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Thoughts on steam boiler failures aside from excessive make up water .

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clammy
clammy Member Posts: 3,111
edited April 2 in Strictly Steam
I was recently asked about my thoughts on the prevalance of the alarming rate of steam boiler failures caused by holes . I had stated that I felt most where due to either water side leaks ,main vents and garbage radiator vents and that make up water and it high tds levels did not help .
After a little more thought and about it re visiting the supply house I frequent and spoke w owner and asked him being he s been in the business and exposed to this issue for a great number of years . I asked in all your years in the supply bussines before electronic low water cut off was your loading dock filled w steam boiler w holes and he exclaimed No . I then asked him and we discussed that aside from my thoughts on the reasoning I became kinda clear in my minds eye that when boilers had a mech float type lwco that the lwco would be flushed ,correct right . Well if ya think a little further how bout this ,now w electronic lwco no one flushes except when and if the boiler gets a yearly or bi yearly flushing and wanding if ever .
So what does this mean let’s think if you have leaks and are losing water and adding to make up over time that tds level will be much greater then the source that it comes from . This thought doesn’t sound like much but please keep in mind the higher the tds levels of the water in your boiler the more chance for those tds to attach to the cast and build up which we all know is the why to how we get holes in boilers above the water line .
So back to the supply house as we spoke I asked if ions ago when there where no electronic lwco just float type how many boiler can in under warranty for holes and failure he replied zero stated that over 20 years ago they failed due to zero lwco maintance ,lwco failure and or dry fire or simply age or up grade from coal to oil to finally a gas fired unit but now there’s boilers on the dock only 2 to 3 years old .
What is your thoughts on high tds level which will increase the ec of the fluid increasing corrosion ? Am I wrong in thinking that small leaks and make up water without any flushing shall and will increase both tds and ec increasing corrosion ? Being I ve had customers w float type lwco who flushed there lwco bi weekly and the boilers keep going no holes . I kinda think that where all told to keep make up water to a mim and to fire her up after filling to help lower o2 level, good thing . As of the last few years I ve been adding califfee de mineralized and minor chemicals for anti corrosion and o2 scavenger for some type of minor protection .
I really think maybe it’s not the small leaks and make up water but the fact that w no flushing the tds level just get higher and higher ,gotta wonder . I will say that I will be checking tds ,ec and ph on some steam boiler I regularly service most have de mineralized filters but still got a few without but there tight systems which see only a few gallons a season . In defense in my area the water is horrid some areas untreated the tds is above 500 ppm at best it averages 280 and water softens only worsen the issue and is not recommended by most boiler manufactures.
Peace and good luck clammy
Thoughts please
R.A. Calmbacher L.L.C. HVAC
NJ Master HVAC Lic.
Mahwah, NJ
Specializing in steam and hydronic heating
Mad Dog_2bburd

Comments

  • Intplm.
    Intplm. Member Posts: 1,949
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    Leaks will occur due a number of things as you surely know @clammy.
    Im thinking that work ethic of past generations helped immensely. Steam boilers were installed when people worked on daily tasks around their homes. Boiler maintenance being just one of them. Brings to mind piston pumps with cup leathers used inside the home taking the place of the hand pump for water. Work habits, like materials and inventions are a form of evolution. We, as our business is evolving. Adding accessories that did not exist decades ago.
    Water issues have always been there. Each system would need to be treated differently than the other.
    One other reason leaks occur is due to near boiler piping not being piped properly. The push nipples leaked/leak over time. The last boiler I took apart, the sections were some of the easiest I ever hammered and chiseled apart. You could see where the leaks were. The stains on the sections, most were leaking.
    I have found well water to be more of an issue then city water.
    Water leaks will occur but less so with boiler chemistry practices for commercial boilers and a form of water treatment for residential boilers.
    It all comes down to proper installation and maintenance.
    GGross
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,677
    edited April 2
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    I'll add my input which is extremely limited as far as experience and samples but I'll share what I know.

