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Problematic Gas Steam Boiler System? Soot, Leaking(?) Pipes, Corrosion, High Gas Bill, Etc.

MoniMA Member Posts: 1

I've been living in my apartment for nine months and have had numerous problems with the gas steam boiler heating system. I was looking for some advice as to whether this is a real issue, or if I am just wrong in my assessments/concerns, (as I am not an HVAC technician or Plumber.)

  • Initially one of the radiators didn't work, and two of the other radiators only got half hot.
  • A plumber came and replaced the steam release valve on the radiator that wasn't working. I was told the radiators not heating up all the way was normal, because of the cycle the hot steam took on it's way to the radiators.
  • Two months after moving in, my boiler started leaking, and needed to be replaced. My landlord also told me that the boiler was only a couple of years old, and he didn't understand why it was leaking.
  • The radiators whistle quite loudly when the heat was on.
  • The radiator in my daughter's room was spitting out what looked like iron/rust colored dust and it was coating the radiator and everything around it.
  • I noticed that in the basement there was one long stretch of insulated steam pipe that appeared to be leaking through the insulation.
  • I heard a gurgling/whistling noise while the heat was running and I was doing laundry in the basement, followed the noise, and saw a bunch of steam pipes that looked as if they were corroded/leaking. The insulation was crumbling apart on the pipes, and there appeared to be a lot of pipe corrosion. (Iron/rust colored dust, moisture on the boxes below the pipes.) The gurgling/whistling was coming from a open pipe that was covered with the rusty dust and spitting out hot steam.
  • I noticed that the water in my new boiler was already completely red/brown with floating sludge in it.
  • The walls in my living room started to get these black soot-looking stains on them - especially around the radiator. (I do not burn candles or smoke.) There were also black soot-looking stains in the entryway where a steam pipe ran up to the floor upstairs. I noticed that the hole around the pipe was full of black cobweb-looking stuff, which I believe are something called soot-tags? Reading up about this issue, I saw that this could be caused by something called puff back, or back drafting. Checking the chimney flue clean-out, I saw that the chimney was completely clogged. I also noticed that the top of the water heaters had evidence of back drafting, (Corroded fixtures.) My windows also have what I believe is evidence of back drafting, as they have "soot" looking stains on the tops of the window frames, and evidence of condensation. (Mold on the inside and outside, as well as condensation marks on the glass.)
  • Four months after the boiler was replaced, the radiators started to make this awful smell when the heat came on, and then the radiator in my daughter's room made a loud noise and started spewing out rust colored steam and water. I was worried the smell was gas and turned the heat off.
  • I told my landlord about the pipes that looked like they were corroded and leaking, showed him the soot stains and the cleanout on the chimney, as well as the top of the water heaters, and called him when the heaters started smelling, spitting out water. He told me he forwarded the information about it to the HVAC technician, (who he had come over,) and that we should just let him look and figure it out. He told me the gurgling/whistling pipe was normal, and said he would look into the pipes that were corroded and leaking. (He didn't.) And he said he would send over a chimney sweep to clean out the flue to make sure the boiler was venting properly.
  • The HVAC technician said that: The steam release valve on the radiator in my daughter's room just needed to be replaced. (This was the same one he replaced four months prior.) My boiler seems to be perfectly fine. That I couldn't be smelling gas when the heat was on, because a gas boiler doesn't work that way. And that he had no idea what could cause the black soot marks on the wall around the radiator, but it wasn't from the boiler. However, he was here for an hour and a half, and I heard him talking with someone on the phone, saying he didn't know what was causing the pressure problems. He also said that my water looked like "chocolate milk." As far as I know he did not look at any pipes, only the boiler.
  • After the HVAC technician left, I turned on the heat again, smelled the gross smell, and this time water and steam began spewing out of my dining room radiator.
  • A chimney sweep came over to clean out the chimney/flue. I let him in when he came over, and I was supposed to give him a check that my landlord left after he was done. My landlord called me a short while later to tell me that the chimney sweep was gone, and that it was all set, even though I didn't give him the check. Not too long ago I checked the clean out again out of curiosity, and it is still clogged.
  • About a month ago I received a past due notice from national Grid for my gas, (I had assumed it was being auto-debited from my account like my electric was - it's the same company.) To my shock, I saw that from November to April, my gas bill was about $400 a month! The only things the gas is connected to are my steam boiler and my hot water heater. I take maybe two showers a week, and during the winter, kept my apartment at about 68 degrees. There are three units in the house, and each of us has a separate water heater and boiler. The range/dryer are electric. I asked one of the neighbors if they would mind if I asked what their gas bill was, and they told me they paid $114.00 dollars in April for both gas and electric combined. My bills for April combined were almost $500.
  • The gas company came over to check my gas line for leaks. In their words, they found one very tiny leak and patched it. However, they said a leak of that size wouldn't have caused a high gas bill. They said I would have to have a certified plumbing inspector come over and look at the steam pipes if I was worried there was an issue with them.

