Steam Boiler Troubleshooting and Setup
I want to assure readers of this post that this is not a DIY POST!
I live in Saskatoon, Sk, Canada and I have a genuine boiler issue that local trades cannot seem to address (I have had several "professionals" come by).
The first thing I want to do is ask what kind of information would you like (if you are interested in helping me out) so that you can try to solve the problem(s) I am experiencing.
A. Here is what I plan on doing.
1. I am going to create several detailed videos of the current boiler system.
2. I am going to point out the areas that I see as potential issues (I was a diesel mechanic in the navy and was responsible for the steam systems on the shop....I am NOT A PRO...but I think I have some knowledge...I think).
3. I will also video the "sub-systems" that are attached to this boiler configuration.
B. Here is a brief description.
The boiler system is in a large, older home. The boiler is around 2004 (I will confirm on my trip out there today) and the home steam heat infrastructure is original (1940s). All rads are cast iron with pressure relief valves (the singing kind). There was an addition erected in the late 60s and there are more modern tube/fin rads in that area (this is one of the problem areas).
At some point, a water heat system was added to the basement. This system is made up of a 3/4 copper feed and return line supplied by a single pump. The water is pushed through several tube/fin water rads. The water supply/return is the actual boiler itself. This system works, but has some flaws that I will point out in the videos. For example, the steam return is reduced from 1 1/2 black pipe to 3/4 copper and simply "drips" back into the copper return line of the basement water system (I'll provide pics).
The main level heats okay, the second level is too hot, the addition rarely heats at all (only if we hit -25 Celcius or colder, like today).
C. What am I trying to do?
I want to come up with a plan to heat the entire house properly with the boiler that is there. I am certain the current boiler it is powerful enough if configured properly. I think it is possible to retain the steam system in the addition, but I have a backup water system devised if for some reason the steam is not feasible.
I have literally spent over 1 year trying to find someone to help me and to no avail. I paid a steam pro over $ to troubleshoot a problem wherein my boiler kept cutting out and he did not actually solve it....I ended up coming up with a solution.
I am looking for someone who knows what they are doing and is willing to help with the basics to formulate a general game plan. I can take this game plan to my plumber (who openly admits he doesn't know steam) and we get get her done!!
I am certain my tenants no longer believe me that I am going to get this system working.
Thank you in advance for you assistance, and make sure to ask me for all kinds of info so I can get you everything that you need. As I mentioned earlier, I am going on a data collection run right now and will post all info I obtain (I will also include links to YouTube videos of the system).
Last edited by beenthere; 01-28-2010 at 05:02 PM.
Have a professional install some thermostatic valves on the radiators upstairs....or on all the radiators for that matter.
“Now the freaks are on television, the freaks are in the movies. And it’s no longer the sideshow, it’s the whole show. The colorful circus and the clowns and the elephants, for all intents and purposes, are gone, and we’re dealing only with the freaks.” - Jonathan Winters
Post some pics of the boiler near piping.
Links to Videos are ok. But, a still pic posted can be better, then going to another site for some things.
Here is a link to a series of videos uploaded to YouTube. Please note that they are shown from 11 to 0, but you should watch them from 0 to 11.
I have not posted any still pics, but the videos are in decent resolution so you can pause them to see a clear still.
I met a plumber at a steak night for my son's beaver group and he said he would take a look at it. Again, he said he did not know steam systems well, but was willing to take a look.
You should have called the "steam pro" you had out. And had him redo his diagnostics.
You need a heating contractor that knows steam.
You system may work slightly different then you think(at least by your explanation).
Some one over filled the boiler, or you have control problems, or worse.
And you need an on site tech to figure everything out. And then him fix it.
Too hard to follow the videos.
Some questions to ask a pro or even yourself
Why was the water level so high?
Looks like there was a leak at the top shutoff of the gauge glass valve
if there is a water leak there then there is probably a steam leak there and a pro should sttend to that.
If the water feeder isn't working (you don't sound so sure) then how is water getting into the boiler, if and when it is needed?
The boiler looks like it needs a good cleaning both inside and out
I'd like to help,
....but right here on this forum.
Pictures help a LOT, especially of the boiler area.
