Tankless Water Heater -- Cold Showers please help me, my gf is driving me nuts!

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Old 01-17-13, 09:18 AM
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Question Tankless Water Heater -- Shower begins hot but becomes cold quickly

Hello everyone, I found this site after scouring the internet for a week looking up info. This site is by far the best I've seen so I decided to join. I have read many posts here but I have a couple of questions that I haven't found the answer to.

So here's the problem. We recently moved in to a home that has a Wells McClain boiler, we have steam radiators for heat and what I think is a tankless water heater because we don't have a tank. We use oil for fuel. The main problem is with showers not staying hot long enough. We turn the shower on and the water is hot for a minute before cooling off, so we turn up the hot water a little and it gets hot again for about 30 seconds to a minute before turning cold again. This process is repeated 3 or 4 times until we can't turn the handle any further and all we have left is cold water. The shower has a single handle faucet(I've heard this causes problems with tankless heaters). SO far what I've done is turn up the little temp dial on the side of the boiler. There is a little gray box on the left side of the boiler with one screw holding the cover on. I took that off and noticed a dial with temps on it. I assumed it was the water temp and turned it up. While this did help the water temp at first the radiators started getting really hot and heating the house up higher than our thermostat was set. It was at this point that I realized that I must have chenged the wrong setting and put it back. Next, I tinkered with my shower handle so I could turn it more to the hot setting, that didn't help either. THen I checked the shower head for a flow restrictor and didn't see one but ran the water without the shower head on to test the water temp. Still cold.

Last night I went down in the basement and I found the mixing valve which is set on 180. It's only a little brass knob and it only turns a quarter of an inch so I did not move that. Then I noticed that the pressure guage on the front of the boiler reads zero. That probably shouldn't be zero, right? One last thing I noticed. When we moved in they told us to drain the rusty water and refill the tank every week. We were told to use the little glass vial on the front to see the water level. The problem is the vial is so rusty I can't even tell what level the water is and/or whether or not it is full or empty. The last time I drained the water and re-filled it was around the time the hot water problem became worse. Could our lines have too much or too little water? Sorry for all the info, I just wanted to give as much as I could. I will try to take pics tomorrow night to post.
 

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Old 01-17-13, 04:05 PM
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WOW,

Be careful messing with a steam boiler.
You will only see pressure on a steam boiler when it's on, and even then it will only be a few psi.
We need a model number off the boiler and maybe a bunch of pictures.
There could be a bad aquastat on the boiler.

Best thing to do is call the land lord and ask them to install an electric tank, would be cheaper in the long run than keeping a warm oil fired steam boiler in the summer just for DHW
 
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Old 01-17-13, 04:11 PM
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[ TO, I let ya go first this time! ]

For starters, you owe it to yourself to learn as much about your steam heating system as possible. I recommend that you pick this book up:

Heating Help

This is the best $25 you can spend on your system. When done reading it you will probably know more about the proper way to run a steamer than at least 90% of the guys you call to service it.

The 'thankless' coil method of producing domestic hot water is better than only one other way... a kettle of water on a woodstove. It is the most inefficient way of producing hot water in a home. Talk to anyone who has one and you will see they all have the same problem to varying degrees.

First problem... the inside of the coil gets 'limed' up with mineral deposits, more and faster if you have hard water, and this reduces the heat transfer and flow rate which ultimately leads to cold showers.

Trying to flow MORE water to compensate will only make matters worse. Next time you are facing a cold shower, turn the water flow DOWN and I think you will see that it gets hotter. I know that it's counter-intuitive to do so, but try it and you will see. It has to do with the amount of 'contact time' that the water in the coil has to pick up the heat.

The shower has a single handle faucet(I've heard this causes problems with tankless heaters)
Possibly so. If it's the type that has a FIXED flow, and only right and left TEMPERATURE control, then you won't be able to turn down the flow. In this case, a flow restrictor on the shower head is called for.

Then I checked the shower head for a flow restrictor and didn't see one
Get one... maybe even a whole new shower head. Try to shoot for less than 2 GPM.

There is a little gray box on the left side of the boiler with one screw holding the cover on. I took that off and noticed a dial with temps on it. I assumed it was the water temp and turned it up. While this did help the water temp at first the radiators started getting really hot and heating the house up higher than our thermostat was set.
What was the original setting that you returned to?

That control probably IS the control for the water temp, but not DIRECTLY.

