Some Thoughts on a Snowy Morning
I did a job last week that really made me think.
The system in question is a small gravity hot-water job in a 2-story rowhouse, with 340 square feet of radiation. The original boiler, a 1927-vintage National round 4-section, is still in service. As originally installed, it had an early-model Mueller dual feed/safety valve and no expansion tank. This setup was also still in service. Sometime in the 1950s or late 1940s, a Quiet-Heat conversion oil burner was installed.
The lady called us in desperation- the oil burner kept tripping the circuit breaker and no one would touch it. "It's too old to work on," they said. "”The only thing we can do is replace the entire boiler." And she almost had a heart attack when she heard what they wanted for doing so.
I went there with a good used Beckett in the truck that we'd kept when we replaced the boiler it had been installed in. We have a habit of keeping these around for just such situations as this, and I was glad I had it that day. I removed the Quiet-Heat and prepared to install the Beckett. I looked at the nozzle in the Quiet-Heat- 1.25 GPH! Remember, this system has 340 square feet of radiation, which translates to a Net rating of 51,000 BTUH at a boiler temperature of 180 degrees. A 1.25 nozzle will burn at an input rate of about 175,000 BTUH- over twice what the system's Net rating should be.
So I cleaned the boiler’s flueways, set up the Beckett to burn 1.00 GPH (about 140,000 BTUH input) and started it up. I quickly noticed the stack temperature soaring- it stabilized at 835 degrees. The old stack relay cut off the ignition after about seven seconds of operation! The system heated up nicely, but as it did I noticed the pressure soaring along with the stack temperature. The old Mueller safety valve was only dripping- it was probably rusted up from the old steel pipe it was installed with. I drained enough water from the system to fill one radiator with air to allow for expansion, which kept the pressure under control, and arranged to return and install a new dual valve and add an expansion tank and backflow preventer. The lady was thrilled to have the heat on, and kept an eye on the pressure gauge until I returned.
When I came back and installed the new dual valve, expansion tank and backflow preventer, I also brought some bricks with me. I placed three of these in the upper section of the boiler to slow the hot flue gases down and deflect them toward the water-backed portions of this section instead of going up and out. With this setup, the stack temp was noticeably lower, and the water heated quickly enough that I switched to a 0.85 GPH nozzle (about 119,000 BTUH input). The stack temp stabilized at 615 degrees- 220 degrees lower. The stack relay took about 25 seconds to cut off the ignition. And since the Beckett burns with zero smoke, I knew it would continue running that well.
Lastly, I referred the lady to the oil company I use, who will give her the service she deserves.
The lady had bought the house last year, from an elderly couple who could no longer afford to live there. After working on that boiler, I knew why.
How many "heating professionals" had "serviced" that boiler, and shrugged off the excessive stack temperature instead of trying to correct it?
How many saw the soaring pressure gauge and thought "they all do that", or even bothered to look at it?
This job was scary. They were paying for a lot of oil to run a system that could have exploded!
How many similar systems are out there, guzzling gas or imported oil while the pressure-activated time bomb is ticking?
I agree that boiler should be replaced. The lady says she wants to wait for warm weather, but when she's ready, we will get the job. We were the only company that "did the right thing".
Thanks to Frank Graham and George "Firedragon" Lanthier for all the hot tips they included in their books.
I had a chance to look at this boiler again recently. The lady called to say it wouldn’t start, and I found someone had inadvertently turned off the emergency switch on the stairs. While there, I opened the boiler’s doors and saw everything as clean as when I set it up. She says it ran great for the rest of the winter, and her oil consumption is lower. She can’t replace it now, but will continue to save for a new one.
See how easy it is to do the right thing?
(You'll find Steamhead HERE.)