I live on the first floor, right over the basement. My concerns are that this is a serious issue, but everyone seems to be dismissing me like nothing is wrong. I am a single mom and I live here with my daughter, so I just want to make sure that I'm not putting her or myself in a situation that is a health or safety risk. I have called home inspectors or plumbing/heating companies just to see if I could get another opinion, or figure out what is going on, but no one will come look at the heating/plumbing without my landlord's consent because it's a liability for them. I attached numerous pictures, and was hoping someone might be able to offer me advice here. I guess my questions are:

Is there evidence of improper venting/back drafting into my walls? Could I have been smelling gas?

Could the leaking/corroded pipes be a reason for my high gas bill?

Also, I noticed that all the automatic water feeders on all three boilers are only connected to the pipes on my water heater. I believe from what I have read that it does not pull hot water from the water heater, so this wouldn't be affecting my gas bill in any way, correct?

Thanks in advance for any help you can give!


    STEAM DOCTOR Member Posts: 2,040

    Lot going on here. Which boiler is yours? You really need eyes on the ground. Where are you located ?

    STEAM DOCTOR Member Posts: 2,040

    None of these problems that you are describing are normal or remotely close to acceptable. Tell landlord they get fixed up or you're moving. And heads could roll, if he gets reported to appropriate authorities.

  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,635

    As @STEAM DOCTOR says, none of what you have described is either normal or desirable. In fact, it sounds like a steam system in really tough shape.

    That said, steam system are usually more or less easily brought back into good condition — but only by people who know what they are doing. Your landlord needs to get someone in there to get things straight — including, by the way, another chimney sweep.

    Where are you located? We may know someone competent in your area. The sooner you get on this the better — yes, it's summer now, but summer doesn't last forever.

    And, by the way, it's your landlord's responsibility to get all this fixed.

    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,833

    If the gas company didn't find any leaks then I wouldn't worry about a gas leak. I see 1 newer boiler that looks like the installer knew what he was doing it looks like it is piped right from what I can see. The other older boiler is piped wrong. Not saying it is unsafe.

    What does concern me is it looks like someone used black duct tape to patch a flue pipe.

    I would suggest maybe calling or having your landlord call a good service company. maybe the one that installed the newer boiler to come, and combustion test all the gas equipment in the basement and check for CO (carbon monoxide). A combustion test of your boiler may help pinpoint the high gas bill.

    It would also be a good idea for you to pick up a few carbon monoxide detectors if you don't have them (they sell plug in type that plug into an electrical outlet)

    It is hard to say why you have high gas bills without seeing the equipment run.

    You might post your location (city or town and state) someone may have a recommendation as far as a service provider and you can check "find a contractor" on this site.

  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 17,003

    @MoniMA said: "My landlord called me a short while later to tell me that the chimney sweep was gone, and that it was all set, even though I didn't give him the check. Not too long ago I checked the clean out again out of
    curiosity, and it is still clogged."

    That chimney sweep didn't do squat. Call the landlord and tell them to get a different one. If he refuses, get in touch with the city housing department.

    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service