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Need advice on new Steam Boiler

brucem
brucem Member Posts: 44
I have a Burnham right now, but after a few days the water level drops. Just had return pipes replaced last year, but I think its inside now, although I can't see any leaks. The Boiler is at least 30 years old. I have radiators BTW.
Nice thing is it works when power goes out as it uses a Power-Pile or Thermopile for ignition.
Not sure which brands are best, but I would like to stick with a Thermopile If I can.I know installation and service are more important than brand, but I want one that will last.
I live in Massachusetts about 20 miles north of Boston.
Advice ?
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Comments

  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 12,654
    Can't get powerpiles on a new boiler any longer. Code now requires a double seated gas valve that a powerpile can't operate.

    Peerless & Weil McLain. Burnham has some new design steam boilers the "steam max" which haven't' been out long. I am not a Burnham fan.

    Tray and get @New England SteamWorks or @Charlie from wmass if you want it done right
  • random12345
    random12345 Member Posts: 293
    edited September 29
    I'm not a pro, but I'm in the Boston area too. So your system is just steam? Nothing else? You sure you don't have a leak somewhere else in the house? The only way to know for sure if there's a leak inside if you can't see anything is to fill up the boiler completely and see if it holds water. We had someone come by last year when I was trying to diagnose why our water feeder counter was showing hundreds of gallons...nearly flooded our basement so much water leaked out. If you do this, be sure that the supply valve works and be ready to it shut off! It might not even be worth your while to do this though... :smile: It's so old...
  • brucem
    brucem Member Posts: 44
    edited September 29
    I actually did have a leak last year, but it was right at the back where the return goes in. Too bad about the powerpiles, I always knew I could count on heat even when the power went out. The water leak is weird, it stays full for 24 hours then usually at night it goes down. Hard to find good Steam plumbers anymore, all the ones I knew are either gone now or there sons took over and don't seem as interested.
    Yes only Steam. Last one we had was a converted Coal Boiler, and one night it just about exploded in the basement, steam shooting out everywhere, and water all over the place.
    Believe it or not I just found all the original paperwork. Its a Burnham Holiday 62 Freedom 6, and was installed in 1974. Theres a note about it being Wet Base Steam Heat. Cost in 1974 for just the Boiler was $676. Man wish they were still that price !
  • random12345
    random12345 Member Posts: 293
    It's not even that cold out. Are you even using it right now? Where the heck is that water going? Is the return buried?

    So the boiler is 48? Nice.
    brucem said:

    one night it just about exploded in the basement, steam shooting out everywhere, and water all over the place.

    Ah the joys of living in New England...

    That $676 in 1974 adjusted for inflation is around $4,296 today. Price hasn't changed much since then...unless you already took that into account...Now that would be a cheap boiler. Excuse the pedantry. But in any case... If there's a leak, boiler needs to be replaced. If not, and you're not unhappy with your heating bills or how your system operates...you might be able to hold onto it. Somebody needs to figure out where that water is going. That would be my number one priority...If you're not comfortable doing the water test I mentioned above yourself, you can call Steamworks or Charlie but they're both far away and probably very busy. Might take them a while to get to you. I would call one of the bigger full service oil companies in your area that also work on gas boilers. At least their techs know boilers and can probably give you a definitive answer as to whether or not there's a crack or hole somewhere...A plumber might be able to help you as well...Did you try this? https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/state/MA

