper door on the front of the boiler, you can see if there are baffles or not.

    Both of these issues would reduce efficiency quite a bit.

    Where are you located?
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
    Globalksp
  • ch4man
    ch4man Member Posts: 267
    I love it and I hate it. Steamhead is right, that beautiful thing was not converted correctly. it needs a barometric or a draft diverter. too much draft is bad but not enough draft can be deadly. IF you can find someone who can properly test the bimetal pilot safety, even if it shuts off the main gas there's no guarantee it will reset. on a cold winter night you just one breakdown form a full replacement.
    good luck
    Globalksp
  • WMno57
    WMno57 Member Posts: 350
    edited September 4
    @Globalksp, my heating system is very similar to yours. 1916 house, 1948 Weil McLain boiler, 1965 Midco gas burner, and air over water expansion tank. My gas bills are reasonable. Your Redflash boiler is just one part of your hydronic heating system.
    1. Redflash boiler
    2. 1915 radiators and pipes
    3. Air over water expansion tank
    4. Sonner gas burner (not original to boiler)
    5. Flue/chimney/with concerns
    6. Electric circulator (to circulate water through system)
    7. Controls
    The boiler by itself is simple, and could last many more years. It only needs to be replaced if it leaks. If it were mine, I would keep the Redflash and try to find a pro to replace 4,5 and maybe some of 7.
    Efficiency is only one of many things to consider. Maybe you have relatively cheap natural gas, so payback on a new boiler would be longer or never. Your personal requirements and expectations for your home may differ from other homeowners. How long can you tolerate being without heat?
    • Are you home every night, or do you travel frequently?
    • If you were facing an extended heat outage in January could you winterize your home?
    • Do you have an alternate place to stay?
    • Do you have a competent boiler contractor in your area?
    • Does the contractor know how to use a flu gas analyzer?
    • Does the contractor know how to install and tune a Carlin gas burner?
    The decision to either maintain the existing Redflash boiler or buy new depends on all the above. First steps for you are to buy multiple CO detectors, drain the expansion tank, and fire it up. Suggest you check the Find a Contractor tool on this site.
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/
    MikeAmann
  • WMno57
    WMno57 Member Posts: 350
    Found some history for the Sonner Burner Company on the Gordon Piatt website.
    "Kern and Bill, being engineers, began thinking about designing gas burners for this expanding market. They became aware of the Sonner Burner Company in Winfield, Kansas, which had been established in 1926 to manufacture upshot atmospheric burners for homes and small commercial buildings.
    These burners required a boiler, most often producing low pressure steam, and a chimney 10 to 20 feet tall to provide the draft to pull the flame and flue gas through the boiler. Tall chimneys were quite common in the early days of burners and combustion, the larger the capacity, the taller the chimney.
    Gordon and Piatt decided to move to Winfield in 1949 to form the Gordon and Piatt Company, which was started in Gordon’s garage. They shortly moved to an old parachute building at Strother Field, an Army Air Corps installation built during the war. During this time, they designed an upshot atmospheric burner which used an all cast iron venturi and slotted head, eliminating the refractory block used by Sonner Burner. They took this burner design to Kewanee Boiler Company, and after many discussions agreed to package the burner into a heavy combustion enclosure to fit under and support the Kewanee “R” series firebox boiler."
    https://www.gordonpiatt.com/the-history-of-gordon-piatt/
  • WMno57
    WMno57 Member Posts: 350
    more Sonner Burner history:
    "May Cranston Sonner, 83, of 1011 E. 7th died June 29 in William Newton Memorial Hospital. She was born July 27, 1902 in Vici, Okla., to Bert O. and Ethel Vance Barnes.She married, first Frank Cranston Jan. 28, 1921. He died April 4, 1949. She married, second P.J. Sonner Sept. 16, 1951. He died in 1956.
    She moved from Vici to Winfield in 1918. In 1970, she retired as owner and president of Sonner Burner Co"
    https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/57138682/may-sonner
  • Globalksp
    Globalksp Member Posts: 18
    edited September 9
    WOW that is an old one. Probably uses more fuel than necessary because of the efficiency of that burner. You may want to put a new boiler in your budget for the next few years. Get an estimate today but know that you don't need it right away. Plumbers who advertise Plumbing and Heating will do more boiler work than HVAC contractors. That was installed 80 to 100 years ago as a hand fired coal boiler. Some of those controls that are not connected to anything ware to operate the dampers to control the rate for coal burning by opening and closing dampers based on water temperature. Some time in the late 1940's to 1950's that gas burner was added so the customer did not need to tend the boiler daily banking the fire over night and shoveling coal several times during the day. I would not b e surprised if that burner is very economical or if it a gas guzzler. If the heating bill is affordable this winter then you can take your time getting the replacement. If it seems too high this winter then you can get it sooner. Hope this helps
    Thanks for the reply. 
    Noted on HVAC vs Plumber for finding a professional. 
    EdTheHeaterMan just noticed your signature…fellow South Jersey (Glassboro) transplant here! 
  • Globalksp
    Globalksp Member Posts: 18
    pecmsg said:
    Why is that gas shut off valve partially closed?
    That line feeds the pilot. When it’s fully open, the pilot flame is very large. I assume the previous owners had it turned down to save gas? 
    The burner still lights with the pilot turned down. I am aware that a large rush of gas could blow the pilot out so I’m a little bit nervous about it as is if we’re being honest. 
  • Globalksp
    Globalksp Member Posts: 18
    If it was mine and I wasn't going to stay in the house long term I would rip the gas burner out and install a modern Carlin EZ gas burner and update the controls. That is probably a 1930-40s boiler do you know how old the house is
    The home was built in 1915. Noted on the Carlin. Thanks. 
  • Globalksp
    Globalksp Member Posts: 18
    Steamhead said:
    There are two other issues: 1- There does not seem to be any means of controlling the draft, i.e. draft hood or barometric draft regulator. Excessive draft will pull the hot flue gases out of the boiler too quickly, and the heat will just go up the chimney. 2- The flue passages in this type of boiler are rather large, which was necessary for coal burning but not for oil or gas. On conversion jobs, the Dead Men used to install baffles in these boilers so the hot flue gases would have better contact with the cast-iron, instead of barrelling down the center of the flue passages into the chimney. If you open the upper door on the front of the boiler, you can see if there are baffles or not. Both of these issues would reduce efficiency quite a bit. Where are you located?
    Thanks for the reply.
    Located in Springfield, Missouri.
    Will do my homework on barometric draft regulators. 
    Will also attach a picture of the upper chamber of the boiler to determine if baffles are installed. 
  • Globalksp
    Globalksp Member Posts: 18
    ch4man said:
    I love it and I hate it. Steamhead is right, that beautiful thing was not converted correctly. it needs a barometric or a draft diverter. too much draft is bad but not enough draft can be deadly. IF you can find someone who can properly test the bimetal pilot safety, even if it shuts off the main gas there's no guarantee it will reset. on a cold winter night you just one breakdown form a full replacement. good luck
    I’m with you on the love hate relationship. 
    As we’re learning with this house, not much was done correctly. It amazes me the incompetency / corner cutting that some folks are ok with. 

