Boiler Leak: Delaying the inevitable to avoid being fleeced


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Old 12-27-06, 09:10 AM
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Red face Boiler Leak: Delaying the inevitable to avoid being fleeced

I have an older HB Smith sectional boiler heated with a newer Carlin oil burner.

Bad news: There is a small leak above the waterline in the boiler. I found the leak after turning down the temperature on our thermostats and indirect tank, which reduced the load on the burner, causing it to cool while we were away for Christmas. The resulting shrinkage allowed water to escape through a hole on top of the boiler, giving us a small puddle on the floor of our basement (the water wicked down the side along the jacket insulation). I took the jacket off, and I can't tell whether the leak is a perforation of the cast iron, or in the gaskets between the boiler-sections; either way, water is collecting on the top of the boiler. I know this is a terminal illness, and boiler replacement is inevitable.

The good news is that I can still fire and run the boiler, and the auto-fill valve keeps the makeup water flowing. (Water loss is measurable in ounces, not gallons!) When the boiler is hot, the thermal expansion of the cast-iron elements seals off the leak, and also steams off any excess water that has collected on the top of the boiler. So if I keep the boiler warm/hot, I don't have a leak visible from the outside with the jacket on. I probably wouldn't have noticed this problem if we didn't go away and let the unit cool.

Aside from the water on the floor, the only other strange thing from the boiler has been a "rushing water" sound in the baseboards in one or two of my heating zones - hopefully I am correct in attributing that sound to air in the system from this same leak problem? Maybe?

So I have a few dilemmas I am looking for help with - and maybe I need some $$ advice, too.

First, based on what I've described, is there anything I can do to prolong the life of this boiler? My service guy pretty much gave it last rites, but then proceeded to give me a system $7k-$8k quote, so I'm not sure I entirely trust his motivation (more on the quote in a bit).

Second, am I just plain stupid to try and prolong the life of this system? I want to buy a few weeks, a month, or hopefully the whole season to avoid having to make an uneducated/rushed decision, but I also don't want to burn my house down or freeze to death if cold weather ever comes to Massachusetts. Is this something that can be lived with for a while? Does this sound like a catastrophe waiting to happen?

Finally, the quote on a new system. I'm looking for a sanity check on the first quote I received for boiler replacement. I trust his work, but I also know he doesn't need the work (I'm in NE Mass).

NEW WEIL-MCLAIN WG04 w/CARLIN BURNER (ONE ZONE): 5900
THREE ADDITIONAL ZONES (CIRC PUMPS/VALVING): 2100
ALL LABOR/PIPING/ELECTRONICS/PERMITS INCLUDED

I know McLain boilers are the best, but other brands/suggestions/counter proposals would be helpful. He wants to replace all my circulatory pumps & electronics, as they are also old. Is the do-it-all-at-once mentality greedy or logical? The majority of the system is 20+ years old.

I'd greatly appreciate any advice or help. Thanks in advance!

tom
 
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Old 12-27-06, 09:23 AM
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Do it all

It's always best (and cheapest) to do it right the first time. Replacing the boiler and leaving all the old electronics and valves and junk is just asking for a call-back that you won't want to pay for. Having said that, this would be the time to do a heat load calculation and possibly resize the boiler to more closely match the actual load that it needs to meet. That would be the place to try to cut corners, not by keeping a 20 year old circulator or feed valve. Outdoor reset is another good way save $$.
 
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Old 12-27-06, 09:54 AM
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boilers

Any boiler is only as good as the installer and how well he stands behind the job months after it's finished. The price seems a bit high to me, but then again, you are buying a package and the knowledge and skill to install it properly. The pluses are he is replacing all close in piping, installing all new circulators, etc. It wouldn't hurt to get more estimates. Did the contractor do a heat loss to properly size that 4 section W-M to your home?

That being said, why do you feel W-M is the premier boiler line? Just curious. Personally, I'd consider a Burham or Buderus first. Ask about the seals used on the section nipples on the W-M.
 
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Old 12-27-06, 09:56 AM
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Advice or help - How about opinions?

The situation to me seems pretty obvious, you need a new boiler and you trust your service guy to do a good job.

That said, before putting in any new boiler, I would do a heat loss calculation and also a sanity check based on your current boiler. For example, if your current boiler only runs 10 hours a day on the coldest day of the year, I'd be getting a replacement boiler that is half as large as it was.

I don't know if I'd say Weil's WG series is the best - some people complain about seal failures. Weil also has an "Ultra" boiler that compares favourably with the Buderus and Burnham's new MPO. System 2000s also seem like a good choice for oil. Regardless, before deciding on a boiler, try to accurately figure out the correct sizing.

