very basic question: steam heat not coming on

Reply

  #1  
Old 11-03-12, 10:22 PM
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Nov 2012
Location: USA
Posts: 6
Received 0 Votes on 0 Posts
very basic question: steam heat not coming on

Please bear with me, I am a total novice at this.

Anyway I am trying to do some basic troubleshooting. I have steam heat, boiler uses natural gas. I cannot get it to come on (first time trying since last winter). I do not know much else about the system but I will try my best to supply any needed info.

The pilot light is on. On the thermostat (a typical 24v) there is a light that normally turns on when the heat is on, but the light is not coming on no matter what temp I set.

The pressure gauge on the boiler currently reads 0 psi. Earlier it did go very high (almost 15 psi) when I was having trouble with the automatic water feeder/LWCO. It seems the system was clogged in some way and the water feeder kept filling water, turning off briefly, and then coming back on again even tho the water level gauge was completely full. Eventually water started leaking out of the boiler, very rusty. Eventually I flushed out the rusty water and the water in the glass gauge returned to relatively clean looking.

After that the feeder stopped forcing water into the system and now the LWCO/feeder seems to be back to normal operation (?). The glass gauge still shows full/almost full. The pressure gauge has not moved from 0 since.

Is there any way I can do some basic troubleshooting before I call in a professional? I'd like to eliminate at least some of the very easiest problems that might be causing this.

Thanks
 
Sponsored Links
  #2  
Old 11-04-12, 12:50 AM
Member
Join Date: Mar 2006
Location: Wet side of Washington state.
Posts: 18,490
Received 32 Votes on 24 Posts
When you write that you are a total novice I suspect that means that you have not been performing routine maintenance on the boiler. Steam boilers are not the same as hot water boilers and they DO require maintenance more often than once a year.

So how long have you lived in this house and exactly what maintenance have you done, or had done, to the boiler in that time? What knowledge do you have about the previous owner doing or having done maintenance?

There are several possible explanations as to why your burner won't fire and it depends upon what controls are installed and how they are wired. Long distance troubleshooting is extremely difficult in these situations. Several well lit and in focus pictures of the installation may help. I would need to see both close ups and from a distance to see how it all fits together. Do you have a multimeter (voltmeter) and know how to use it?

Photos are best uploaded to a photo hosting site such as photobucket.con with the public URLs listed here.
 
  #3  
Old 11-04-12, 12:57 PM
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Nov 2012
Location: USA
Posts: 6
Received 0 Votes on 0 Posts
Thanks for the reply. Yes, I bought this house about a year back and it's my first time. The only thing I did at the end of last winter was to flip the switch to turn the boiler off essentially. I'm not sure what maintenance the previous owner did. For what it's worth, the home inspector said the boiler seemed to be in decent shape and was about 10 years old, maybe a bit less.

Here are a few pictures I took, please let me know if there's anything I can focus on to help diagnose. The fourth pic is supposed to show the glass water gauge as being full, but it didn't turn out very clearly in the picture.

boiler - Imgur
 
  #4  
Old 11-04-12, 08:50 PM
Member
Join Date: Mar 2006
Location: Wet side of Washington state.
Posts: 18,490
Received 32 Votes on 24 Posts
There are too many possible problems for me to do any long-distance troubleshooting. The mere fact that you have done no preventive maintenance and admittedly know nothing about the system causes me to hesitate on offering much advice. You really need a professional to thoroughly check this out.

I strongly suggest that you purchase the book, We Have Steam Heat by Dan Holohan. It is available from many on-line booksellers as well as from the author at his website, heatinghelp.com This book will tell you more than you could ever want to know about your system but it is written for the lay person so is easy to understand.
 
  #5  
Old 11-05-12, 09:43 AM
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Nov 2012
Location: USA
Posts: 6
Received 0 Votes on 0 Posts
ok, well here's another twist. The next day I tried it again and it decided to come on. (The pressure also crept up to about 2psi.) It seemed to be going fine except that even tho it had not reached the target temp on the stat, the boiler would suddenly shut off again for a bit (anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes) and then turn on again. (The light on the stat would indicate this, and I confirmed this behavior at the boiler -it would start up with a fwoosh, but then after a while would suddenly go silent ... then a fwoosh again ... etc).

Does this give any more clues or am I still hopeless and need to read that book/hire that pro in order to figure out this issue? Oh yeah I do have a cheap multimeter and know the very (very) basics of how to use it.

Thanks
 

Last edited by beermuscles; 11-05-12 at 10:33 AM.
  #6  
Old 11-05-12, 12:51 PM
Member
Join Date: Mar 2006
Location: Wet side of Washington state.
Posts: 18,490
Received 32 Votes on 24 Posts
Unless you plan on moving very soon to a house that does NOT have steam heat you DO need to purchase and read that book. I know that $25 is a significant price for a book that you would rather not read but steam heating systems are a different animal than either hot water or forced air systems. With the other systems you can usually get by with having a pro check them out once a year but steam requires some simple maintenance on a regular basis (monthly, maybe more often in certain situations) to be done by the homeowner.

No, it is generally NOT normal for the boiler pressure to rise to the "cut off" point (2 psi) and then immediately re-fire. This could denote several possible problems with the entire system or perhaps just the boiler. Do you have any of the radiator valves closed? In a steam system the radiator valves need to be fully open or fully closed at all times. Do not "throttle" the valve on a steam radiator in an attempt to control the heat output. On the end of the radiator opposite the inlet piping there is a little valve screwed into the radiator that looks like one of these. https://www.google.com/search?q=steam+radiator+air+vent+valve&hl=en&safe=images&client=firefox-a&hs=8So&tbo=d&rls=org.mozilla:en-USfficial&channel=np&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=phWYUPiYKq_liwLP4YHoCw&ved=0CAcQ_AUoAA&biw=1024&bih=632 This valve, when working properly will vent the air from the radiator but close when the steam get to it. There are similar, but larger, valves located on the main piping in the basement and all these air valves need to be in proper working order or the steam pressure WILL rise in the boiler and cause it to shut down the burner.

