Welcome! Here are the website rules, as well as some tips for using this forum.
Need to contact us? Visit https://heatinghelp.com/contact-us/.
Click here to Find a Contractor in your area.

A question about steam heat

Options
So about a month ago it dawned on me that I have done nothing as far as maintenance on the oil-fired steam heating system since moving into a 1920’s bungalow in south-central Massachusetts with my new bride 4 years ago. As far as we can determine the system had not been serviced for 4 years prior to my moving in. Despite this, the system runs reliably

I have previous ownership experience with oil heat (hydronic) but zero experience with steam so, needless to say, when I finally looked at the unit I was fairly lost. Over the last month I’ve managed to fill in enough of the knowledge gaps to at least have a basic understanding of the system and to put together a plan. Since I’m still in the “You don’t know what you don’t know” I would really appreciate any input.

I have the following equipment:
Boiler = American-Standard A 33 , Series 1B J1. 1970’s vintage? Abandoned hot water coil
LWCO = Watts Type 89A, Model M (Old school, no water feed controller)

Pressure Switch = Honeywell P404A Pressuretrol

The LWCO and PressureTrol are wired in series and feed 120 volts to the primary oil burner control.
I also have, wired separately, what I believe is a custom water feed system composed of a proximity switch pointed at the sight glass hooked to an Omron H3BA timer/relay that powers/controls a Skinner inline valve.




Since I wasn’t smart enough to start this before the heating season my plan is or at least has been to touch nothing and just cross my fingers until Spring and then to do and/or have done a thorough cleaning and tune up plus to institute an appropriate periodic maintenance routine. One concern I have with this is the fact that the LWCO has not been flushed or tested in a long time. It might not be working. I’m wondering if I should take a chance blowing it down to test it. What do I do if I find out it’s not working? Would it be reasonably possible to replace it with a similar or more modern device without losing our heat?

Comments

  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,061
    Options
    Show the LWCO, the control side of the boiler and piping floor to ceiling.

    That is a pretty unusual water level control.
    ethicalpaulCaptPaul
  • CaptPaul
    CaptPaul Member Posts: 14
    Options




  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,061
    Options
    You should blow down that LWCO at least once a week.

    Put a bucket under the pipe and open the valve to let water run until it gets cleared up somewhat. The best it gets will look like tea...not coffee.

    Hopefully water will run out.

    The proper test is to blow down when burner is on and then it should shut burner down once the internal float drops. When you close the valve the burner should restart.
    The sight glass level should move as you blow down.
    CaptPaul
  • pecmsg
    pecmsg Member Posts: 4,852
    Options
    As hard as it is today to find someone that knows steam i think that set up will really confuse them.

    After 4 months in the house, you should have chosen a service provider not 4 years.

    Where is this home located? Get a Qualified Steam contractor there and let them advise.
  • CaptPaul
    CaptPaul Member Posts: 14
    Options
    Update - I decided in the interest of safety that it was most important to know that the LWCO was operating. I followed JUGHNE’s advice and blew it down with the boiler running and it did cut the burner out. Some seriously nasty stuff came out. I was kind of surprised though that it restarted before the auto feeder came on. I’m thinking it was the suction of the water leaving that brought the float down. Anyway, it restarted and my crazy auto feeder did its thing so everything seems to be good. Thanks JUGHNE
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,529
    Options
    @CaptPaul

    best bet is @Charlie from wmass you can pm him. he is busy though
    CaptPaul
  • neilc
    neilc Member Posts: 2,703
    Options
    next thing to take on is checking the pigtail, and piping behind the pressure gage,
    both should be checked for free breathing back into the boiler,
    remove both the Ptrol and Gage, and blow back thru that piping,
    the gage should blow free, immediately,
    the pigtail will have that trap of water to clear first, then breath freely also,
    clean them, snake them, or replace them,
    free breathing, back into the boiler.

    the oil burner should be checked by a pro,

    https://heatinghelp.com/store/detail/we-got-steam-heat-a-homeowners-guide-to-peaceful-coexistence

    https://heatinghelp.com/store/
    known to beat dead horses
    CaptPaul
  • 109A_5
    109A_5 Member Posts: 1,385
    edited December 2022
    Options
    Hello @CaptPaul,
    CaptPaul said:

    I also have, wired separately, what I believe is a custom water feed system composed of a proximity switch pointed at the sight glass hooked to an Omron H3BA timer/relay that powers/controls a Skinner inline valve.

    That "custom water feed system" probably does a better job of keeping a constant boiler water level than most if not all off the shelf systems for small residential boilers. Most wait until the water is at or very near the LWCO level then triggers a refill.

    Very NICE !!!

    What seems odd is the coil of the Valve is rated at 480 Volts ???!!!
    National - U.S. Gas Boiler 45+ Years Old
    Steam 300 SQ. FT. - EDR 347
    One Pipe System
    CaptPaul
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,842
    Options
    @CaptPaul , that boiler dates back to the 1960s and is built like a tank. As long as you maintain it, it should continue to serve you for years. It has been upgraded with the Beckett burner which makes it more efficient and reliable. The most important thing is to make sure that low-water cutoff continues to work- if the boiler fires without enough water in it, it will crack, and you'll need a new boiler.

