Pierce, Butler & Pierce boiler needs some TLC

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Old 10-31-17, 02:27 PM
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Pierce, Butler & Pierce boiler needs some TLC

Even though the pilot light was lit, when the gas valve opened the burner didn't light. This happened after I did my normal fall cleaning so I quickly shut the main gas valve off. Does anyone have any experience with such a beast? I've attached a picture. I can take more pictures, etc if there is someone who recognizes this antique. Thanks in advance.
 
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Old 10-31-17, 02:38 PM
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That is probably older than I am. I'd think we'd need a few pictures of the control section. The pilot lit is a plus. I'd imagine there is some type of low water cut-off and that may be the problem.
 
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Old 11-01-17, 08:47 AM
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Thanks PJMax, I've attached a few more pictures but not sure it is what you're hoping to see. One thought is that during my cleaning I may have plugged something. Some investigation has revealed this burner/pilot arrangement may use a "flash tube". I may have plugged the flash tube which in turn may prevent the gas from reaching the pilot light. Thoughts? The flash tube is not easily removable or accessible.
 
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Old 11-01-17, 08:53 AM
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Adding pictures of the controls.
 
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Old 11-01-17, 08:56 AM
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Adding another control picture.

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Last edited by PJmax; 11-01-17 at 10:00 AM. Reason: enlarged/enhanced pic
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Old 11-01-17, 10:04 AM
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The last picture is what is needed. However it needs to be larger and a little more well lit.

You mentioned no gas getting to the pilot but you said the pilot was lit ?
If the pilot was lit and the gas valve opened..... you'd have to have flames.
I can't see the controls/wiring good enough to advise what to do. There needs to be a gas valve there.
 
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Old 11-01-17, 11:24 AM
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Sorry for the confusion and I'll get a better picture. The pilot light was lit but and when the boiler called for heat the gas valve opened but the burner didn't light. It appears there is some sort of flash tube arrangement where the gas travels down the flash tube and is ignited by the pilot light. Again, I'll work on getting a clearer picture of the control section. Thanks.
 
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Old 11-01-17, 03:46 PM
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Hello, Adding another picture. Will add another as well.
 
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Old 11-01-17, 03:49 PM
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Adding another picture with the pilot line area.
 
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Old 11-01-17, 04:12 PM
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That round cap covered valve is your gas valve, possibly a White Rogers, not sure, pic not too clear. It looks like a about a 50's 0r 60's set up.

If it's what I think it is you should have a lever on there somewhere, possibly under the cover that is a manual over ride if you can believe it. Of course they are outlawed today but were common back then.

If they failed you could manually open the gas valve and restore heat temporarily until you could get it replaced. If this has a lever you could try it to see if boiler will light. If it does you will know it's the valve and not your tubes being blocked.



Hope this helps a little.
 

Last edited by spott; 11-01-17 at 04:15 PM. Reason: Saw better pic for description.
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Old 11-01-17, 04:18 PM
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I don't ever recommend replacing a boiler that is in working condition. But, I will stick my neck out, and suggest that boiler be replaced ASAP.
 
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Old 11-01-17, 05:10 PM
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Wow, I haven't seen one of these boilers in a lot or years. The boiler in the picture is probably from around 1910, give or take 10 years. The H.B.Smith Boiler Series 3500, 4500, and 6500 were designed just like this boiler except that the manifolds and pipe nipples on the side were moved to the bottom. The bottom and top nipples screw into the boiler sections and the nuts next to the manifolds tighten down on a washer and "asbestos" gasket to provide sealing at the manifold connection. The burner looks like an Auburn or Mettler but could be any in-shot burner made around 1900. By the way, the nipples and gaskets are still available or they were when I retired 10 years ago. I would not try to replace the gaskets since the "asbestos" after this many years usually destroyed the gasket seating surface. The gas valve could be an ITT General motorized gas valve. I worked on and assembled this style boiler for about 40 years, all over Pennsylvania. I believe that we sold and serviced more of this style boiler than any other company. Since I do not see a low water cut-off I will guess this is a gravity hot water system or was once a steam or hot water coal fired boiler. I would recommend replacing this boiler due to it being very inefficient and not very safe. They were a good boiler in their day but I would have it replaced. Also I would have a licensed boiler company service it to make sure it is safe and that the burner lights.
 
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Old 11-01-17, 05:20 PM
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Thanks for that info Steamboy.
 
