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Looking for ideas about steam boiler replacement for historic house

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There have been problems with steam heat at a historic house near us, and we are looking for any helpful advice for the owners.

The old boiler, a 1998 oil-fired Weil-McLain model A/B 8GO-4(W) self-destructed, and was evaporating gallons of water (up the flue, apparently) before dying in a puff of smoke.

I bought the E.D.R. book by Dan Holohan, and pretty sure a fundamental problem was inadequate sizing. The house has 12 radiators, with a total of 522 square feet of radiation, plus a 33 ft, 2-1/2-in main (mostly bare), and a similar 12 ft, 2-in main, unvented.

The DOE heating capacity of the boiler was 144 MBTUH, well below the 188 MBTUH calculated with a 1.5 pick-up factor, as recommended for such systems on p. 75 in the Art of Steam book. Steam never really got to those last radiators.

So some basic questions:

1. Any recommendations for replacement oil-fired steam boilers for this house? (models, etc.)
2. Will venting those big long pipes be worth it?
3. The system at one point got flooded, overflowing some of the radiators. Is there likely clogging or other problems from that, and if so how do you test for such problems?
4. To make matters worse, the brick chimney flue was damaged. Are there any new methods for repairing damaged chimneys?

The heating cost had gotten pretty crazy over this last winter, but I expect that was due to most of the steam going up the chimney (the heating guys they called in added autofill, because it would shut off every couple of days from low water!). I took the top cover off the boiler after it failed, and was able to stick a rod into deep layers of rust flakes & through the cast iron.

Also any recommendations on good steam heat contractors in the Albany NY area would be very welcome!

Thanks,
- Russell
Mad Dog_2

Comments

  • Mad Dog_2
    Mad Dog_2 Member Posts: 6,954
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    Good morning Russell.  I'd be glad to stop by and prep you for the coming rehab work. I'll be in the Capital Region in the next two weeks. I'll generate a thorough report on what you have there, what you need there, with options, and how to vet the contractors.  You can PM me.  Mad Dog 
    mattmia2bburdLong Beach Ed
  • Mad Dog_2
    Mad Dog_2 Member Posts: 6,954
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    I gutted my 1899-1900 Victorian Farmhouse in Long Island from 2000-2003. Installed a steam Vapor system with scrolled Antique Radiators.  The  System chugging along at 12 ounces of Steam Vapor. I'd love to see some pictures of your system and home.  Mad Dog 
    CLamb
  • AdmiralYoda
    AdmiralYoda Member Posts: 629
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    Adding main venting is always helpful. More is better especially with a large system. Install main vents at the end of long risers too.

    If the system flooded the main and radiator vents might be gummed up. If replacing the boiler it would be a good idea to replace them all while you are at it.

    The Burnham MegaSteam is usually regarded as one of the best oil burning steam boilers available and is one of the most efficient as well. Us NG/Propane guys have been scratching our heads as to why one isn't available for us...it would easily be a good seller.
    Mad Dog_2
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,739
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    There have been problems with steam heat at a historic house near us, and we are looking for any helpful advice for the owners.

    The old boiler, a 1998 oil-fired Weil-McLain model A/B 8GO-4(W) self-destructed, and was evaporating gallons of water (up the flue, apparently) before dying in a puff of smoke.

    I bought the E.D.R. book by Dan Holohan, and pretty sure a fundamental problem was inadequate sizing. The house has 12 radiators, with a total of 522 square feet of radiation, plus a 33 ft, 2-1/2-in main (mostly bare), and a similar 12 ft, 2-in main, unvented.

    The DOE heating capacity of the boiler was 144 MBTUH, well below the 188 MBTUH calculated with a 1.5 pick-up factor, as recommended for such systems on p. 75 in the Art of Steam book. Steam never really got to those last radiators.

    So some basic questions:

    1. Any recommendations for replacement oil-fired steam boilers for this house? (models, etc.)
    2. Will venting those big long pipes be worth it?
    3. The system at one point got flooded, overflowing some of the radiators. Is there likely clogging or other problems from that, and if so how do you test for such problems?
    4. To make matters worse, the brick chimney flue was damaged. Are there any new methods for repairing damaged chimneys?

    The heating cost had gotten pretty crazy over this last winter, but I expect that was due to most of the steam going up the chimney (the heating guys they called in added autofill, because it would shut off every couple of days from low water!). I took the top cover off the boiler after it failed, and was able to stick a rod into deep layers of rust flakes & through the cast iron.

    Also any recommendations on good steam heat contractors in the Albany NY area would be very welcome!

    Thanks,
    - Russell

    Do not use a 1.5, please, just don't do it. The entire main adds up to ~33 EDR, if you add a 1.5 pickup you are adding 261 sq ft for that 33 EDR, you will be massively, massively oversized. There is already 33% in the manufacturers numbers and if you ask me that's too much, but that's a different topic.

    Add nothing, you have 522, go find a boiler rated close or slightly below that.
    Burnham Megasteam MST513 would be a perfect fit for that system.


