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Surging in the boiler, LWCO trips

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jakect
jakect Member Posts: 3
Hi all! I moved into my first house in late 2020 and I've been learning about our steam system ever since.

Currently, the main issue is that the water surges and drops lower and lower until the LWCO trips, about one hour into running (with, I believe, scheduled stops when the LWCO does intermittent testing like every 20 minutes which I think is normal). After the boiler shuts off, all of the water returns to the boiler eventually, say within 10 minutes but not sure exactly how fast.

This system is one pipe, gravity, wet returns.

A little background:

The unit was installed in 2019, and the previous owner had clearly not been using the system if she could avoid it. She had a wood stove, a fireplace, and some in floor electric heaters, all of which we have removed. When we ripped out a cabinet built around a radiator, we found it had rotted a big hole in the floor and was actively dripping.

The first thing we did when we're cleaning up the house to move in was have a plumber in to stop a couple dripping radiators and replace air vents that wouldn't stop spewing out steam. 

That first year, one radiator clanked like hell, but overall we were nice and comfy for an old drafty house. Another plumber and Dan's book and reading other posts on this forum helped us diagnose that it was actually the pipe in the basement below the radiator was sagging, and also leaking, and so the water was sitting in a valley, and well you know the rest. Easy fix for plumber. Old Clanky quieted down.

Before Season 2, we had the roof done and didn't want to redo the chimney so we installed a power vent so the chimney could be disconnected. 

We also had a couple of radiators sandblasted and painted with ceramic paint and reinstalled when we had to remove them for a small renovation job anyway.

All this time, I had to occasionally fill the boiler. The autofeeder flooded it, so I just got in the habit of doing it manually. 

Season 3, I started my pipe insulation efforts, and I started focusing my attention on the sight glass. It was jumping. Not foaming. And it would get pretty low. I'm pretty sure, but now doubting my memory, that last season it would not trip the LWCO often, unless it started out on the low side. 

All this time, it's kept us comfortable, heating the house well, if expensively. 

So this season I did my first attempt at serving the boiler in a proactive way, not finding anyone in the Danbury area who demonstrated they could really do any of the things I've read a steam system needs.

I cleaned the burners. They were pretty clean. I drained a lot of junk out of the boiler just by filling and draining it over and over, not with pressure, until the water ran crystal clear.

Then I started skimming. I've skimmed for 3 days, while working at home, and into buckets, so not a continuous 3 days at all. I still see oil on the top of the water, so I think I just need to keep at it. 

You can see the installer put a tiny little valve on the skim port and I'm doing my best to keep it to the slowest trickle the ball bypass valve will allow, so I don't skim from "where the oil ain't".

Another issue I think the system has is that, the two main vents are probably undersized. St the end of 25 foot mains are some Hoffman 4 quick vents. But I don't know if this would affect the surging. I was thinking of getting a couple of gorton no 2s and have a plumber swap them because they're rusted and I wouldn't be able to fix it if I broke them off. While they're here I'd have them put a bigger opening on the skim port.

The other issue is I suspect the near boiler piping might be off, particularly since one pipe comes out of the skim tap and just goes straight up, with one vertical 90 and one horizontal 90, to a main. I'm also not sure if that would cause surging. There's no chance I'll adjust the piping this close to the upcoming heating season anyway. I'd rather stick with the devil I know.

My theory is try the simplest and free thing first -- skim it until there's absolutely no oil on top. Then if the surging and drop out of the sight glass continues, worry about the rest. I'm just starting to lose confidence after each skim session when the bouncing continues. But should I keep the faith that when it runs clear that will probably be fixed?

Any thoughts and feedback would be greatly appreciated.



Comments

  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,757
    edited October 2023
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    Yes your near boiler piping is completely wrong. It is at least partially to blame for your boiler injecting water into your steam mains.

    The skim port valve is wrong. The reducer is OK, but whatever size that reducer is, you want to pipe that to a full-port ball valve. Then run the new water into the boiler very slowly to make the trickle that I would then let flow into a bucket.

    The existing reducing fitting will lift the water level to slightly above the level of the pipes that connect the sections to each other, allowing the oil to escape all the sections. I think @JUGHNE taught me this trick when I had a Utica boiler with the same design as yours.

    You will have to get ALL the oil off the surface of your water to have hope of this thing not surging with that bad near boiler piping, but I believe it can be done.

