Steam boiler low water shut off - keeps shutting down on low water

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  #1  
Old 01-03-16, 07:33 AM
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Steam boiler low water shut off - keeps shutting down on low water

Crown Boiler - Steam single pipe system
Oil fired-Beckett
Single family house (about 1,000 sfeet). 5 radiators

I recently replaced the main steam vent in the system because the vent was constantly blowing out steam; guess it was old and time to go.

Then I noticed since I replaced it (may just coincedence) but now I noticed that the auto low water shut off is cutting the system off more often than it used to. Before the change of the main vent I had to add water maybe every day and a half. Now I notice I have to add water almost twice a day. I have been running it more during this long holiday weekend because I normally drop the temp during the day when I am out at work.

I just think that maybe I should not have to be adding water this often. I checked the entire system for leaks and have not found any. All my pipes are visible to my eye, meaning there are none hidden in the walls. I have a single floor home and the pipes will just go from the basement up through the floor to the radiator.

I did notice that one radiators vent would stay on longer than normal but would not think this would cause the rapid water shut off. I tap the vent and it shuts off ( have plans on replacing it tomorrow when the store is open).

Any other idea as to why i may be losing water so fast in the system

Thanks for any ideas.
 
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Old 01-03-16, 08:43 AM
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Where are your return pipes located..it sounds to me that you might have a leaky return if it is located beneath your slab..
 
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Old 01-03-16, 10:48 AM
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Here are a few shots of the return pipe. You will see a few faucets at the bottom (don't know what they are for) but they look like they go down into the cement (in the picture) but actually do not. As I said the only pipes that go through anything are the ones going directly to the radiator to the floor above. I can see the radiator above every pipe from the basement, so no pipes leaking into the floor above basement.

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Last edited by PJmax; 01-03-16 at 01:10 PM. Reason: reoriented pics
  #4  
Old 01-05-16, 04:19 AM
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UPDATE: Woke up in the middle of the night cold in the house. Went downstairs and the boiler water was down low again and boiler shut off. This was 2:30am this morning that I added water, then started boiler and went to bed. Woke up at 6am. Boiler had shut off again due to low water, added water and now running again.

At this rate I won't even be able to leave the house to go to work without the low water shutting the boiler down. I don't see any leaks. The only thing I would think is may be that one radiator vent at the start of the run is remaining open. I plan on replacing it today. As mentioned before by me I can see all pipes in the run, even the ones going up through the floor to the radiators. If there was a leak somewhere I would see it. Basement floor is dry.

Any other suggestions would be helpful.

P.S. PJMax thanks for orienting the pictures for me; much appreciated!

Thanks
 
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Old 01-05-16, 05:46 AM
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I've never had a steam boiler; but I've been involved with homes that were so equipped, and lost water through cracks in the combustion chamber, boiling off as steam out and up the flue and chimney . . . . almost imperceptibly.

How much water are you having to add/replace each time the low water cut-out is triggered ?
 
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Old 01-05-16, 06:35 AM
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Turn the boiler off and flood the boiler with water. Get the water up into the system a bit, don't fill the entire system. Wait to see if water ends up on the floor. I would think you are loosing it up the chimney as Vermont stated. Also sometimes shows up as a lot of steam from chimney.
Also insulate those mains, not part of this problem but is an expensive way to run a steam system.
 
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Old 01-05-16, 09:31 AM
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Thanks rbeck and vermont

I really don't know anything about doing what you explained to do about filling the system with water. The only thing I know how to do is fill the boiler when it shuts down from low water shut off. I also would not know how to drain the water I added to fill the system.

But I will look at up at the roof when the boiler is running after a while to see if steam is coming out; or at least what looks to be steam.

How much water are you having to add/replace each time the low water cut-out is triggered ?
The water is down near the bottom of the water tube (window). I put the water on VERY SLOWLY as to not take a chance and crack the casing from being extremely hot to sudden cold. That is why I hate it, it takes about 15 minutes to fill the water each time and in the middle of the night a pain to get out of a warm bed into the cold basement.
 
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Old 01-05-16, 10:44 AM
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Up on the roof, you'd witness some "steam" anyway, just due to the normal combustion process; more evident the colder your ambient temperature.

Can you estimate (using a different faucet) how much replacement water is going into the boiler over the 15 minutes it takes you to fill to boiler back to the normal operating level ?

Since this was a Foreclosure, do you know if that steel or cast iron boiler sat idle last winter . . . . perhaps only partially drained? As a Real Estate Broker, I know that the Banks will try to winterize vacant properties; but they often leave "some" water in boilers that aren't set up to drain completely.

If so, the boiler could have froze last winter and a small crack in the heat exchanger could have occurred, and you're now witnessing it getting progressively worse, as internal pressure from the boiling steam widens the original small crack . . . . IF it's steel.