    Always have main venting, it's critical. Steam not reaching the end of main has nothing to do with that boiler size and everything to do with venting. The steam should be available at the inlet valve of all radiators at about the same time, if it's not, address the main venting.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
    dabrakemanChrisJmattmia2PRR
  • Intplm.
    Intplm. Member Posts: 1,962
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    @RussellClark
    If the chimney is damaged as mentioned, when the new boiler is installed, have a chimney liner installed too.
  • RussellClark
    RussellClark Member Posts: 7
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    Mad Dog_2 said:

    I gutted my 1899-1900 Victorian Farmhouse in Long Island from 2000-2003. Installed a steam Vapor system with scrolled Antique Radiators.  The  System chugging along at 12 ounces of Steam Vapor. I'd love to see some pictures of your system and home.  Mad Dog 

    Well - Not much interesting about the radiators. Steam was added probably after late 1920s since the kitchen radiator is an H.B. Smith "144" 6-tube (c. 1929 in the E.D.R. book), and American Radiator "Peerless," "Corto," and "Rococo" for the rest. Except for one ornamented unit in an upstairs bedroom that I couldn't find in the book. Sections about 6 or 7 inches wide:




    We do have a photo of the old octopus boiler (stuccoed in asbestos) that was there before the "new" W-M was installed, which I'll find and post here. The structure is an old farmhouse from c. 1830s - fireplaces and stoves before steam we guess. I'll PM to follow up with you about rehab - Thanks!
    Mad Dog_2
  • RussellClark
    RussellClark Member Posts: 7
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    KC_Jones said:


    Do not use a 1.5, please, just don't do it. The entire main adds up to ~33 EDR, if you add a 1.5 pickup you are adding 261 sq ft for that 33 EDR, you will be massively, massively oversized. There is already 33% in the manufacturers numbers and if you ask me that's too much, but that's a different topic.

    Add nothing, you have 522, go find a boiler rated close or slightly below that.
    Burnham Megasteam MST513 would be a perfect fit for that system.

    Always have main venting, it's critical. Steam not reaching the end of main has nothing to do with that boiler size and everything to do with venting. The steam should be available at the inlet valve of all radiators at about the same time, if it's not, address the main venting.

    Thanks, KC_Jones! Great to hear we don't need or want anything much bigger than the old one! I guess that confirms what we suspected about the steam going up the flue, since it was getting worse & worse as it chugged more water. Also happy to hear adding main vents will really improve things!
    Mad Dog_2
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,842
    edited April 2
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    That unknown radiator is a standard 3-column unit. Use the Rococo chart to get its EDR- looks like 30 square feet to me.

    That rad and the Rococo went out of production around 1921. If they are original that means the steam is at least that old.

    And, I'll agree the MegaSteam is your best bet. Burnham gets a hissy fit when we talk about putting gas burners in these, but it can be done.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
    Mad Dog_2
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,662
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    How much was water being added before it started leaking at the boiler? That boiler should probably have lasted a lot longer than that, you should figure out why it didn't. The most likely cause is a lot of fresh water because of leaks from vents not closing and valve packing, possibly some leaking piping. I suppose if the burner was set up wrong enough and it wasn't cleaned regularly that could have done it too.
    Mad Dog_2
  • RussellClark
    RussellClark Member Posts: 7
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    Steamhead said:

    That unknown radiator is a standard 3-column unit. Use the Rococo chart to get its EDR- looks like 30 square feet to me.

    That rad and the Rococo went out of production around 1921. If they are original that means the steam is at least that old.

    And, I'll agree the MegaSteam is your best bet. Burnham gets a hissy fit when we talk about putting gas burners in these, but it can be done.

    Thanks for the info! Actually looks similar to Rococo - but measurements are a bit different (Rococo 3-tube section is 38" H x 2-1/2" L x 9" W, vs 37" x 3" x 7" for this one). Agree about 30 sq ft. Anyway, I think you're right about the system being earlier in the teens or 20's since almost all are the Peerless model c. 1916, and the H.B. Smith and American Corto from late 20's look like later add-ons.
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,539
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    The old boiler lasted 26 years not bad especially if it was neglected
  • RussellClark
    RussellClark Member Posts: 7
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    Mad Dog_2 said:

    I gutted my 1899-1900 Victorian Farmhouse in Long Island from 2000-2003. Installed a steam Vapor system with scrolled Antique Radiators.  The  System chugging along at 12 ounces of Steam Vapor. I'd love to see some pictures of your system and home.  Mad Dog 

  • RussellClark
    RussellClark Member Posts: 7
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    Here are pictures of the old boiler and basement fireplace in the historic house, from late 90's when it was replaced. Basement's about the same now. Seems to be a name across the boiler door. At least they didn't raise the water line - Looks like it was a couple of feet higher back then than it is now.




    Mad Dog_2
  • Mad Dog_2
    Mad Dog_2 Member Posts: 6,954
    edited April 4
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    The Old Snowman Pancake Boiler..Built Like am M1 Abrams Tank. I've never taken one out that was leaking-ever.  Mad Dog 
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,322
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    They didn't raise the water line? That's OK. But you think they may have lowered the boiler water line? That is NOT OK. That can create all kinds of odd misbehaviour and outright havoc out in the rest of the piping.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    mattmia2
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,662
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    They didn't raise the water line? That's OK. But you think they may have lowered the boiler water line? That is NOT OK. That can create all kinds of odd misbehaviour and outright havoc out in the rest of the piping.

    Less likely with 1 pipe but it all depends on what is happening with the returns.