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Steam Heat Radiator Odor

Mr_Brown
Mr_Brown Member Posts: 8

Hi All,

My steam heat system is emitting a smell directly out of the air vents. To me, it smells a little gassy, my wife would describe it as metallic. Service person also smelled but couldn't identify it. Does anyone know what might be causing this?

I do know the previous owners were frequently adding feed water and their boiler was corroded. We had to replace it (March 2022) soon after moving in. I believe the same smell was there and was stronger prior to replacing the boiler but hard to say. Since then, service people have put a couple different cleaning products in and most recently drained the boiler and put in squick. 

Any advice or potential solutions would be greatly appreciated! Thanks! 

Pics below in case they're helpful: 



Comments

  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 4,932
    When did Weil McLain start using the Blue/Grey color again? WGO and SGO boilers were always GOLD. Actually that wasn't gold it was more like an Egg Cream (got that name from a paint chart at HD.)

    As far as odors from a steam boiler/radiator... there is something in those old pipes that you may never get out.
    Edward Young Retired HVAC Contractor & HYDRONICIAN Services first oil burner at age 16 P/T trainer for EH-CC.org
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,354
    New boilers are to be skimmed to remove the manufacturing oils as well as any oils and such from installing the boiler. They did not skim it like they are supposed to, I know this because they ran the electrical conduit right in front of the skim port. I would suggest that is a place to start.

    The squick they put in is viewed by some contractors as a replacement for skimming, but since you aren't actually removing the oils like skimming does, I don't see how that's possible.

    Also, they didn't pipe the boiler properly. Looks like a cut and slide and just connected to what was there, that wasn't correct in the first place. I also see a reducer on the outlet which is incorrect, that's supposed to be full 2 1/2" on the riser and the horizontal header.

    I only mention it because, well I saw it, and it seems the company isn't 100% on what they are supposed to be doing, like not skimming the boiler, blocking the skim port with electrical conduit, improper piping, and who knows what else. Sad really, there is a manual that comes with the boiler showing exactly how it's supposed to be done.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
    CLambethicalpaulLong Beach EdEdTheHeaterMan
  • Long Beach Ed
    Long Beach Ed Member Posts: 1,053
    As KC_Jones suggests, the boiler has not been properly cleaned and skimmed of its oils. What you smell is a combination of those and the compound used in connecting threaded pipe. The smell will diminish over time and use, though the boiler should be properly skimmed of the oil to improve efficient operation and eliminate objectionable odors.

    His observations are all correct. This is a defective installation and you did not get a proper job.
  • Mad Dog_2
    Mad Dog_2 Member Posts: 3,885
    Agreed.  Could need a full bubble-bath too with soap.   When its all cleaned if you want a few drops of peppermint oil doesn't hurt.  A mean a FEW drops. Mad 🐕 Dog
    vhaukEdTheHeaterMan
  • Mr_Brown
    Mr_Brown Member Posts: 8
    edited January 13

    Thank you for these thorough responses, this is so helpful! I should mention that there was an odor prior to the new boiler installing in March 2022 but it is possible I’m conflating the different (?) smells. Regardless, the piping needs to be corrected and skimming needs to be done. A few more follow up questions: 

    Would you say this kind of piping error would be glaringly obvious to any heating service person with multiple decades of experience? 

    Am I understanding correctly that draining the boiler and/or using squick are not substitutes for skimming if a thorough cleaning is what is needed?

    Should TSP be considered to use as well? 

    Is the main venting pictured correct/adequate? Is there any other piping that needs fixing? 

    Is there anything else I should consider regarding PH, pigtail, condensate pipe, anode rod etc. that could impact the smell? 

    Thanks again! 

  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,354
    Mr_Brown said:

    Thank you for these thorough responses, this is so helpful! I should mention that there was an odor prior to the new boiler installing in March 2022 but it is possible I’m conflating the different (?) smells. Regardless, the piping needs to be corrected and skimming needs to be done. A few more follow up questions: 

    Would you say this kind of piping error would be glaringly obvious to any heating service person with multiple decades of experience? 

    Am I understanding correctly that draining the boiler and/or using squick are not substitutes for skimming if a thorough cleaning is what is needed?

