No pressure in boiler and no water in baseboards!

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Old 11-30-19, 12:28 PM
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No pressure in boiler and no water in baseboards!

Please forgive my ignorance but I can't figure out how this system works.

For starters, it is a Burnham boiler, oil fired (Carlin) and I would guess that it dates to around the 1970s. It provides hot water to the sinks and bath as well. The house is small, single story. It started as a bungalow and rooms were tacked on over the years. We bought it less than 10 years ago. I never really liked it but it was what we could afford. There is no basement, just a rather small crawl space that is very difficult to move around in. Some parts of the crawlspace under the additions are nearly impossible to access.

I have gotten pretty good at servicing the oil burner. I can understand how it works and have taken it apart and put it back together several times. I took apart the circulator pump once as well, cleaned up the impeller and lubricated the motor.

Sorry to be long winded but here is how / when this started: It was several years ago during a particularly bad cold spell with temperatures down in the single digits (Farenheit). I was sick as a dog with the flu or something flu-like. I was asleep most of the time and no one else noticed that the oil had run out and no one did anything about it until the house temperature was in the 40s and the women were complaining that there was no hot water for their hour long showers. Then the toilet overflowed and the sinks wouldn't drain.

I'll spare you the grim details of how I crawled under the house, still not fully recovered from the flu, searched to no avail for broken pipes then stood in the sub-zero temperatures and cleared the line to the cesspool with a rented power auger.

We have been heating the house with space heaters since then. All the boiler does now is heat water for the sinks and bath. The pressure gauge reads 0 and when I open the bleeders on the baseboards, nothing comes out - not even air.

As I said, I looked for leaks both in the crawlspace and in the house baseboards. I had assumed that one of the baseboard pipes that run under the floor has frozen and cracked but I can't find anything. I do not understand why the system does not fill the baseboard pipes with water.

I'd really like to get this thing working without calling in someone. We are on a tight budget and the money I would pay a pro will buy a lot of home heating oil. I fix everything else around the house. I should be able to fix this.
 
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Old 11-30-19, 03:16 PM
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Not very safe to run the boiler with possibly no water. If anything it could cause major damage.
Is there an auto fill?
There’s got to be a leak somewhere if the boiler all of a sudden lost pressure.
If you get the boiler filled your likely to find your leak.
 
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Old 11-30-19, 03:23 PM
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Welcome to the forums.

Thread moved to the boiler forum.

It's a miracle the boiler wasn't damaged with an empty water jacket and even more surprising it heated water for domestic.

Post some pictures of the system and piping...... How-to-insert-pictures.
 
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Old 11-30-19, 03:43 PM
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It's been running this way for several years. There's water in it. It's just not getting to the baseboards. See what I mean about not understanding how the thing could work this way? I'll try to put up a picture later. We have to pop out right now to visit a sick relative.
 
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Old 11-30-19, 03:52 PM
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I wouldn’t say there’s definitely water in it.
Hopefully there’s water.
You shouldn’t have let it run this way, boilers cannot be allowed to run with no water or water pressure.
 
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Old 12-01-19, 08:55 AM
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fixing the heating problem of no water in the baseboard units would probably be cheaper than to heat the home with space heaters. Electricity is almost always more expensive than oil as a heating source.
 
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Old 12-01-19, 05:41 PM
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If there was no water in it, there wouldn't be water coming out of the hot water taps. Remember this boiler heats water for the sinks and shower / bath. There is either a double tank, a heat exchanger or some other system at work.
 
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Old 12-01-19, 05:52 PM
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It’s likely a tankless coil water heater, boiler water and domestic hot are separate and not one in the same.
They don’t even run the same pressure. Boiler water is around 15-25 PSI, domestic is much higher at ~40-80 PSI.
You could have an empty boiler and still have tap water flowing.
 
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Old 12-01-19, 05:53 PM
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I hooked up a garden hose to the tap in the baseboard pipe that comes off the boiler. I ran the other end to a cold water tap. I opened both valves. There was an etude of gurgling and surging sounds. I kept at it. At one point the pressure relief valve blew out a spout of water.

I turned the thermostat up to 80 F and got the circulator pump to kick in. I then opened the bleeder valves in three spots. Quite a bit of air came out of each. I kept doing this, systematically. The pressure in the boiler dropped to 0 a couple of times and I refilled with the garden hose. At one point the pressure was up to 40 psi. Eventually, I became satisfied that the majority of air was out and the pressure stabilized at 20 psi. The radiators got nice and hot. I think I fixed it. I set the thermostat to 70 F and turned off all the space heaters.

I'm going to keep it this way and see if it holds overnight. How all that air got in there is a mystery to me. My best guess is that the component that automatically refills the baseboards has malfunctioned.
 
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Old 12-01-19, 06:24 PM
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Please don’t do what you just did.
Introducing cold tap water to a hot boiler can cause issues, everything from a cracked casing to an explosion big enough to level most or all of your home.
Introducing city water pressure to the hydronic system can also cause leaks, and system damage.
There should be an auto fill somewhere. It needs to be found and fixed.
Boilers can be extremely dangerous. Explosions can easily level your home. I don’t mean to sound like the safety police but it can and will happen if you mistreat the equipment. Water expands 1700 times its original size when boiled to steam. An empty or low on water boiler can easily boil and flash off.
People are killed each year doing work like this.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=nHzpvm7lLQU
 
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Old 12-02-19, 08:00 AM
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I finally found a nametag on it. There is scant little information. "Oil Burner No FR-132". I looked up Burnham Hydronics on the web and apparently they were taken over by US Boiler Corp. I called them. They refused to tell me anything about it because I'm not licensed. As I said, this thing is at least 40 years old and I doubt that it is a tankless coil design. That sounds modern.
 
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Old 12-02-19, 08:05 AM
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Thanks for the advice. I just wish someone could explain exactly how this thing works.
 
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Old 12-02-19, 08:19 AM
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The domestic water and boiler water are separate entities. That technology is 100 years old.
The fill will be a field installed device. The boiler manufacturer or manual will not show where it is.
The expansion tank could also be defective and causing the relief to blow off.
When was the las time the filter, pump screen and nozzle were changed? The boiler cleaned? The burner checked with a combustion analysis?
Oil burners require yearly maintenance.
 
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Old 12-02-19, 08:31 AM
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What do you want to know about how it works.
Boiler water is kept at around 15-25 PSI and heated with the oil burner. The domestic tankless coil sits in the boiler jacket and is heated from the boiler water.
The boiler water is kept at a constant pressure via a pressure reducing fill valve. The boiler doesn’t run at city water pressure. The boiler should not need but extremely small amounts of makeup water to maintain pressure.
Most if not all of this equipment is field installed. So every installation is different.
If your unfamiliar with boiler operations I highly suggest getting a tech to show you what’s what.
 
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Old 12-02-19, 08:53 AM
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Terpodion please call a professional out to service your boiler. What your doing is dangerous. No more advice can be offered here..

I apologize but I am closing this thread.
 
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Old 12-09-19, 06:58 AM
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Baseboards just needed a good bleeding

I had posted a thread about a baseboard, no water / no pressure situation. Working with the advice given me. It was resolved. It turned out that simply filling and bleeding did the trick. How the air got into the pipes still remains a mystery to me but the heat has been working perfectly for more than a week now with no issues.


Moderator note: Reply added to closed thread for continuity.
 

Last edited by PJmax; 12-09-19 at 10:06 PM.
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