When you run a 'thankless' coil in a STEAM boiler, the water in the boiler can not be heated to the point where steam is actually being produced. If you crank it too far what happens is exactly as you describe... water heats up and steams and the home gets heat when it should not.

ound the mixing valve which is set on 180. It's only a little brass knob and it only turns a quarter of an inch so I did not move that
Can you take a picture of it? Typically these mixing valves are set to 120.

180 is EXTREMELY HOT for domestic hot water, you can win a trip to the emergency room pretty easily. Young and tender skin, and elderly slow to react are most vulnerable, but ANYONE is in danger of SCALDING injuries!

Don't turn it until you get a pic and we confirm that it is what you think it is.

I noticed that the pressure guage on the front of the boiler reads zero. That probably shouldn't be zero, right?
On a STEAM boiler, that is perfectly fine. The only time that you should see any pressure on that gauge is during a heat call when the boiler is actually making steam. All other times it should return to zero when the boiler cools.

When we moved in they told us to drain the rusty water and refill the tank every week. We were told to use the little glass vial on the front to see the water level. The problem is the vial is so rusty I can't even tell what level the water is and/or whether or not it is full or empty. The last time I drained the water and re-filled it was around the time the hot water problem became worse. Could our lines have too much or too little water?
You should not have to drain and refill the boiler every week. Perhaps they were instructing about the WATER FEEDER or the LOW WATER CUT OFF devices on the side?

I would say that you might have to 'blow down' the boiler every 3-4 weeks to flush out the 'crud'. I don't think you need to completely drain it.

ALWAYS after you add fresh water, BOIL IT. Don't leave fresh water in the boiler...

The vial (we call it a 'gauge glass') can (and probably should) be removed and cleaned. You NEED to be DILIGENT about maintaining the water level in your boiler! Not doing so can result in a cracked boiler, or FIRE if the boiler is fired dry.

If you EVER DO fire it dry, DO NOT EVER EVER FEED COLD WATER INTO IT UNTIL AFTER THE BOILER HAS COOLED AGAIN! If you do feed cold water into a HOT boiler, you risk BLOWING YOURSELF AND YOUR HOME UP! When water flashes to steam it increases in volume SEVENTEEN TIMES and the force of that is enough to blow you to Kingdom Come.

All of this information will be found in the book... it really is a MUST READ.

While you are down there taking the pics, take a look at your PRESSURTROL and tell us the settings on it.

Could our lines have too much or too little water?
You mean the steam lines? They shouldn't have ANY standing water in them. Only steam or liquid condensate which should drain back to the boiler.

The water level in the boiler itself MUST be maintained at the proper level! If you over fill the boiler you run the risk of 'flooding' the system... that's always fun... NOT!

Waiting for pics!
 
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Old 01-21-13, 02:02 PM
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What's the easiset way to add pictures? I'm having trouble for some reason.
 
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Old 01-21-13, 02:28 PM
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Adding pics can be a problem from time to time ... sometimes if you try the same thing a second time, it works.

The best way I know of...

Set up a FREE account at Photo and image hosting, free photo galleries, photo editing | Photobucket and upload your pics to a PUBLIC album there.

Come back here and place a link to your album where we can view the pics.
 
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Old 01-21-13, 06:22 PM
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Here is the link to the photobucket album. mdr411's Library | Photobucket
 
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Old 01-21-13, 07:00 PM
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Mixing valve showing some leakage/weeping ... the green 'crud' gives it away. I'm not familiar with that brand... wonder if it is thermostatic or simply a fixed mixer?

You say that this is set to 180? (in your previous post) ... I don't see any temp markings...

Truthfully, I would probably plan on replacing it.

 
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Old 01-21-13, 07:03 PM
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Wonder why they coiled the oil line like that? Can't recall having ever seen that before... they must have had SOME reason for it? Maybe to warm the oil some before it hits the burner? I'm really not too keen on that idea...

 
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Old 01-21-13, 07:19 PM
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Well, I don't see any 'major' problems in the pics.

You will want to take apart and clean this gauge glass so you can see the water level:



Replacing the mixing valve might help the hot water situation, but after seeing the pics I don't have much more to add to my previous reply...
 
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Old 01-22-13, 05:44 AM
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Thanks for the tips. I think I will work on cleaning the glass first, although I am afraid it will crack so I'll have to order a new one. Second, I will change out the mixing valve. Do you have a suggestion on what to order for a new one? A good place to order these parts from?

My other question is should I install a new coil? Is that something a newbie like myself can do? I'm comfortable with plumbing a soldering and I do all my own work on the home but heating is new to me. I definitely want to learn it though.

