New to Boilers

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Old 11-19-13, 09:45 PM
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New to Boilers

Hi All,

I have recently moved to the Philly, PA area and purchased a home built in the 1920s. It's my first time with a Boiler, I've had furnaces before, and I'm looking for some information.

We have a Weil Mclain Gas Boiler - it has 5 zones and mostly those old fashioned radiators, with one pipe in and another back out. We've had it serviced and checked the flute and it all looks in good shape.

In addition to any tidbits or general you have in owning a system like this, I do have some questions around maintenance and general operation. I can be handy at times, and while I want to stay away from repairing anything related to Gas - I do feel comfortable with maintenance.

Through YouTube, I've learned how to bleed the radiator - I worked from top of the house to the bottom. This worked great to bring a radiator back to life in a room that was cold - it leaked air for minutes.

But what I was wondering since that - do I need to now add more water to the system? How do I do that. The PSI reads 15 - I think it might have been 20 before I bleed the radiators. Is 15 too low?

When the guy came to service the furnace, he mentioned that the boiler should always keep the water at 180 - I don't see that as the case. The weather has fluctuated in the last few weeks to 30 one day, 60 the next - so we aren't always running the boiler. When we do - the temperature is often at 120. Is that normal?

Longer term - is it possible to reroute zones? For 2 of our 5 zones, they are on the main level, but they control both the main level and the 2nd story radiator. Which I keep winding up with a main level that is sweaty, and a 2nd story that is freezing. Could I in the future move one of those zones to the 2nd floor, and reroute the plumbing to accommodate? We have a basement and all the pipes are exposed (its not completely finished)

Does it always sound like running water turning on?

I'm attaching some photos to help you understand the system - appreciate any clarification of what these different components do.

Thanks for your time, appreciate your insider help! Want to be sure I do this right.
 
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Old 11-21-13, 03:02 PM
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But what I was wondering since that - do I need to now add more water to the system? How do I do that. The PSI reads 15 - I think it might have been 20 before I bleed the radiators. Is 15 too low?
On a COLD BOILER, no, 15 is not too low if your home is two stories or less. If your home is 3 stories, then it may be on the low side. Please describe the building.

IF your boiler pressure gauge is accurate! Odds are against this. Read this:

http://www.doityourself.com/forum/bo...ure-gauge.html

When the guy came to service the furnace, he mentioned that the boiler should always keep the water at 180 - I don't see that as the case.
If he really said that, then he doesn't know Jack Poop. Is it possible you misunderstood him? That he was talking about the HIGH LIMIT setting on the boiler? That typically IS 180F.

When we do - the temperature is often at 120. Is that normal?
It's very possible. My own system doesn't start reaching into the 140s until it gets REALLY cold out. If a thermostat calls for heat, when that heat call is satisfied the boiler will shut down. If the heat call is satisfied by 120F water in the rads, then that's how hot it will get.

is it possible to reroute zones?
Of course... but before you start cutting any pipes, there may be other alternatives to balancing the system. And any 'bugs' need to be worked out. In other words, before you change anything, you need to be sure that you know the root cause is piping, and not some other reason, otherwise, waste of time and money, and not likely to 'fix' the problem.

Does it always sound like running water turning on?
You mean 'gurgling' and 'whooshing' noises? No, that's not normal, it means that there is AIR circulating in the system. This can be a reason for heating imbalances in the home. Air can even STOP the flow of water and parts of the system can end up COLD with no heat output.

I'm attaching some photos to help
Off to study them now...

By the way, what exactly did "Bozo the Plumber" do for you? It seems like he left you with a system full of air... just curious... hope he didn't take the kids 'milk money' when he left!
 
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Old 11-21-13, 03:07 PM
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The thing that says "Delco Heat" looks like a piece of an old system that someone thought would be a nice decoration.

The three gray boxes are likely 'relay controls' that operate circulator pumps.

The red switch box should kill power to the whole system.

The item on the lower left is a 24 VAC control transformer that likely powers the zone valves I see in other pics.
 
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Old 11-21-13, 03:15 PM
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I think you know the tank on the left is your water heater! You see that white tank all the way at the upper left, above the water heater? Is that just screwed into a tee on the pipe with no other support? If it is, you should take a piece of wire or pipe strapping up to the floor joists above and support the end of that so it doesn't 'torque' the fitting it's on and cause a water leak. When that tank fails it will fill with water and get HEAVY!

