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Suspected crack in steam boiler - seeking sanity check on estimate

ben1558 Member Posts: 1
edited October 2022 in Strictly Steam

I moved into my current 1st floor condo about 1.5 years ago, based in Boston, MA. The boiler is a Burnham PIN45NI-HE2, installed in 2010.

Shortly after the first winter began, I found myself having to add water more frequently than I should have needed to. I didn’t understand boiler workings or steam at that time, but was instructed how to top it off via manual feed (no auto feed). I then had the boiler serviced (cleaned) and later on had various work done on the radiator supply valves to stop minor dripping / leaks from another company. I had a radiator replaced over the summer that I thought was the source of the leakage. I have to refill the boiler (e.g. it goes from the top of the sight glass to the low water cutoff in 24 hours.

I had a local non-steam expert “low cost” plumber come out last week and he initially said I should just put an auto water feed on and call it a day. I responded that given I was losing several gallons of water per day, that would just be putting a bandaid on the issue and insisted we do an overfill test then and there to check for a leak in the boiler itself. As soon as we overfilled the boiler a good amount of water started running onto the floor around the boiler, from somewhere inside.

I had a more reputable company that specializes in steam come out this morning.

The guy quoted me $K for a new boiler install, including an auto-feed, permitting, and new valves / repacking radiator vents.

A few questions I’m hoping that someone more knowledgable than myself might be able to help me with:

1. Is that estimate for $K reasonable given the work needing to be done, in my area? He broke down the cost for the auto feed as being $, which seems high to me for what I believe it to involve, but I don’t really have the experience to evaluate it

2. Given I’ve spent the last year locating and fixing any sources of water/steam leakage from the radiators and upstairs areas, and that the piping in the basement (which is mostly visible) has no visible leaks, then should I be worried about this new boiler suffering the same fate as the first? I repaired all those radiator-related leaks because I initially thought they were adding up to be the cause for low water in the boiler (uninformed, unexperienced) and because I know that one needs to minimize the addition of new water into the system to prevent corrosive oxygen from shortening life of components (boiler, etc.). But as far as I understand, a 12 year life for a boiler is on the shorter side, which leaves me wondering why the old one only lasted that long.

3. For peace of mind, does water leaking out in the way I described above during an overfill test more or less confirm that the boiler is cracked? I may have read something about a nipple on the sections being a cause of leakage, but can’t confirm that myself.

4. I’m happy to pay what it takes to resolve this issue once and for all and stop throwing money into it, and have reasonable confidence the company I got a quote from today — which I found on the “find a contractor” page of this forum — knows steam well enough to get it done properly. But if there’s some other issue in the system that could have caused the initial corrosion, I’d like to address that as well. One benefit of adding the auto feed on the new one is that I can track how much water is added, and hopefully determine if there’s any leaks elsewhere, correct?

I am busy with work and grad school and so I’m fine with paying what needs to be paid to get the work done, but given that it’s difficult to get informed advice from someone who a. knows steam properly and b. isn’t motivated by trying to get the job, which might cause them to give advice that isn’t as realistic/accurate, I’m hoping someone more knowledgeable than myself might be able to clarify some of my above questions / concerns so I can move on with this work and put it to rest once and for all

Thanks a lot


    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,530
    First of all we can't talk price so please remove your pricing.

    That being said with the pandemic boilers are in short supply and everything is very expensive now with inflation and all.

    Chances are if the contractor is listed here he knows steam.

    One way or the other the source of all water leaks have to be fixed. The auto feeder to track water usage is a good idea.

    Do you have any underfloor wet returns?

    Since I am old I can remember installing boilers for about 1/5 of your price. Those days are gone.

    I would not put a Burnham in although they do have some new models that may have better steam design. In the past Burnham's have not survived well in Eastern MA. & Rhode Island due to chlorides in the water
  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 7,840
    edited October 2022
    1. Please edit the prices out.
    2. Please read these rules .. click here at the top.
    3. I'll explain the capitalism.

    If iI buy something for $5.00, and I decide to sell it for $10.00 that is called capitalism.

    If I decide to do that many, many times, then I might need to open a store so people can have a common place to buy what I'm selling. The building owner ain't letting me stay there for free... so I pay rent, and get insurance, and pay the truck driver that delivers the stuff I sell, and there is that telephone bill. You know, the one you called to get the price for what I'm selling. But who is going to answer it when i'm not there? So now I need employees. And more insurance and payroll taxes.
    And now I raise my price to cover all that to $11.00.

    Is that fair?

    Then you say you want me to install it too. Now I need to hire installers. More employees to pay, So I charge for labor now. But the installers tell me that the $11.00 thing I sold you needs $5.00 worth of stuff top install it, Now I need to add that stuff on to my cost. But if I pay $5.00 for that stuff, and I give it to you, then isn't that stuff i'm giving you actually selling it to you? I give you a break and only add $3.00 to the stuff and charge you $8.00.

    All of a sudden the thing I originally bought for $5.00 now costs you $19.00 and installation labor of $20.00 for a total of $39.00 plus permits and taxes and a bunch of other stuff.

    So when you write the check for $52.23 for all I did for you, You can tell everyone that you paid over $50.00 for something that only costs me $5.00. What a rip off!

    I don't like being called a rip off, so I decide to close and work for some one installing that thing you just bought because I'm good at it. The next guy sells the same thing for $75.00... If he is going to be called a rip-off, then he might as well get a little extra for it.

    And YES the price seems fair to me, he is installing more then just a water feed and boiler. if you look closely at the water feed he is selling you, you will notice that it is the one that jumps out of the box and installs itself, removes the old one and throws all the trash away.

    The one you get on the internet are just "delivered". They will sit in the box and not actually feed any water to your new boiler. There is a big price difference in the two different water feeders.

    I hope this helps!

    Please remove the prices by Editing your post
    Edward F Young. Retired HVAC ContractorSpecialized in Residential Oil Burner and Hydronics
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,660
    Whoever flooded the boiler should have looked to see where it was leaking, probably taking some of the jacket off to confirm it is the casting and not some piping or a tankless coil or blank plate or something, but it is probably the casting.

    A more precise way to measure the water usage is to put a water meter in the feed but the auto feeder will give you a general idea.

    Once you fix the big leak at the boiler monitoring water usage will tell you if there are other leaks.

    Proper replacement of a steam boiler has to involve evaluation of the whole system, different piping arrangements in the system can mean the water line needs to be within a certain range or some changes need to be made if it is not, the venting should be checked, the system should be checked to make sure condensate flows where it should and the system should be checked for leaks. A good steam contractor will be looking at the whole system. Obviously then need to measure the installed radiation to size the new boiler.