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Steamhead Member Posts: 16,723
I have no doubt there's someone close to you who can straighten things out. Have you tried the Find a Professional page of this site?

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


  • Frank Dobbs
    Frank Dobbs Member Posts: 27
    Absolution? Whose?

    My steam boiler is too large.

    On another thread, Bill Nye wrote:

    >>you could triple the size of you house? Or, you could buy the right size boiler. You are trying to defy the laws of physics.

    >>Dan wrote an article a while back about a man looking for absolution. We really deep down want some one to tell us it will be all right.

    >>I think in this case your sin will not be forgiven. [ I'm refering to the boiler selection , not your moral character] <<

    For two years every installer I brought to my house refused to bid on the job of replacing my old oil boiler with a new gas one or else proved himself obviously incompetent. (My oil tanks were rusting out every few years, so the change was called for.)

    Finally, my advisor, a retired plumber, very competent and honest, advised me to split the installation of a new gas line from installing the boiler.

    This worked. A neighborhood plumber installed the new gas line. But was required to redo work so many times by the gas inspector that he claimed that he lost money on the job.

    My advisor recommended another plumber to install the boiler. It was clearly a mistake to mention that I might build a small addition someday. But I was a diligent consumer. I had already read an entire book on domestic oil burners. And I became aware of this site. So I told the plumber to forget about an addition that might never get built. And, whatever he did, not to oversize the boiler. In fact, I said, I would rather it were a little undersized rather than oversized.

    A year later, he told me that he had, in fact, oversized the boiler. You can imagine his reasoning: "Well, the client may build that 300SF extension and forget that he told me he would use supplemental heating if he did. And then, who knows what will happen, he may build another extension, so let me use a larger margin of oversizing than usual. That way I'll be safe." My mistake was to trust him. He just had to listen to me, and he would have installed the right size boiler. My other mistake was even to assume that his calculations were correct. Nowadays, I do them all myself and ask the professionals what they think.

    Now, two years ago my fancy French restaurant tenant moved out from the first floor. My wife wanted to expand our living space, so we converted it to residential. Clearly the restaurant's steam/forced air heat exchanger had to go, especially since their ductwork undermined a structural wall in an 180 year old building.

    During the contract bid phase, I must have spoken to 5 or 6 installers. None of them impressed me.

    My general contractor's HVAC subcontractor delayed things for months while he lolled around in Florida. He sneered at my computerized heat loss/gain calculations. He fought with me to try to vastly oversize the AC system. I used someone else for the AC who seems to have done a competent job and was less than half the cost. As a result of research, I learned that replacing my radiators with forced air would not give as pleasant a form of heat, so I decided to stay with steam or hydronic for the first floor. Everyone said hydronic was better. No one saw the flaw in the strategy.

    So I started to interview heating contractors. I had learned enough from this site that I could quickly tell that they were all not knowledgeable about steam. I needed better contractors.

    So I consulted a well-known internet heating site. Here I found contractors that were, for the most part, able to communicate their competence. I liked them. I was ready to accept the proposal from one, but I felt something was missing. Then my architect told me about a man he highly recommended who was good with boilers. For several months there was a lack of communication between him and the heating supply company that was happy to sell me designer Italian radiators for my new hydronic heat zone. Since the radiators would take months to get here, I waited for his estimate and had lovely conversations with him. I liked him a lot. Last week he got a major commission and withdrew from my job.

    That's when I read Dan's FAQ on this site, and realized that everyone I talked to about the hydronic heat zone missed the point that it would not work. Then I measured my radiation myself and found that we had our plan defied the laws of physics.

    I actually like learning about the poetry of steam boilers, but it is not my life calling. Life, I'm afraid, is messy. Even consumers that educate themselves and put effort into finding the right contractor can wind up in a mess. Reread the book of Job.
  • Bill Nye
    Bill Nye Member Posts: 221
    Hold On A Minute!

    Mr Dobbs, Please let me issue a profuse apology for my tongue in cheek comment. After I posted it.......... well please forgive me.

    Dan did in fact write an article to that effect and if I can find it I will post a link.

    The amazing thing about steam is , that it is water expanded 1700 times. Your boiler has to produce enough to fill your standing radiation. The closer the boiler is matched to the load, the happier the system works.

    If the boiler is too small it will run forever and never produce enough steam to fill the system , resulting in high fuel bills. If the boiler is too BIG it will cycle often and never find that "sweet spot" or steady state cycle time. Kinda' like "Zen" steam heating.

