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In over my head...

First, thank you all for being here. I've scanned this site since the fall for advice/help and it's been immensely helpful.

Now, on to my grovelling ignorance and desperation.

Purchased the house last Summer and had no idea I bought a steam unit and had no idea how to run it. This fossil has a “oil to gas converter” on it, which apparently even 30 yr Pros wouldn't touch AT ALL. So I was left on my own.

Two current issues are
1) Excessive corrosion (I'm forced to add water almost daily). It's alarming to me to see how bad it's gotten.

2) Why do I have to add water so often? I have a leaking valve off a main, but that can't be the only reason.

Note: I'm terrified to touch the LWCO, but it is dripping and my auto water filler is DEAD.

Note 2: I'm looking to replace it in the spring anyway, but am terrified that I'm gonna get someone who doesn't know what they're doing.

Pics for your enjoyment or anger….


  • GroundUp
    GroundUp Member Posts: 1,316
    What type of emitters are in the house? Can you convert to hot water when you update? Steam needs proper water treatment to fight corrosion and any small leak will lose more water than one might think. I don't have any residential steam experience but in commercial, there are a lot of systems that lose hundreds of gallons every day and have no noticeable leaks. Any blowdown tank will send a mass quantity of steam out the vent, losing a lot of water also
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 9,352
    Can you see the water level bounce in the sight glass during operation. I assume that is your indicator to add water.
    (I have seen sight glass lower valves plugged so the level remained constant).

    Does the drain valve work? If so then on a warmer day you could flood the boiler up to the header/main and wait for any water to show up on the floor. If the drain does not work then don't do it until done heating.

    I would check the water level twice a day, if dropping drastically more than previously then it might be a "sit by it" heating unit while it fires.

    While waiting for spring IIWM, I would:
    Look for the leaks.
    The flood the boiler test as mentioned above (provided you can drain the extra out)
    Chimney gazing while steaming, looking for steam leaving the chimney.
    Wet return lines, do you have any under the floor?

    Obtain and read the Lost Art of Steam Heating.
    Measure and calculate your connected EDR.

    Keep coming back to the wall.
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,536
    Have you tried the find a contractor button here for steam pros in your area?—NBC
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 9,352
    Could you post pictures of a sampling of your radiators (include both ends in the shots)?
    Yes, where are you located?
  • SteamDolt
    SteamDolt Member Posts: 6
    House was built in 1914. I'm in South Amboy, NJ.

    I did buy “We got steam!” and it was incredibly helpful.

    -Only visual “leaks” I can see are from the LWCO and from a failed main vent that is placed on the opposite side of the mains toward the front of the house. In what I can only imagine was an attempt to get steam upto the top master bedroom which has never gotten warm without the system being cranked.

    -Can't convert to Hot Water.

    -The water here is very hard. I do drain the tank of the “black sludge” every 2-3 weeks. I remove a quart then fill it and boil.

    -I didn't find out until a few days ago that I shouldn't fill it and NOT immediately boil….another operator error on my part.

    Pics of my radiators and that random vent:
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 4,965
    @EzzyT @Dave0176

    Both are fantastic with steam in the NJ area.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
    CanuckerSTEVEusaPAdelta T
  • Canucker
    Canucker Member Posts: 704
    Does the LWCO shutdown the boiler when you drained it? It's a little rough looking
    You can have it good, fast or cheap. Pick two
  • SteamDolt
    SteamDolt Member Posts: 6
    I'm terrified to touch it TBH. I drain it from the back. The only sign of life I get from it is that at the start of the season the boiler wouldn't start. That's how I figured out the auto fill was dead and that I had a leak problem.
  • AnthraciteEnergetics
    AnthraciteEnergetics Member Posts: 77
    Better than a lot of systems I've seen. Needs a good boiler install/pipe job and refreshing of all the vents. Copper mains aren't the end of the world but the thermal forces do wear on them more than steel.

    Crack in boiler above water line?
  • EzzyT
    EzzyT Member Posts: 1,185
    @SteamDolt private message me and maybe we can set something up
  • lchmb
    lchmb Member Posts: 2,997
    I'm looking forward to after pic's..cause before looks rough...keep it steam!! You'd regret flooding those radiators..
    delta T
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,518
    If you lose that much water and you don't see water on the floor or stains on any ceilings, there is likely a hole in the boiler above the water line and the water is going up the chimeney as steam. Do you see white clouds going out of the chimney when the boiler is running?
    Do contact @EzzyT ! He is excellent and you will get an excellent installation on a new system.
    Canuckerdelta T
  • the_donut
    the_donut Member Posts: 374
    As others have said, lots of repipe game to do. Wonder why they bushed down that radiator to 3/4”. Sounds like a recipe for hammer time. Also strange choice for 2 air vents. Usually you use the lower boss and the upper, not the plug at the top.
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 15,049
    KC_Jones said:

    @EzzyT @Dave0176

    Both are fantastic with steam in the NJ area.


    Oh, and there are still some whose knee-jerk reaction is always to convert steam to hot-water. The alleged savings never materialize beyond what can be achieved by fixing the steam. Don't even think about it.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    delta T
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 9,352
    It looked like only one of the rads shown is connected across the top. The others were steam only.
    That may kill that water conversion idea right away.
  • Neild5
    Neild5 Member Posts: 135
    The pressure setting on the pressuretrol looks like it is too high.
  • SteamDolt
    SteamDolt Member Posts: 6
    > @Neild5 said:
    > The pressure setting on the pressuretrol looks like it is too high.

    I noted that as well from my reading here and in the book. Again, too afraid to touch it.
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 9,352
    As you would have read in the steam book, set your pressure down. Also it would probably be safe to remove the pigtail for cleaning and get a 0-3 PSI gauge to monitor the existing boiler.
    (You can use it on a new boiler if it comes to that).

    If you do the pigtail, gauge and main vent (s) with the old boiler you would get a sense of other repairs needed beside possible new boiler and piping.

    You can check the LWCO working by shutting off the boiler and draining the water out of the hose might hear the switch click. Then turn the boiler back on........there should be no not leave the room. Then turn your manual fill valve on to fill the (cool/cold) boiler. When your sight glass shows about half full the fire should come on.

    If you try to blow down that LWCO, it may function but a good chance the valve will drip more after doing so.

    Spring is almost here!

  • SteamDolt
    SteamDolt Member Posts: 6
    > @JUGHNE said:
    > It looked like only one of the rads shown is connected across the top. The others were steam only.
    > That may kill that water conversion idea right away.

    Yes. There are two rads (kitchen and added on bathroom) that are "newer". I am fully willing to keep the steam system. It's almost a personal challenge now to learn the mechanics! Grew up with Hot water heat and don't mind the radiators.

    I brought this up today out of concern for overall safety until I get a competent pro to overhaul my system.

    @EzzyT I am working most of tonight and will be in touch when I can grab a minute to chat. Appreciate the offer.
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 11,196
    @SteamDolt .

    Not to slam your equipment but if I were you I would hook up with a steam pro pronto.