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Problems with water boiler - no LWCO and concerning smell

nick366
nick366 Member Posts: 12
edited October 2017 in Gas Heating
I was hoping to get some helpful information on the boiler at the house I recently purchased, after having issues firing it up for the first time. The house itself is fairly old, but the hot water gas boiler for radiator heating was apparently installed shortly before the sale (Pennco Model 15b). After reading up the details (I am not well versed on this topic) on boiler system components I also have some concerns about the quality of the installation.

So I fired up the boiler up for the first time, and didn't think twice about checking anything. Luckily the fire alarm right next to it in the basement went off soon, so I noticed that the temperature gauge was going up but the pressure was zero. I quickly turned it off, and I can only guess as to why the pressure was zero - water may have leaked out during the summer, someone may have flushed the radiators and not filled it back up.

So first thing I noticed is that the system did not have an auto feeder for water, only a valve to manually fill it up. Is that an issue with the installation, or is it fairly common to not have it installed? Another component that is missing is apparently the LWCO, which I am a bit more concerned about. Why would that not be part of a new installation? Does that raise concerns about the quality of the install work? It seems like if the fire alarm did not go off and I didn't bother to check the pressure, dry firing could have ruined the boiler, am I right? Should I have the LWCO installed as a safety measure, especially without the auto water feeder?

After letting the boiler cool, I filled it with water to about 15PSI, and fired it up again. Everything seems relatively fine, except the alarm was going off again and there was a strong smell of burning plastic/rubber. The boiler temperature was fine, but was rising rather slowly, and I didn't wait until it got to operational temp and shut it down again. Pressure seemed fine as well with no leaks and the supply pipe was getting hot. Does anyone have any input on potential cause of the smell? Could it be the circulator pump, which seemed pretty hot to the touch? Should I try and clean the burners?

Anyway, I realize I need to have someone inspect it, but is it safe to fire up for now given the smell? I want to reach out to the contractor who installed it to, given how recent the installation was. I also understand I should try and bleed radiators, which I can do myself.

Thanks
Nik

Comments

  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 9,822
    Step back and take some pictures and post them here.
    Where are you located?
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 19,150
    No, from what you are saying it is not safe to fire it up. The initial overheat event was enough to set off the fire alarm -- which probably saved your house (and maybe life) but that means that inside the boiler's outer casing things got a whole lot hotter. The fact that it still seems to hold pressure is mildly encouraging, but that's about the end of the good news.

    In my humble (?) opinion, you need to have a really competent person come out and check all the controls and wiring and valves for proper condition and operation -- don't accept any "well, it doesn't look too bad" ones, and verify that everything is hooked up the way it should be.

    Then you can fill it (if you don't have a PRV type fill arrangement, you must have -- in my opinion -- a low water or low pressure cutoff on it) and check that all the pumps and valves actually operate as they should when their controls are operated.

    At this point you can -- and should -- bleed the system and make sure the expansion tank is at the correct pressure.

    Then, and only then, can you fire up the burners and see if they operate as intended.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    Alan Welch
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 12,146
    What @Jamie Hall said is good advise. Don'ttake a chance, get things checked out. You need a PRv to automatically feed water to the boiler.

    You should also have a low water cut off. It's good insurance although it may or may not be code required in your area
  • nick366
    nick366 Member Posts: 12
    edited October 2017
    Thank for the advice, I'll definetely keep it turned off. I will post pictures soon after I get home. But I just found out that the boiler was installed in July, right before I bought the house, and I found out who installed it. As this may now be a major expense, I'll try to have the installer and or the manufacturer address the issues. I am a bit concerned about using the original contractor.

    In any case I think I have a valid case against the installer for negligence.
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 12,146
    Give him a chance to make it right
    delta T
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 9,822
    It may have an "install new boiler to sell" (in used cars it is paint to sell).

    He may not have been paid?

    When he installed it was the house still in drain down winterize mode? Or always occupied? He may not have water in the house for the install.

    Seller could have more "bad" in this than installer does. FWIW

    You could have been the first one to fire it up, how hot did it get?
    Always some new burn off smell on anything new, also.