I picture a 1940s One-Piper with a newer fin tube loop that ought to be piped Two-Pipe, and a condensate loop that has piping issues, too.
Steam Boiler Issues
1. I've had the "steam pro" out 3 times. Each time he comes out I totally get the feeling he is pissed he is at some small rinky-dink setup (I'm certain he mainly does commercial). He rushes his visits and has not offered me any real useful advice so far. I needed help with the overburn problem, he didn't figure it out, I had to. I needed help with the lack of steam in the tube/fin section, again, no real help. I will definitely not be calling him back.
Originally Posted by beenthere
2. I'm not going to argue that it may work slightly differently, that is why I am coming to this forum. Be assured that I am pounding the pavement at the same time trying to find someone to help. I just thought I would try another avenue as I have tenants I feel guilty about because their heat is inferior.
3. I should have mentioned it on the video, but I am pretty sure a tenant overfilled the boiler. I got a call about the heat and typically it is low water (yes, my auto-fill is messed, but do you think there is anyone locally that has the time to fix it?....remember, we are in a huge boom up here in Saskatchewan, Canada). Anyway, I instructed the tenant to open the override fill valve and he simply did not know how to read the site glass.
Thanks for you post anyway, I appreciate you taking the time to post a response.
If you have any reading manuals/references that you strongly recommend, I would appreciate it.
Originally Posted by Noel Murdough
I assume you mean that I should capture some pictures from those videos and post them? I'll do that.
Thanks for the link.
Hey Small Change,
Originally Posted by small change
1. See explanation above/below.
2. I should have mentioned it in the video, but it seems to just be the valve "packing". All the way shut and all the way open it is fine.
3. Right now, manually. Yes, I have tried to get guys out to fix it, but for some reason when I say "steam boiler" everyone is all of a sudden too busy.
4. Again, I'd like a professional to do it. I have flushed it out, but I'm not sure if that is all that I should be doing. Basically, I turn on the fill valve at the same rate as my hose drains the bottom of the boiler until the water is clear. You'll see in the videos that I ran the water long enough for the boiler to drain clear again. Any other flush tips are appreciated. I typically flush it in fall and then spring (before / after winter).
Steam is tricky to work on and if you don't know how to work on it you shouldn't
Flooding is caused by many issues not just over filling the system, typically you should have around half a sight glass full of water.
Common misconceptions are on piping ( people that don't know how pipe them like Hot Water boilers )
The terminology on some of the controls will confuse people ( the relief valves your referring to are actually Vents ) do they have a Bullet shape ( hoffman #40 ) or are they Round ? Make sure that if they have been painted that the small hole in he top is open. Also if the boiler has flooded up to the point of those vents they could have water in them and that will not allow steam to pass thru causing radiators to not heat,
Radiator Valves themselves are different then Hot Water valves , Hot water valves contain a pin hole in the seat to allow a small amount of water circulation keeping them from freezing up if a customer shuts them off in rooms heat is not used , Steam Valves are 100% shut off or turn on , Never try to regulate heat with a typical valve ( open half way ) this will cause flooding issues and you will build more condensation in the radiator allowing it to run back to the boiler, This is why you cannot use Hot water valves on steam radiators. So either Full Open or Full Closed never half way.
Your water feeding issue should be your first priority to fix , What controls are on this boiler ( newer Electronic controls or Older Float type McDonnell & Miller low water Cutoff with a 101 feeder valve ? ) The issue with this is that if this boiler gets low on water and that LWCO doesn't tell that feeder it needs water and doesn't shut the system down your going to cook a boiler. Manually feeding this boiler should only be done until a contractor gets out there and make's the repairs, it should not be extended into more the maybe a weekend of doing this, this is much like constantly resetting a primary control on a oil fired heating system don't do it.
As i said above Flooding can be caused by alot of different issues :
1. Radiator Valves not fully open or closed or defective valves themselves.
2. Dirty System, Steam constantly cleans the inside of the piping and boiler, They make cleaners that can be dumped into the boiler itself to help flush it out.