    I am sorry to hear about your misfortune with contractors. The good ones are usually busy and more difficult to locate. Maybe you can find some one that needs a larger boiler or maybe a swap?
  • Mad Dog
    Mad Dog Member Posts: 2,595
    Sorry you couldn't find a real steam guy

    there are several here and we are spaced out pretty far among the 50 states. If one were not close enough to do the installation, a site consulatation could have been arranged - Steamhead will go anywhere in the USA! Bill Nye is good people, I'm sure he was just having a little fun with you. Mad Dog

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  • Weezbo
    Weezbo Member Posts: 6,232
    hello :)

    This is a bit curious to me,as you are well educated and also There how are the fuel oil tanks capeable of rusting out every few years? .... If as you say you have remodeled the steam forced air aspect,out of the equasion,how would a steam >hydronic plate exchanger not have been a viable option? i have run radiant floor heat from them...is there something distinctly particular about the old steam boiler was it built 1790 or something? I have converted old steam coal fired to oil hydronic and hey they work too. to me i seem to be not seeing how you cannot find someone who can do a respectable job.maybe you should hire out the selection of a contractor to a GC and let the guy do his work in peace.The GC wont hire Renta Drunk as his licence is on the line,the inspectors; his and the citys ,and the mechanicals, are certain to deal with any minor technicalities that arise.sometimes the edyucated homeowner doesnt see all the finer aspects in a job and over looks various items of note.inspectors occasionally do the same,some times just another perspective or a change of perspective is sufficent to improve some parameter of the work...i am fairly certain one of a host of guys apprentisces could designe a means to not rust out oil tanks in a gleam of a tigers eye.
  • ed wallace
    ed wallace Member Posts: 1,613

    ok you say your oil tanks were rusting out every few yrs are they in a wet basement because oil tanks normally last many yrs maybe you cant get a contracter because you drive them nuts

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  • Constantin
    Constantin Member Posts: 3,796

    Reading your long tale of woe, some questions start to crop up. I'm a homeowner myself, and terrifyingly at that, an engineer.

    You start off your thread with the statement that your oil tanks are rusting out constantly. Was this internal or external rust?
    • If it was external rust, what was causing it? Our 30+ year old oil tank was fine in a damp basement... until the foundation corner caved in and broke one of its legs. If the tank is painted prior to install with a durable paint, it should be pretty rust-proof on the exterior.
    • If it was internal rust, the fuel that is being delivered to your home is contaminated heavily. The tanks would have to get cleaned, bioicides added, etc. Happens all the time in the marine industry (diesel = heating fuel).
    • The only other remote possibility I can think of is stray voltage. But that should only manifest itself at fittings where dissimilar metals are in or near contact, right? Easy enough to fix though, simply ground the pipes, tank, the rest of the heating system, and most importantly your electrical and telephone system well.
    Anyway, consider Roth safety tanks... plastic tank on the inside won't rust. The exterior galvanized sheet metal should be easy enough to keep dry.

    The next question mark your post raises is the oversized system that was allegedly installed. From the very limited information I see here, you performed a heat gain/heat loss calculation and then proceeded to let an installer install a piece of equipment that was grossly oversized. Call me crazy, but if you went through all the trouble of establishing your heating needs, why did you not look that the IBR rating of the boiler your installer brought to the job site?

    Then you go on to tell us about that French restaurant moving out and getting the heating and cooling sorted out down below. Now, if the boiler that was installed for the rest of the house is vastly oversized, could you perhaps use it to service the entire house, including the space that was formerly occupied by your tenant? You may have to convert the steam units to water, but that should not be a huge problem.

    If the radiators do not heat well enough with water as opposed to steam, consider adding either a furnace or a hydro-air exchanger to your AC system. Then use that as a two-stage heat control - heat is delivered by the radiators to a certain point, then the hydro-air or furnace kicks in to supplement to missing BTU's. BTW, could you be so kind and educate us why the contractor is adamant about installing a larger system than you're calling for with your heat loss calcs?

    I'm very sorry to hear about all the problems you're having with contractors. It's frustrating to be shunted aside as they race to other jobs, usually jobs done by builders that have a long, re-occuring relationship with them. Contractors know full well that you're not going to give them another job every 2 months like a GC would. Therefore it is in their economic self-interest to ignore you and please the GC. Thus, find a well-respected GC and your scheduling problems will go away. Of course, it costs 10-20% extra...

    Anyway, I hope that everything gets sorted out eventually and that you'll be happy with the house when you're done.
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