    Finding someone is my biggest issue. There aren’t many homes this age in this area anymore and most folks here seem to have converted to forced air. 
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 5,998
    Is there a pilot safety on that burner? I hope it isn't from the era of "the pilot flame is so big it can't blow out"
  • Globalksp
    Globalksp Member Posts: 18
    edited September 9
    WMno57 said:
    @Globalksp, my heating system is very similar to yours. 1916 house, 1948 Weil McLain boiler, 1965 Midco gas burner, and air over water expansion tank. My gas bills are reasonable. Your Redflash boiler is just one part of your hydronic heating system.
    1. Redflash boiler
    2. 1915 radiators and pipes
    3. Air over water expansion tank
    4. Sonner gas burner (not original to boiler)
    5. Flue/chimney/with concerns
    6. Electric circulator (to circulate water through system)
    7. Controls
    The boiler by itself is simple, and could last many more years. It only needs to be replaced if it leaks. If it were mine, I would keep the Redflash and try to find a pro to replace 4,5 and maybe some of 7. Efficiency is only one of many things to consider. Maybe you have relatively cheap natural gas, so payback on a new boiler would be longer or never. Your personal requirements and expectations for your home may differ from other homeowners. How long can you tolerate being without heat?
    • Are you home every night, or do you travel frequently?
    • If you were facing an extended heat outage in January could you winterize your home?
    • Do you have an alternate place to stay?
    • Do you have a competent boiler contractor in your area?
    • Does the contractor know how to use a flu gas analyzer?
    • Does the contractor know how to install and tune a Carlin gas burner?
    The decision to either maintain the existing Redflash boiler or buy new depends on all the above. First steps for you are to buy multiple CO detectors, drain the expansion tank, and fire it up. Suggest you check the Find a Contractor tool on this site. https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/
    Thank you for this and your following replies. All very helpful and informative. 
    Finding a contractor is proving difficult. I’m almost ready to call a distant cousin who spent his life installing and maintaining boilers across the world for US infrastructure (embassies, bases, etc…). 