3. Stopped up or clogged return lines.
4. Defective feeder valve ( staying open to long or passing water ) defective LWCO (not sensing the correct water lvl ).
I hope this helps you trouble shoot the issues that you have on this system , but unless you get the water feed issue corrected first you will be beating a dead horse because your not there 24/7 to see if the homeowner or the controls are the culprit. Flooded Steam boilers don't heat well. Other suggestions I can make are check the Radiator shutoff valves, Check the vents and replace them if necessary.
As far as Flushing the boiler it depends on your controls, if this is a float type LWCO that normally has to be flushed once a week. Other wise you would need to read the Boiler Manual or control manufacturer's manual to see what the flushing requirement would be.
Last edited by RSMech; 01-31-2010 at 01:24 PM.
Reason: spelling error
Ok i just looked at the videos you have posted, You have automatic controls , get them looked at and replace the one that is defective (LWCO or Feeder). should be done by a contractor.
That Boiler is Dirty and need's cleaner added and a good flush out. This also should be done by a contractor.
The Piping you didn't understand is not steam supply lines that is an equalizer line and the Returns to the boiler from the main building.
The boiler pressure gauge should be replaced if its not working. Again get a contractor to do this.
The Fin Tube Baseboard you have in the basement may need to be vented to remove air ( should be a standard radiator bleed valve in it or a purge valve in the boiler room depending on how they installed it ).
again check the other stuff I mentioned or when you set up service with a contractor make sure that you mention you want all of it checked and repaired as needed.
BIG thank you to RSmech for taking the time
Originally Posted by RSMech
1. Clean suggestion. Requested.
2. Piping. Yeah, when I was doing my actual sketch of the system I realized that it was not simply a supply line. I have a question here (and maybe you want me to just ask the contractor). Why does the line "dip" and then union to make U-shape in the pipe? On one side of the U the pip continues down vertically. Also, what is that "control/settable gauge" for on this section of pipe?
3. Gauges. Ordered.
4. I asked a couple of contractors about this, but they were not steam and did not have a good response. SEE BELOW FOR MORE DETAIL ON THIS POINT.
5. "mention you want all of it checked and repaired". For clarity, I HAVE done this. Not only have I done this, I have been charged for it. I had a "pro" come by and he looked at my system 3 times. My bill was just under $600.00 and as far as I can tell, he didn't really do a damn thing. I ended up replacing the thermal cut-out and adjusting the gas regulator myself!! (I had a plumber on the phone while I adjusted the regulator, FYI). I am still trying to find someone.
FIN - TUBE VENTING
I think this part of the system has a major flaw in it. Most of the steam lines in the house (I have not traced all of them in detail yet) are supply/return lines. From what I have observed and verified with a long-time plumber friend is that the steam goes up the line, cools, returns down the same line.
In the back area, I think (I Have not opened all of the ceiling that the lines are in) the lines are setup so that they slope up and then somewhere along the loop they slope down again. So you would have a similar effect to a traditional roof slope. Water running back down both sides.
Now, the setup on one end of the loop is strange and I think a problem area (but maybe not). The 1"-1 1/4" black-pipe is reduced to 3/4 copper (I forgot to video this, but will if it is helpful) and then ties in with a simple copper T into the 3/4 water line that is used to push warm water from the boiler through the water fin-tube rads in the basement.
In theory, this should be "okay" if the water level in the boiler is good as the copper loop for the water fin-tube rads in the basement are all below the water level of the tank. Theoretically, the water should be sitting about 8-12 inches up in the vertical copper line (from the black pipe on the main level of the house). Up meaning that it is 8-12" above the point where the water loop is T'd to the vertical copper return line from the steam loop on the main floor (that being the steam loop with the fin-tube rads).
My concern is that this first of all seems like something you would not want to do, mixing two loops through an uncontrolled/unchecked connection. If there is a water level issue, it might affect this "T" location. Also, just thinking back to fluid dynamics in engineering, having that water pumping by that vertical copper line might create some issues due to the flowing water. Again I am not certain, but it does seem "NON-standard". I have shown this to several contractors and none of them have given me a straight black & white answer as to what to do on it.
Thanks again for everyone's time.
Special thanks to RSmech for taking time to really go through those videos and provide a thorough and thoughtful answer. It is very much appreciated.