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Joined on July 25, 2011

Last Post on April 5, 2014

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Pressure gauge

@ April 5, 2014 10:05 AM in what is it? where does it go?

A 0-3 psi gauge will definitely tell you more about how the boiler is working, but the 0-30 psi gauge is required by code, so we usually recommend adding on a low pressure gauge rather than replacing the 0-30 psi gauge.

If the needle deflects and the gauge doesn't leak pressure, it's working. Make sure the port it screws into isn't plugged. If you add a low pressure gauge you'll be able to tell if the pressure the system is developing is simply too low to register on the high pressure gauge.

Low pressure isn't a bad thing.

@ January 27, 2014 6:59 AM in Pressure Gauge Not Moving

You only need enough pressure to get the steam out of the boiler and out to the radiators. If the radiators are heating up, I would say it's working. The only reason for closing the radiator vents and build pressure might be to check for a leak--or cause one--so unless you suspect a steam leak, let sleeping dogs lie.

You might want to see if your main vents are closing, but you can do this without building pressure. Just hold a lit candle near the vent at the beginning of a cycle. The escaping air should make the flame gutter. When the steam reaches the vent, it should close. You may or may not hear it, but the candle should now burn steadily. This is the point at which you're most likely to see a rise in pressure--after the main vents have closed but before the steam has reached radiators and started condensing--but if it only jumps from 1 oz to 2 oz, and your low pressure gauge is jittery, it's tough to be sure you're seeing it.

Draft Hoods

@ January 27, 2014 6:31 AM in new home owner from philadelphia

Yes, there are two of them. So the vent damper (if that's what I'm seeing) isn't doing much good.


@ January 25, 2014 9:31 PM in Most efficient steam system on the planet?

The 3600 is to convert 1 ft³ / n seconds to ft³/hr. I forgot to tell you to divide the number of seconds by 2 first because the dial measures 2 ft³ per revolution.

2 ft³/36.8 sec.
1 ft³/18.4 sec.
196.65 ft³/hr.
199,565 btu/hr.

Comparing this to the gross input does account for losses. That's why you use gross input instead of gross output or net output. Gross input includes everything.

If we can't find a rating for your boiler (and I wouldn't give up without a stroll through this sites incredible online library) we can arrive at a rough estimate by starting with your connected load and working backwards. It would definitely be better to have a rating though.


@ January 25, 2014 9:06 PM in Leaking radiator valve

You can do it yourself if you get the right kind of packing and do it with the heat off. Start by wire brushing the valve stem to get the greenish white crusty stuff off, then unscrew the packing nut. Don't even try to get the old stuff out, just wrap a few turns of new packing cord around the stem then tighten the nut down.

Don't use teflon packing. Use the graphited string type.

This assumes you have already tried just tightening the packing nut and it didn't help.

Actually, the valve IS leaking.

@ January 24, 2014 11:22 PM in Leaking radiator valve

It looks like the packing is leaking, but the union might also be leaking. It has already taken a lot of the chrome off the floor plate, and I hate to think what it's doing to your woodwork. Usually you can just tighten the packing nut, but if it still leaks you need to replace either the packing or the valve.

Also, it looks like that valve might not be all the way open, is it? On a one-pipe radiator, the valve should always be all the way open or the radiator will fill up with water.

By the way,where in NJ are you located? There is a first class steam man who works out of Metuchen but covers the whole state. He calls himself JStar here on The Wall. You may have read some of his posts. It might be a good idea to have him come out and look over your system.

Could be the return.

@ January 24, 2014 10:57 PM in How much water loss through single vent?

Water backs up farther in the return during heating, and even dry returns can develop leaks. It's not the typical pattern, but if yours was the typical case you'd have found the leak by now.

Ashcroft vs. Wika

@ January 24, 2014 10:40 PM in Forgot to put water in the pigtail

The Wika gauges that a lot of us got from are capsule gauges. They're a little more prone to metal fatigue and temperature distortion. I wish I'd looked at the Ashcroft gauges first. They're more expensive, but you get what you pay for.