    Your main vents are way too small and should never have been sold as main vents in the first place. I'd replace each of those with a Gorton #1 or Gorton #2 (the #1 is way cheaper and often vents fast enough but YMMV)

    Your pressure relief valve piping is supposed to run down to within 6" of the floor (and be copper), but that isn't affecting your operation, but rather a safety (and code) issue.
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,757
    edited October 2023
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    And OK why in the hell is your boiler wired to a flue damper that is lying on the floor next to it LOLOL

    Why isn't the damper on the flue? You're losing a lot of heat up there when the boiler isn't running potentially.

    PS: congrats on learning about your system. When the local installers install boilers like this, we homeowners must get educated and pick up the wrench.
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,745
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    And OK why in the hell is your boiler wired to a flue damper that is lying on the floor next to it LOLOL

    Why isn't the damper on the flue? You're losing a lot of heat up there when the boiler isn't running potentially.

    Because the contractor either thought it wasn't necessary when the power vent went in, or they can't do wiring and are incapable of redoing the safeties to remove it. AKA Hack.

    And yeah the near boiler piping is all wrong. The one main is basically using the entire main as an equalizer, so any water going up there is going through the entire main instead of directly back to the boiler. The other main at least has a drip and probably not causing much issue, but still wrong. Appears that it is a counterflow main for one and parallel flow for the other, based exclusively on the pictures posted.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,724
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    Yeah the boiler piping is all wrong.

    I find it very said than an installer can't follow the boiler manual. It wouldn't have cost any more money to pipe it correctly the first time. You can continue skimming but I don't think this will fix your problem.
    Mad Dog_2
  • Mad Dog_2
    Mad Dog_2 Member Posts: 7,190
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    You need one of us pros in there.  You've got many issues.  Mad Dog 
  • jakect
    jakect Member Posts: 3
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    Thank you for all these quick responses. I'm going to try to absorb them all.

    I just wanted to add that I'd love to hire someone who is on this forum and works in the Danbury, CT area. Very hard finding anyone competent around here. 

    And yeah, as an example of how hard it is, the installer couldn't get the damper out of the loop after getting the vent working. They barely got the venter wired properly after calling two other companies to finish the job. I emailed Utica to ask if there's a jumper or something but for now I just have it in the stuck open position.
  • jakect
    jakect Member Posts: 3
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    Update time:

    I found a very competent heating company that does steam, after quite a lot of searching. They have been to Dan's seminars and recommended his books to me. They agree with the assessment that the water pushing out is because of the near boiler piping, so I'm asking them for a quote and I'm going to see if we can get that work done before it's too cold to go without heat. Assuming it will be a day or two work for two plumbers (i.e. a lot of money), but the materials should be pretty negligible, just a bunch of black pipe.

    Does this sound like the best course of action in terms of operation? If there are less expensive things to try I'd be open to that, but it doesn't seem like there are any.

    I did have the mechanic replace my main vents with Hoffman no 75s while he was out here doing the assessment to get some actual work out of the minimum one hour charge.

    Now I'm wondering how to make sure I end up with what I need done, to the manufacturers spec.

    Here is the manual for my boiler. https://uticaboilers.com/product/gas-steam-boiler-peg-e/

    If I specify in the contract that the piping should conform to the manual, is that specific enough? Or should I give them a page number and a figure number since there are different configurations? Ask for a diagram first? 

    I have two tappings, two mains, wet returns, parallel flow, one pipe, so I think I need the piping from page 11, figure 6b. Or would it be figure 8 on page 12, the more schematic-looking diagram?

    Less critically, I also might ask them to hook up one of the three disconnected radiators (the other two rads are gone, but the piping in the basement is all there). I think the system is moderately oversized anyway, so might as well get some more of the heat I'm paying for. Funny enough, with those three rads it would probably be in the ballpark of correctly sized, if my calculations are close-ish.

  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,757
    edited November 2023
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    Were you able to try skimming with a real skim port as I described in my earlier response?

    Repiping would be great, but if it's possible to get that boiler working as-is it will save you a lot of money.

    If you do have them do it, they should be able to point to the diagram in the manual that they are going to follow.
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,724
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    If they are familiar with the Holohan books and methods, you should be ok. Just show them the manual and let them know you want the manufacturers minimum piping requirements or more if they recommend it.