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Joined on September 15, 2010

Last Post on July 29, 2014

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@ November 12, 2010 8:14 AM in oil to gas conversion

There is a lot to like about a simple and reliable heating system. My steam boiler is not as efficient as the newest gear but in the last 14 years I've only had to call for service once (outside of the yearly cleanouts). If it stops working I can usually figure out why in 15 minutes and parts are very easy to get.

A number of years back a buddy of mine had a new condensing gas boiler installed. It was really a honey but the service guy was over there every week and it was pretty obvious the company was struggling with these boilers.


Raising Pressure

@ November 11, 2010 8:51 PM in What nozzle to minimize fuel use?


If it wasn't a very cold day the system probably able to supply enough heat without raising any noticeable pressure. How long did it take to satisfy the thermostat?

If the system raises enough pressure to trip the pressuretrol it might indicate the firing rate is a bit high. A few ounces is enough to move the steam as long as the venting is adequate. In a perfect world the system would run almost 24 hours a day at 0 degrees F, or whatever your area's design temperature is.

Low pressure is usually the customers friend and the oilman's nemesis.


Pressuretrol test

@ November 11, 2010 4:19 PM in How do you test Pressuretrol

In the picture that shows the inside of the pressuretrol, the brown object is a microswitch. The two brass screws are the contacts of that switch, Normally the contacts of this switch are closed until pressure builds enough to trip it off. With the boiler power switched off at the circuit breaker panel, you should measure zero ohms across those two brass screws. You can force that silver arm up and down (1/16 to 1/8") to mimic the action of the internal bellows, when you do you will hear a small click and the reading should go up to many thousands of ohms. Move it the opposite way and the reading should go back to zero ohms.

All that does is tell you that the switch works it does not tell you if the pressure bellows is good or if the pigtail is clear.

With the power back on you can manipulate the silver lever and should be able to turn the burner off and on, assuming the thermostat is calling for heat. Just be careful so you don't get a shock, those screws are carrying 120v.


Vent spraying water

@ November 11, 2010 11:17 AM in Air vent jetting out water

You have to check the piping and the radiator for the correct slope so the condensing steam can flow back to the boiler. You may have water pooling in a pipe or radiator.

What pressure is the boiler running at? You stated that all the vents are noisy. The pressure should be below 2PSI when the boiler shuts off. Excess pressure just makes everything worse.

Is that new radiator vent adjustable (maybe a Ventrite No. 1?)? Try turning it down to slow the radiators venting.

What kind of main vents do you have and are they working? With steam you want to vent the mains quickly and the radiators more slowly.


Burner cycling

@ November 11, 2010 8:51 AM in Boiler is cycling but no demand for heat

Is this a steam or forced hot water boiler?

How do you get your domestic hot water? If the domestic hot water comes off the boiler, look to see if the temperature was turned up on the aquastat although I would expect it to run somewhat longer if that were the cause.

Are there any lit led's on the controls when this happens? that might lead us to the problem.

Try turning the thermostat up to get some heat and see if it performs normally.

Take some pics of the boiler and it's controls so we can see what your dealing with.


Steam gauge

@ November 10, 2010 8:43 PM in Gauge Store Question

That gauge cannot be used on live steam BUT if you have a siphon between it and the boiler it should be fine. I have a gauge that is in the same series mounted on my Burnham boiler as you can see in the photo below. If you look behind the BX cable you can see the original 30 PSI gauge which has an internal siphon built into it.



@ November 10, 2010 6:46 PM in How to change Pressuretrol settings?

One thing about that gauge, it has to be replaced with a gauge with an internal syphon to protect it against live steam. Otherwise the gauge would need a pigtail siphon like the one below the Pressuretrol to protect it from the steam.


Broken pressure gauge

@ November 10, 2010 5:17 PM in How to change Pressuretrol settings?

Your boiler pressure gauge is broken and should be replaced asap. This gauge has to be operating correctly so you can be sure everything is operating safely. It should read zero when cold, and if the pressure got above 15PSI your safety valve would pop - and that would really get your attention. You can get a new one at a supply house along with some teflon tape for the threads. Unscrew the old one, put some teflon tape on the threads of the new one and screw it back in. MAKE SURE THE BOILER IS COLD (or at least cool) AND OFF BEFORE DOING THIS If your not comfortable doing it yourself, call in a pro. The problem is finding someone who really is a steam pro. You can look under "Find A contractor" and go down to the states section to see if there's anyone near you. If there isn't you'll have to call around to see if you can find one.

Until you understand steam you will have a tough time knowing if you've found the right guy. You might want to consider investing some money in some books so you'll know what they are talking about. That's a good combo deal but you can always get the books one at a time if you would rather.

The bullet shaped main is probably either a Hoffman or a VentRite, while the cruggy one looks like a Maid-O-Mist. Both should vent air till the steam hits them. Do they get hot at about the same time? The main vents should be sized so they vent the air out of the mains quickly - a couple of minutes after the boiler header gets hot. Once the gauge has been fixed we can go through the steps to determine what kind of main vents you should have.

The radiator looks like it has a Heat Timer on it, if you slide that lever over you should be able to slow it's vent rate down. The radiators want to vent slower than the mains.

If you turn the screws on the pressuretrol, the silver tabs will move to show the settings. Setting them both as low as they will go is usually a good place to start.

god luck,


Here's a link that will give you some information on single pipe steam, these are taken from Dan's books.

Pressuretrol adjust

@ November 10, 2010 3:08 PM in How to change Pressuretrol settings?

That pressuretrol is adjusted with the screws on the top of the case. The PDF file below has instructions on page 7.

Ideally you would set the pressuretrol cutout for 1.5PSI and the cut in at 0.5 but that model pressuretrol might not go that low, I believe it it is rated at 2 - 15PSI. If you had a vaporstst you could get below a pound easily.

Does your pressure gauge indicate the pressure, sometimes the 0-30PSI gauges don't respond at pressures below 2PSI but yours is new so it should.

What kind of vents are on your steam main(s)? If those are clogged, it forces a lot more air through the vents on the radiators and burns more oil.


More information

@ November 10, 2010 2:32 PM in Steam Main Venting (Residential)

We need a little more information.

What are the vents you have now? there sb a manufacturers name and number on them.

What are the diameters of your mains? An outside circumference will do.

Do the pipes that the vents come off the mains and feed the vents get steam hot? Do they get hot at about the same time? How long does it take for them to get hot when starting from a cold start?

What pressure does the gauge read when the system shuts down? Do you know what the pressuretrol is set to for cutout and cut in pressure? Is the near boiler piping done per the manufacturers specifications?

Is there any surging inn the sight glass when the system is under pressure? A little is normal but over 3/4" of up and down motion is a concern.

Do all the radiators get hot about the same time? how long, from a cold start does that take?

The header and all the steam pipes should have a minimum of 1" of pipe insulation on them. All that piping acts as a radiator without insulation and contributes to poor system operation.

Please post some pictures of your boiler, the near boiler piping (header, connection to mains, hartford loop). Don;t get too close, we need to see the relationships of these elements to each other.



@ November 10, 2010 8:21 AM in Three Rads No steam in One pipe system

Are these radiators all on the same steam main? Are they at the end of that main? There should be a main vent towards the end of the main, is the pipe the vent connects to hot? If that main air valve is clogged or partially clogged it may not be allowing the steam to make it all the way down the main.

Check the piping in the basement to see if it slopes towards the boiler and also check to see if there is a sag in the piping. Depending on the type of single pipe steam you have, the piping will slope back towards the boiler (counterflow) or towards the return pipe (parallel flow) at the end of the main(s). Your eyes can deceive you, use a level. Also make sure the three radiators are slightly pitched back towards the radiator input valve.


whatever works

@ November 9, 2010 10:10 PM in Joint leaking

My old boss always said "whatever works". It does not have to be pretty, it just has to get us past today, this week or whatever.

We'll deal with whatever happens next.

That philosophy went a long way back in 1966 on a mountaintop site in Korea.


To kind

@ November 9, 2010 8:36 PM in Do Any Steam Boilers Qualify for the Energy Tax Credit?

"The reality is that most politicians simply don't understand anything but whatever is most common."

You give them far to much credit. They are blind greedy slugs, and that is too kind.


Probably water hammer

@ November 9, 2010 5:02 PM in banging pipes

Your new boiler is probably producing more steam a lot faster than the old boiler did. That is probably exacerbating whatever problems you had before. Read through this link and see if anything seems familiar.

Can you tell what pipe or radiator seems to be the worst? All the piping should be slightly sloped so the condensing steam can find it's way back to the boiler.When exactly does the noise start? Just as the pipes start to heat up or after it's been hot for a while. Is the water in the sight glass bouncing up and down a lot?

What is the boiler pressure running at? It should be below 2 PSI. Take some pics of the boiler and the near boiler piping above and behind it so we can see if the install was done correctly. You can attch those pictures to your reply.


Shot in the dark

@ November 9, 2010 4:43 PM in Joint leaking

You said the joint can't be tightened, is that because the union thread is slipping or because it is seized and you can't get the nut to turn?

If you can get it to turn can you see any sign of a crack where the union fitting joins it's threaded stub?

If you can find a crack and post a pic perhaps we can collectively come up with a Rube Goldberg that will get you by. Something like a lead saddle held in place with a radiator clamp - not pretty or kosher but it might get you by.

Also if you can loosen that nut and the leak is at the union face maybe you can get something in there to act as a gasket. A long shot but who knows.


It may be where you can't see

@ November 8, 2010 8:38 PM in What's with the water in the bottom of my radiator? Yet Another Clanging/Hammering Scenario.


If that pipe to the second floor comes up through a wall then there is probably a short (6") horizontal pipe that goes from inside the wall to where the radiator sits adjacent to the wall.

Through the years as the house settled, that pipe may have acquired a slight reverse pitch. Try shimming both ends of the radiator to raise that short pipe. I had something similar with a hall radiator in my house and used a 3/8 piece of plywood under the valve end and a 1/2" piece under the vent end, to assure positive pitch on the radiator itself..

Also make sure you check the pipe in the basement with a level, your eyes can deceive you.


Single pipe steam to FHW

@ November 8, 2010 4:20 PM in Hot water with a single pipe

I can't see how to convert a radiator to hot water without a second pipe so you could get water to flow through it and return to the boiler to be reheated. If it was a single floor house you might be able to run a second pipe but would an old radiator survive the surgery? And then you have the old question of a system that ran on 2psi for decades would react to the much higher pressure and weight of water.

I don't think I'd do it if I wasn't ready to replace everything - boiler and radiators with new piping all around.


New or repair whats there

@ November 8, 2010 2:07 PM in Replace boiler?

An old boiler is always an unknown and there efficiency is usually pretty poor. With the cost of fuel, it adds up over the years. You have to figure how much fuel you will save with a new PROPERLY SIZED AND INSTALLED boiler and how many years it will take to get your money back. Some of the new FHW boilers can be extremely efficient, they could increase your overall efficiency from 60 to 90% Also there is the peace of mind that comes with new properly installed equipment.

The contractor was being honest about the possibility of equipment failure and there is no way he could know how long what you have will last. The rebates are only applicable to systems that have efficiencies of 90% or more and no upgrading is going to accomplish that.

If you go with a new boiler be sure the installer does everything by the book so it works as it should. Also be sure he calculates the heat loss so you get a properly sized boiler. Improperly installed equipment will sour any initial savings pretty quickly so select an installer carefully.

Do you intend on staying in this house long term? Are you using oil or gas?

Time meter

@ November 8, 2010 9:08 AM in Hour Meters

I picked up a used Quartz elapsed time meter on ebay for short money, just make sure it's for 120v ac. I wired it in parallel with the oil burner and started keeping a log.


air valve

@ November 8, 2010 8:52 AM in Air vent jetting out water

Air vents don't last forever and yours may have seen better days. Buy a replacement vent and some teflon tape to seal the threads with. Just unscrew the old one and thread on the replacement - when the radiator is not under ant steam pressure. Buy the same brand or another name brand (Hoffman, Gorton). Be warned that Home Depot usually only has the cheap chinese valves which are of questionable quality, their ok in a pinch but not for the long term.

If you boil the old vent in vinegar for 30-60 minuts you may be able to fix it but don't be surprised if the chrome plating goes away along with the lime deposits that are probably preventing it from closing all the way.



@ November 7, 2010 1:43 PM in Does a Two Pipe System Need an Air Vent in the Dry Return?

I agree you need air vents for that system to work correctly. The question is weather the Hoffman 75's are large enough. How long are the mains and what size pipe are they (outside circumference will do)? How long are the returns and what size pipe are they?

The header and mains should be insulated for best performance. It will make the cellar colder but will save fuel.


fooling the system

@ November 7, 2010 1:32 PM in Can't get 3 psi gauge or vaporstat to work

If the input valves to your radiators work, try closing all of them, that will remove the load from the system and you should be able to build pressure. If this is single pipe steam you could also try turning all the radiators air valves upside down (or replace them with 1/8" threaded plugs), that should mechanically close all the vents and also remove the load from the boiler.

After doing one of the above turn up the thermostat and monitor the boiler and gauges. the boiler will build steam and fill the mains but the steam will have no place else to go. You should be able to verify the gauges and the setpoint of the vaporstat.

I suspect your boiler may be very well matches to the connected load so you never build any pressure before the thermostat is satisfied.

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