So we have about $3,000 that we're looking to spend on upgrades. Our original thought was to spend the money converting the heat to gas, since we already have gas lines in the home. We had a guy tell us that converting the boiler to gas would be about $3,000. But since then we've had second thoughts since we won't be living in the home for more than 5 years so it may not make sense financially to switch. Our main concern is having hot water for showers and having a warm home. Right now we have cold showers and the home is always cold. We have the heat set to 55 since we're only home to have dinner and sleep. I think I will order that book that NJTrooper suggested to see if we can get the heating system to work better. Maybe there is air in the lines or something? Another possibility would be to get a water tank. If we wanted to do that, how would it affect the system we have? Would we still have to change out the coil? Sorry for all of the questions, I'm still learning this whole heating thing! Just wondering your opinions on how to spend our money on upgrades. Thanks!

Oh and NJTrooper...about the mixing valve. See that little knob on the top? That has two little dots on one edge of the top that I assume is an indicator telling what it's set at. Around the base of the know are temps like 120 140 160 and 180. The two little dots are next to the 180 so I assume that's what it's set on.
 
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Old 01-22-13, 04:15 PM
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Before going further, I forgot that I wanted to recommend a book for you to read... a very GOOD book for homeowners with the steam...

Heating Help

Best $25 you could spend on your system.

I think the pics showed that this is an SGO model? Do you have the manuals? If not, go here, click the DOWNLOADS tabs and grab the manuals for the boiler.

SGO Oil Boiler | Weil-McLain | Product Detail

I will work on cleaning the glass first, although I am afraid it will crack so I'll have to order a new one.
383-600-001 - Weil Mclain 383-600-001 - Gauge Glass Kit

Patriot Supply - 383-600-001

Be careful and you won't break it, that stuff is pretty tough. Inspect for cracks and replace if found. You should plan on at LEAST using new washers and these you may be able to find at a well stocked REAL plumbing/heating supply, probably not at HD or Lowes.

I don't think cheap enough to keep one on shelf as a spare... but then I'M cheap, you might not be!

should I install a new coil? Is that something a newbie like myself can do? I'm comfortable with plumbing a soldering and I do all my own work on the home but heating is new to me. I definitely want to learn it though.
The coil may (or may not) need replacement... the deposits can usually be 'acid boiled' out. I didn't look to see if your system has the required 'service valves' on it or not, but these would consist of ball valves to isolate the coil from the domestic plumbing, and a pair of drains on the coil side of the shutoff valves. This would allow one to mix up a pail of acid, and use a 'pony pump' with a few hoses to pump acid from a 5 gallon bucket through the coil to dissolve the buildup. It's not something for the 'faint of heart', but is possibly do-able yourself... depends on how adventursome you are! There is another recent thread where I discussed this, along with the cautions, for another poster. Try the search and see if you can find and decide for yourself.

If you decide to replace the coil, you would of course have to drain the boiler down some... as long as the bolts are not rusted (I don't think they are IIRC) you should be able to do this yourself, as long as you can properly sweat solder copper piping and have the tools and skills to remove/replace the coil.

I've never done business with this company so can't vouch, and I don't see a listing for SGO coil, but you can see that coil is going to be several hundred, or more...

Weil McLain - Tankless Heaters Replacement Coils
 
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Old 01-22-13, 04:25 PM
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So we have about $3,000 that we're looking to spend on upgrades
One word:

INSULATION!

It's fuel that you only pay for ONCE.

Ok, two more words:

AIR SEALING

Tighten up the home first. It is always the best bang for the buck.

we already have gas lines in the home. We had a guy tell us that converting the boiler to gas would be about $3,000
But, are the gas lines properly sized to run all your existing appliances PLUS the boiler. Often they are not. $3000 for a gas conversion seems quite high to me. Shop around.

we've had second thoughts since we won't be living in the home for more than 5 years so it may not make sense financially to switch
You could save an awful lot of money on fuel in 5 years! But then, who knows where gas prices will go? Certainly will not escalate as quickly as oil...

Our main concern is having hot water for showers and having a warm home. Right now we have cold showers ...
Hot showers... tankless coil... no... probably won't happen. You might rather consider a separate water heater. Even an electric model will give more hot water than the coil...

get a water tank. If we wanted to do that, how would it affect the system we have? Would we still have to change out the coil?
No effect... just a few minor wiring disconnects on the controls. No, you can simply abandon the coil in place... or if you want, there is a plate that can be installed after removing the coil... but not necessary.

the home is always cold. We have the heat set to 55 since we're only home to have dinner and sleep.
Well, OF COURSE IT'S always cold! You've got the t'stat set on 55 !

But seriously, what do you mean? When you set it on 70, the house is still cold?
 