  • brucem
    brucem Member Posts: 44
    Yea 48 and not using it yet, but who's to say when I try to use it doesn't work, bad time to find Out I have no heat. Don't want another explosion of steam again !
    As far as Boiler brands are there like a top five ?
  • random12345
    random12345 Member Posts: 293
    Ok so if you’re sure you want to replace it, then I think it’s worth your time to learn about how steam heat is supposed to work. Dan’s books are great. I like “We got Steam Heat”Steam is finicky. There are other free resources online, but knowledge is your best defense. Get in touch with some installers. Try the find a contractor page. Installer is much more important than brand. If you have a better idea about how the system should be designed that’ll help you avoid ignorant installers. Don’t worry about brand for now. Your next step is to calculate the EDR of all your installed radiators. The boiler needs to match the total EDR of your radiators. Take some pictures of the rads, look for any writing on them that might tell you the manufacturer. When was the house built? If you post the pictures up here I can try to help with that.
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 6,655
    You should find the leak because you may find it isn't the boiler so you spend the money to replace the boiler and you still have to fix the original problem. Do you have returns on the floor or buried? It could be the returns are leaking into the ground somewhere, it could be a bunch of little leaks at valves and vents leaking steam, or it could be a hole in the heat exchanger above the water line leaking steam. Flooding the boiler fills that part with water so water will leak out if there is a hole.
  • brucem
    brucem Member Posts: 44
    Thing about the leak is the heating system isn't even on at all. This system does not have an auto-fill system. I monitor it all the time and when it needs water I bring it to the level by adding water manually, been doing that for almost 30 years now.
    House was built in 1860. I know Mckeesport is one I stripped down and repainted about 20 years ago. It was the smallest in the bathroom. One in the living room is same brand but about twice the size.
    As far as the leak, as I said the returns were replaced about a year ago.
    So I fill the boiler and it goes down about a half inch every 2 days, and thats with nothing on at all. In my opinion where else can the water be leaking but in the boiler itself, but where in the boiler ?
    I took off the access panels and checked and couldn't see any wet spots.
    I think Monday I'll call the tech that did the return work and let him check.
    Attached is Boiler info.
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 6,655
    If you don't see water under the boiler somewhere then it has to be the returns.
    ethicalpaul
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 19,954
    Lower the boiler water level below the Hartford loop and then keep an eye on it. If it continues to drop, it's in the boiler. If it doesn't, it's in the returns.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 10,044
    I had a water loser boiler.

    They had a long hose connected to the boiler drain that was not 100% off.

    Floor drain across the room and it was never noticed to be passing water.
    SeanBeans
  • random12345
    random12345 Member Posts: 293
    Just confirmed that McKeesport radiators were manufactured by the Columbia Radiator Company in McKeesport, PA. The Smithsonian has a single radiator catalog for McKeesport radiators. You can request it yourself by referencing this catalog entry: https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/SILNMAHTL_12305. Send an email to [email protected] Or if you post pictures of your rads, front and sides, I can help you out. Measure their height in inches from the floor, and the thickness of each section.
  • brucem
    brucem Member Posts: 44
    OK heres the radiators










  • random12345
    random12345 Member Posts: 293
    edited October 4
    Looks like they are all seven tubes, is that correct? I couldn't tell for sure with the first two pictures. I need to know the height of each rad measured from the bottom of the feet to tell you the EDR. How thick is each section? For example, in the last picture, is the middle section of that 3 section rad 2.5" thick?
  • brucem
    brucem Member Posts: 44
    edited October 4
    1st picture - 25.5 inches tall,12 sections,30 inches length, 12 inches wide Living Room 7 tube
    2nd picture - 19 inches tall, 16 sections, 28 inches length, 8 inches wide Kitchen 6 tube
    3rd picture - 26 inches tall, 4 sections, 9 inch length, 12 inches wide Bedroom 7 tube
    4th picture - 26 inches tall, 3 sections, 7 inches long, 12 inches wide Bathroom 7 tube
  • bburd
    bburd Member Posts: 486
    I only saw an air vent on one of those radiator photos. They should all have one, at the opposite end from the steam shutoff valve.

    Bburd
  • random12345
    random12345 Member Posts: 293
    edited October 4
    brucem said:

    1st picture - 25.5 inches tall,12 sections,30 inches length, 12 inches wide Living Room 7 tube
    2nd picture - 19 inches tall, 16 sections, 28 inches length, 8 inches wide Kitchen 6 tube
    3rd picture - 26 inches tall, 4 sections, 9 inch length, 12 inches wide Bedroom 7 tube
    4th picture - 26 inches tall, 3 sections, 7 inches long, 12 inches wide Bathroom 7 tube

    Picture #1: I'm going to say that one is actually 26" tall with 2.5" thick sections. So 5 sq ft/section = 60

    Picture #2: Doesn't sound like an old McKeesport. Does it say that on the side like with the others? It must have been added to your house at a later date. I can't tell you for sure, but with 1.75" thick sections, a radiator with those dimensions from US Radiator Corp was 2.3 sq ft/section = 36.8. I think that was the standard in the late 1930s: 2 1/3 sq ft/section for 19" tall 6 tube. So maybe 37.33 is even more accurate.

    Picture #3: 5 sq ft/section = 20. The length should be 10" though.

    Picture #4: 5 sq ft/section = 15. The length should be 7.5" here.

    Total length should be measured from the top of the radiator tapping to tapping, without including the bushing screwed into the tapping. Distance from floor to center of bottom tapping (where the steam feeds in) should be 4.5". Distance from top to center of top tapping should be 1.5". Is that what you're getting?

