New home gas steam system repairable?

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Old 12-10-12, 05:27 PM
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New home gas steam system repairable?

Hi. I found lots of useful information on this site and I'm curious if I can get some advice on what to do here.

When I moved into my house (built in the 1930's) The inspector showed us about the boiler and the sight glass and all. We didn't really need to use it much since it wasn't very cold after March and the few times it did fire, everything seemed normal.

Since it's gotten colder, it's been naturally running much more. Once in a while, while doing laundry, I'd take a look at the sight glass and found it sufficiently filled with water. A week passed and at the next check, the sight glass was empty.

At this time, I found this site and began learning heaps of things about psi, low water cutoff and low efficiency and stuff.

So, in an effort to avert disaster, I shut the heat off at the thermostat and waited a good full day (16 or so hours) before trying to fill up the boiler through the feeder valve.

It started off slow, then I slowly increased the rate of flow. There was no change on the sight glass.

Soon enough, lots of rusty water started coming from the bottom of the boiler.

I shut the water off and waited a few hours before turning the heat on again. While I was waiting, I noticed some brown gunk over the pressure gauge covering the numbers. No matter what now, it always stays at zero psi.

The furnace from that point continues to heat the house, but I started wondering if it had run out of water and overheated? The canister above the boiler was a darker color than it was before and no longer had steam coming out of it.

The top-right disc had steam leaking from it at the top, too.

I'm really concerned about running this based on the possibility that the low water cutoff may be compromised, not to mention, the sight glass still has no water in it so I go down ever other day and let a bit of water into the boiler after letting it cool.

I guess what I'm curious about is, what should I do to get this working proper again?

I had a boiler tech come down the other day and just shut the boiler off at the boiler and said don't run it and to get a new boiler.

We don't have much money to throw around since moving in earlier this year.

Have a look at the pictures to get a better idea of what I'm going on about. This may or may not be pertinent, but it has a honeywell conversion burner that I'm renting. They wouldn't do anything since it wasn't a part of the conversion burner that was failing, I guess.

Thanks for any insight.

- Kris
 
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Old 12-10-12, 05:44 PM
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I don't normally do this but I would replace the boiler also. Keep adding water until it shows up in the glass but the low water cut-off must not be working so it still should not be fired. Would I put money into fixing this old unit? No I would not. Vents need changed, piping should be insulated etc.
 
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Old 12-10-12, 05:55 PM
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Kris, rbeck knows what he's talking about, trust him! When he says he doesn't normally do this... I'm trying to think if I've EVER heard him suggest a new boiler! I can't recall...

I concur with his opinion.

Take a look at the Burnham 'Independence' boiler.

U.S. Boiler Company is a leading manufacturer of home heating equipment, water boilers, steam boilers, hot water heaters, radiators and boiler control systems.

ABOVE ALL! a proper STEAM installation requires a QUALIFIED INSTALLER, one who KNOWS STEAM SYSTEMS! Steam requires special knowledge to properly install. Make sure you check references, and all ...
 
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Old 12-10-12, 05:59 PM
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Any homeowner with steam heat MUST read this book:

Heating Help

Trust me that it will be the best $25 you can spend on your heating system.

It is written in layman's terms, easy to understand, and actually fun to read. When you finish it you may well know more about steam systems than 99% of the 'so-called' techs that come to work on them.

Most importantly it will teach you who NOT TO TRUST.
 
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Old 12-10-12, 06:02 PM
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Get that book !
 
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Old 12-10-12, 06:17 PM
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Well, I'll go against the tide and state that the FIRST thing that needs to be done is a thorough cleaning and inspection. It MAY be the boiler is shot but maybe not. The gauge glass needs to be completely removed and the passages cleaned of any crap and corruption. The low water cut-off needs to be disassembled and cleaned and then tested. The piping to and from the house needs to be disconnected and a hydrostatic test done on the boiler to see if it is leaking. The pressure gauge and the safety valve need to be removed, cleaned and tested.

ONLY after these maintenance items and tests have been performed would I even consider replacing the boiler.
 
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Old 12-10-12, 06:36 PM
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Furd, I see your point... but I have to ask, at what cost?

By the way, I know you read the original post, I just edited it for readability (white space) and bolded a couple items that would concern me... somehow I don't think this boiler would pass a pressure test.