Clock your gas meter

@ January 24, 2014 10:34 PM in Most efficient steam system on the planet?

You can get a good idea of whether the burners are turning gas into heat at the appropriate rate by clocking your gas meter.

Turn off your water heater and other gas-fired appliances, then turn up the thermostat so it's calling for heat for long enough to get a reading, then put on your coat, grab a stopwatch and go out to the meter.

Time how long it takes the 2 ft³ dial to make a complete revolution. Divide 3600 by that number to get ft³/hr. Multiply by 1,020 to get BTU/hr. Compare this to your input rating. If it's consistent with your impression that the boiler is under-firing, mention this to the combustion tech and ask him if he can adjust it. Don't try to adjust it yourself, unless you have the tools and training, including a combustion analyzer.

I will probably end up with a power burner

@ January 24, 2014 10:09 PM in Replacement air for combustion?

long before I ever attempt anything like I was describing. This old boiler won't last forever, and those setups Steamhead installs are making me salivate.

A water feeder is a safety device.

@ January 24, 2014 9:59 PM in Residential steam boiler water feed ad

They're intended to prevent a no-heat condition if a leak develops, long enough to allow you to find and fix the leak. If they are activated on a regular basis, they will fail to close and flood the boiler, ironically causing a no-heat condition with water-filled pipes to freeze and break.

Not only that, but since the LWCO doesn't activate the water feeder unless the water level is dangerously low, you are letting the water level get dangerously low over and over again. This will do serious damage to a boiler that expects to have a relatively stable water level, with regions of the vessel that are used to boiling heat exposed to flame heat, and the constant fluctuation in water level means the stress patterns keep changing, fatiguing the cast iron, and cast iron doesn't like that. What's the least flexible metal you can think of?

A water feeder is a good insurance policy if used correctly, but think of it as you would a fire extinguisher: you hope you never have to use it.

Hydrolevel makes one with a built-in water meter. I installed one three years ago. The meter still reads "000." The only water it has ever fed has been during its annual pre-season tests.


@ January 24, 2014 9:35 PM in Replacement air for combustion?

I get cold just thinking about leaving a basement window open, but really it depends on how the house is constructed.

In my house the basement door has louvers and there are several vent holes cut in the first floor, so the boiler draws air from the living space. Of course, that means air has to leak in to replace it.

When you think about it, this is really stupid. It makes the house feel drafty and it sucks all the moisture out of the house, and my nose starts bleeding around the middle of December and doesn't stop until May. Adding a vent damper has helped a lot--at least the indoor air is only being drawn up the flue when the burners are running--but it's still a waste of warm indoor air.

But then, leaving a basement window open would be just about as bad. It would get better if I replaced the basement door and covered the vents in the floor. But it would still get cold down in the basement. A smaller opening would be less prone to drafts but would still allow ample air for combustion.

I'm not sure what the ratio is, but the air going up the chimney is expanded considerably compared to the cold, outside air, so, in theory, the intake doesn't need to be as big as the flue. Maybe something the size of a dryer vent, with the flap on the inside?

I'm just guessing, and that's why I haven't actually tried it yet, because if you get it wrong, the consequences would be horrific. If you can't draw in enough air to move the exhaust gases up the flue, they overspill the draft hood and escape into the living space, seep through the floorboards and kill people. I might install everything, test the draft and spillover and find everything working fine and then days later a drop in barometric pressure or a cold front could throw off the balance enough to make it stop drawing. We've all seen the effect the weather can have on a fireplace.

I think this is why old-timers tended to err on the side of allowing excess air in.

Parallel (aka concurrent)

@ January 23, 2014 9:42 PM in Noisy Convector

means steam and condensate are going in the same direction, so they don't bump into each other going in and out the same piece of pipe.