    Total = 132.33 sq ft for your EDR.

    That's tiny. I don't think you will be able to find a boiler that won't be oversized at least somewhat. The smallest gas steam boiler Weil-Mclain makes is the EG-30 rated for 196 sq ft. as an example. And what @bburd said is right. How are you venting those other rads?

  • brucem
    brucem Member Posts: 44
    They all have vents, exactly the same as the one in the last picture, all replaced at the same time. I did say it was a very small house.
    Same problem I have with TV's. Everyone wants bigger, yet I can only fit about a 50 inch, which is getting harder and harder to find.
    Picture #2 I found the name, its Utica. Maybe it was added later.
    The dimensions for the last two you were right on.
  • brucem
    brucem Member Posts: 44
    This is the spec plate on the present Burnham Boiler.


  • jhewings
    jhewings Member Posts: 126
    Yikes 132 EDR 350 steam square feet
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 3,905
    The math has to be wrong somewhere... 132 sq ft of steam radiation in a house in Massachusetts? It doesn't add up-- how many sq ft is the house?
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
  • brucem
    brucem Member Posts: 44
    edited October 5
    BTW its a very small house (called a one and a half) only about 800 square feet and a unheated cellar with a small unheated porch on the side. Very small house built in the 1800's.
    At the time of install, maybe that was all they had in stock, hence the much larger than needed size ?
    So the EDR should match the Steam square feet ?
    ethicalpaul
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 3,905
    edited October 5
    Yes that's all you have to look at. In your case, just buy the very smallest steam boiler you can. It will probably be around 200 sq ft net (the number you are trying to match to your 132 EDR). A knowledgeable steam technician may be able to lower the gas pressure at the valve a bit to lower the boiler rating a bit, but you don't want to lower it too much.

    But it will be OK. It will probably cycle on pressure, that's OK. Lots of people's systems do that.

    Some or all of your radiators seem to have a silver painted finish...if that's the case you can paint them a flat color to gain some EDR on them. Use a nice quality acrylic.

    Or maybe you have a room or two that are cold? You could add a radiator or two, or a hot water loop for a radiant floor or a baseboard, although that won't help as much as radiators would.

    And about why it has this large boiler, there's no telling. It seems like every time a boiler is replaced, the contractor has the urge to go to the next size up "just to be safe". You have to get a really good contractor who will size a boiler accurately.
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
  • brucem
    brucem Member Posts: 44
    What do you mean cycle on pressure?
    The way it works now I think is good, but I'm probably wrong. basically it starts and runs up to about 4 psi(which I'm told is fairly high) pressure then shuts off until it drops to about .5 psi and starts again. This continues until the temp set at my round thermostat is reached. It usually goes past the temp set by a few degrees.
    But it cycles off and on a lot less than the way it was set by a tech years ago, when it only went up to maybe 2 psi and shut off at .5. It came off and on quite a lot set that way.
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 3,905
    Both things you describe are "cycling on pressure". The boiler turns off when the pressure rises. If it were the correct size, the pressure would rarely if ever rise like that.

    Set your boiler back to 2psi cutoff, or 1.5psi if you can. You are just wasting fuel building the pressure like that.
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
  • brucem
    brucem Member Posts: 44
    So its actually better to have the boiler constantly short cycling on and off instead of being on longer and then staying off longer too.
    I thought constantly going on and off was bad for the boiler, like only doing short in city trips with your car?
  • random12345
    random12345 Member Posts: 293
    brucem said:

    What do you mean cycle on pressure?
    The way it works now I think is good, but I'm probably wrong. basically it starts and runs up to about 4 psi(which I'm told is fairly high) pressure then shuts off until it drops to about .5 psi and starts again. This continues until the temp set at my round thermostat is reached. It usually goes past the temp set by a few degrees.
    But it cycles off and on a lot less than the way it was set by a tech years ago, when it only went up to maybe 2 psi and shut off at .5. It came off and on quite a lot set that way.

    What you just described is "cycling on pressure." That's the way it was for us too for decades. Whistling radiator vents, short-cycling...Then I took an interest in our system, and now all that has stopped. Your boiler is way too big, almost no pressure should be building at all. A few ounces tops. When the boiler is sized to match the EDR it should ideally burn steadily with zero cycling until it satisfies the thermostat, and then shut off. The smallest SteamMax is rated at 169 sq ft. I'd probably look into that. It was designed to be a steam boiler. The smallest Independence is even smaller at 158 sq ft, but I've read some complaints about that one. I'm not a pro, so the experts on here might have reservations about both of those or suggest something different though.
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 3,905
    brucem said:

    So its actually better to have the boiler constantly short cycling on and off instead of being on longer and then staying off longer too.
    I thought constantly going on and off was bad for the boiler, like only doing short in city trips with your car?