What would you estimate these maintenance items may cost? I'm going with over $500 right off the bat. IF it is even possible to find a technician that would be willing. (one has already 'walked')
 

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Old 12-10-12, 07:09 PM
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Thanks for all the great insight, NJ! (everyone else, as well!) I just ordered the book 2-day express.

If nothing else, I'd love to get a good understanding on how this all works. My biggest concern in all this is averting a boiler explosion!

On another note, this may be a no-brainer, but if I decided to go with a new boiler, I'd be able to ditch my conversion burner, right? Thanks!!!
 
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Old 12-10-12, 07:22 PM
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I realize rbeck has already suggested replacing the boiler but maybe he'll be able to answer my question which is: Is that boiler approved for gas? If that is the boiler I think it is, it was originally sold as oil fired.
 
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Old 12-10-12, 07:42 PM
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Trooper, I can barely see the pictures. They're sideways, too small, too dark and of low resolution so I can't even copy them and enlarge. I'll respond to your bolded comments.

lots of rusty water started coming from the bottom of the boiler

Generally would denote a cracked section but it could be from some other thing, no way of knowing without an inspection.


The top-right disc had steam leaking from it at the top, too.
I can only assume the OP means the blanking plate for a tankless coil. Maybe it needs a new gasket, maybe a bit of JB Weld would seal it up.


Removing the gauge glass and valves is routine maintenance on a steamer and everyone that has a steamer in their basement should know how to do this. It should be done yearly but I suspect that 99.5% of residential boilers have never had the gauge glass valves removed and cleaned. The same is true of the low water cut-off, the pressure gauge (and siphon) and the safety valve. All these things can be accomplished by a DIYer with simple hand tools including an 8-inch and 12-inch adjustable wrench.

Remember, a properly operating steamer has less than 2 psi (usually less than 1 psi) on it so it doesn't have to withstand a whole lot of pressure. They are initially tested at 30 to 60 psi in the shop but a pressure test to 5 psi is all that is necessary to ensure safety in the field.

I DID notice that this is NOT the original boiler. It has a section of copper piping on the condensate return and we all know that copper is not kosher with steamers. It also has unions on the piping and that will make disconnecting it easier for putting a pressure test on the boiler. Heck, if I lived in the vicinity I would show this homeowner how to do the routine maintenance and help inspect the thing for a good home-cooked meal. I wouldn't expect anyone doing this work for a living to do so but I would expect a little compassion towards his fellow man/woman.

The salesman (definitely not a technician) that looked at the boiler simply didn't want to be involved in any kind of repair, he wanted to sell a new boiler and installation. Someone like that who will "mess" with people facing winter and a meager bank account make me ill.

Grady, there is no question that was originally an oil-fired boiler and it now has a gas conversion burner. Whether or not it is/was "approved" for the gas conversion I do not know. I honestly don't think that is a huge factor but that is just my opinion.
 
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Old 12-10-12, 07:46 PM
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if I decided to go with a new boiler, I'd be able to ditch my conversion burner
Yes. You would get a boiler designed for gas, no conversion burner.

After you read the book, start hunting for installers.

I think Furd's idea of cleaning the sight tube might be a good idea, but if this boiler is as ill-maintained as I think it is, it may not be that easy to get stuff apart without breaking stuff worse.

I mean, at this point, you basically have no heat in the home, is that right?
 
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Old 12-10-12, 07:55 PM
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Heck, if I lived in the vicinity I would show this homeowner how to do the routine maintenance and help inspect the thing for a good home-cooked meal.
I'm pretty sure I would too! as long as there was beer... and my favorite brewery is in MA ...

Kris, ya know, the more I think about it, Furd does make some sense... (don't he always?)... he's 'old school' and would rather fix something than see it thrown out (me too, for the most part).

Maybe one of your angles should be to try shopping for an 'old school' guy who knows his way around boilers and see if he can't maybe get ya at least a GOOD inspection, not just pull the plug and walk... someone who isn't afraid to get his hands dirty and use a little elbow grease. If you can find the right guy, he might be able to get you through the winter for a couple hundred or so...

On the other hand, if there is a crack, well, yer kinda outta luck, but nobody has even looked yet...

Ask around, go to a local REAL plumbing / heating supply ... ask if they know anyone who could help you out. You might get lucky.
 