    @Charlie from wmass would be my recommendation too.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
    CaptPaul
  • CaptPaul
    CaptPaul Member Posts: 14
    Options
    Thank you all for your input and recommendations.

    @neilc Thank you for the advice. The system seems to operate consistently, cutting out at the same pressure (5 psi) repeatably. This makes me think that, while the pigtail and valve no doubt have a lot of crud in them, that they are clear enough to register pressure as needed. Maybe as I become more familiar with the system I’ll transfer this task from the “If it ain’t broke don’t touch it until Spring!” bucket to the “What could possibly go wrong?” bucket. I”ll keep you posted.

    @109A_5 Yes. That custom water feed seems to do its job. I have no idea why that particular valve was chosen. It was designed by my wife’s late husband who was an accomplished electrical engineer. It did work well enough to let me completely ignore the steam heat for 3 years! As I understand it, that was the reason auto-feed systems were originally developed LOL.

    @Steamhead The background info on the boiler is very useful, particularly since I have been thinking about switching the system out altogether. I guess I’ll know the condition better once it gets taken down for cleaning in the Spring. If a thorough inspection shows it to be solid I won’t mind putting money into it. I’m thinking my first upgrade should be a redundant LWCO followed by some means of better regulating the pressure so it doesn’t run up to 5 pounds (assuming the gauge is correct). From what I’ve read pressure that high is wasteful. Does that make sense?

    Anyway, thank you all once again for your help

  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,702
    Options
    5 psi is way, way too high
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
    CaptPaul
  • CaptPaul
    CaptPaul Member Posts: 14
    Options
    @ethicalpaul I appreciate that. My Pressuretrol is set at minimum with the differential also set at its minimum of 1. Is there anything you know of that doesn’t involve replacing the controller right now that might help bring it down. Maybe I should follow Neil C’s advice and clean out that pigtail? My thought is that since I’m just trying to milk the system through the heating season and since it’s been operating reliably for years that it should just be left alone until Spring. I could be wrong though. Any thoughts?
  • AdmiralYoda
    AdmiralYoda Member Posts: 627
    edited December 2022
    Options
    As others have said, get a professional to give the boiler a once over and ensure that everything is operating properly and safely. You may become like many of us, homeowners who find steam heat to be a hobby and enjoy working on our boilers. That boiler may be older but it is probably as efficient as a new one if cared for properly.

    Some things that may help squeeze every bit of efficiency out of your system.
    1. Install a low pressure gauge on a Tee before the pressuretrol. 1-3psi would be ideal. Set the pressuretrol as low as it will go, usually 1.5psi cutoff with a 1psi differential. Less wear and tear and less stress on your system. And less fuel.
    2. Do you have any main vents at the end of each main? Often times these are missing. You can't vent a main fast enough so some a good vent or vents at the end of each main will speed up the time it takes for the radiators to start getting hot which saves you fuel.
    3. How are the radiator vents? Everything heat up at the same time roughly? If not, it may be time to replace those vents with newer ones. They don't last forever.
    4. Flush your boiler regularly to get any crud out of there. Then start using some Rectorseal 8-way to increase the pH and speed up the cleaning. Raising the pH to about 10 or so just about completely stops corrosion.

    I was in a very similar situation as you, now I'm hooked and like to tweak everything. My boiler is 42 years old and still going strong.
  • CaptPaul
    CaptPaul Member Posts: 14
    Options
    @AdmiralYoda Thanks for the thorough reply. Yes, I am standing at the edge staring into the steam heating wormhole. Hopefully it will just become a hobby and not an obsession. Anyway, I have questions about some of your points.
    1. Gauge - Is it OK to install a low-pressure gauge that’s not protected by a pigtail? What would happen to the new gauge if pressure went to say 5 psi? Would it just max out or would it break?
    2. Main Vents - I have a 1 pipe system. The only vents I can find are on the radiators. Is this typical? Is there a way to upgrade?
    3. Radiator Vents - some of them hiss and likely need replacement which I would not mind doing. Is there a simple way to determine / size the correct replacements other than just replacing what’s already there? I know they vary in quality and the good ones are a lot more money. I want to put the good ones in but can’t afford to throw parts at the problem until it figures itself out.
    4. Flushing and maintaining the boiler will be a given going forward.

    As always thanks for the help any any input is appreciated.
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,702
    Options
    Yes clean the pigtail. If you can get the pressure down your vents might stop hissing
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
    CaptPaul
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,655
    Options
    The gauge should be teed in after a pigtail to keep liquid water or steam from contacting it. You can put a tee below the pressuretrol for the gauge. Wile you're at it pour some water through the pigtail or blow through the pigtail to make sure it is clear. If you go the blowing through it method, pour some water back in to refill it.
    CaptPaul
  • CaptPaul
    CaptPaul Member Posts: 14
    Options
    @ethicalpaul and @mattmia2 Thanks for the urging to clean that pigtail. Cutout dropped from 5psi to 2.5 and hissing is noticeably reduced. Really appreciate your help.
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,692
    Options
    2.5 PSI?

    I can't even imagine living with that. Anything over 1/4 PSI becomes annoying in my opinion.
    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
    ethicalpaul