The green devices are circulator pumps.



The red devices are called 'flow control valves'. These prevent 'gravity flow', aka 'ghost flow', aka 'thermo-siphon flow'. This is the phenomenon that will allow hot water to 'float' up the pipes out of the boiler even after the heat call is satisfied. It can cause rooms to overshoot the thermostat setting.

The pipe coming into the boiler on the right side is your gas supply line.
 

Last edited by NJT; 11-21-13 at 03:35 PM.
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Old 11-21-13, 03:21 PM
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I hate phone pics... for some reason they always post sideways, and it hurts my neck!



Flow control valves again.

The loop of silver pipe with the black handle valve appears to be a 'System Bypass' loop. Is that black handle valve OPEN, or CLOSED? I suspect that it's closed, and since I think you said you have cast iron radiators, it should be at least partially open. More about this much later.

The pipe coming off the top of the boiler is the hot SUPPLY pipe TO the system.

It looks as if one of the flow control valves may be leaking (rust evidence). It may be possible to replace the 'valve packing' if this is leaking around the stem of the valve.
 
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Old 11-21-13, 03:26 PM
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The red bell shaped valve thing is your "Pressure REDUCING valve". This valve is supposed to reduce your domestic water pressure down to 12-15 PSI for proper pressure in the boiler.

The green handle valve is the MANUAL water shutoff to the boiler system.

The red and blue handle valves are 1/4 turn BALL VALVES, and are 'service valves' that can be used to isolate parts of the system for servicing. Eliminates need to drain entire system (which is NOT desirable!) when servicing various parts.
 
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Old 11-21-13, 03:28 PM
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These are 'electric zone valves'. They open and close when the attached thermostats call for heat to control the water flow.
 
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Old 11-21-13, 03:33 PM
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The two green, and the gray, are circulator pumps. These are likely being controlled by the three relay controls in the first picture. Responsible for moving the water into the system as needed.

Perhaps the gaskets have already been replaced, but the pump to the rear, the one with the rusty flanges is either leaking, or had been leaking.

In the background, the valve with the metal tag and the handle on top with the pipe elbowing down to the floor is your PRESSURE RELIEF VALVE. It's purpose is to open up and relieve the pressure if the system goes over (typically) 30 PSI.

I would suggest that you change or have this valve changed. I recommend 5 years as lifetime for a relief valve. "Bozo the Plumber" will NEVER agree with me on this.
 
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Old 11-21-13, 03:38 PM
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One key component that is conspicuously absent from the pictures is your EXPANSION TANK.

Is there a large steel tank strapped to the floor joists above the boiler and connected to the boiler piping?

Please add a picture of it.
 
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Old 11-21-13, 08:46 PM
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Thanks NJ Trooper, I've already learned so much! Yes, I guess I may have had a Bozo for a repairmen. The Boiler had a service log on it for the last decade, so we went with the same group for ease, but will look into alternatives, always good to have a second opinion.

A bit more about the house: It's a 1923 Dutch Colonial, full height basement, two floors, and an attic that has been partially converted - so three floors above grade. Probably 2800 soft?

It has 5 zones, with some variance in the radiators:

1: Enclosed Porch - 2 iron radiators and a baseboard
2: Front Half of the House, 1st and 2nd Stories - 5 iron radiators
3: Back Half of the House, 1st and 2nd Stories - 5 iron radiators
4: Kitchen - this was an addition by a previous owner - 1 baseboard
5: Attic space - there are two low profile radiators that come off the wall less than 6 inches - kind of a flat metal surface, as opposed to the traditional coil.

To your questions:
- Good eye on the hot water heater - I don't see any support for that piece.
- The heat has been running off and on today - the gauge just read 180 with 15psi. (accurate or not)
- Yes, I believe I have an expansion tank (in new pics)

Some new pics and wider shots included at hopefully the right orientation. [update] i'm sorry that they aren't, they look fine on my machine and I see no way to rotate here
 
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Old 11-23-13, 08:30 AM
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I know there was a lot to read and digest in previous posts, but you didn't answer my questions:

The loop of silver pipe with the black handle valve appears to be a 'System Bypass' loop. Is that black handle valve OPEN, or CLOSED?
Since you have cast iron radiators, etc, the answer to this question deals with the longevity of your boiler system and is important! We should talk about this!