    Now you realize a LWCO is a good investment along with the PRV.
  • nick366
    nick366 Member Posts: 12
    He was paid, and I am getting the receipts. The house was occupied by the sellers at that point, and it was in July. There is no reason the system should not have been tested and ready for use, right?
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 9,822
    Could the sellers explain why the boiler was drained?
    It typically would be left full under pressure during the summer.
    If drained one would do a large sign or disable the fire.
  • nick366
    nick366 Member Posts: 12
    I can't figure out how to upload images from my phone, but I will give it a try. Burners seem to be clean as far as I can see, and there doesn't appear any scorched wiring.

    As for the burning plastic smell: some of the pictures show what looks like white insulation and black glue of some sort, which seem to be right on the boiler. Could that have been what caused the smell? Does that seem to belong there?
  • nick366
    nick366 Member Posts: 12
    edited October 2017
    Here are the pictures, hopefully I attached them correctly. I took a few inside of the outer casing/cover, of the boiler itself. Can anyone explain what the black plastic/glue -like substance all over the place is? I suspect that is what was giving off the burning odor.

    The expansion tank, by the way, is shown in one of the pictures behind a large wooden beam, and is barely visible. And if anyone is wondering, there are two water heaters in the picture in addition to the boiler, one of which is auxiliary and not being used.
  • leonz
    leonz Member Posts: 530
    edited October 2017
    You have to check the steel expansion tank and make sure it has water and also that it is not water logged.as that may be a big part of the problem. Like Dan says the steel expansion tank just stays mounted up in the ceiling and does its job with no problems.

    The feeder pipe to the steel expansion tank is coming off the right angle check valve from what I can see of it rather than a proper installation with a sloped pipe run.

    Your boiler needs a low water cut off installed as the very first thing that receives power BEFORE the burner does to shut the the boiler off in the event of a low water condition.

    The other two things you have to check on are whether they installed an automatic air vent BOOO, HISSS, with the new boiler some where-if they did it has to come out and you have to check the steel expansion tank to see if it has an airtrol valve to remove the microbubbles out of the boiler water.

    MY first steel expansion tank which I wish I still had it(the plumber that put in my wood boiler ripped it out 35 years ago) GRRRRRR.

    I am not sure if the the black goo you see is gasket rubber from the sections of the boiler if it does not have a welded steam chest and if it is gasket rubber UGHHHH!!!!!! NOT GOOD!!!

  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 9,822
    Did you have a real estate agent or lawyer represent you....not the seller....for this transaction?? If not then you may need the later.

    This might sound like a rant...having dealt with landlord/ladies and tenants.

    I don't know the terms but there is a assumed functioning of the basic system of a house when you buy it. IMO.
    Unless you are looking for a real (trashed out) fix-it-upper there are things that are assumed to be in working order. You expect the lights/outlets to function without tripping breakers or starting a fire. The toilet should flush 10 times in a row without backing up into the basement floor drain. There should be singles on the roof, and just about have no leaks. The water system should hold water most of the time. There should be hot water, it could die within a week but at that point you own it. You expect to turn the heat up and get some rise in temperature of the building. Not have the smoke alarm go off on first fire.
    IMO, this looks like the "paint to sale used car". Usually you would use a few fittings/pipe to square the boiler up with the space it is in. Was this a "flip" house?

    Now you should check with the authorities in charge if a permit was needed for this boiler change out and if one was pulled......and if an inspection was done. Also if a LWCO is required even if the radiation is above the boiler. (there may be a difference).

    Someone here knows if that boiler has push nipples or rubber gaskets between the sections. The black goo could be those gaskets. IDK as I only see existing old stuff.

    If melted gaskets then eventually this thing could leak at that point.
    If so then a teardown or replacement is in order IMO.

    Whoever left the boiler dry and ready to fire should be held accountable. Again IMO.

    There is more but I better move on before this sounds like a Rant.
  • nick366
    nick366 Member Posts: 12
    edited October 2017
    This was not a flip house and the previous owners from whom I bought it took good care of it elsewhere, which is why I do not suspect it was "paint to sale used car". The house was sold as "ready for use" with everything functioning. I also got receipt for the work, with $3,250 spent on the install.

    I did meet with the installing contractor, who was certain that the boiler had a factory installed LWCO, which we confirmed with Pennco it did not (the new series of that model does actually). He also assured me he left the boiler with water, and seemed very certain it could not have been completely drained and dry. He is offering to install the LWCO for free it I buy the part - do you think I should trust his work at this point or is this throwing good money after bad? But getting an independent opinion will cost me more money still. There is no way out of this.

    Now here is my question. If the pressure shows near zero does that mean there is no water in the entire heating system or just not sufficient amount of water? He said the system has 80+ gallons and could not have possibly been dry.