    Should TSP be considered to use as well? 

    Is the main venting pictured correct/adequate? Is there any other piping that needs fixing? 

    Is there anything else I should consider regarding PH, pigtail, condensate pipe, anode rod etc. that could impact the smell? 

    Thanks again! 

    Answering your questions in order

    1. Yes it is absolutely glaringly obvious to anyone that KNOWS what they are doing, I don't even need a manual to know, but as said there is a picture in the manual of how it's supposed to be, with pipe sizes called out.
    2. This is a matter of opinion to be honest. Squick does work, but to me it never even needed to be created as skimming with no chemicals gets the oils out. Squick doesn't get them out until you drain it, and it depends on you being able to get all the Squick out with just draining. I'm not sure how much I would personally trust that. Again, it's an opinion. Weil Mclain says to skim in the manual. They also have wording in their warranty that references following manufacturers instructions or the warranty is void.
    3. Some manufacturers recommend, Weil Mclain does not, I tend to recommend following what the manufacturer wants.
    4. Probably not enough main venting. We would need to know the length and size of your main to make a more specific recommendation.
    5. I can't think of anything. Honestly, just for clarity sake. When a steam boiler steams, the steam is purified water, with nothing in it. Anything that could come out with the steam would have to have a lower boiling point than water. Think of the alcohol distilling process, alcohol boils at a lower temp, so keep the liquid at that boiling point and you separate the alcohol from the water and other "stuff".

    I'm not saying the skimming solves it, just suggesting that as a starting point. Honestly, if you are having odor issues, adding more stuff to the boiler (Squick) doesn't even make sense to me. I'm pretty sure it won't matter, but I don't like "pretty sure".

    If you are able to convince them to fix the piping, then they need to skim for that work as well, possibly multiple times as that work will add some amount of oils back into the boiler. Sometimes you need to run it for a period of time to allow the steam to move it all into the boiler to be skimmed out.

    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
    ethicalpaul
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 4,179
    Everything KC said I agree with for what that's worth :joy:

    > Would you say this kind of piping error would be glaringly obvious to any heating service person with multiple decades of experience?

    It's obvious to people who have just hung around on this forum for a few months. It's so obvious that several of us here have installed our own boilers just from our experiences here and actually looking at the installation manual that the manufacturer helpfully ships with each and every boiler.
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
  • Kickstand55
    Kickstand55 Member Posts: 79
    I see this all the time. Big hurry, get it done, tail light warranty.
    Famous words of a hack: "It is what it is!"
  • Mr_Brown
    Mr_Brown Member Posts: 8
    Thank you again for all of this!

    @KC_Jones I'm embarrassed to say that I'm still unsure of how to measure my mains. Is it from the boiler to the vent? Is it possible to ever have too much main venting? Should my main venting look like this pic from New England Steamworks rather than what I currently have?






  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,354
    Main starts at take off from the header and measured until it turns down for the return, either overhead or below the water line wet return. There is usually a significant pipe size reduction when it changes to the return.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
  • Synbio
    Synbio Member Posts: 12
    You say this boiler is brand new? Was it skimmed? That would explain the smell.
  • 1Ole_timer
    1Ole_timer Member Posts: 4
    edited January 24
    Good day.
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 13,881
    edited January 18

    The smell was coming through the radiator vents before the new boiler was installed. This all was before my time but it could have been a "Chop and Swap", I do not know for sure. I am the "Hack" not able to eliminate the odor. Some of those making comments should read up on professional ethics. The gentleman wants to have the odors, and their cause gone. Since I am the " Hack", I know that my job and what is asked of you is to give direction toward a resolution of the issue, not commenting on someone's imagined or actual incompetence. I good technician will have all relevant information before a course of action is decided upon. I don't know where I came up with that, Thanks, just a Hack.



    I didn't make any comments, but I'm curious why those helping for free on a public forum should read up on professional ethics? Did you pay anyone here for their time to help you do your job?

    Everyone on here is here for free trying to help others.

    Sometimes things could be worded better sure. But most of the people here are good people and they go out of their way to help others. For free....... which means this isn't on a professional level, it's on a public forum.