    I have CO detectors on every floor of the home including the basement. 

    When you say drain the expansion tank and fire it up… expansion tank is the literal tank that’s strapped above and away from the boiler? Drain it and discard the water? Or drain and refill? 
    With these questions alone you should be able to tell that I am approaching this system as a total novice. I enjoy knowing how things work and being able to maintain them myself, however, until I’m proficient at doing so, I understand the risk to both me and my family that my tinkering could cause. 

    • Are you home every night, or do you travel frequently? Home, yes. 
    • If you were facing an extended heat outage in January could you winterize your home? Winterize? Perhaps but would most likely spend time at a relative’s home. 
    • Do you have an alternate place to stay? See above. 
    • Do you have a competent boiler contractor in your area? Not that I have found. This is causing consternation. 
    • Does the contractor know how to use a flu gas analyzer? I now know to ask! 
    • Does the contractor know how to install and tune a Carlin gas burner? Again, they will be asked! 
  • Globalksp
    Globalksp Member Posts: 18
    mattmia2 said:
    Is there a pilot safety on that burner? I hope it isn't from the era of "the pilot flame is so big it can't blow out"
    Not sure how to go about checking. From my tinkering I’m afraid it may be from that era of “too big to blow out”. 
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 5,998
    btw that material sealing up the gap around where the conversion burner is intertied in the ash pit door/draft damper is asbestos furnace cement, there may be a corrugated asbestos paper between the jacket and heat exchanger and the various materials making up the combustion chamber, especially the vermiculite poured in the base of the boiler may contain asbestos. Also various gaskets and door seals.
    Globalksp
  • 2- The flue passages in this type of boiler are rather large, which was necessary for coal burning but not for oil or gas. On conversion jobs, the Dead Men used to install baffles in these boilers so the hot flue gases would have better contact with the cast-iron, instead of barrelling down the center of the flue passages into the chimney. If you open the upper door on the front of the boiler, you can see if there are baffles or not.
    I've seen bricks in the fire box to slow things down and have more heat transfer.

    The red Grundfos pump: The shaft is mounted vertically when it should be horizontal.



    Often wrong, never in doubt.
    Globalksp
  • 109A_5
    109A_5 Member Posts: 276
    If you decide to keep it.

    This may be a pilot safety interlock switch.



    If so and it does not work or you do not want to trust it there are options like this.
    SPST Manual Reset Pilot Switch w/ 100% Shutoff & Universal Mounting Plate
    https://www.supplyhouse.com/Baso-Gas-Products-L62GB-3C-SPST-Manual-Reset-Pilot-Switch-w-100-Shutoff-Universal-Mounting-Plate



    National - U.S. Gas Boiler 45+ Years Old
    Steam 300 SQ. FT. - EDR 347
    One Pipe System
  • Globalksp
    Globalksp Member Posts: 18
    edited September 21
    mattmia2 said:

    btw that material sealing up the gap around where the conversion burner is intertied in the ash pit door/draft damper is asbestos furnace cement, there may be a corrugated asbestos paper between the jacket and heat exchanger and the various materials making up the combustion chamber, especially the vermiculite poured in the base of the boiler may contain asbestos. Also various gaskets and door seals.

    Hey thank you for this, @mattmia2. It never crossed my mind that the insulation could have been asbestos, but makes sense as two of the "hot water" pipes coming from the boiler were wrapped in asbestos insulation.
  • Globalksp
    Globalksp Member Posts: 18
    edited September 21
    109A_5 said:

    If you decide to keep it.

    This may be a pilot safety interlock switch.