    Also, 4 days ago we filled the boiler up to 15psi and it stood cold. Now it is back down to 5psi, but I can't see any leaks anywhere. Why is it continuing to lose pressure?

    According to the manufacturer brochure, this boiler has cast iron push nipples. So what could the black goo be?
  • Leon82
    Leon82 Member Posts: 684
    edited October 2017
    It can be at 0 pressure and be full.

    If the leak is low in the system it can drain till empty.

    Are there any pipes in overhangs or walls where a leak would go in noticed?

    But it was filled and some air worked it's way to an air eliminator it could explain why it dropped pressure without a leak
  • nick366
    nick366 Member Posts: 12
    So if the pressure is at or near zero psi but there is still water in the system, is the boiler really dry firing then, or is it only dry firing if it is completely drained. I cannot imagine that my system was completely dry.
  • nick366
    nick366 Member Posts: 12
    edited October 2017
    Thanks for all of your help so far. As an update to my boiler issue, I had the original installer place the LWCO onto the boiler. I also had two other HVAC contractors take a look at the boiler and tell me that it is safe to use and there are no egregious issues with the installation (even if it might not be kosher). There is no air eliminator installed as far as I could tell.

    That leaves me the problem of losing pressure, at a rate of about 2-3psi/day, while the boiler is turned off. I closely inspected all around the boiler and accessible piping/valves for leaks and there is no trace of water or corrosion. Same with the radiators - all were properly bled, no indication of leaks. I don't have any piping going through concrete floor. No stains on walls/floors/ceilings.

    So am I stuck with a "wait and see" situation now - for the leak to manifest itself? The installer and other contractors seem to have no clear solution. One of them told me he thinks the boiler itself is leaking based on noise it makes while firing - but I would expect to see some leak evidence around it while it is cold if this were the case, right? If it is the boiler, it is under warranty, but so far I have no actual proof that it is.

    I am located near Philadelphia BTW, if someone has a local recommended expert that can assist.
  • Leon82
    Leon82 Member Posts: 684
    Have you knocked on the expansion tank? Doesn't sound hollow?
  • nick366
    nick366 Member Posts: 12
    I have, but I cannot really tell. But I was told by the HVAC guys that the expansion tank is not a likely problem - it would explain pressure changes and jumps in pressure while heating. How would a full expansion tank explain gradual pressure loss while the system is cold?
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 19,150
    nick366 said:

    I have, but I cannot really tell. But I was told by the HVAC guys that the expansion tank is not a likely problem - it would explain pressure changes and jumps in pressure while heating. How would a full expansion tank explain gradual pressure loss while the system is cold?

    It wouldn't, sort of. With a properly aired expansion tank, it takes a fair amount of leakage to make a noticeable pressure change. However, if the expansion tank has little or no air in it, then a very small leak can make a large pressure change. That said, if the pressure doesn't change all that much -- a few to say 5 psi -- when the boiler fires up as compared with cold, then you have air in the expansion tank.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    Solid_Fuel_Man
  • leonz
    leonz Member Posts: 530
    Did the installer place the LWCO as the first electric component to recieve power????? If the installer did not do this he needs to come back and change the wiring to properly protect the boiler.

    Is there any chance that the blow off valve is leaking????

    I would drain the boiler down and check the air pressure in the bladder tank and then readjust it for your altitude above sea level if needed and then wait a while and check the pressure again before you fill the boiler back up..

    I have a steel expansion tank with an airtrol valve and it is much easier to live with.

  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 9,822
    Do you have a compression tank hanging from the ceiling?
    Does it have a sight glass on one end?
  • nick366
    nick366 Member Posts: 12
    I can't really be sure about the LWCO, as he got another plumber to help wire it, but I will ask. Is that something is can check for myself without much technical knowledge on the wiring setup?

    I highly doubt either the blow off valve or the pressure relief are leaking as I am constantly checking all around the boiler for leaks. I placed metal cans under the valves and they are dry.

    I starting to suspect the expansion/compression tank as the reason for my pressure woes. I have tried firing the boiler for several hours, and the pressure climbs from 15 to over 20psi. I don't know how to check its air pressure. I will try to get the installer to fix it - will it need a full system drain?

    I am also concerned about the fumes/smell of burnt gas that seems to linger around the boiler. The venting seems to work fine, so it's not that.

