Dirty oily water in steam boiler's flask


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Old 09-20-08, 08:08 AM
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Dirty oily water in steam boiler's flask

I've been dealing with this problem for a couple years now and every year I rack my brains trying to figure out a solution and I can't belive i'm the only one.

When my seam boilder is off (cold) the water level flask shows the water as clear. When it heats up it looks brown. When I drain it, the water is oily. I drain it and fill it up but the oily residue never really goes away.

It's a Utica model PEG112CIDE. I use radiors. Ya know the ol cast iron style found in older homes. If find that many would be professionals in my area are really not that knowlegebable in steam systems.

I am by no way a HVAC guy. Peeping On U2 So a lot of the terminology is greek to me but I can't belive that this can be this hard. Any advise would be much obliged.
 
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Old 09-20-08, 05:35 PM
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It sounds like it's cracked inside and the oil is mixing with the water, the same way it would if you had a blown head gasket in your car.
 
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Old 09-20-08, 06:16 PM
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There's no lubricating oil system on a steam boiler, that much I know ... and I know next to nothing about steamers.

I'm pretty sure that one of the steam heads will be along shortly to help ya out ...

Do you 'blow down' your boiler on a regular basis ?
 
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Old 09-20-08, 07:12 PM
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blow down?

It's natural gas. I've never done it. Is it easy to do?
 
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Old 09-20-08, 08:09 PM
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I think so ... but I can't tell ya how, cuz I'm 'steam stupid', I'm sure furd will be along in two shakes of a stick ... I'm thinking they may suggest some kind of a cleaner added to the water too ... but not real sure, just going by what I've learned about steam from reading posts over the years.
 
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Old 09-21-08, 08:40 AM
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Steam

I'm not well versed in steam either but in Mass. it's hard to believe that steam heads aren't coming out of the woodwork. New England is steam country.

I suspect the boiler was never properly 'skimmed' when it was installed or someone has done some piping work & allowed cutting oil to contaminate the system. Dan Holohan has an excellent book for homeowners with steam heat. This book, "We Got Steam Heat! - A Homeowner's Guide To Peaceful Coexistence" is from what I've been told, the best $25 you can spend.
 
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Old 09-21-08, 03:08 PM
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When my seam boilder is off (cold) the water level flask shows the water as clear. When it heats up it looks brown. When I drain it, the water is oily. I drain it and fill it up but the oily residue never really goes away.
Where did you pick up the term "water level flask"? I've been around steam boilers my entire life and I have NEVER heard a gauge glass referred to as a flask.

Assuming both the top and bottom connections are clear the water in the gauge glass is constantly being circulated with the water in the boiler when the boiler is steaming. Since the glass is "outside" the boiler proper it is a bit cooler and therefore the water level in the glass is a bit lower than the water level in the boiler. This also causes steam above the water level to condense in the glass and this is why when your boiler starts to cool it has clear water in it.

Oil is about the worst thing you can have in a boiler. It often comes from the pipefitter not thoroughly wiping the cutting oil from the pipe ends when they are threaded. Boilers will also often have some kind of preservative oil from the factory so the first thing when a new boiler is installed or major piping changes have been made is to "boil out" the boiler and piping. If this is not done the oil will bake on to the heated surfaces and have a tendency to insulate the metal from the water. This will decrease the transfer of heat to the water and result in higher stack temperatures and decreased overall efficiency plus decreasing the life of the boiler.

Since oil is generally not miscible with water it is necessary to use various chemical compounds to allow the water and oil to emulsify so that it can be washed out. Traditionally this is done by adding sodium hydroxide to the cold water and then gently heating it to just below the boiling point and holding it there for a period of time and then flushing the boiler completely. Ideally you want to introduce high pressure water to wash down the sides of the boiler but in residential boilers this isn't practical. Also, since most residential boilers are of cast iron construction you MUST NOT introduce cold water to a hot boiler or you will crack it.

You may need to boil out the boiler several times to remove the oil. You don't need much of the sodium hydroxide, maybe a quarter-cup or even less. Sodium hydroxide is commonly known as lye and it used to be readily available in grocery stores in the same aisle as the clothes washing detergents and such. It is also available as Roebic Heavy Duty Drain Cleaner. Be careful when using the stuff as it is extremely caustic and WILL burn you severely if you get the crystals or solution on your skin. Wear heavy rubber gloves and a full-face shield when handling the stuff. Mix it in a gallon or two of COLD water (it will get hot in the water) and slowly pour the crystals into the water, do not add water to the crystals or it may erupt in your face. You cannot use any aluminum with this as it reacts with aluminum releasing hydrogen gas.


After boiling out the boiler you want to flush it several times to remove all the oil and caustic solution. You can then refill the boiler to the minimum operating level and steam it up. Depending on several factors you want to periodically "blow down" the boiler during the heating season. Blow down means that when the burner has been off for a while you open the drain and drain off a quantity of water and then refill to the operating line. How often depends on the quality of your incoming water and how often you have to add water to the system.
 