In some ways. you are in a good situation. You know you have to make a choice , but you do have a few days to think about it. Hopefully the weather is good... it is nice that you'll be able to crank that old one and start the whole boiler swap with a well heated home. That's often not the case.
 
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Old 12-27-06, 10:06 AM
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Originally Posted by radioconnection View Post
Any boiler is only as good as the installer and how well he stands behind the job months after it's finished. The price seems a bit hight to me, but then again, you are buying a package and the knowledge and skill to install it properly. It wouldn't hurt to get more estimates. Did the contractor do a heat loss to properly size that 4 section W-M to your home?

That being said, why do you feel W-M is the premier boiler line? Just curious. Personally, I'd consider a Burham or Buderus first. Ask about the seals used on the section nipples on the W-M.
He's not the contractor, yet! The current burner is severely oversized, and I'm waist deep in doing my own therm calcs - I'll compare the house's dH loss vs. boiler BTU's before I go forward. Any contractor will have to back up their choice with math of their own! The smaller WG04 is what he spec'd for quoting before the calcs are done.

As far as W-M's being top of the line, I've had three guys tell me that in the past 24 hours (family plumber, that contractor, and a homebuilder). I trust your opinion just as much , and I will investigate those choices as well. It seems like you have to pick a brand, and then find a contractor who will install them - everyone has their own preferences.

Thanks - any thoughts on my analysis of the boiler current situation?
 
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Old 12-27-06, 10:24 AM
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Grady or other knowledgeable sort could advise as to whether you can squeeze the rest of the heating season out of that boiler. I do agree with bodhisatva that now is not the time to cut corners. With a system of that age, rip out everything near the boiler and start fresh.

As the owner of a newly installed, rather painstakingly researched hot water heating system that replaces a safety hazard system installed by a lowballer that was all of 3 (three!!!) years old, I can tell you that:

a) there are some really excellent installers in your area;
b) they will not come cheap;
c) they do excellent work;
d) it is absolutely worth the money to pay more up front for the quality they provide.

I'm about 75 miles south of you. The guys around Boston are some of the best in the business. They will do a heat loss calculation for your house to size the boiler. They will offer good-better-best equipment choices. They will offer the most appropriate equipment and controls for your job. The equipment and controls they offer will start paying back your investment from the first time they fire it up.

That said, you can get a quality install from a lot of people and not necessarily pay a huge premium. That's where the research part comes in. Take your time (assuming the boiler allows it!), check references, ask for job pictures, compare the quotes carefully.

I'd be happy to offer some contractor suggestions via PM.

With more information on your building's heat loss, type of heat emitters (radiators, baseboard, etc.), what the contractors are offering for equipment and controls, etc., we can definitely offer opinions.
 
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Old 12-27-06, 04:49 PM
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Boiler Choice

I would join Radioconnection in his selection of Burnham & Buderus. I don't like Weil-McLain at all. This is largely due to their track record of not honoring warranty claims. In fact, I refuse to install a Weil unless a customer insists on one. In my own home & my father's I installed Crown CT series boilers & have been quite happy with them.
 
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Old 12-28-06, 07:10 AM
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contractor

At some point you're going to have to trust a contractor's advice regarding equipment. There's a lot of variables they take into account; for example some older flues won't work with modern high efficiency boilers because of the lower stack temperatures and condensation issues in the chimney. Also, contractors have their favorites, boilers they are familiar with and have a good track record for that contractor.
 
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Old 12-29-06, 08:56 AM
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But what about the leak

Thanks for the input so far - you guys have really expanded my choices. But I'm trying to delay making that choice for as long as I can, so I can design and engineer my dream heat-pump, low-utilization boiler combo, or possibly just convert to forced-hot air...alas, no cash to do that now...

So if this boiler bleeds out (or I'm convinced this needs to get done NOW), I have to immediately replace it with a similar style system. Researching to that end, I have two more guys coming to quote on a good-better-best basis for an entire system replacements.

With the leak I described above in my orig. post, are there good chemical water additives that can help plug small leaks (I've seen a few online @ at a box store)? Or, are they just bunk?

And how dangerous of a situation is a leaky boiler? Is there a danger of fire? I understand the flood part

Thanks again guys - happy new year!!!!!!!
 
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Old 12-29-06, 09:23 AM
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Caveat: I don't service boilers. I'm a "hobbyist." I would guess that if keeping the boiler warm seals the leak, and the autofill continues to do its job, and there's no water getting into the burner or on the electronics, and you keep an eye on things, and the various controls do their job where safety is concerned (no runaway aquastats, etc.) then maybe you can run this thing for a while. I can't provide any insight on the nature of the risk or potential bad outcomes. Dry-fired boiler that cracks, maybe? Explosion hazard? I dunno. Low-water-level firing producing steam?

I would shy away from additives as they would likely get around to the rest of the system and might cause problems.

Forced air? Yikes. I grew up in a radiant (ceiling) house, spent ten years in a forced air house, and the rest of the time with some sort of hydronic heating system. IMHO, forced air is an enormous step backward on the evolutionary and comfort scale, esp in the cold climate up here. Can't comment on the viability of the GSHP in your area, but it would be worth looking into.

An entire system replacement, if laid out and piped right, doesn't necessarily require a major re-do down the road if you go heat pump, solar, whatever. My new install, for example, was laid out (piping and physical location of system components) with room to expand for solar pre-heat and solar-DHW if we ever go that route. The additional cost during a total system replacement is negligible.
 
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Old 12-29-06, 09:27 AM
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Forced Air?

Don't do forced air... that's a major downgrade. The only advantage of a forced air system is that you can do it safely in a sloppy manner because if air leaks, it won't ruin anything other than your efficiency. You'll never have the same comfort and efficiency with forced air.

I don't think anybody knows how long that leak will stay as it is. Ideally, you have LWCO protection and keep your feed valve closed so that the most it can leak is what is in the system. It might go years like that or it might go days. Fire wouldn't be the big risk, but CO possibly could. Everyone should have a CO monitor in theor home - especially a low level one.

My advice to you is to find yourself a good contractor and get it done while you still have heat and no flooding.

Make sure your contractor is insured, owns a combustion analyzer, has any required licensing for your area and can show you pictures of installs using equipment similar to what is being recommended for you. Get 3 references and call them up and ask all kinds of questions about the contractor. What they liked, what they didn't, any issues they had after and how they were resolved etc. This the most important part of it.

I wouldn't sit on a leaky boiler too long if I were you...

and I would never take it out for forced air... EVER!!! ;-)
 

Last edited by Who; 12-29-06 at 09:56 AM.
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Old 12-29-06, 09:50 AM
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and I would never take it out for forced air... EVER!!! ;-)
I did not mean swap my oil system out! My point is, my current hydronic system is really inefficient when the difference between the outside and inside temperatures is small (fall, spring, this current winter?!). On the other hand, heat-pumps (geotherm or air-fed) are most efficient during those times. In the northeast, the climate is such that I could design a combination system, where the heat-pump ran when the outside temp is mild, and the burner kicks in when the heat-pump bottoms out on its efficiency. In my mind, its like a overblown outdoor-reset system. The house is already ducted (quite well) for central a/c, and when the time comes for a new compressor in the next few years, I'll look into a creating hybrid system...it could be hydronic it could be forced air...depends on system costs, fuel costs and how long we're staying in the house. But i'm getting really far ahead of myself!

That is unless this boiler burns down or blows up my house in the mean time...unfortunately I'm an engineer, not a pipefitter or furnace installer
 
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Old 12-29-06, 10:08 AM
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Shoulder Seasons

Tom, it's too bad you don't have cheap natural gas in your area. Propane is probably crazy in price as well. If it were cheaper, a gas-fired modulating condensing boiler would be nice. They are actually slightly more efficient during the shoulder seasons than on design days when simple oil fired boilers are at their maximum efficiency. They also eliminate the big heat sink to the sky and stop your walls from having to suck in cold moist combustion air.

It's too bad there aren't really small boilers for the different fuels. Well actually there are really small electric boilers. I just deep sixed my old oil boiler and I know what you mean about about 'tween season inefficiencies. I found it cheaper just to run a small electric heater although nowhere near as comfortable. If there was somthing like an 5,000 btu auxiliary boiler that would be great.

Perhaps in a few years high efficiency solar tubes will be cheap enough for everyone - they'd be great for this. I can't see them doing much in the winter when it is dark most of the day and they are covered with snow, but for fall and spring they could really help.

Good luck, it would be nice if you could keep us posted on what you do and no extended trips until that boiler's fixed. :-)

Happy New Years!
 
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Old 12-29-06, 10:16 AM
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With the right boiler (a condensing boiler), the shoulder seasons are actually where you can INCREASE your system efficiency. The lower supply temps required during shoulder seasons are exactly what boosts these boiler's efficiencies to 90+%. Lower temps in condensing ranges allow the extraction of a lot of otherwise wasted BTUs. So you win when condensing. It's not quite as efficient as designing the whole heating system around lower water temps, but even in a retrofit the savings can be excellent.