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Old 12-11-12, 04:18 AM
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Grady,
You got the drift. I did not want to say it but that boiler is not or ever was certified for a gas gun. It was certified for oil only.
If the water disappeared that fast there is a leak beit in piping or boiler.
Apparently the LWCO is not working. No pipe insulation (very important to cost of operation), draft regulator is not in the proper place is this the old oil draft regulator or a double action for gas.
Who know id the pressure control will shut off, relief valve works and steam vent ( believe she referenced is leaking steam?
I don't want to argue with Trooper but I do not believe $500 will touch this. I think the price to make repairs and clean is closer to $1000. Than we still have a possible boiler or line leak.
 
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Old 12-11-12, 05:54 AM
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I was being VERY optimistic with my $500 guess... no argument there!

and I know that it will be VERY difficult to find someone to agree to work on it.
 
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Old 12-11-12, 06:14 PM
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Rbeck,
I saw the draft regulator & thought about the other things as well. I wouldn't use that boiler on a bet, "repaired" or not. Touch it & leave my tail hanging in the breeze? Not this old geezer.
 
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Old 12-11-12, 07:44 PM
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Yeah... that's gonna be the hard part about finding someone to work on it...

The general rule "You touch it, you own it" doesn't truly apply here, it needs modified to:

"You touch it, IT OWNS YOU!"

and to find a guy willing to take that risk will be next to impossible.
 
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Old 12-12-12, 03:20 PM
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Thanks for all the input folks! I'm still waiting for the book, but based on the feel of it all, I think I'm gonna have to find a way to replace it. I've been looking at Burnham as a replacement. I'd just like to get a good price on the labor if I can't do it myself. Unfortunately, I've never had an issue like this so I have no point of reference! Again, thanks!
 
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Old 12-12-12, 03:24 PM
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By the way, I'm still using it, but VERY cautiously. That's getting tricky now that it's been in the 20's lately.
 
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Old 12-12-12, 04:26 PM
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Kris, if you are careful, and reasonably handy, I don't see any reason why you can't attempt to at least clean up the gauge glass and the water feeder...

Maybe something in this thread will be helpful?

http://www.doityourself.com/forum/bo...ss-repair.html
 
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Old 12-12-12, 04:43 PM
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Thanks for the info, NJ! I'm brave (or foolish) enough to take on the whole project, let alone gauge glass and water feeder maintenance! At least with the PROPER guidance.

I also happen to be a staunch believer in the laws of physics! I think my concern was whether it was too late for all that!

I tell you, if any of you folks lived near my area, I'd be happy to whip up a crazy good pulled pork or the best beef stew you ever had! I'd need to know ahead of time for the pork, though. That sucker needs to cook for a loooooong time! Drives my wife and I crazy while it's cooking!
 
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Old 12-12-12, 05:11 PM
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my concern was whether it was too late for all that!
I think so...

Before you start:

Hunt around your area for a REAL plumbing / heating supply house.

Stop in and find out if they would be able to supply the washers and seals you would need to clean and rebuild the gauge glass. If they give you any poo because you are 'just a homeowner', then look for another.

In other words, make sure you will be able to get the parts you need to put it back together before you start.

The glass itself would be a prime concern... glass can break... or may already be cracked...

Do you have parts diagrams for the boiler (a manual?). If not, take the make/model and see what information is available on the web... studying the parts diagrams is a HUGE help...

Same with the water feeder... take the make/model to Google and find and download the manual for it. See what parts you might possibly need... maybe buy first to have on hand.

OK, maybe you've got a crack... maybe there are some leaks, but it's WINTER, so you've got to do SOMETHING to have some reasonable confidence that you aren't gonna freeze...

Yes, if the cash was in the cookie jar, then go and have a new boiler, but since it ain't, see what you can do.

Keep in mind that you STILL might have a problem... or maybe not... it's a gamble you have to decide if you are willing to take.
 
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Old 12-12-12, 05:14 PM
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Take a look here too:

SEARCH_STRING=gauge glass - PexSupply.com

By the way, what IS the model of the boiler and the make/model of the water feeder?

crazy good pulled pork or the best beef stew you ever had!
Sounds great! There will be copious amounts of Sammy's Winter Lager, right?
 