By the way, what exactly did "Bozo the Plumber" do for you? It seems like he left you with a system full of air... just curious... hope he didn't take the kids 'milk money' when he left!
Seriously, what did he do that he charged you for?
 
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Old 11-23-13, 08:39 AM
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an attic that has been partially converted - so three floors above grade
How many feet of elevation would you estimate between the boiler in the basement, and the radiators in the attic?

If it's more than say 20', you need to run a slightly higher cold fill pressure in order that the water is pushed all the way up to the attic. If you don't adjust this pressure for the elevation, you will have CONSTANT problems with air in the system.

Therefore, you should look into verifying your pressure gauge as detailed in the link I posted early in this thread. If you don't KNOW that the gauge is accurate you can run around in circles trying to figure out why you have constant air problems in the system.

with some variance in the radiators
It's never a good idea to 'mix' heat emitter types. Since they all heat and cool off at different rates it can (and does) lead to imbalanced heating in the home. But it is what it is so you'll have to make the best of what you've got.
 
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Old 11-23-13, 09:04 AM
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Yes, I believe I have an expansion tank
I think it would be a wise decision to drain that expansion tank since it may be waterlogged and cause pressure problems.

First, an analogy, I call it the 'drinking straw analogy' (DSA). Put a finger over a straw in a drink and lift it out. Drink stays in the straw. Remove finger, straw empties.

To drain your expansion tank, you need a hose, the larger diameter hose the better, a place to drain that hose to, like a bucket or a laundry tub or an open window.

The hose should be as short as possible and not be coiled all around the floor since this will make it impossible for air to travel back up the hose and relieve the 'vacuum' that is formed in the tank as the water drains (reference the DSA above).

If you have an old decrepit hose which you can 'sacrifice' by cutting it short, then do so.

To drain the tank, first SHUT OFF BOILER and allow to cool to 100F or less!, close the red handle ball valve on the pipe from the boiler to the tank.

Connect hose to drain. Do not screw it tight. Leave loose so that air can enter. Open the drain. It won't leak water if it's not tight and there are no obstructions (like coils) in the hose, it will SUCK air IN. That's GOOD.

When water flow stops, odds are that the tank is far from empty (DSA).

Close the drain valve, remove hose, put bucket under drain valve, open valve. Tank should take 'gulp' of air and resume draining. If it does not, you need to cause it to do so. I don't recommend this, but in the 'olden days' we would use 'lung power' and BLOW INTO THE VALVE. We usually got a face full of mucky old boiler water. Not recommended, especially if your immune system is compromised! But, if you don't have an air compressor handy, this might be the only way... just be careful!

Close valve and reconnect hose loosely.

Continue to drain until tank is COMPLETELY DRAINED and FULL OF AIR.

When done, close drain and reopen the red handle ball valve. You will hear water entering the system and the tank will refill about 1/2 way with water while compressing the air at the top of the tank. This is what you want to happen. You need that 'cushion' of compressed air in the tank in order to control pressure rise as the boiler heats up and the water expands.

Turn boiler back on and observe system pressure from COLD to HOT boiler. You shouldn't see more than about 10 PSI difference.

I used to use (haven't had to deal with this type of tank in many years) an air compressor with a garden hose "Y" connector and an adapter to connect the compressor to one of the "Y" ends.


image courtesy a1toolstore.net

With drain connected to one branch, and air compressor to the other branch, it was an easy matter to flip the valves on the Y between drain and air... made quick job of it.
 
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Old 11-23-13, 10:02 AM
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One last thought... carefully inspect the strapping that's holding the tank up in the joists. Assure yourself that it's not going to come down. Add extra straps if you are insecure about the looks of the existing strapping. Remember that when there is water in that tank it could weigh over 100 pounds.
 
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Old 11-24-13, 06:06 AM
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Thanks again for your help and sorry for missing your earlier questions!

I checked the handle valve - it is completely closed.

Saw the link about building your own pressure gauge, I hope to do that this weekend.

Will check the reinforcement on the expansion tank and empty it as you described. It's cold here today, so the heat is running. Will do it on a warmer day which should be midweek.
 
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Old 11-24-13, 08:19 AM
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I checked the handle valve - it is completely closed.
It should probably be opened some...

Do you have some way of measuring the temperature of the water returning to the boiler?
 
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