    When I moved into my house in 2011 it had a Burnham V83.
    Records with it had shown the block had rotted out and was replaced after only 3 years. At that time the replacement was 5 years old and I had fount it too was leaking. So, two boilers in 8 years?

    I found a runout in a crawlspace had a pretty bad leak and had it repaired. After that pipe was replaced the radiator no longer heated which, my assumption is that leak was drilled and was to make the radiator work, leaking a ton of condensate into the crawl space. So, I guess that 1/8" hole was someone's cheap solution to bad pitch. Looking back, I guess that cheap solution cost at least two boilers, possibly others before those.

    The V83 had an autofeeder and a #67 and the rest of the system wasn't terrible as far as packing nuts etc.

    When I installed my EG series and ran it with plain water it looked like chocolate milk which is why I started using Steamaster. My EG series just passed it's 13th season and the water always seems fine. I flush the system and replace the Steamaster every 2 or 3 years which washes out any minerals etc and gets fresh treatment in it. I only manually feed right at the start of a cycle and do not have an autofeeder. My reasoning is this gets the fresh water boiled as soon as possible.

    Right next door was an Ideal Redflash from the 1920's that took on a lot of water. It was manually fed but the entire system leaked, from almost every packing nut at the radiators to a lot of the air vents. The guy there dumped the #67 weekly and fed the boiler manually. The gallons per week that was added was mind boggling. Yet, the boiler didn't seem to care?

    That boiler was ripped out by new owners sometime around 2017. I assume the boiler was actually fine.

    Our water seems to be quite hard, but pH runs around 7, nothing seems too terrible about it from a boiler perspective.
    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
    Intplm.
  • Mustangman
    Mustangman Member Posts: 92
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    One thing to keep in mind. In 1987 the Fed established minimum efficiency standards. They have been adjusted over the years. Pre 87, especially with steam boilers they were manufactured using heavy cast iron as their heat exchanger. The only way many cast iron boilers would reach the higher efficiency requirements was to shead some weight. With these heavier boilers, their stack temperatures were too high to get the efficiencies in the 80s. Lighter cast sections would transfer the heat much better than heavier models allowing for lower stack temperatures and higher AFUE. Take a guess what the trade off is for lighter boilers? Shorter life because of the leaks in the thinner castings.
    Not saying this is your issue. Boilers leaking after 5 years is far from the norm. Water quality is very important to any boiler, steam or HW. Check there first. Look for steam and condensate leaks.
    Have you reached out to Burnham? They make a heck of a boiler especially the V8
    SteamedInNJ
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,524
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    Water quality as @clammy mentioned

    Thinner castings as @Mustangman mentioned

    Also the MFGs have been pushing the rating on the boilers up & up over the years
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,287
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    Some boilers have o-ring seals between sections. Only they weren't o-rings. They were circles, yes, but the cross-section is square. It is possible to install them with a twist if you are careless, and while a twisted one will seal at first, it will leak very quickly -- and the leak will ruin the groove the ring fits in, which ruins the two sections...

    Please don't ask how i know. Something about an overall knucklehead install... about two decades ago... which started me on learning about steam (thank you, Noel Murdaugh and @Charlie from wmass _)
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • 109A_5
    109A_5 Member Posts: 1,385
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    DHW tanks have Anode rod(s) to slow down the dilapidation of the tank. And you can buy electric powered Anode rod for DHW tanks.

    Could the engineering of the electronic LWCO circuitry and probe actually act as a Cathode rod ? So it has the opposite affect as an Anode rod ?


    National - U.S. Gas Boiler 45+ Years Old
    Steam 300 SQ. FT. - EDR 347
    One Pipe System
    Intplm.
  • Charlie from wmass
    Charlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,322
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    I think @clammy you were right at the very start of your post. Excess water due to poor system maintenance. The electronic lwco is coincidental not causation with the leaks imho. I try to incorporate a water meter on system feeds either in the water feeder or as a standalone unit. Water quality including chloromides instead of chlorine is something I think needs more research. Over all stupid installers are also to blame.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/charles-garrity-plumbing-and-heating
    clammy
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 22,143
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    now more than ever, for the reasons you mentioned, water quality should not be ignored.
    A cleaner first in all new and repaired systems.

