Steam boiler losing water

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Old 12-27-09, 12:51 PM
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Steam boiler losing water

We recently replaced our old steam boiler with a Peerless EC-04.
We have been rapidly losing water over the past week. When the boiler is running we've had to add water every 2 to 3 hours. We do not see any leaks in the boiler.
We have replaced main valves and the valves to the radiators. Still losing water rapidly. We filled the boiler with water up to recommended level in site glass and kept boiler cold. We notice the water level still going down in the site glass to the level of the hartford loop. What does it sound like is going on here? We are ready to possibly replace the return lines but want to make sure that we have not missed anything else.
 
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Old 12-27-09, 01:51 PM
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Well the hartford loop is doing the job it was designed for, keeping the bioler safe. That much water loss should show up someware. Are you able to see ALL your return piping? Sometimes in older houses, they ran the returns under the basement floor for what ever reason, or have a really bad air vent someware, but there would be aroom someware like a sauna, or a very wet wall.
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Old 12-27-09, 02:01 PM
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I have one correction. We changed the main vents, not valves.


sidny, we can see all of our return piping. Have not yet found a leak. No wet walls or rooms that feel like a sauna.

Since we filled the boiler, and apparently backed up some water into the return lines, we restarted the boiler and for the first time in a while the return lines are getting hot. The boiler seems to be building up pressure and then shutting on and off frequently. I don't know if this is normal or if this is indicative of a clog. What would be the symptoms of a clog in a return line?
 
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Old 12-27-09, 02:41 PM
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Idealy you should be able to blow down [drain] the return line, if you have a valve or two at the base of the hartford loop. If the return is blocked it will show up as condensate leaking from the lower air vents, and or water hammer or banging, as the steam tries to get through. Another posability is there may be an internal leak in the new boiler, and that would show up as vapor at the top of your chimney, but I am not familiar with your boiler and I did not notice if it is gas or oil fired, and if gas, there will be vapor aneway. Im sure the pros will have some good ideas.
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Old 12-27-09, 02:51 PM
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It's an oil fired boiler. There is no steam rising from the chimney, so we are pretty sure that the boiler itself does not have a leak. We have had a couple of pros here and nobody can say for sure what is wrong. It has been suggested that the return lines should perhaps be replaced. They are very old.

If there is a clog in a return line, would this cause the boiler pressure to rise?
 
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Old 12-28-09, 07:24 AM
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Not nessesarily, but you do have to rule out trouble with the return lines, usually 1 or 2 lbs should be enough to heat your house, you could run it up to 5 lbs just for a test, and maybe get a second opinion.
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Old 12-28-09, 09:52 AM
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Let's review what you have. A new boiler, and new vents, no rooms that seem like a sauna. The problem has got to be in returns. Any pipes below the water level.
Now that the boiler has been in for awhile has anything changed?
What is the water level doing when steaming?
Any check valves in the return lines?
Does the boiler ever flood?
Do you have water hammer? Loud noises in the pipes.
If so when...beginning, middle or end of the cycle.
Any returns under the floor on in a crawl space?
What pressure control do you have and what are the settings?
Any pic's?
 
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Old 12-28-09, 10:34 AM
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When the boiler was first installed we needed to add water everyday. About a week ago that need increased to every 2 hours or so. Nothing else has changed.

The water level is moving up and down about an inch or so while steaming.

I don't think there are any check valves in the returns.

The boiler does not flood.

Water hammer does occur in the beginning of the cycle. Usually only one bang.

Only a small section of the return is buried under concrete under the washing machine. The rest are visible.

We have a honeywell pressurtrol set at .5 psi with the cutoff set at 1 psi.

2 of our radiator vents are releasing quite a bit of wet steam now even though they were just replaced a couple of days ago. The main vents are not releasing steam, although last week one of them was spewing quite a bit of water and steam so we replaced it thinking it was just old.

We think at this point it must be the return lines. My husband filled the boiler and let it sit cold yesterday for several hours. The water in the boiler went down, while sitting cold, about two inches or to the level of the hartford loop where it would drain into the return lines. We think this must be proof that the problem is the returns. There should not be a void in the returns for the boiler water to get into when sitting cold unless there is a leak, correct? There is absolutely no visible leak in the boiler. We are thinking either there is a leak or a clog in the return lines that is causing a void and also not allowing water to return to the boiler. I can't imagine that it could be anything else at this point. We are losing so much water and don't know where it could be going.

Sorry no pics. My camera is not functioning right now.
 