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Old 01-22-13, 04:36 PM
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Maybe there is air in the lines or something?
Yes, I'm sure there is... but on a steam system, there is SUPPOSED to be air, or steam, in the lines. Air when the boiler is cool, displaced by steam when the boiler is heating.

There's a number of things you can do probably, to save some fuel...

Are all the steam lines in the basement insulated? They should be. You want that steam to remain steam until it hit the radiators.

Are all of the vents on the main line and at the radiators fully functional?

I can see in your photos that the pressurtrol is set on 0.5 CUT IN, and that's a good sign. Slide the cover off and tell us what the other setting inside the box is set to. Should be no more than TWO.
 
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Old 01-22-13, 04:44 PM
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...about the mixing valve. .... The two little dots are next to the 180 so I assume that's what it's set on.
I think that mixing valve might be one of the first things... after reading the book of course! and cleaning up the gauge glass.

It doesn't sound like it's working properly.

5122-C1 - Taco 5122-C1 - 1/2" Series 5122 Low Lead Mixing Valve

AM100C-US-1 - Honeywell-Sparco AM100C-US-1 - 1/2" Sweat Union Mixing Valve
 
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Old 01-23-13, 09:21 AM
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I will take a look at the pressurtrol tonight when I get home. I looked at it last week and it seemed like the screw on the top was threaded through the cover and into the little dial on the front. It didn't seem like it was set to anything because the screw was loose. I will take another look tonight to see if the screw is secured and set to 0.5.

Upon further inspection of the mixing valve, I noticed that it does turn. At first it seemed stuck and I was hesitant to turn it, but with a little bit of pressure it turned. In an earlier post I said that it looked like the valve was set to 180...but the 120 and 180 mark are next to each other since the numbers are arranged in a circle. It goes 120, 140, 160, 180. I turned clockwise until the little dots lined up with the 140. It did make the water hotter when the shower is first started and it seems to last a little bit longer now. How high can I turn that knob? Should I still replace it?

Another thing that I did -- we have a Symmons Temptrol shower faucet so I was able to turn the water pressure down in the shower head with the lever. So now with the water pressure turned down and the mixing valve turned up it is more bearable to take a shower. Still not ideal though and we still have to continuously turn the knob to keep the water hot/warm.

When I said the house was cold at 55 degrees what I meant was that we only have it set to 55 degrees and we are still burning through oil. You would think that we had it set up to 70 or 75 due to the amount of oil that we're using. I guess I was thinking that there may be a way to make the system work more efficiently. Most of the larger pipes are covered in what looks like abestos insulation that is in good shape. The smaller water pipes to the showers and faucets are not insulated.
 

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Old 01-23-13, 09:43 AM
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I do have the manuals, they're at home but I'll look up the model tonight.
 
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Old 01-23-13, 04:50 PM
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So now with the water pressure turned down and the mixing valve turned up it is more bearable to take a shower
Turning the mixing valve up is again, counter-productive. This means MORE FLOW through the coil, LESS CONTACT TIME in the coil.

The idea is to restrict the flow (within limits of course, there IS a 'tipping point' of diminishing returns) to allow the water through the coil to slow down with more time to get hot.
 
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Old 01-24-13, 05:29 AM
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OK so I figured out the problem...low water level. Today when I came home from work the house was freezing and the boiler had shut down.

Due to the gauge glass being so dirty I could not see the level of the water. I had a feeling it had to do with water level since I've been worrying about that since we moved in, since I can't see the water level. So last night I said screw it I'm going to add lots of water to see if that helps. So I added more and more water until the boiler started up again. I held a flashlight to the gauge glass and after a while I could barely see the level rising through the rusty glass. It must have been really low because I think it shut down because of the float in that drain mechanism on the side of the boiler. It's like a safety right?

I think what was happening was that the water level was lowered to the point where the water wasn't coming in contact with the coil and that caused our cold showers. The poor heating situation in the home was because there was not enough water to make steam. Now we have the thermostat set at 55 and the house is warm because the radiators are working again. The people who lived here before us lost the home due to foreclosure so who knows when the last time the boiler was serviced and/or paid attention to. I have checked all of the pipes and don't see any leaks. I think this was a slow process and the only reason I noticed was due to the colder weather and cold showers.

I also looked at the pressurtol thing and it wasn't even attached to the screw! I think I fixed it by re-inserting the screw and adjusting it. I have no idea why it wasn't attached...so it should be on 0.5?
 
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Old 01-24-13, 06:05 AM
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Have I recommended this book yet?

Heating Help

Probably did but too lazy to read back...