If it's an old cast iron boiler, it may simply be rusting through . . . . from the inside out.

I like Ron Beck's idea of letting it sit idle (if you can go without heat during the experiment) and looking for seepage entering the combustion chamber or puddling below it; but regardless of whether it's cracked, or it's rusting, it will allow more water to escape into the combustion chamber while it's running and under pressure, than it will while just sitting idle.

I wouldn't conclude that this is the cause of the mysterious disappearing water (in a sealed system); but if it is, there are still various silicate concoctions (like Liquid Plug) on the market to temporarily seal some leaks and give you some relief this winter, but they can gum up many of your controls and should be only used as a last resort.

Let's hope there's a simpler cause and resolution.
 
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Old 01-05-16, 02:51 PM
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A recent episode of "Ask This Old House" had a homeowner with a similar problem. They found a huge hole in the top of the boiler.

Home Compost, Boiler | Ask TOH Episodes | Ask This Old House TV | This Old House
 
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Old 01-05-16, 03:50 PM
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Up on the roof, you'd witness some "steam" anyway, just due to the normal combustion process; more evident the colder your ambient temperature.
Yes, noticed steam is coming out a lot today but it is very cold out doors.

Can you estimate (using a different faucet) how much replacement water is going into the boiler over the 15 minutes it takes you to fill to boiler back to the normal operating level ?
Don't know quite how much water I need to use to fill the tube. See pictures below of the tube with a tape measure. I can't tell how much water it takes to fill the tube to the "water level" mark. But when it cuts off it is down about to 1/2 inch. The water level is about 4 inches.

Since this was a Foreclosure, do you know if that steel or cast iron boiler sat idle last winter . . . . perhaps only partially drained? As a Real Estate Broker, I know that the Banks will try to winterize vacant properties; but they often leave "some" water in boilers that aren't set up to drain completely.

If so, the boiler could have froze last winter and a small crack in the heat exchanger could have occurred, and you're now witnessing it getting progressively worse, as internal pressure from the boiling steam widens the original small crack . . . . IF it's steel.
I don't know if it is steel or cast iron. Also, when I bought the house last summer, I was told by the real estate agent the previous owner left somewhere around March, a few months earlier. So it had heat up until then. But when I had the boiler fired up for the first time and being filled with water the low water shut off housing was cracked and water poured out. Then after the guy left and the boiler got hotter he had to come back because there was a crack in one of the pipes connections. Also the main water meter when the water company turned on the water the water came gushing out of the meter and they had to replace it.

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Old 01-06-16, 05:26 PM
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This is just a bump for your thread and an estimate of how much water you're losing per each re-fill cycle on that steam boiler.

I'm guessing that the water chamber is about 18" in diameter, so if the distance between Full (4") and the low level cut-out of " is a total of 3", then that 3" would represent 51% of a cubic foot, or 3.85 gallons of water that's being boiled off and going up the chimney in the form of steam.

9 X Π X 3 1728 CI X 7.47 gallons per CF = 3.85 Gallons Lost

Without knowing the size of your water reservoir, this is a gross estimate; and you're probably on to more important matters anyway.
 
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Old 01-07-16, 05:26 AM
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Vermont:
and you're probably on to more important matters anyway
No, not on to more important matters, I do so much appreciate the time you took to give me an idea of what is going on with the water. Still a bit confused, now it can go sometimes for 9 hours then some times only about 4 hours without shutting off. So I will continue to monitor this. Only very inconvenient. Last night I went to bed at 4:30pm because I had the chills and woke up to a cold house around midnight. Had to go into a damp cold basement to add water and stand there for about 15 minutes while I filled it so I would not crack the housing adding the water very slowly. Urgh!!
 
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Old 01-07-16, 07:16 AM
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Besides for the inconvenience, you must be burning a tremendous amount of oil in just boiling off several gallons of water every day to heat the outdoors.

I doubt that your boiler can be patched up to last out this winter before this situation becomes intolerable; but an expert steam fitter will have to chime in here to say what your options might be.

With the amount of water you're losing, this boiler may be in the same condition as the one in the video that Furd supplied.
 
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Old 01-07-16, 02:56 PM
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Yes Vermont, I saw the video and I am concerned that the same thing is happening to me.

I called LIHEAP crisis in my county just now and let them know what is happening. LIHEAP is Low Income Energy Assistance Program. They paid for the oil to start with. My oil company's service man last year told me the boiler was on its last legs. I called LIHEAP and told them that. The "inspector" who comes out to the homes to inspect to see if a new heating system is warented called me back and told me since I have heat he will have to reschedule. I called on Jan 2, 2015, he called me back Jan 6th. I called again and he finally set up a time and day and never showed. I called LIHEAP back in Feb 2015 and explained the situation. No call back again from this inspector. I called again in May 2015 and no return call from LIHEAP this time. I just place another call and told them I have to add water to my steam boiler every 4 to 6 hours. It must have a crack in it. I am hoping they come out and inspect it and see that they should have taken care of this last year when I first called.

I had a high fever yesterday and did not appreciate going down the the cold basement at 1am to fill the boiler with water.

This boiler is on its way out I would think now. URGH!!
 
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Old 01-07-16, 04:49 PM
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I thought you just bought this place in Summer of 2015 ?
 
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Old 01-07-16, 04:51 PM
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Nope bought this place in the summer of 2014.
 
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Old 01-07-16, 04:58 PM
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So how many gallons of oil did you use in Winter 2014-15 ?

And you had no Low Water Level cut-outs last year ?
 
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Old 01-07-16, 05:06 PM
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So how many gallons of oil did you use in Winter 2014-15 ?
I would have to dig out my bills to be sure but around 400 gallons. I have a 1,000 square foot home. But no insulation in the attic.

And you had no Low Water Level cut-outs last year ?
I did but they were about every day and a half, not like now just hours apart.
 
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Old 01-08-16, 09:45 AM
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Originally Posted by AFJES
". . . I am hoping they come out and inspect it and see that they should have taken care of this last year when I first called . . ."
Do you think the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania or your County will take responsibility for installing a New Boiler AND paying for the Oil it burns ?

Were they involved in your original inspection and purchase/financing of the Property . . . . that would be more of an entitlement than anything Vermonters have around here. HomeOwners are pretty much on their own; and have to either do it, or pay for it, themselves.

Good Luck !
 
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Old 01-09-16, 05:55 AM
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Do you think the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania or your County will take responsibility for installing a New Boiler AND paying for the Oil it burns ?
They do have a program that assists home owners like me in supplying lower income qualifying home owners with oil (specified amount-between 100 to 200 gallons) and also if your heating system is close to failing or has failed under certain qualifying circumstances they will replace the heating system for free. But it is all income based and regulated.

Were they involved in your original inspection and purchase/financing of the Property .
They were not at all involved in the purchase of this home. I paid cash out-right for the home. No mortgage or rent, just utilities. As I said if the system fails or going to fail after it is inspected by them they may replace it for me.

Good Luck !
Thank you, I will need it.
 
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Old 01-09-16, 06:28 AM
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Who inspected the Building BEFORE you bought it ?

You may discover that the Boiler had a hole in it that was present and should have been discovered at the time of purchase. Someone has to investigate and open that puppy up to see for sure what's happening behind/beneath the flue pipe.

Here in Vermont, Low Income Buyers "might" be able to roll the cost of essential improvements into their State Guaranteed Purchase Money Mortgage, or obtain a low interest 2nd mortgage for that purpose.

Seldom will they allow any subsidized improvements or fuel assistance UNLESS the dwelling is well insulated as the authorities don't want the TaxPayers to be heating the outdoors.

We used to have a grant program which served as a Lien against the property if it was sold anytime during the 1st 5 years of ownership; but would self-extinguish after that initial period of time.

As a Real Estate Broker, I can say that buying with CASH has its own set of benefits; but it doesn't have the protective hand of "Big Brother" looking out for you either.
 
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Old 01-09-16, 04:40 PM
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Who inspected the Building BEFORE you bought it ?
Long story; a friend of mine from where I was living at the time who had a lot of experience in building and contractor work and another contractor promised to help me. One looked at the place with me before buying it and told me all the things we could do with the place; yada yada yada. You know the old story. Anyways, never saw the two of them again. I even wired (I'm an electrician) their renovations and homes for them for FREE. Can we say "gotcha"?! Old News now.

You may discover that the Boiler had a hole in it that was present and should have been discovered at the time of purchase. Someone has to investigate and open that puppy up to see for sure what's happening behind/beneath the flue pipe.
Hoping that this county inspector will check it out. Working Monday and Tuesday and have two doctors apointments on Wednesday so don't know when he will be able to come by. More than likely the "oil" is going out the chimney. Urgh!!
 
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Old 01-11-16, 11:41 AM
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Vermont I just wanted to thank you for all of your help with this situation.

The inspector was just here from the county and he filled the boiler up all the way, took the pipe off going to the chimney and showed me that the water is gushing out of the boiler; its cracked. They are sending over a guy from the local plumbing company to size up the boiler and replacing it; wow!! Good thing I qualify for the assistance program; no charge to me.

When it rains it pours; just last week my outside sewer line had to be replaced because the pipe collapsed. So lucky I purchased the inside and outside sewer line protection from the water company when I purchased the house last year. Did not cost me a penny.

What's next??
 
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Old 01-17-16, 11:16 AM
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So far you have lucked out. I am happy for you.
Sod
 
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