Piping convectors on a one-pipe system

@ January 23, 2014 9:39 PM in Noisy Convector

It all depends on the EDR of the convector (2" fin-tube convectors have 5.7 ft² EDR per foot) and the size of the supply piping, just like a radiator. If it's less than 24 ft² (i.e. a < 4' convector), a 1" pipe is big enough. 24–60 ft² (a 4–10' unit) needs 1 1/4", and > 60 ft² requires 1 1/2" supply piping. (I'm not sure what the upper EDR limit is for 1 1/2" pipe.)

If the supply piping isn't large enough to support the EDR, the water and steam are going to rub elbows as they pass each other at the entrance. If you can't use a bigger supply, you have to pipe the other end directly to the return and pitch towards it.

I'm drawing a blank on what the check valves are doing. Do you have a picture of one of these?

Do you have a camera?

@ January 23, 2014 8:51 PM in Water Hammer, Radiators not heating, Quick cycling

It isn't clear what control you're talking about. Usually nothing needs to be manually reset, except for the occasional secondary low water cut-off, but these are rare on residential boilers, and you don't mention needing to add water. You also don't mention if the boiler is oil-fired or gas. A few pictures would help.


@ January 21, 2014 6:47 AM in First time homeowner - need help understanding my steam heating system

You should not be relying on the automatic water feeder to maintain the water level. The LWCO calls for water only when the level is dangerously low, and this should not be happening on a regular basis. When large volumes of makeup water are run through a cast iron boiler you get accelerated corrosion, and when the water level is allowed to fluctuate, it induces metal fatigue in the boiler sections. If you're losing that much water, you obviously have a leak, and it's not only destroying your boiler, but the water might be doing some mischief wherever it is leaking out of your pipes.

Go with Angie, not Craig.

@ January 18, 2014 10:26 AM in Craigslist specials

Angieslist encourages (okay, demands, browbeats, cajoles and otherwise compels) its members to review the services they find through them, so this kind of thing might happen once or twice, but they couldn't get away with it indefinitely.

I assume this is a one-pipe system?

@ January 17, 2014 9:23 PM in Radiators leaking on same riser

Did anyone happen to check the valves to make sure they are fully open? Not just that they're turned fully counterclockwise, but that the disks haven't come loose.

It would almost have to be.

@ January 17, 2014 8:49 PM in Amtrol on steam system

They're pretty well insulated. But it's pretty hard to imagine how an HDPE bottle, surrounded by closed-cell PEF, inside a steel tank could break. Is it still under warranty?

Gentle Bouncing

@ January 16, 2014 8:36 PM in any risk associated with a properly executed TSP cleaning?

Indicates either that there's no serious contamination problem or the gaugecocks may be restricted.

Trisodium phosphate is a stronger base than sodium carbonate or washing soda and therefore intrinsically more dangerous to use. Either can be used to remove hydrocarbon sludge and should be purged from the boiler afterwards, but the risk of damage due to caustic corrosion from trisodium phosphate would be greater, and its use is regulated due to its environmental impact.

How to tell them apart.

@ January 16, 2014 8:02 PM in Wolf in sheep's clothing?

The limit pictured appears to be a ~10 year old L408A VaporStat® Controller. It has a bigger diaphragm than the Pressuretrol® controller, and the scaleplates are different.

The differential scaleplate on the VaporStat is graduated from 2 to 16 psi by twos, or 1 to 4 psi by ones, while that of the Pressuretrol is graduated from 2 to 12 psi by twos. (See pictures.) The main scaleplate on the VaporStat is graduated from 0 to 16 oz/in² by twos, while that of the Pressuretrol is graduated from 0 to 50 psi by tens.

An L408A and an L404A of the same vintage are pictured for comparison. Both models used mercury switches in this timeframe.

I'd try it, but...

@ January 16, 2014 6:56 AM in Identify Radiator Type, Please

The darn things won't fit in my oven!
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