    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
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,354

    The smell was coming through the radiator vents before the new boiler was installed. This all was before my time but it could have been a "Chop and Swap", I do not know for sure. I am the "Hack" not able to eliminate the odor. Some of those making comments should read up on professional ethics. The gentleman wants to have the odors, and their cause gone. Since I am the " Hack", I know that my job and what is asked of you is to give direction toward a resolution of the issue, not commenting on someone's imagined or actual incompetence. I good technician will have all relevant information before a course of action is decided upon. I don't know where I came up with that, Thanks, just a Hack.

    Ethics? Really? I mean I'm not the one that piped that boiler completely wrong and then took money for it. I'm here for free giving out better advice and information than the person who took money for that job. The person that took money to install that boiler needs a serious education in ethics, or at least a serious education in the proper piping of a steam boiler.


    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
    GGrossethicalpaulEdTheHeaterMan
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,354
    The more I think about this. The bad piping could absolutely be contributing to the smell. It's almost certainly sucking water out of the boiler and into the mains, that water is bringing who knows what with it and that could be depositing unwanted "stuff" into the mains causing the system to smell.

    I suspected the bad piping that wasn't fixed was with the previous boiler so that could be a possibility. Smell or no smell, the boiler 100% needs to be re piped by the installer, for money that was paid already to actually pipe the boiler properly. I mean if we want to talk about ethics that's the only right thing to do.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
    ethicalpaul
  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 4,932
    @1Ole_timer, when you say "Since I am the " Hack" are you referring the yourself being the installer of the boiler? Or are you the person tasked with the odor removal? OR are you the homeowner?

    I'm not quite understanding your statement. I assumed that you were the homeowner and I prepared this to illustrate the parts of the boiler piping in order to help.the reason I prepared this is for @Mr_Brown who answered the query about measuring the mains. Your mains are not in the pictures provided. At least the end where the vents are located. You need to show us the ent of the pipe that all the radiator take offs come from. Somewhere after the last radiator takeoff, there will be a foot or so of main pipe, then the main vent. The length of that pipe and the diameter of that pipe is what we need to measure. It may change to smaller diameter pipe after each radiator takeoff or two. If you don't have the actual diameter pipe size, you can take a tape measure (the cloth type a Taylor might use) and tell us the circumference, most of us have conversion charts for pipe size.

    In answer to your question about too much venting. That answer is no. The more the better ...until you get to the point where you have maxed out the vent opening. If 1 vent gets the air out in 4 minutes and 2 vents get the air out 1.5 minute, then the 3rd vent gets the air out in 1min. 20 seconds, then the third vent is not really doing that much... so 2 is enough but the 3rd one is not hurting anything.
    Edward Young Retired HVAC Contractor & HYDRONICIAN Services first oil burner at age 16 P/T trainer for EH-CC.org
    Mr_Brown
  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 4,932
    edited January 18
    For any1Ole_Timerthat might be providing the solution for this problem you might reference the manual for the proper diagram and the incorrect diagram on the next page.
    Looking at the next page you can plainly see the incorrect diagram. Somehow that looks remarkably like Mr.Browns piping system.
    See the smaller second riser and main pipe where the pipes is going from the wrong side of the header. And the header diameter is actually 1/2" too small. amazing how the Hack that installed missed that in the instructions. It specifically says "Incorrectly" on that illustration. Amazing!

    Edward Young Retired HVAC Contractor & HYDRONICIAN Services first oil burner at age 16 P/T trainer for EH-CC.org
    ethicalpaulMr_Brown
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 13,881
    Let's go ahead and share the video that explains why this is so important..

    https://youtu.be/L11ywcjSOFA
    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
  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 4,932
    I love that video. Thanks @ChrisJ
    Edward Young Retired HVAC Contractor & HYDRONICIAN Services first oil burner at age 16 P/T trainer for EH-CC.org
  • Mr_Brown
    Mr_Brown Member Posts: 8
    Hello all, we really appreciate everyone on here spending their time trying to figure this thing out. For the record, I am the homeowner and @1Ole_timer has recently been tasked to help us solve this. He is not the person from the company who installed the boiler. I appreciate that he did confirm the odor exists without gaslighting us and made the effort to reach out for help on here: https://forum.heatinghelp.com/discussion/191130/radiator-vent-odors#latest