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Old 09-21-08, 03:45 PM
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Yup! It's cutting oil.
There's a detergent that you can get at a plumbing supply house and add to the boiler water to flush it out.
When the boiler's cold, the relief valve can be removed for access, or any convenient plug at a tee in the boiler area piping (above the water level).
You could also install a tee and a boiler drain in the fill piping and pump it in with a hand pump. There should be a chart on the jug telling you how much to use for amount of radiation you have.
Then let it generate steam for a couple of days to circulate the detergent, drain and refill. You may have to dispose of the oil safely.
The oil on the water will make for a noisy boiler and use more oil/gas to produce the steam needed to satisfy the thermostat...
 
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Old 09-23-08, 11:42 AM
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Steam

Originally Posted by furd View Post
Where did you pick up the term "water level flask"? I've been around steam boilers my entire life and I have NEVER heard a gauge glass referred to as a flask.
Because "thingy" seemed somehow innapropriate.
 
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Old 09-23-08, 11:51 AM
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Callin the pros!

Gentlemen thank you for all your insight. Not only did I find this information informative, it set my limitations or how far Iím willing to go on my own with this. I was fine up to the point of solvents, face-shields, fire and brimstone. With my luck this would be a mushroom cloud you can see from wherever you all are. I think instead of taking a chance at messing up my furnace and risk not having heat in the winter, or safety, Iíll pay the $$ and find a professional to do this. At least I know it will be done right. Curious would that would charge for something like this. I miss having forced air heat in my old house. Easy, simple, no scientific theory of operation required.
 
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Old 09-23-08, 02:52 PM
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Labor Rates

I don't have a clue as to labor rates in your area but they are most likely higher than the $75/hr. here. I still encourage you to buy Mr. Holohan's book. From what I hear, it's worth it's weight in gold.
 
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Old 09-23-08, 07:48 PM
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book

Originally Posted by Grady View Post
I still encourage you to buy Mr. Holohan's book. From what I hear, it's worth it's weight in gold.
Most definitely. I find the whole science behind this intriguing but since we fear what we donít understand, Iím going to get the book and as much as Iíd hate to, watch the pro do it to see if he would do what I would have done.
 
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Old 09-24-08, 05:03 AM
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As a pro, I resent a customer looking over my shoulder in an attempt to learn how to do my job. A little knowledge is dangerous.
Plus, the customer may do my work for friends and neighbors while under-cutting my labor rate.
Thereby taking food off my table, and causing me to peruse the classified ads for a job!
 
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Old 09-24-08, 11:30 AM
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Free laborer

Originally Posted by HVAC Mech. View Post
As a pro, I resent a customer looking over my shoulder in an attempt to learn how to do my job. A little knowledge is dangerous.
Plus, the customer may do my work for friends and neighbors while under-cutting my labor rate.
Thereby taking food off my table, and causing me to peruse the classified ads for a job!
Yeah but if a mysterious 6 pack of beer seemed to find it's way into your posession from an unknown participant, now how would you feel? Beer 4U2 Standing over ones shoulder is a bit extreme and rude. Happens to me all the time being a computer engineer. I can offer to hold tools bring coffee whatever. No harm in just being curious.
 
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Old 09-24-08, 07:15 PM
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Over my shoulder

In general I don't mind a customer watching, & when I'm done doing whatever I'm there to do, asking questions. As long as they are willing to pay for my time, I'll answer questions all day long. My theory is; if the customer knows about his system the better he can explain to me what the problem is. The more information I get, the easier it is for me to track down the cause. Don't get me wrong. There are some whom I wouldn't trust to change an air filter, let alone working on the burner but others..., I've worked with "techs" who knew far less.
 
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Old 10-02-08, 05:47 PM
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Mission Accomplished

Well I am happy to say that my boiler has been skimmed and the water is once again clear. I had my boiler man come out yesterday. He was a little miffed so I asked what was up. "My helper didn't show up for work today.."

To which I said "today is your lucky day my friend." Pulling off my shirt and tie and reaching for a pair of jeans, :mask: "Today you got free labor."

No disrespect intended but he was well into his 70's and was struggeling to use the wrench on the valves. So I got to help by wacking the pipe with mallet to "shock" it. Yep learned some terminology too!!

Not only did he explain to me how a steam boiler works and the do's and doníts but showed me some techniques to improve efficiency and routine maintenance I could do myself. It took us about 14 buckets of "skimming" before the water started coming out clear again.

I also was talking to him about how I had 2 radiators that would never heat up and what was causing the problem. He said to go out and by a couple of commercial grade air breather thingys. (thingy was my word not his, i can't remember what you call them.) "And get the good ones, that the home depot stuff.

He saw some of my circuit boards I had laid out on my work bench and began asking me questions about how computers work and what does what why things do the things they do, which I was more than happy to share.

It took almost 2 hrs to finish. And as he was packing it up I was getting the checkbook ready and bracing myself for the pain.

"$75.00" he said.
was my expression.

I thought he was kidding. And he gave me 2 of those commercial grade air valve thingys to put on my radiators.

He said nope not kidding. You helped me out and taught me some things about computers.

I thought I was going to hug this guy. :loveu:

I mean, I was expecting $150 - $200 for this job. But $75!! I paid him in cash and bought him lunch. He's certainly earned my future business and I will be referring other people to him as well.
That's what I call a win win.
 
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Old 10-02-08, 05:58 PM
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Smile Fantastic

You learned a good bit & got a great price to boot. That's great, . You see, we're not crooks & most of us are pretty good people, even us old farts.
 
 

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