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Old 11-01-17, 06:22 PM
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"Pierce, Butler & Pierce boiler needs some TLC"

That boiler needs more than TLC. It is very obsolete, and shows complete lack of maintenance. It is unsafe,
 
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Old 11-02-17, 08:29 AM
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Thank you for all the feedback. TLC was meant to be "tongue in cheek" as it is known the boiler is very old and it is hard to find anyone local with the knowledge to work on it. Truth be known, despite its looks, it has been serviced recently but we know about the results of putting lipstick on a pig. And, up until just recently and before it was cleaned, it was working fine. But your words of advice are sound, it is time for a new one. We were just hoping to avoid the $10-$12k to do this but this is better than the potential alternatives, for sure.

Again, thanks for your help.
 
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Old 11-02-17, 01:00 PM
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I sent you a reply. I am not good on computers som I hope you got it. If not send another post .
 
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Old 11-07-17, 04:36 AM
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If you do not have the money to replace this boiler right now, I would at least replace the burner. Replacement burners in your size requirement can be from Carlin, Beckett, Weil-McClain or Power Flame, others may be available. These are the ones I know of. A little "food for thought"; steam was my life, but for a residence, switching to hot water would be a great investment. It is easier to zone, and costs much less to operate. That said however there is nothing wrong with steam. If you decide to replace the boiler make sure that the company you choose to do the work knows how to size a new steam boiler, install it in a one pipe steam system and knows how to correct problems that they caused by not following the proper guidelines during the installations. Remember, most companies out there have no knowledge of systems as old as yours. Take pictures of everything; the placement of the original boiler and it's piping, venting, height of the water line (it must remain exactly where it is at now) . Once something is changed it is tough to make it right.
 
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Old 11-08-17, 11:04 AM
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Thanks Steam Boy,

We have some closure. As you noted it is tough to find anyone with the knowledge to work on this antique things. The boiler has worked fine for the 20+ years we've been in the house. I've focused on just cleaning the inside and making sure the water level remains as needed. FYI, this is a gravity fed hot water system and not steam. We did finally find someone locally who has a ton of experience with this vintage of boiler. As we knew the boiler was originally coal fired. When the local power company ran the gas lines, they also came through all the houses and retrofitted the boilers with gas burners and disband the coal chute, etc. Apparently this happened in the early 1900's in our area.
Because the boiler was basically sound, with no leaks, etc, it was recommended to repair the burner even though it is very inefficient. The cost of replacing the boiler would have been roughly $10-$12k. Since our heating costs run $150 per months for only 4 months per year, the payback on a new boiler would take decades. And upgrading to a high efficiency boiler when the house has single pane, double hung windows and little or no insulation makes little sense. Of course we wanted to resolve any safety issues.

They chipped back the crude packing used to seal the burner and pulled the burner out. They discovered the pilot tube that feeds gas to in front of the burner orifices was broken. You can see in the attached photos where a coupling was added to repair the broken tube. The sheet metal shroud was also rusted away. This was replaced using sheet metal to line the opening where the burner was re-inserted into the boiler. The re-inserted burner was then sealed in place using a 21st century sealant and not the cement-based product used in 1910. The thermal couple was also replaced. The second picture shows the burner firing. Total cost was just over $600. Just one of the many joys of owning a old house. Thanks to all for your help
 
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Old 11-09-17, 04:27 AM
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old boiler

I am glad that you got the burner firing well. The fact that it is hot water and not steam changes everything. If you wanted to increase the boiler's efficiency , you could add a pump to force the water through the system. It may not be cost effective for you but north of Pittsburgh, Pa. it is cost effective. By the way that boiler design is from the Higgins boiler works and I have only seen 3 of them working. Some boiler parts can be bought like nipples , gaskets etc. You could call 412-821-8900 a boiler company that used to stock these parts or could tell you where you can still find them. Hope this helps
 
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Old 11-09-17, 05:20 PM
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I thought the boiler maker was Pierce, Butler & Pierce. Below you mention Higgins Boiler Works. Did Higgins design for PB&P?
 
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Old 11-10-17, 04:48 AM
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boiler name

I thought that Higgins was the name on the boiler I was referencing, however I may have been mistaken. I tried to "GOOGLE" the Higgins name and found nothing. I originally saw and serviced this boiler about 40 years ago, and the church where the boiler was, replaced it about 25 years ago. (sorry if I misled you) . I would write down the phone number of the company I gave you in case you ever need parts like nipples nuts and gaskets. The gaskets are now made of a rubber compound.
 
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