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Joined on March 18, 2009

Last Post on June 7, 2013

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Bob Gagnon - radiator leak sealed with salt??

@ June 7, 2013 11:37 AM in Radiator - can I use for FHW?

Bob, you mentioned above: "I did do a conversion on an old steam system, with steam only radiators, and it worked great, one small leak on one radiator which easily sealed with salt."

I can't find anything about this. What is sealing with salt?

Moving vent

@ June 6, 2013 6:47 PM in Preparing old radiators for hot water

After the cleaning (but before painting), are you aware that you should move the vent from the middle of the radiator (where it is now), to the top of the radiator? Hopefully there is a threaded tap up there (though I don't see one in your pics). If not I guess you can drill a hole and tap one. If you leave the vent where it is now then it won't purge completely once filled with water.

The big plugs at the bottom of my radiators came out pretty easily (as did yours). I'm more nervous about removing the small (1/8") plugs that my rads provide at the top for the vents, since they have flat head screwdriver heads and look pretty easy to strip.

What about

@ June 6, 2013 11:03 AM in Preparing old radiators for hot water

How are you going to prepare/flush out the interior? I have some old rads I bought that I want to do the same thing with, but there is a lot of crud in the bottom. Are you going to go with TSP or is that not needed?

Great rules

@ May 20, 2013 2:43 PM in I have noticed more and more shotty work

I think this list of rules is great. I wonder about #5 - what do you consider a "component"? This would be boiler and circulators at a minimum, but do you include anything else?

Here's a blog with links

@ May 17, 2013 6:05 PM in What is the most effective heating system for Schools & Intermittent use buildings?

I think this addresses it pretty well:


@ April 9, 2013 3:41 PM in Circulators that you can set GPM

So you're taking out a two year old Alpine 150 to put in a brand new Alpine 80? Is someone covering the cost of the replacement boiler? I have a lot of trouble believing this is in any way necessary or that it will be cost effective?

There's a difference

@ March 25, 2013 3:17 PM in copper press fitting question

The examples you list in valves and pumps are all designed to fail and be easily replaced over time. Therefore different from the hundreds of feet of pipe that run all through the walls and floors.

I still have the 110 year old heating system pipes in my house. Yes, I have had to have some valve rings replaced, stems repacked, etc. - but that is easily done without disruption. When I needed to replace my boiler, I threw out any estimates that included press fittings or PEX; I just didn't trust it and went with old-school black steel and soldered copper. I'm guessing whoever owns the house 110 years from now will be glad.


@ March 19, 2013 1:03 PM in Need help with Slant/Fin input

I don't understand how a boiler "way too big for my home" would cause "first cold day, around +10 deg we could not keep the kitchen warm."

You may have a loss of efficiency with too large a boiler, but how could it fail to keep your house warm? That would seem to point to a problem with piping setup, or with the control adjustments. Has that been corrected?

What a customer wants you to know

@ February 14, 2013 4:17 PM in What business lessons did you learn from the Great Recession?

I'll answer this as a customer who had a new heating system installed last year. Here are the top three things I was looking for when I needed a new heating system:
1. Try to make it easy for a customer to find you.
A new customer starts from zero and needs to find someone to do their job. They start by asking friends for recommendations, then use the phone book - but the phone book doesn't really exist anymore so now they have to use the internet instead. I searched on this site and would have been happy to find someone close to me to do the job (but everyone was too far away to make it practical). And don't sneer at the idea of keeping an ad on craigslist - that is how I eventually found my installer. In my opinion there may be hacks on craigslist, but being on craigslist doesn't make you a hack.
2. When you find a customer who DOES want to upgrade, LISTEN to him and this may mean being FLEXIBLE.
Customers have lots of choices - and some of these choices aren't right or wrong - they are just different. It is harder to dictate to a customer "do it this way" if they have done their own research since they can eventually find someone to do it the way they want. I knew when I started that I wanted to keep my 100 year old radiators, and I wanted a natural gas upgrade using a gas-company-supplied Burnam boiler, and I wanted a mod-con. But when I started getting estimates, most of the estimates I got didn't meet all those requirements. For example, I was given an estimate for replacement hot air (since that was "the best"); I got three installers who refused to install a mod-con (saying it would never work in my application with old radiators and big steel pipes - really!); and I got several estimates for non-Burnham boilers because they were "much better".
3. Work hard to keep sticker shock down.
This required (in my example) the installer to be flexible about the boiler manufacturer to use and they had to be willing to have me involved in the process. I did as much site prep and removal as I could, plus system planning, ordering of boiler and other parts, and I did my own wiring and electrical. I know I was much more involved in my system installation than most homeowners and I'm sure the guys who did my install thought me a pain in the ass at times. But it allowed me to keep the price way down and after spending the last 20 years maintaining my old oil boiler I knew what I wanted.

Please define short-cycle

@ February 1, 2013 8:53 PM in Please define short-cycle

I've read a lot about short-cycling on these pages, but I've never seen a good definition of it. How short a bioler run time, and how often, would qualify as "short-cycling"?


@ January 17, 2013 2:58 PM in Upgrade of brand new heating system in Long Island, NY

The cost of a brand-new conventional boiler is zero in this case - because he is buying a house that was just built and includes a new 83% AFUE boiler. He doesn't need to replace his boiler - he is asking whether it makes financial sense to junk this new boiler and put in a newer one so he can slightly increase his efficiency from 83% to 96%.

This is like deciding whether it makes sense to take a free 2012 Corolla, or to pay $20K for a 2012 Prius. It's true that he will get better mileage with the Prius and save on the cost of gasoline, but the payoff time will be way out in the future and many many miles down the road. It just doesn't make sense. It DOES make sense to wait until the free boiler he already has needs major work or replacing and THEN buy the most fuel-efficient boiler he can find.

The AFUE ratings are designed to answer exactly this type of question. (He isn't talking about putting in radiant heat - that would be REALLY expensive as a retrofit).


@ January 16, 2013 6:53 PM in Upgrade of brand new heating system in Long Island, NY

Hold on, so then outdoor reset is the only difference? In which case adding outdoor reset to a conventional boiler will give you an apples to apples comparison, and allow use of relative AFUE to compute payback again, right?

What is the heating efficiency improvement when using outdoor reset - this must have been measured? If the payback for outdoor reset is so huge, then he could add outdoor reset to his existing boiler - that will cost a couple hundred and not many thousands of dollars and should pay for itself almost immediately. And after doing that, then he can compare AFUE ratings, right?


@ January 16, 2013 6:00 PM in Upgrade of brand new heating system in Long Island, NY

We don't know the boiler is oversize - it is brand new construction and hopefully was done correctly (we have no reason to believe otherwise). Agree not burning same btu/hr, but I don't see how that matters - the important thing is the number of btu produced - the advantage of burning a mod/con at a lower rate should be included in the relative AFUE rating. Also, the outdoor reset is part of the mod/con AFUE rating (isn't it?) - AFAIK that's included in how they get the rating so high.

Just trying to keep it simple - I don't see why you can't compute payback using AFUE alone. AFUE by definition is the projected average thermal efficiency for a complete heating season. If AFUE isn't good enough - why not?

Seems to me there's an easier way

@ January 16, 2013 4:46 PM in Upgrade of brand new heating system in Long Island, NY

There is an easier way to approximate how long your payback is. You only need two things - what was the cost of heating and hot water for your house for a full year? - and what is the cost of the upgrade minus any rebate and trade in. The effiency of your current system is (best-case) 83%; the efficiency of your new system is (best-case) 96%. Cost of new system / ( .13 * Gas cost last year) is the number of years to pay off new system (assuming stable gas cost and consumption same each year).

Two notes: 1. Your system is not brand new - it is used (by definition) - and you will be lucky to get much more than scrap value for it (but maybe you'll get lucky); 2. slant-fin requires higher temp than radiators so you will are unlikely to achieve 96% since you won't be condensing much. Upgrading to radiators would get you closer to 96% since they work at lower temp, but the cost of changing out to new runtal baseboard is going to be very high. Get a quote and figure the payback for that using the same equation - seems unlikely to me that you'll proceed with any of this if you base it purely on payback.

not me

@ January 9, 2013 4:03 PM in Burnham Alpine condensate

I didn't have that problem. As far as I could tell the union is a pretty cheap and generic part and can be replaced at any plumbing supply; pretty sure I even saw them at Home Depot.

I/O Manual p.87

@ November 30, 2012 10:46 AM in Noisy Burnham Alpine

There is a detailed explanation in the manual of how to do a combustion analysis test of the boiler, including how to force the boiler to run on high. Forcing it to run on high is done with the touch panel on the front - if your tech didn't do that then the reason it didn't vibrate probably was that it was warmer outside and not running on high. Make sure the tech doesn't try to tune the boiler unless he has a combustion analysis meter (this is the expensive tool). If he adjusts it without a meter then he actually could make it dangerous by generating too much carbon monoxide.

Is it possible he turned down the gas supply rate from the outside? That certainly doesn't sound right especially if you have other gas appliances.

Here is a link to the I/O manual (you should have gotten a hardcopy with the boiler - make sure it stays with the boiler; I put mine in a folder and tacked it to the wall):

In a similar - not same - boat

@ November 30, 2012 10:10 AM in Noisy Burnham Alpine

Throttle screw and combustion oxygen tuning are done on the boiler (it's called a boiler not a furnace). It requires taking the jacket off the boiler, and requires a combustion analysis tool that is very expensive and needs to be kept calibrated. I can't think of anything that can be done at the outdoor gas meter, other than make sure it is turned on. Tell your installer you want him to perform a combustion analysis because you think it is too lean. He should know what you mean - the adjustment process is explained in the Installation/Operation manual - if he says he can't do a combustion analysis then he probably doesn't own the tool, and you should find someone who does. The fact that he can't get through to the Service Rep sounds suspicious - my plumber always got through the couple times he called during installation - the wait wasn't that long.

I think this is a good boiler - mine has been installed for a year and has never had any problems. It is louder than I would like, so I may have the same issue you do. Mine does not vibrate, however, it just howls when running on high.

I don't think there is any danger - unless it is vibrating so hard that it might come off the wall or loosen the gas line. The boiler has lots of safety interlocks. But the adjustment, if that is what is what's required, should cut the noise according to the people here who know what they're talking about.

You wrote earlier that: "The boiler guy came out this am and told me there is nothing to adjust and of course the boiler did not make any sound". He is wrong that there is nothing to adjust - but why didn't it make any sound when he was there? In your other posts it sounds like this always make noise and vibrates?

But the manual

@ November 29, 2012 4:51 PM in Noisy Burnham Alpine

I have an Alpine 210 installed last year. I have to say I think it is a great unit, and I've been very happy with it. But it is also quite noisy, and I certainly know when it is running no matter where I am in the house. I assumed all mod-cons were noisy (my previous boiler was a 1940's cast-iron coal conversion so what do I know) but this discussion is relevant to me. I'll do more checking to see if it could be the same thing.

In any case, the I/O Manual (Table 23) specifies an oxygen in the range of 5.6 to 8.0 for High Fire, and 3.2 to 9.2 for Low Fire. I assume my boiler was tested to be in this range when it was installed, but not necessarily in the 5.0 to 6.0 range. It sounds like the range in the manual is too liberal? Has the manual been corrected?

works fine

@ November 29, 2012 3:49 PM in OK to attach cleanout valve to a wye?

Maybe this was too obvious to get an answer (it probably would have helped if I had named the parts correctly - not a cleanout valve but a boiler drain and not a wye but a wye strainer), but I went for it anyway and found it worked fine. Now I'll be able to do a gravity cleanout without carrying 1000 buckets of water from the basement.

OK to attach cleanout valve to a wye?

@ November 1, 2012 10:37 AM in OK to attach cleanout valve to a wye?

I had a mod-con heating system installed last fall, and was very happy with the installation job and contractor I hired to do it. There was lots of 1-1/2 black pipe and near-boiler copper installed, plus 1-1/4 gas line. An old gravity hot water coal conversion boiler was taken out, and relocated to the back wall of the house where the mod-con could vent. What you see in the picture is the return water that used to go into the old boiler, but now it goes up and over to the new boiler.

Everything is great, except what you see in the picture. There are two slow leaks in this section of pipe (on either side of the wye), so a cut has to be made and a union added.

Now to my first question. This is the low point of all the heating pipe in my house, and is quite a bit lower than the boiler (which is wall-mounted). There is a lot of 2" and larger pipe holding water. As you can see there is no cleanout valve here - just the wye plug. Is the thread on this compatible with a half inch threaded steel pipe?In which case would it be OK to replace the plug with a garden hose valve to allow the water to drain out through a hose?


Condensate expected

@ February 16, 2012 1:43 PM in Buderus- Chimney Condensation problems

According to the Installation and Maintenance manual for the GA124, you should have had a condensate trap installed as part of your boiler installation. See page 28 with the big note: "USER NOTE - A condensation trap must always be installed at the flue vent.". So that must be fixed unless what you are calling the "chimney cleanout" is actually this trap.

It sounds like your venting may also not be correct. But if it was wrong and a guy from Buderus came out to look at your system, surely he would have said that. Compare it the to drawings on page 28-29 or post good pictures here.

Where is your combustion air coming from?


@ February 13, 2012 10:18 AM in build a steam radiator

Do a search on craigslist for steam radiator. Depending on what part of the country you're in, you will probably see a lot of them. There isn't much demand and they are often just picked up for free as scrap metal, so the prices are low. In my experience, you can find just about any style and size if you're patient and willing to keep checking for a few weeks.
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