    If so and it does not work or you do not want to trust it there are options like this.
    SPST Manual Reset Pilot Switch w/ 100% Shutoff & Universal Mounting Plate
    https://www.supplyhouse.com/Baso-Gas-Products-L62GB-3C-SPST-Manual-Reset-Pilot-Switch-w-100-Shutoff-Universal-Mounting-Plate

    Thanks, @109A_5 Deciding to keep it, yes so thank you for pointing this out. The current plan is to keep the system and replace the burner with a newer version.

    Any chance that pilot safety interlock switch would be "user serviceable" aka could I (who has a decent understanding and experience with working on electronics, but not gas) swap it out?

  • Globalksp
    Globalksp Member Posts: 18
    More photos showing internals and other things talked about above...









  • WMno57
    WMno57 Member Posts: 350
    edited September 21
    Globalksp said:

    When you say drain the expansion tank and fire it up… expansion tank is the literal tank that’s strapped above and away from the boiler? Drain it and discard the water? Or drain and refill?

    Drain and discard.
    Sorry it took me so long to answer your question. The purpose of the tank is to provide a place for the water to expand when it gets hot. Over time, these tanks can become waterlogged, ie no place for hot water to expand into. You will know this is the case when the pressure relief opens (hopefully) and pukes water onto the basement floor.
    I like to drain mine at the start of each season. YOU ARE NOT DRAINING THE ENTIRE SYSTEM, just the tank. There should be a valve between the tank and the boiler. This is the isolation valve which isolates the tank from the rest of the system.
    1. Close isolation valve
    2. Open drain
    3. Drain tank completely
    4. Close drain
    5. Open isolation valve
    You don't want to drain the entire system because fresh water contains oxygen which will corrode your system. It's lasted this long, it would be a shame to kill it now.
    My procedure is a little more complex than the 5 steps above because I have a water softener (softened water bad for boilers) and I try to do a LITTLE (don't want to introduce too much fresh oxygenated water) flushing of other components.
    Tools Needed:
    • Garden hose
    • Adjustable wrench (Valve stem bonnets)
    • 5 gallon bucket
    • Shorter bucket if needed
    • Cold Oktoberfest Beer
    Starting with a cold boiler
    1. Open and date your new CO detector (buy a new one every year)
    2. Replace batteries in previous years detectors
    3. Bypass water softener
    4. Note system pressure
    5. Close isolation valve on tank
    6. Open water supply valve to boiler
    7. Open boiler drain, let out about a gallon, insure valve closes
    8. Open pressure relief valve, let out a gallon, insure valve seats
    9. Open compression tank drain
    10. Drain Tank completely
    11. Close compression tank drain
    12. Open isolation valve
    13. Observe system pressure
    14. Close boiler supply valve when pressure gauge shows desired pressure (me 2 story, 15 psi)
    15. Crack open first Oktoberfest (lots of stair exercise coming so net calories will be zero)
    16. Fire up boiler and set thermostat as high as it will go
    17. Plan to run system for half hour
    18. Open windows
    19. Observe smoke and water vapor from chimney
    20. Bleed radiators
    21. Consume another Oktoberfest
    22. Observe system pressure
    23. Verify valves and drains closed and not dripping
    24. Hop on The Wall and amuse yourself reading stories of 10 YO boilers early demise
    25. Bleed radiators again
    26. Observe smoke and vapor (hopefully less now)
    27. Return thermostat to AC, check that burner is off.
    28. Un-Bypass water softener
    29. Enjoy another week of Indian Summer
    Globalksp
  • Globalksp
    Globalksp Member Posts: 18
    @WMno57 I too take a while to check these boards so no apologies needed. But all the thanks are due. This is invaluable information and I greatly appreciate it. 🙏🏼
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 5,998
    If you replace the burner you would have to replace it with a gas power burner, they don't make that type of burner anymore. you would need someone who knows how to set up the burner and adjust combustion and draft. Adjusting that burner or a power burner isn't like adjusting a modern natural draft burner.
  • Globalksp
    Globalksp Member Posts: 18
    mattmia2 said:
    If you replace the burner you would have to replace it with a gas power burner, they don't make that type of burner anymore. you would need someone who knows how to set up the burner and adjust combustion and draft. Adjusting that burner or a power burner isn't like adjusting a modern natural draft burner.
    Noted. Thank you.