Any owner of a steam system MUST know how to run the machine and what routine mainenance needs done on periodic basis. You are lucky that the LWCO worked and eventually DID shut the boiler down on low water... BIG trouble you would have had if it had not worked properly. It's VERY important for you and your family's safety that these routine maintenance activities are understood and performed. A steam system is NOT a 'set it and forget it' heating system! You MUST know what needs to be done, and WHEN, and DO IT!

I think it shut down because of the float in that drain mechanism on the side of the boiler. It's like a safety right?
Not like a safety... IS a safety.
 
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Old 01-24-13, 06:16 AM
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what looks like abestos insulation
If it is in fact the "A" word, and in good shape, it might be wise to consider 'encapsulation', or at worst removal and replacement with non-C..... material.
 
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Old 01-24-13, 06:22 AM
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I also looked at the pressurtol thing and it wasn't even attached to the screw! I think I fixed it by re-inserting the screw and adjusting it. I have no idea why it wasn't attached...so it should be on 0.5?
"Should be" is too subjective.

99.9% of residential steam heating can be achieved with 2 PSI or less.

I still want to know the setting of the dial INSIDE the PT... or did you already mention that?

0.5 PSI is the "Cut-in" pressure which means that during a heat call when the pressure drops in the boiler to a half PSI the burners will turn on.

The dial inside will determine the high end, or the 'cut-out' of the burners.

This should be around 1.5 - 2.0 PSI for the vast majority of installations.

If you can't heat your home with this amount of steam, there is something else wrong... usually a steam vent issue, sometimes a design problem.

The less steam pressure you run, the less fuel you burn. The difference is exponential as you increase pressure... not a linear relationship... so understand the controls and save fuel!

This is all covered in great detail in 'the book'.
 
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Old 01-24-13, 01:54 PM
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The dial on the inside is set on 2 and the front of the pressurtol is set on 0.5. I have ordered the book and I'm looking forward to its arrival!
 
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Old 01-24-13, 02:35 PM
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Excellent! It means that whoever had worked on this system in the past wasn't a 'knucklehead' and turned the pressure way up...

When you get the book, feel free to come on back and let us know how you liked it... I've recommended it to lots of folks, and they never come back! I think that means they don't need us anymore after reading it... sniff... snifff....

Good Luck!
 
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Old 01-31-13, 08:47 AM
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Problem not solved...

Everything has been working fine, heat and hot water. Then last night I get home from the gym, jump in the shower and the water was luke warm at best. It's unusually warm for this time of year (50's) and I figured the water temp would be hotter. Boy was I wrong. The difference between this time and last time is that now there is no hot water anywhere in the house! The faucets run luke warm for maybe 1 minute then go cold. What is going on??? I've had it with this system. I might just call the heating company to have them come out and take a look at it before the temps drop again. It's not fun to be without hot water! It seems like something failed. I also noticed that when I turn on the hot faucet the boiler is not kicking on at all. Isn't that how it's supposed to work with a tankless heater? The boiler is still working and heat is on, just no hot water in the house...what the???
 
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Old 01-31-13, 02:45 PM
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This is the exact reason that ppl with tankless coils are almost always unhappy with them. It is the most inefficient way of producing hot water that there is. Our friend Furd says there is only one way worse, a kettle on a wood stove... I liken their operation to leaving your car idling in the driveway 24/7 just in case you might have to run out for a pizza... yes, they are THAT wasteful of fuel.

If you are going to remain in the home for a few years, and I believe you are, you might think about using that 3 grand you've got squirreled away on a stand-alone water heater. Even an electric one is probably better than using that tankless... more predictable hot water, and probably around the same cost wise... just you and your wife in the home? figure maybe $40 extra on the electric bill / month.

OK, that said, what can you do NOW? back up to the beginning again...

I believe I would start with double checking the settings on the control on the front of the boiler... have you told us what model that is? label on the inside of the cover?

Next, I would suspect that mixing valve...

Last would be acid boiling the innards of the coil.
 
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Old 01-19-14, 11:06 AM
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aquastat

the tankless usually has a triple acting aquastat that maintains a minimum boiler water temperature of lets say 160F at all times, this is why the boiler is ALWAYS HOT even in the summer. I don't work with it all the time so NJ Trooper would in all likelihood be able to tell you about it.
 
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Old 01-19-14, 12:07 PM
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Year old thread! ...........................................
 
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Old 01-19-14, 01:05 PM
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Closing old thread... If the OP comes back we can re open...

Please start a new thread for tankless heater assistance...

Thanks...

 
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