    No, it doesn't hurt the boiler in any measurable way that I've ever been convinced of. Certainly nothing that would outweigh the wasted fuel.

    Consider: Your radiators are emitting all the heat they are able to, why keep burning fuel building pressure, harming your vents?
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 6,655
    Someone did set up a combination of time and pressure to lengthen the off cycle to better match an oversized boiler to the heat loss of the house, i don't think it fully heated the radiators but it was enough heat for the house.
  • 109A_5
    109A_5 Member Posts: 449
    edited October 5
    Hello @brucem,
    Find out where the water is going ! My boiler is older and the water level did not move all summer (no auto feed).

    Lower the boiler water level below the Hartford loop and then keep an eye on it. If it continues to drop, it's in the boiler. If it doesn't, it's in the returns.

    JUGHNE said:

    I had a water loser boiler.
    They had a long hose connected to the boiler drain that was not 100% off.
    Floor drain across the room and it was never noticed to be passing water.

    brucem said:

    They all have vents

    The invisible vent, must be the very inexpensive model. Or it is on the wrong side of the radiator.


    National - U.S. Gas Boiler 45+ Years Old
    Steam 300 SQ. FT. - EDR 347
    One Pipe System
  • brucem
    brucem Member Posts: 44
    edited October 5
    I found out where the water is going, just hope its a leak I can fix.Maybe a boiler cement?


  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 6,655
    Furnace cement is for sealing flue gasses, not water. It is time for replacement.

    On that 4 section very wide radiator it probably doesn't matter a lot which side the vent is on as long as it it down low.
    ethicalpaul
  • brucem
    brucem Member Posts: 44
    I talked to Charles Garrity in western ,MA and he recommended Utica 1603, funny same make as one of my radiators.
  • SeanBeans
    SeanBeans Member Posts: 502
    edited October 19
    Plan for replacement but might as well try some of that boiler leak stuff.. someone here knows the real name of it.. I even heard of people sealing it with oatmeal..? We need to experiment !
  • brucem
    brucem Member Posts: 44
    OK Its installed ! Went with Williamson. Fired up first thing yesterday.Contractor Had to do the Skimming to get rid of all that oil in the new boiler. Might have to do it again today. It fired off overnight, talk about just in the nick of time, dropped down to 36F last night.
    Still have to balance out the Radiator vents, one was a bit cold this morning. Also still have to fix a leak in the joint of one of the radiators. Had the valve replaced years ago and it never sealed right after that.
    Hopefully get some pictures up for you to see, Cellar is a bit of a mess right now.
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,259
    brucem said:

    OK Its installed ! Went with Williamson. Fired up first thing yesterday.Contractor Had to do the Skimming to get rid of all that oil in the new boiler. Might have to do it again today. It fired off overnight, talk about just in the nick of time, dropped down to 36F last night.
    Still have to balance out the Radiator vents, one was a bit cold this morning. Also still have to fix a leak in the joint of one of the radiators. Had the valve replaced years ago and it never sealed right after that.
    Hopefully get some pictures up for you to see, Cellar is a bit of a mess right now.

    What size did they put in? Hopefully the smallest one made.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
  • brucem
    brucem Member Posts: 44
    I think it was the next one up 100,000 BTU
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 13,555
    brucem said:
    I think it was the next one up 100,000 BTU
    So you needed 38,000 btu output so you went with a 100,000 btu boiler after everyone told you not to 



    Makes sense.
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
    ethicalpaulmattmia2
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,259
    brucem said:

    I think it was the next one up 100,000 BTU

    So this is where I start getting confused on these threads. There was quite a bit of conversation about sizing, and said you needed the smallest boiler made. Someone even ran the calculations for you. You spoke with Charles who is one of the best in the business and he recommended the smallest boiler he could. You hire someone who then doesn't size it properly and you let them install an oversized boiler, even with all that information.

    That is quite confusing to me. 800 sq ft house with those few radiators, you needed the smallest, actually if they made one even smaller than the smallest that's what you needed, but this contractor throws in a 100k BTU boiler because...?

    Based on the above numbers calculated that boiler is 100% over sized for what you need. I just don't understand "professionals" doing this.

    Can someone please make this make sense?
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
    ethicalpaulmattmia2