Even if you don't have a condensing boiler you can pipe a standard boiler to be protected from condensation and still make some pretty hefty efficiency gains with outdoor reset. I saw about 23% savings last month over the old system (which was only three years old so it's a fair comparison of equipment vintages) and the reset control is still tuning itself up.

Unfortunately, there are not modulating oil-fired boilers in the US yet.

I do like the combo system idea, though. I'd go solar rather than heat pump due to specifics of my location.
 
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Old 12-29-06, 05:11 PM
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Leaking boiler

I am not a big advocate of the stuff but there are boiler leak sealants out there. In a pinch I have used boiler liquid with various degrees of sucesss. The big thing is to follow the instructions. Most want you to add the compound & as quickly as possible refill the boiler & get it hot. If your boiler is set up in a "cold start" configuration, the boiler seal will not work well. It needs to stay hot. I have heard of people using black pepper, but that is just hear say. I have no first hand experience with it.
 
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Old 12-30-06, 06:11 AM
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Cool Find The Leak First!!

OK, before replacing anything, find out where the leak is coming from. Take the jacket off the boiler as much as feasable. It is possible that it is leaking from the gasket on the tankless coil plate. Some boilers have more than one, so look thouroughly. If you find that it is leaking from the casting or between the sections, replace it. I only reccomend using leak repair additives for steam systems as a temporary fix. Most american boilers are made with a cheaper variety of cast iron that is more prone to cracking/leaking. I highly reccomend Buderus boilers. If you decide that you want a Weil McLain boiler, ask for a quote for the "Ultra" model. It is basically a copycat of the Buderus boiler. If you don't have one already, and indirect water heater is a good investment too, although I reccomend Heat-Flo or brands of indirects that are made with stainless steel. Good Luck!
 
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Old 02-04-08, 12:37 PM
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Bad experience with Burnham

Found the forums here in the process of researching a replacement for my leaking Burnham. I was intrigued by the recommendations for Burnham products. FWIW personally I will never give that company another dime.

My Burnham V-73-T was new and originally installed in 1996. I purchased the home in 1997 and in 1998 the boiler started leaking when the casting split.

After a major battle thru (but not with) my servicing oil company, Burnham finally agreed to replace the core but I still had to pay for the delivery of the new core and transportation to return the failed unit to the tune of $600 or so. During this process I was treated so poorly by Burnham I vowed to never do business with this company should the situation ever arise.

Now 9+ years later the same exact problem has recurred in almost exactly in the same part of the casting. So far I have been told (by my service co) that Burnham will probably not honor the warranty since the casting has already been replaced once and I am not the original owner. No surprise there I guess.

My oil co service team indicated that the casting leaks have been a very common problem with these boilers over the years due to some inferior casting process that Burnham employs. Due to the problems they have had getting Burnham to honor their warranties as well as the high failure rates they no longer offer or recommend these products. They do service and sell Weil McLain and do not claim to have any issues with them.

I am located in SE MA and will most likely need a new unit. xiphias I'd like to hear some of your recommendations for local contractors.

Thanks!
 
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Old 02-10-08, 04:54 AM
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Unhappy My Guy Didn't Even Look!

My sevice guy came out saw a small leak( A CONSTANT DRIP OF HOT WATER) comming from the bottom of the boiler and said it cracked and I need a new system. Never took jacket off or inspected anything! Then sent the sales rep out who quoted a 7 grand job! Can I take the jacket off myself and search for the leak? Could it be something else? What an I looking at and for? I figure I will shut it down and turn off the power....then open it up. Any one have pics? Oil boiler is a peerless 15 yrs old...
 
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Old 02-10-08, 06:54 AM
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Leak Search

After you turn off the power, you can remove the vent pipe & start taking off the sheet metal jacket. At some point you are likely to have to remove controls which generally are no big deal. Pics of your boiler would be helpful. You can post them (free) on photobucket.com or similar site & provide a link here.
 
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Old 04-15-08, 02:18 PM
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Boiler leak

Tom, if you haven't replaced that boiler yet, Google (burnham v7 leak) and see what people have to say about them. Mine lasted 6 years before is started to leak but it's only going to cost me $1600 to fix it because Burnham will replace the core. If you think this is a good deal have at it. I would attack the old boiler with epoxy in the stick form that adheres to wet surfaces. First drain the boiler. It worked on mine till keyspan gave me a new boiler to switch to gas.

Good luck
 
 

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