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Julian Ku
Julian Ku Member Posts: 43
What to do? Just replace a low water cut off? What do we look for in an annual boiler maintenance? We had our oil burner serviced yesterday and the technician spent a long time testing our McDonnell water cut off and concluded the water cut off piece is not working properly. Water kept on being fed from the automatic feeder into the boiler as evident by the rising water level line on the water gauge and it just kept going and going. He said something about how there may be a delay, something about how when the water cut off is on, the boiler does not shut down right away. So is the water cut off the only culprit and the only thing that needs to be replaced? We have not had the annual maintenance on our boiler serviced yet.

A respected steam expert, Tom, had been working on this very issue for us when he unexpectedly passed away in February. At that point, my wife had noticed that the water level in the water gauge was totally full. We called the steam expert and we also told him that when we go to flush the boiler once a week, the boiler sometimes would not shut down when I use the water cut off valve. The steam expert (rightly) reprimanded us we should have called him right away when we noticed the latter issue happening. (He had been taking care of our system for over two years. Our new Burnham boiler was installed in 2010 and had tons of problems which subsequently seemed to be fixed. Many pieces had to be replaced in the first year of operations. We posted this starting in Nov./Dec. 2010.) He came over and did something and said he would be back to finish what he had to do when he called to say he need to reschedule. We learned a few weeks later he passed away. We think he may have cleaned the water, perhaps by totally draining the system? In any event, my wife was apprehensive about using the system but under the advice of another steam expert, we were told it should be ok to use and that the water cut off part can be replaced before the beginning of the next heating season which brings us to now.

This brings us to now. When the oil burner technician banged on the water cut off piece, he would be able to get the water feeder to stop feeding additional water. So, what do we need to do now? We miss the steam expert Tom who had serviced both the boiler and burner side and who was just great person. As part of the annual maintenance, we think he drained the entire boiler and did other stuff? Going forward, do we need to get a non-burner annual maintenance and if so, what should it entail? What should we ask for? And is the water cut off piece the only thing to fix?

Comments

  • icesailor
    icesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    Banging on something like a water feeder/safety device to get it to work or stop feeding which is part if the operation of the device isn't a fix, it is a part of a symptom that needs to be addresses immediately. It isn't going to get better. Only worse.
  • RobG
    RobG Member Posts: 1,850
    Where are you located? There may be someone from this site who services your area.

    Rob
  • Julian Ku
    Julian Ku Member Posts: 43
    In response to Icesailor's comment, we are waiting to get the low water cut off device replaced. As to RobG's comment, Dan H. had asked around for us and was unable to find someone. Thanks for your comments!
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,310
    That low water cutoff has to be repaired or replaced, it's vital that it work properly. Hopefully it can be rebuilt and doesn't have to be replaced.

    In my opinion automatic water feeders should not be used unless the boiler is going to be unattended for a period of time. They are prone to misbehaving and they encourage people to ignore the boiler.

    A steam boiler should be looked at every day or every other day to make sure nothing is amiss. I probably add a little (1/2 inch or so) water once every 3 or 4 weeks. If you have to add water nore than that you probably have a leek somewhere.

    I have never had a auto water feeder (60 years with steam) but I do inspect the boiler at least 3X a week.

    Bob
    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • Julian Ku
    Julian Ku Member Posts: 43
    Thank you for your comment, BobC. Really, only 1/2 inch or so of water needed to be added every 3 or 4 weeks? I will monitor this going forward. Relatedly, how much water should be drained weekly from the water cut off valve? Perhaps we have been draining too much water, waiting until the water is very clear before turning off the valve. And we will inspect the as you suggested.

    Also, lastly, is it recommended to have a beginning of heating season annual maintenance check on the boiler in addition to the burner service check we just had? If yes, what exactly does that entail? I think the steam expert, Tom, who had worked on our system for the last two years and passed away in Feb., did drain the entire boiler, as did the heating contractors who had worked on our system before him. But perhaps this is not necessary? I have to say that during the recent burner service call, when the technician had to bang on the water cut off device to stop the auto water feeder from feeding more water, there seemed to be a lot of sludge-like, black, thick, oily stuff stuff and came out when he turned open the water cut-off valve. He tested the water turn-off experiment 4 or 5 times, and the water did get clearer over time. But it would seem that there may be oil or something stuck in the water cut off piece? Why would that (all that oil, etc...) happen if we are vigilant about draining it once a week and when we had a very good steam expert who serviced our boiler for two years? This is why I am somewhat confused whether our water in the boiler is dirty and needs to be drained thoroughly. Thank you.
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,310
    My boiler has an electronic low water cut off so I don't drain water weekly to clean I do drain enough water a couple of times a year to make sure it is working.

    On a float type of low water cutoff you should draIn water until it runs clear and then add water to replace what you have drained. If the water is dropping between flushings I would be concerned I might have a leak somewhere. Steam boilers do not have to be drained yearly; you don't want to add fresh water to a steam boiler unless you are replacing water that you drained because the oxygen in the water is not good for the cast iron.

    The low water cutoff should be disassembled and cleaned every year when the boiler gets it's yearly maintenance. If you are seeing a lot of debris in the water, the boiler may have to be skimmed to remove any oils in the water. draining the boiler just deposits those oils onto the cast iron and when you refill the boiler the oils mix with the new water.

    If that low water cut off has not been taken apart and cleaned there might be a lot of crud in there. Once that has been cleaned and repaired, or replaced see if the water looks any cleaner when you do the weekly blow downs.

    Bob
    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • Julian Ku
    Julian Ku Member Posts: 43
    Bob, Besides disassembling and cleaning the low water cutoff, what else should be done for a boiler's yearly maintenance? Thank you.
  • Julian Ku
    Julian Ku Member Posts: 43
    Bob, I am trying to figure out whether our heating contractors have skimmed our 4-year old Burnham boiler during its annual maintenance. If skimming is done properly, should skimming be needed again? Presumably, it depends on how much oil is in the boiler? If proper skimming had been performed, is there any other reason we could be seeing dirty water?
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,310
    Skimming only has to be done after any piping changes or the replacement of the boiler. It takes a long time to properly skim a boiler and sometimes it has to be done several times to get all the oil out of the water.

    There are different steps to annual service depending on it being a gas boiler or an oil boiler. A lot of companies want the men to do 8 cleanouts a day and it's hard to do a good job in that amount of time. Don't expect a good job if you shop the lowest price.

    Annual service should consist of cleaning the combustion area, checking / replacing nozzles and filters (or pilot assemblies and flame rods) checking the flue, cleaning the low water cutoff, and performing a combustion test with a meter to make sure everything is working ok. There was a list on here at one time of what should be done, perhaps someone will post a link to it.

    Bob
    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge