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Should I replace copper header?

My 80 year old home with a 2 steam pipe system had a new boiler installation around 1990. I assume that the installer wanted to (1) do minimal work and (2) was more adept with copper piping than iron. Regardless, as part of my effort to tune the system, I removed the insulation from the header and found that it is half copper.

Copper Parts in the Header
I assume that the installer did not want to mess with the existing massive 4 inch iron header, and that he couldn't place the boiler right under the header because of some self imposed space constraints. So he piped some 3 inch copper elbows to connect the boiler to the existing iron header: The copper rises vertically 10 inches from the boiler, takes a 90 degree turn for a 10 inch horizontal run, and then hits another 90 degrees for a 12 inch rise to the flange of the original iron header.

Goofy Vent
In addition, the arbitrary location of the boiler causes a goofy line for the vent: it rises from the back of the boiler, comes straight to the front, and then turns right for the chimney.

Click here for a sketch and two pictures of the bare header.

I examined the copper parts of the header and found no evidence of exterior corrosion or leaks (unlike the other copper near boiler piping (but that's a question for another post).
  • Should I replace the copper pipes? I assume so because it is only a matter of time before they fail.
  • Is the 10" horizontal portion of the risers a detriment to steam travel? If so I will need to move the original header or move the boiler, which is OK: my plan would be to remove the old 4" header and replace it with a header sized according to the boiler's installation manual, as shown here.
  • Should I worry about the vent assembly? If so, then I have to move the boiler and re-pipe not only the header, but also the end of the mains.

    Any advice or comments are appreciated.


  • AbracadabraAbracadabra Posts: 1,948Member
    The header actually looks decent. The concern would be the 3" copper vs. 4" iron. Steam velocity out of the boiler with the 3" copper might be higher than with the 4" iron. Although the 4" header might be the limiting factor. Looks like the minimum required is 2 3" risers into a 3" header with a 2" equalizer. Is there a skim port installed on the boiler? I don't see one in your sketch. I don't understand why the old boiler wasn't removed. You can usually get scrappers to take that out for free. Around here I'd have 4-5 of them show up within 30 minutes if I left out some "bait" metal in the alley. The copper going horizontal isn't optimal, but if it isn't causing issues I wouldn't worry about it. Smoke pipe seems fine as long as it's full size and pitched properly, 6" from any combustibles.

    Are you having any issues with the system?
  • MountainSteamMountainSteam Posts: 13Member

    You are correct about the minimum requirements for the header.

    I'm not sure what a skim port looks like - I've read about them but haven't seen any pictures - but I assume a skim port would be on the left side of the boiler, and I see nothing there (click here and scroll down a bit for some pictures).

    I have a local guy who will remove the old boiler parts, but I'll have to remove a network of copper pipes around the feed tank to get him access - which may be OK.

    I'm having some issues with the system's traps, the pressuretrol, the the fact that one of the returns is pressurized instead of going to the feed tank, and that there are cracks in the copper pipes between the equalizer and the boiler.

    Otherwise, the steam seems to rise well into the mains, and the copper elbows that are part of the header look sound.
  • AbracadabraAbracadabra Posts: 1,948Member
    Skim port should be where your relief valve connects to boiler. You could install a tee there to provide a skim port.
  • MountainSteamMountainSteam Posts: 13Member
    @Abracadabra, I see no port where the relief valve connects. Here is a picture of the left side of the boiler:

    As you can see, the installer piped the relief valve and the manual reset pressuretrol on top left.
    The right side of the boiler has the operating pressuretrol, and the return from the equalizer.

    So I don't see a skim port. How does the lack of skim port affect me?

  • AbracadabraAbracadabra Posts: 1,948Member
    There is an elbow that comes out of the boiler. That should be the location of the skim port. boiler needs to be skimmed to remove oils on surface of the boiler's waterline.
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