  • nick366
    nick366 Member Posts: 12
    I tried firing it again, and within 1 hour pressure goes from 15 to 25, and I power it off so as not to cause the PRV to blow.

    I am really at a loss here. My installer is absolutely clueless about the expansion tank and why the system has rising pressure, or how to recharge the tank. Given that this "new" installation has not properly functioned a single time, should I demand that he pay for an actual expert to come in and tune it to be operational? I already paid this bozo another $250 to install the LWCO (he had to call help and could not do it himself), which he should have done in the first place.
  • leonz
    leonz Member Posts: 530
    edited November 2017
    About your steel expansion tank;

    If your plumber knows nothing about steel expansion tanks you better download the information from the B+G web site, print it and make him read it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    A roll of pipe strapping and 3 inch screws will remount the tank above the boiler AFTER he installs an airtrol valve in the tank. I do not think it has one in the bottom tapping.
    Can you tank another picture of the steel expansion tank with all the bottom plumbing under the steel expansion tank please. If you have a water logged tank that is a big problem that has to be fixed by removing all the automatic air venting valves in the system if they installed any and I mean all of them.

    The other thing is that we need to know if the steel expansion tank has an airtrol valve in the bottom of it. If it does not it needs one.

    It would be much better if the steel expansion tank was closer to the boiler rather than where it is. you could have it hanging from the ceiling near the boiler rather than where it is now and replumb it and eliminate the mess that is there now for the connection to the steel expansion tank.

  • Solid_Fuel_Man
    Solid_Fuel_Man Member Posts: 2,500
    Why not just install a properly sized bladder expansion tank? If the system has 80 gallons then id install an Amtrol 40 as just a stab in the dark.
    Serving Northern Maine HVAC & Controls. I burn wood, it smells good!
  • leonz
    leonz Member Posts: 530
    edited November 2017
    He has a good undamaged steel expansion tank already. The multiple plumbing problems he has with his system that were caused by others just have to be corrected to solve this.

    I hope he has time to take more pictures of the steel expansion tank that I asked for as we need to see the other side of the tank where the piping enters the base of the tank.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 19,150
    Nothing wrong with a steel expansion tank, assuming that it isn't rusted. However, if the technician doesn't know how they work, they can mess the whole system up pretty fast.

    As @leonz said, if you have a steel tank, you must not have any air relief valves anywhere else on the system. The airtrol valve -- which you must have and which must work properly -- ensures that you have the correct volume of air in the tank. Too much air and it lets a little out. But some air will come out of the water. That air that comes out is needed to maintain the correct air volume in the tank -- but the only way it can do that is if you don't let it go somewhere else. The thing will set itself up correctly when you fill the system. Note that you still must bleed the radiation!
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • nick366
    nick366 Member Posts: 12
    edited November 2017
    My system does not have air relief/vent valves anywhere as far as I can tell. The tank itself seems to be in good condition - no rust.

    What I was able to do, is fully drain the steel expansion tank, using the combination valve at the bottom of it (it also has a plug that lets air in). Now I know that the tank was hopelessly waterlogged - I must have gotten at least 15-20 gallons out of it. I am also convinced that the installer was clueless about how this expansion tank works and did not drain it appropriately the first time, which explains most of the issues. I tried explaining the issues and the causes to him, but he wouldn't have it and kept bringing up his 30+ year experience. I think that him skipping LWCO installation on my boiler warrants me reporting his dubious work to the boiler supplier and the local inspector.

    In 3 days since I drained it, it has maintained 12 psi pressure cold, and after 1 day of running it, it hasn't gone above 15 psi while firing. So it is working, for now.

    The remaining problem is that there is no airtrol. Also the way the tank is piped seems incorrect based on what I have been reading - the pipes leading to it do not have a pitch. Should I observe it for a week or two before deciding what to do next? Or is the consensus that I need to hire a professional to install the airtrol and rerun the pipes? Should I also have the circulator moved from the return side to the supply, or is that not as critical.

    Also, on another note, before draining the tank I noticed a small leak from the top of an old B&G Flo Control valve on the supply piping (this is also where the pipe to the tank runs from). What could have caused it and is it an indication that it needs to be replaced, or just tightened?


  • leonz
    leonz Member Posts: 530
    Its the old stuffing box packing in that check valve is what leaking; Groan.

    Its time to back up and hire a plumber that knows about steel expansion tanks and have a chat with the the appropriate folks that you mentioned.