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Old 12-12-12, 06:05 PM
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Thanks for the links! Looks like they'll have what I might need! The boiler is a Burnham V-34. The water feeder, from all I understand, is just the red lever on the vertical pipe on the right side of the boiler? I have some better pictures (rotated properly this time) that are more clear if that helps.
 
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Old 12-12-12, 07:20 PM
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Oh, sadly, good ol' Sammy. It was great once upon a time. Still better than most. It just tends to taste more....I don't know....manufactured? Maybe it's just being too close to the source. Nowadays, it takes a nice, hearty trappist ale to whet my whistle!
 
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Old 12-12-12, 07:21 PM
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Ya know Kris, now that I've got a better look... it actually is worse than I thought... I'm particularly concerned about what looks like the paint is all burned off around the burner door... and soot on the front... could mean a number of things... someone wiped their finger through it in a few places... maybe the repair guy that looked at it?

I said 'water feeder' but I guess I meant 'low water cutoff' which actually looks in a bit better shape than the rest of the system.

The inspector showed us about the boiler
Did this 'inspector' express ANY concerns about the condition of the boiler at all? Did he say ANYTHING about safety?

And that flue pipe... it's been mentioned that it's ALL wrong...

I dunno man... sometimes it's a tough bullet to bite...

Oh... I wanted to ask... what is up with all them spider webs? Leftover Halloween decorations? (sorry, couldn't resist!)
 
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Old 12-12-12, 07:33 PM
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From what I mentioned in my original post, "I had a boiler tech come down the other day and just shut the boiler off at the boiler and said don't run it and to get a new boiler."

But it still heats the home without any type of fuss. Just some things are performing "differently". Like the steam coming from the front plate instead of the canister on top where it used to.

When it's warm enough, though, we always shut it off.

Would I be terribly off-base to believe that if I were to get a water level displaying in the gauge glass, and maintained it between 1/2 and 3/4 full, I'd be OK to run it?

If I need to take the whole thing apart to clean it, I'm willing. I also think it got more toasty than it should've too (i.e. run out of water).

If I run that feeder valve for too long, water begins coming from underneath the boiler. I don't know if that's to prevent water from going where it's not supposed to go or if it's because something's broken.

So would the low water cutoff, be the rectangular doohickey way out in front extended out from the bottom of the boiler? I thought that was the conversion burner? It's a learning process!

We're definitely going to go with a replacement when it comes down to it. We just need to buy some time since it's just way out of our budget right now to pay someone to install it. Hence, my eagerness to diy.

 
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Old 12-12-12, 08:14 PM
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Would I be terribly off-base to believe that if I were to get a water level displaying in the gauge glass, and maintained it between 1/2 and 3/4 full, I'd be OK to run it?
I really don't want to make a pronouncement that it would be OK... I can't really judge that and don't want any openings to 'liability', I'm sure you understand that position.

Thing is, if you start to fill it, and brown gunk starts coming out the bottom before anything shows on the glass, it could mean a few things...

1. Yes, it's broken... big ole crack in one of the sections... and the water never gets high enough because of that to even get up to the bottom of the glass.

2. Glass is plugged up and no water getting in.

Either way though, the fact that you fill to a level and water starts coming out is a VERY bad sign. Even if you were to put enough water in to flood the whole system, I don't think there should be water pouring out.

Now, about the LWCO (Low Water Cut Off)...

So would the low water cutoff, be the rectangular doohickey way out in front extended out from the bottom of the boiler? I thought that was the conversion burner?
No. The LWCO is the black thing on the side, connected to the glass.

The blue thing is your conversion burner.

By all rights, if you've got no water in the glass, you should not even be able FIRE the boiler and from what it sounds like, the LWCO isn't working, and could well be what caused your boilers demise.

I think that what happened is that it ran low on water, got SUPER hot (lucky didn't cause a fire!) and cracked the cast iron.

One thing I can tell you right now... when the boiler WAS that hot, and you shut it down and WAITED, and did not feed water immediately, you almost certainly saved your own, and probably your family's lives.

If you had fed cold water into that hot boiler, it most definitely could have exploded with a force that would certainly have been able to kill you standing next to it, and who knows what kind of property damage.

When water 'flashes' to steam by being fed into a hot boiler, it expands SEVENTEEN TIMES in volume and that compromised boiler would not have been able to contain that pressure and probably would have blown...

There but for the Grace of God...
 
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