You could have rust, crap or corruption in any of the smaller passages of the control piping in your boiler. The loop of pipe connecting the pressure switch is often severely restricted and it should be removed and cleaned on a yearly basis. The connections to the gauge glass likewise need to be cleaned each and every year UNLESS experience with the system has proven such yearly cleaning is not necessary. The low water cutoff should be disassembled, cleaned, (rebuilt if necessary) yearly along with the automatic water feeder.

Ideally, you would have a "make-up" water meter to measure exactly how much water your system is losing (as measured by the amount of "make-up" water necessary to maintain the proper amount of water in the system) to give you a good idea of how often and how much water to "blow down" through the drain valve on the boiler. If you use a lot of make-up water (as a result of leaks in the system) you will need to blow down more frequently to remove the suspended and dissolved solids in the boiler water that are concentrated by boiling off steam and bringing in more make-up water.

You also need to periodically check the action of the water in the gauge glass and test the low water cutout to ensure it is operating correctly.

These are just a few of the things that you need to know when you have a steam heating system.
 
  #7  
Old 11-05-12, 03:25 PM
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Nov 2012
Location: USA
Posts: 6
Received 0 Votes on 0 Posts
ok, thanks for the tips. Yeah, all of the rad valves are either all the way closed or all the way open.

One of my initial questions was this tho: is it possible that the 0 pressure prevented the boiler from turning on? Or is that not how it works? I hope that's a simple question and not something that doesn't make sense for me to ask.

Thanks
 
  #8  
Old 11-05-12, 04:46 PM
Member
Join Date: Apr 2011
Location: nj
Posts: 576
Received 0 Votes on 0 Posts
There is never any pressure on a cold start for a steam system and you may not reach full pressure before it shuts off, depending on your heating load. There are several things that may be causing your issues and the list would be to long to even write. If you put your t-stat up, and the boiler doesn't come on then your not getting 24v to your burner circuit. This could be caused by your transformer, low water cut off, pressurtrol or any other safety's that are involved in the circuit. Get the model number off the boiler and i'll pull up the wiring schematic and tell you what to test. As far as a boiler cleaning goes, get one done ASAP. What part of NY are you in?
 
  #9  
Old 11-05-12, 04:50 PM
Member
Join Date: Apr 2011
Location: nj
Posts: 576
Received 0 Votes on 0 Posts
Also you do have some piping issues that i see right off the bat
 
  #10  
Old 11-05-12, 05:07 PM
Member
Join Date: Apr 2011
Location: nj
Posts: 576
Received 0 Votes on 0 Posts
From what i can gather, it looks like you have an EG series W-M boiler and 5 burners will give you an EG40. If thats the boiler you have, then the wiring checks are as follows. Test for 24v at the R terminal of the stat. If there is 24v present, then your low water cut off is fine. If not then either your low on water or the boiler is so dirty the probe is not sensing. Next step if you have 24v at the stat is to check your pressurtrol which is the gray box with the number scale on it. With the stat on if you have 24 v on both terminals then we will move on. If you have 24 v on one terminal but not the other then your boiler is either off on pressure or the pressurtrol is not functioning correctly. If you dont have 24v on either terminal then your spill swith is tripped or the stat is malfunctioning. This switch is located somewhere on the flue piping and has a small reset button on it. if you dont have power to either terminal on this switch then its the stat. Moving along would be the rollout switch which is located near the burners. This switch does not have a reset on it but you can check for 24v on the terminals. If you have 24v on both you may have an issue with either your flue damper, the connection itself or possibly the gas valve. Hope you can figure it out. Let me know what you find.
 
  #11  
Old 11-06-12, 04:58 PM
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Nov 2012
Location: USA
Posts: 6
Received 0 Votes on 0 Posts
Thanks, RDSTEAM! You've given me a lot of things to check, I will break out the multimeter and do my best ...

One other question: the LWCO both activates the auto water feeder, as well as shuts down the boiler to prevent damage, is that correct? So if the boiler has been randomly overfilling with water to the point of flooding, AND has been randomly just shutting down before reaching the t-stat's temp -- should this lead me to focus on the LWCO for testing? It seems logical to me, that if the LWCO has lost its mind, it would tell the water feeder to feed and also shut down the boiler, both when it's not necessary.
 
  #12  
Old 11-07-12, 10:28 AM
Member
Join Date: Apr 2011
Location: nj
Posts: 576
Received 0 Votes on 0 Posts
You are correct about the LWCO. The probe may need to be cleaned.
 
  #13  
Old 11-17-12, 07:54 AM
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Nov 2012
Location: USA
Posts: 6
Received 0 Votes on 0 Posts
Well, the boiler started acting more and more well-behaved until it eventually seems to be more or less normal now. (I did flush it again after it flooded itself one more time.) I guess the LWCO was dirty somehow (the probe, as per RDSTEAM?). Thanks for everyone's help, I will make more effort to perform better maint on it from now on.
 
  #14  
Old 11-17-12, 08:44 AM
NJT's Avatar
NJT
NJT is offline
Member
Join Date: Oct 2006
Location: USA
Posts: 23,539
Received 2 Votes on 2 Posts
No matter what, you still need to read the book. It should be a requirement that any home with steam heat when sold includes a copy of this book. This book is an easy read, very understandable, written for the layman, and will not disappoint you.

Heating Help
 
Reply

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are Off


Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Display Modes
 
Ask a Question
Question Title:
Description:
Your question will be posted in: