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Two pipe steam system losing water. No obvious source of water leak.

rsel04
rsel04 Member Posts: 21
Hi new member here. I have a 2 pipe steam system with a Lennox gas fired furnace. The system is configured with 2 main vents on the returns in the basement. Most radiators have no vents or traps. There are only 2 radiators with traps. Not sure why. I converted from oil to gas about 15 years ago. On cold days, I find I need to top off water level at least once/day. The system never felt like it was really balanced as far as heating radiators evenly. AlsoI recently swapped out the 2 vents on returns to the B&J Big Mouth vents. I've had a number of plumbers come and check it out but they don't seem to really understand the system or the problem. Hoping I can find expertise and guidance on this forum and find out if I need to make any fixes or changes to the system. Thanks in advance.

Comments

  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,275
    Topping off the water once a month should be ample - once a day is way too much.

    Step one -- make sure your pressure is reasonable. If this is a vapour system -- or was -- anything over half a pound cutout is too high (might post a photo of a radiator valve to check). Otherwise a pound and a half is ample.

    Step two -- steam leaks can be very hard to find. Check all the radiator valves for leaking around the stem. Check the unions connecting the valves or tailpieces to the pipes for leaks. You may not see water -- steam often evaporates rather than dripping. Check and examine all the dry returns for drips or signs of leakage. Remember that even a single drip can add up to a couple of quarts to a gallon a day.

    When it warms up a bit, you also need to check the boiler and any wet returns. This is best done in three stages: first, lower the boiler water level to just below the invert of the Hartford Loop and make a note of where it is. Keep an eye on it. If it's drops, you have a boiler leak below the water line. If it passes, now raise the water level to just below the top of the sight glass and note where it is. If it drops, you have a leak either in the boiler between the bottom of the sight glass and the top (rather unlikely, but not unheard of) or in a wet return. If it passes, raise the water level up into the risers and wait. If the water level then falls into the sight glass, there's a steam leak in the upper part of the boiler.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • rsel04
    rsel04 Member Posts: 21
    James, thanks for the quick response. I've gone through each radiator and tightened all connections. There were a couple that were gurgling a bit but now everything seems tight. I'll try the boiler leak test once it warms up a bit as you suggest. I've tried uploaded a bunch of photos as well.










  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,517
    @rsel04

    take a look outside at your chimney when the boiler is steaming. If you see white smoke (hopefully not) then you probably have a boiler issue.
    SlamDunk
  • rsel04
    rsel04 Member Posts: 21
    edited December 2022
    Thanks. Will check for steam from the chimney in the morning. One thing I did notice is corrosion/rust where the pressure gauge connects to the pipe in the furnace. when I tapped the gauge it was totally loose and just came off. No water or steam is leaking from there so it must be plugged up but seems like there must have been a leak there to cause this. Maybe the boiler is the issue.
  • rsel04
    rsel04 Member Posts: 21
    So I just stepped outside and was able to see steam coming from the top of the chimney. I also did the test were I held a wrench up the flue and when I removed it it was wet. So now I know there's a lot of water going up my chimney. Any suggestions on next steps?
  • bburd
    bburd Member Posts: 912
    Not so fast. If this is a gas fired boiler, most of the exhaust consists of water vapor due to the high hydrogen content of methane (CH4). In very cold weather, any gas fired appliance will show condensing water vapor at the vent. It can be difficult to tell the difference between this and a steam leak. 

    Bburd
    SlamDunkNew England SteamWorks
  • Danny Scully
    Danny Scully Member Posts: 1,424
    Boiler replacement unfortunately. Looks like you have a Richardson system btw. Where are you located? 
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,275
    Doesn't look good on the boiler -- do the check I mentioned. And as @Danny Scully said -- Richardson, which is vapour very low pressure, so eventually you will need a vapourstat -- and if you do need a new boiler, care matching its size to the system.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • rsel04
    rsel04 Member Posts: 21
    @Danny Scully, I'm located in north jersey. I will run the test Jamie suggests tomorrow.

    Would really like to find someone that understands these systems around me. I've dropped a good amount of change on plumbers in the area that didn't have a clue. Any recommendations for some in the area before I pull the trigger on a replacement would be really appreciated.
  • Danny Scully
    Danny Scully Member Posts: 1,424
    @EzzyT, look no further 
  • rsel04
    rsel04 Member Posts: 21
    Thank you Danny. Will contact @EzzyT.
  • EzzyT
    EzzyT Member Posts: 1,295
    @rsel04 the best way to reach is at 2018878856.
    Just as others have mentioned, If your adding that much water you definitely have some major leaks in the system or the boiler itself is leaking.
    E-Travis Mechanical LLC
    Etravismechanical@gmail.com
    201-887-8856
  • rsel04
    rsel04 Member Posts: 21
    @EzzyT Thanks. Will give you a call.
  • rsel04
    rsel04 Member Posts: 21
    @Jamie Hall I ran the test you outlined above. Not sure I got the water levels 100% correct but I did see water dripping around the base of the furnace when I went above the top of the glass tube and I think into the riser. I guess that points to a steam leak correct? In the meantime I've contacted EzzyT and will wait to hear from him.