    It seems like getting the near-boiler piping corrected and having the boiler skimmed (multiple times?) per the Weil Mclain manual is a great place to start.
    CLamb
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 13,881
    edited January 19
    Mr_Brown said:

    Hello all, we really appreciate everyone on here spending their time trying to figure this thing out. For the record, I am the homeowner and @1Ole_timer has recently been tasked to help us solve this. He is not the person from the company who installed the boiler. I appreciate that he did confirm the odor exists without gaslighting us and made the effort to reach out for help on here: https://forum.heatinghelp.com/discussion/191130/radiator-vent-odors#latest

    It seems like getting the near-boiler piping corrected and having the boiler skimmed (multiple times?) per the Weil Mclain manual is a great place to start.



    Ok,
    So the company he is from DID install the boiler, it just was not him personally. That makes sense now.

    However, that company should repipe the boiler correctly as per the manufacturer's MINIMUM requirements if that's the case. Especially since it's likely why the smell exists in the first place. Though, I do understand that could be out of @1Ole_timer 's hands unless he's the owner.


    These minimum requirements can be found in the instructions that come with the boiler.

    Besides likely causing the smell, it's also causing the system to use more fuel and will also likely void any chance of a warranty.
    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
  • 1Ole_timer
    1Ole_timer Member Posts: 4
    edited January 24
    Good day.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 20,432
    May I suggest we relax and remove our ego from the discussion here? And then avoid making the extremely serious charge of not having professional respect or ethics? That is a path which is never profitable.

    Regardless of that path having been taken -- which would often keep me from saying anything at all -- may I make a few suggestions?

    The first is, has anyone positively confirmed that the odour is coming from the steam itself, and not from the radiators being heated? I realise that the customer feels that this is the case, but it would be well to verify it. This is a little tricky for one pipe steam, but if the odour dissipates after the vent in a given room has closed, but the boiler is still running, it's most likely the steam. Otherwise, it is more likely to be a hot radiator or pipe. It is all too easy to make this type of error -- wrongly assuming a causal relationship where none exists. It is one of the most common types, but can lead to chasing all the wrong solutions.

    Second, as I read the initial remarks, it would appear that the problem existed prior to replacing the boiler -- and may even have been worse. This suggests rather strongly that if the problem is related to the steam, it is NOT related to the new boiler installation; discussion of which can be deferred, although it would be very wise indeed to thoroughly flush the boiler to make sure all cleaning products are removed from it, to eliminate them as a possible source -- and don't put any more in.

    If you have managed to prove that the cause is, in fact, the steam and not simply hot radiator or pipe, then the next move is to identify if it is present everywhere in the system, or confined to one area. This will help to locate the source of the odour though not, of course, the cause.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Mr_Brown
    Mr_Brown Member Posts: 8
    Thank you @Jamie Hall - Great points, the smell is certainly coming out of the air vents. They vent quite a bit of air and when you stick your nose over it, the source becomes unmistakable. And yes, there definitely was a smell prior to the new boiler installation, however I am not 100% certain it was the same exact smell. It may be, but a lot of time has passed and we were not in the house very long before the boiler needed to be replaced. It could be the same issue from prior to the installation, could be residual oils from the new boiler or a mix of both things?
  • Mr_Brown
    Mr_Brown Member Posts: 8
    I was reading and noticed that the Hartford Loop is supposed to be installed below the waterline? Is that true/important? If so, ours seems very high, is that problematic? Thanks.
  • Mr_Brown
    Mr_Brown Member Posts: 8
    @EdTheHeaterMan These diagrams are amazing. Thanks so much for your time and efforts. Incredibly useful.
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,354
    Mr_Brown said:

    I was reading and noticed that the Hartford Loop is supposed to be installed below the waterline? Is that true/important? If so, ours seems very high, is that problematic? Thanks.

    If it's at the wrong height it can potentially bang. It's supposed to be ~2" below the normal water level.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
    Mr_Brown