    Pay attention to the water spec in the manual, or as the industry suggests. Most all the water manufacturers have added more water quality info. Ph, chlorides, hardness, TDS.

    I also fell a conditioner in HW or steam helps protect those thinner metals and castings.

    The rub is it adds a few additional trips and $$ to the job to do it right. So it doesn't get done often enough.

    https://rhomarwater.com/pdf/Boiler Pro 903_Product Brochure.pdf
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
    Charlie from wmass
  • Sylvain
    Sylvain Member Posts: 122
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    Shouldn't residential boiler be built to accept distribution potable water in the first place?
    I understand industrial boilers could be more restrictive about water quality.
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,677
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    Sylvain said:

    Shouldn't residential boiler be built to accept distribution potable water in the first place?
    I understand industrial boilers could be more restrictive about water quality.


    A lot of things should be but they often aren't. :(

    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
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,287
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    Sylvain said:

    Shouldn't residential boiler be built to accept distribution potable water in the first place?
    I understand industrial boilers could be more restrictive about water quality.

    Nice idea. But distribution potable water varies over a remarkably wide range in terms of water chemistry -- particularly for total dissolved solids and chlorides -- which are particularly damaging at levels well below acceptable potable water values. Yes, you could build a boiler to take the worst case water for a while, but you couldn't sell it. Too expensive.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,677
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    Sylvain said:

    Shouldn't residential boiler be built to accept distribution potable water in the first place?
    I understand industrial boilers could be more restrictive about water quality.

    Nice idea. But distribution potable water varies over a remarkably wide range in terms of water chemistry -- particularly for total dissolved solids and chlorides -- which are particularly damaging at levels well below acceptable potable water values. Yes, you could build a boiler to take the worst case water for a while, but you couldn't sell it. Too expensive.
    What was so special about my neighbors Ideal Redflash? Surely it wasn't just thickness.
    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
  • Charlie from wmass
    Charlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,322
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    Thickness and lack of fresh water input. That's how boilers last. I add water 2 times annually and I have snowman boilers. I also repair any leaks. Boilers are 105 and 84 years old with no leaking. That's what inch thick cast iron does.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/charles-garrity-plumbing-and-heating
    PC7060
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,677
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    Thickness and lack of fresh water input. That's how boilers last. I add water 2 times annually and I have snowman boilers. I also repair any leaks. Boilers are 105 and 84 years old with no leaking. That's what inch thick cast iron does.

    And we're sure the cast iron in a new boiler is the exact same as those 100 year old ones, thickness aside?
    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
  • Charlie from wmass
    Charlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,322
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    I am sure it is not the same, more recycled iron less fresh ore. 
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/charles-garrity-plumbing-and-heating
  • Waher
    Waher Member Posts: 251
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    Old steam chests may have done a better job rapidly deoxygenating water than modern boilers which often have less than ideal near boiler piping at headers.
    Intplm.
  • Intplm.
    Intplm. Member Posts: 1,949
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    Waher said:

    Old steam chests may have done a better job rapidly deoxygenating water than modern boilers which often have less than ideal near boiler piping at headers.

    Absolutely! Excellent point.
  • Charlie from wmass
    Charlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,322
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    Show of hands please, who has had to take a sledgehammer and smash a part of boiler. I can use a hand drill 3-pounder smash apart a new boiler. I have broken 16 lb sledgehammer from use not from missing and clipping the handle. It's not just the thickness it's the mass. Thermal shock from the return water is much less of an issue when you have a 30 gallon vessel versus a 9 gallon vessel. It is also much less when you have 2,000 lb of mass between water and cast iron versus 600 lb of mass. I have always felt that the use of electronic low water cutoffs should extend the life of a boiler because they mean less introduction of freshwater to a system than the float style low water cutoffs. 
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/charles-garrity-plumbing-and-heating
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,677
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    I took apart my V8.
    I'm almost positive I followed your instructions @Charlie from wmass
    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