    One thing I was wondering is why these leaks would occur given that the unit is like 11 years old. Could it be poor maintenance or setup or is it pretty normal after that amount of time?
  • Lfitzidx
    Lfitzidx Member Posts: 1
    I have this same issue, needing to add water frequently to a new boiler (oil) for steam heating. I can't find any radiator leaks. Are there any contractor recommendations in the Boston MA area?
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,275
    @rsel04 -- sorry about that. @EzzyT will get you fixed up. And @Lfitzidx -- Ryan at @New England SteamWorks is your man.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,701
    edited December 2022
    Interesting to see that Big Mouth vent on there. Almost makes me think someone from here worked on it. I asked about that vent once at my local supply house (in Fairfield IIRC) and they didn't seem to know anything about it.
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
  • rsel04
    rsel04 Member Posts: 21
    @ethicalpaul , I actually replaced the old Richardson vents with the Big Mouth vent. The old ones were all corroded and I read that the Big Mouths move a lot more air. Don't know much about these systems but that seemed like a pretty simple change.
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,517
    @rsel04

    Too bad if it is the boiler 11 years is still on the young side. Ezzy is the right guy to check this out. Hopefully just a leaky pipe fitting or something but water in the vent isn't a good sign.
  • rsel04
    rsel04 Member Posts: 21
    Just wanted to post an update on my new boiler journey. As recommended, I went with Ezzy and not much to say other than as with most things in life you get what you pay for. I checked out a number of heating contractors before making my decision and Ezzy was the only one that really seemed to understand the system. He installed a Peerless 118k with a 3" drop-header. My old Lennox was way oversized. Ezzy's work is top notch and of the highest quality. Thanks to this forum for pointing me in the right direction.
    KC_JonesbburdWMno57reggi
  • Mad Dog_2
    Mad Dog_2 Member Posts: 6,917
    edited March 2023
    Before you condemn the boiler, Disconnect from system, cap all ports and put under a water pressure test with a Gauge in it.  Its a bit of work but could save you $10,000.00 bucks...If that is good, do the same on system side  cap all air vents and pressure test ENTIRE system. You very easily could have multiple minute leaks that are the cause.  If the system is not VERY tight you will go thru a lot of makesup water.  If the system is manufacturing DRY STEAM (98% Moisture free) you'll NEVER SEE A DRIP OR A PUDDLE....BUT YOU STILL HAVE AN INVISIBLE LEAK..... I once had the New Burnham boiler outside in the garage...YES I WAS THAT CLOSE TO SWAPPING it out.
    IT WASNT THE PROBLEM.. I had several good leaks on boiler tappings and system...fixed in 8 hours.  new Boiler got stored in my Barn till I needed the Next Burnham IN 6.  Close call...LESSON LEARNED...TUITION PAID!!! Mad 🐕 Dog
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,060
    Mad Dog, good testing advice. We can be sure that Ezzy checked things out.

    However, the posting just above yours indicated that the boiler was already changed out.
    Mad Dog_2
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,275
    A general word on leaks. There is a tendency to assume -- for either steam or hot water -- that if there is a leak it will be obvious. Images of puddles, or clouds of steam, or other nightmares.

    Not so. One standard size drop (a milliliter) every ten seconds is a gallon a day. On a warm pipe, that drop will evaporate. You may see rust or corrosion. On a cool pipe, you may see dampness. But no puddles. Sorry. Still it's excessive and needs to be tracked down.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • reggi
    reggi Member Posts: 511
    rsel04 said:
    Just wanted to post an update on my new boiler journey. As recommended, I went with Ezzy and not much to say other than as with most things in life you get what you pay for. I checked out a number of heating contractors before making my decision and Ezzy was the only one that really seemed to understand the system. He installed a Peerless 118k with a 3" drop-header. My old Lennox was way oversized. Ezzy's work is top notch and of the highest quality. Thanks to this forum for pointing me in the right direction.
    Don't be shy... let's see the AFTER Pictures
    😊
    One way to get familiar something you know nothing about is to ask a really smart person a really stupid question
  • rsel04
    rsel04 Member Posts: 21
    Oh yeah. I forgot. Here are a couple of pictures. Working on insulation now.

    Mad Dog_2reggiethicalpaul
  • Mad Dog_2
    Mad Dog_2 Member Posts: 6,917
    Superb  work!  Mad 🐕 Dog
    rsel04reggi