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Old 12-28-09, 11:28 AM
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I think you are right. The return leak is in the buried return. It is not a clog in the return or the boiler would flood.
You also need to stop that water bouncing problem when the return gets fixed. The system will need skimmed. A 1" bounce is too much. It should be more like 1/4" to 1/2" bounce when steaming. The less bounce the drier the steam. The drier the steam means improved heating and comfort.
Are the horizontal main pipes insulated? They should be.
 
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Old 12-28-09, 11:52 AM
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Thanks so much for the advice everyone. My husband is going to change the return lines tomorrow and we will hope for the best.

rbeck, after we fix the returns I will look into solving the water bounce problem. Our pipes are insulated, not the elbows though. How do you insulate those or is it unnecessary?

Where should we start to look to figure out the water bounce issue. We are new to all of this but are learning rapidly!
 
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Old 12-28-09, 12:12 PM
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One more question. Should the return lines, when functioning properly, be warm to the touch all the way back to the boiler?

Ours start off hot, but as they get about half way to the boiler they are cold to the touch.
 
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Old 12-28-09, 12:52 PM
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It depends on run times and flow. If they are sluggish due to dirt and say a leak they may not be. When all is working good and under a good load they should be warm all the way back to the boiler usually within about 15 minutes of steam leaving the boiler.
 
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Old 12-28-09, 01:03 PM
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Thanks again for the reply. I will let you know how everything seems to be functioning after we replace the return lines.

Do we need to skim the boiler after replacing the lines? We never did that after the new boiler was installed because nobody told us we had to.
 
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Old 12-31-09, 03:08 PM
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Update: My husband finished replacing the return lines about 3 hours ago. It worked! We haven't lost a drop of water in that 3 hours. By now we would have been completely out of water. Apparently there must have been a major leak in the one tiny area of return under the washing machine that was covered in concrete. I guess we've had the problem for many years, but never knew it was an issue until it got really out of hand. We always had to refill the boiler almost every day but always thought that was normal.

Next we will have to figure out the short cycling issue as it is still happening.

Thanks everyone.
 
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Old 01-11-10, 05:18 AM
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I am going through the EXACT same thing now! I just bought a really old house last year and never had problems with its 30+ year old boiler. I've been flushing out the rusty water every other week and replacing the water. I never had to add water to the boiler that was very noticeable. Last week, we had turned down the valves in a couple of the rooms that we weren't using as to save on our heating bill. All of a sudden a couple of days later our boiler turned off, come to realize that there was NO water left in it! I refilled it to the mark on the glass and it turned back on again. The water seems to be dropping to half the mark every 8-12 hours! I've been having to refill it about twice a day...

michjo, when your husband replaced the return lines did he see the leaks? How far back in the lines did he have to replace? Looks like I will need to do the same VERY SOON. It's freezing here and I'm worried that if the boiler runs out of water while we're away (for work) the pipes may freeze... Any additional advice you can provide would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance!
 
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Old 01-11-10, 06:36 AM
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Bumbana, I'm sorry you are going through this! It was so frustrating for us trying to figure out what the problem was. At first we couldn't find any leaks in the return lines. However, there is a very small 4 or 5 foot section of pipe that had been covered over in concrete when the prior owners put a washer and dryer in. When we removed the return lines we had to leave that little section under the concrete (we just figured we would run the new pipe over the concrete anyway). My husband was curious if the leak was under the concrete so he poured water into one end of the pipe near the concrete and it disappeared, obviously showing us that that's where the leak was. It turns out that the leak was so bad that it created a giant hole in the ground under that concrete. All is fixed now and everything is running great.

My husband replaced all of both of out return lines. He used copper and did the work himself. Although he is not a plumber, he is a general contractor and knows how to do some plumbing. The piping and insulation, etc ending up running us about $800. It would have been much much more to have a plumber do the installation.

Are you sure you should be flushing the water out of the boiler every week? I hope an expert comes in here and answers that question. Is that something I should be doing too? I was under the assumption that adding fresh water frequently is bad for the boiler.
 

Last edited by michjo; 01-11-10 at 06:40 AM. Reason: making an addition
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Old 01-11-10, 08:50 AM
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Adding fresh water is the worst thing for the steam boiler. If you have a probe type. electronic, low water cut-off you do not have to flush any water. If you have afloat type low water cut-off you need to flush every week or two but not much water. Just enough until it starts running clean.
The purpose of the flush with the float type low water cut-off is to keep the float chamber clean so the float does not bind up on the dirt in the float chamber. The electronic probe type does not have a float chamber.
 
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