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Joined on October 24, 2013

Last Post on January 9, 2014

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Low Temp Boil

@ January 9, 2014 7:34 PM in An Epic Tale: I hear the Trane a comin'!

With modern boilers, you have to think of the vacuum differently. In the old days, low temp boiling made sense as a way to modulate heat in the house. After all, they didn't have mercury switched thermostats in the house. Instead, you would try to run the boiler at a lower temp for longer periods of time. This let you control steam temp. If you drop the boiling point of water to 160 degrees, that also means you are making 160 degree steam. With today's boilers though, throw that all out the window. You're not going to be running the boiler hours on end to modulate temp. It does, however, still have an extreme benefit.

If you can fire the boiler hot, build some pressure, then shut it down and draw a vacuum, it will continue to boil with the burner off. You can essentially generate steam for longer periods as the vacuum increases. The latent heat of the system will keep the water boiling, steam pumping, and radiators hot for longer. You can use less fuel to generate more heat for longer periods of time.

The key here is controlling it. I am running on my first prototype home made controller right now, and it's working out great. The biggest benefit I see from the vacuum is being able to fire the boiler up to 14 oz, and continue to boil for 20 mins after the burner shuts down. And that's with my old 1950's boiler, not a new modulating gas gun. When the burner kicks off the rads are only about 1/2 hot, within 2 mins of shutdown they are too hot to touch, and stay that way for 30 mins. They continue to kick off massive heat for about an hour after shutdown. I'm making my own controller, but you don't have to. You can do the same thing with a regular thermostat and some tinkering with the input btu's. Get it hot, build some pressure, then shut it down and let the vacuum take over. It's amazing how long the radiators will hold their temp because you are constantly pushing steam through the system. Even with the burner off.

Once it's running you'll see what I'm talking about. Best advice I can give you is don't over think it right now. Get the system hot and then start playing with it. Eventually, you'll find a sweet spot that will keep the rads hot all the time and the boilers running as little as possible.Once you get it fired up, start looking for ways to cut the boiler out before the tstat is satisfied. Most people put the tstat in the living room because that's were they want it to be 70 degrees all the time. However, if you think a little outside the box, you can start taking advantage of the vacuum. Before I installed the controller, I put my tstat in the basement, and cranked it up to 78 degrees. Crazy right!?! What I discovered was that moving it to the basement and setting it high would let the system shutdown before the living room hit 70, but would then let the vacuum do it's job. It was always hot in the basement so I couldn't set it at 70, but found that 78 in the basement was the perfect temp for the rest of the house to be 70.

Over Fired Boiler Revisited

@ December 31, 2013 12:01 AM in Over Fired Boiler Revisited

Here is an update to the post I made a while back regarding my BTU input vs boiler rated input. Gas company claims there is nothing wrong with the meter and the dials are accurate. So here's the deal. My boiler is rated for 260,000 BTU input. However, I have an adjustable valve that has been dialed up to 450,000 BTU. I had someone come out an look at combustion stats. At 450,000 they are acceptable though on the high end of all measurable stats. When dialed down to 300,000 BTU, they are still within acceptable limits, but on the low end.

My question is, what to do with the valve. It;s been over fired for at least 20 years so I don't think any damage i being done. However, I certainly don;t want to waste fuel. My suspicion is that someone cranked it up to generate steam faster. The previous owner held the tstat at 85 all the time, and right now it will certainly hit that temp in the house. So, should I turn it down to around 300,000, or leave it be at 450,000 (if it ain't broke...)?

Any thoughts? Either way seems safe with my current venting and I do use whole house hard wired smoke/CO detectors.

Transfer Conditioner

@ December 29, 2013 1:16 PM in Steam Heat Saves The Day

They make power conditioning transfer switches to help with this. They use a small battery bank to ensure clean power output. Genny charges the batteries, batteries invert and power the house. My portable has this feature built in, but you can buy external units to work with any generator. You can however get a nice Genertac whole house unit for around 3 grand, not a bad price when you consider a portable is almost a thousand, plus another 600 - 800 for a conditioned transfer switch.

No matter what, make sure everything is installed by an electrician, or yourself knowing exactly how to do it. There were several linemen around here zapped because the generators had energized the power line to the pole, You have to ensure you isolate the two and make it impossible for the generator and main breakers to be on at the same time. Most manufactures of outdoor load panels have lockout plates for this specific purpose. If using a good transfer switch, it will do this automatically.

Whole House

@ December 29, 2013 1:08 PM in Steam Heat Saves The Day

A whole house generator is certainly the best option. When we moved into this house I had an outdoor load center installed to cover this. I never installed a large hole house unit, mostly because I just never got around to it. When it became evident our outage was going to last at least a week, I added a 40 amp twist lock to the load center and hooked up the portable 6500 watt unit I have. Every appliance in my house is natural gas so the 6500 actually worked just fine. We were careful not to waste electricity, but never tripped the circuit once. It worked quite well. I will be adding a larger NG/LP unit this summer, but the portable can work if installed properly.


@ December 28, 2013 7:15 PM in An Epic Tale: I hear the Trane a comin'!

I found that a 360 rotating connector between the hose and wand is a must. As you turn the wand while cleaning the hose will loosen if you don't have one. You can get them in the box store garden centers, they are just a swivel connection that goes on the end of a hose. Easy to find.

Solar Kits

@ December 27, 2013 11:57 AM in Steam Heat Saves The Day

Solar kits are easily found and work great. I have a panel mounted on a flat roof backing up the house wired smoke and CO detectors. However, I will be revisiting this as well as the 2 inches of ice we got covered them and rendered them useless. I'm not sure if they are damaged or not because none of the ice has melted. It's possible they stopped working because the ice broke them, but I am suspecting they just don't absorb solar rays when covered in that much ice. You learn a lot when your emergency backup systems are put into action. Far more than when designing, installing, and testing that's for sure.

Keep it up

@ December 26, 2013 11:00 PM in does a Gorton #2 need to be vertical?

Keep it as vertical as possible. Slightly off is OK, 45 might be too much. the vent closes and won't pass any air at all if it's too far off. I'll try blowing into a spare number 2 I have at about 45 degrees and post back

The Other 70 Percent

@ December 26, 2013 8:11 PM in Steam Heat Saves The Day

UPS units will certainly work, but they are designed to discharge high amps for short periods. They will discharge far more amps then being used to maintain battery life. Slow drawn out battery discharges make them fail faster, and no manufacturer wants you to have to replace a battery in their unit. They know you'll probably by a new unit and possibly switch brands. So, they design the units for optimal battery life, not runtime. This means running a low voltage at a trickle every once in a while, like a boiler would do, will cause the UPS to discharge power on it's own faster than what you are actually using. If you unplug a UPS, and let it sit with nothing attached, it will drain itself in about a day.

To obtain the most efficient use, meaning longest runtime, you need to minimize the conversions and match the voltage. I'm using a 12 volt power source, on a 12 volt load. I connected this battery at 3 am Sunday, and still have 70% charge left as of this evening. It was only at 90% when I started using it. These jump start units have tons of amps, designed for cranking, and no logic to discharge the battery faster than what you are drawing. When I say this thing will run for at least a month on a single charge, I'm serious, it will.

We are running a generator that I wired into the house, but I still run the furnace on the battery. For starters, it lets me shutdown the generator at night at still have heat.This saves a ton of fuel. Also, in the beginning of the outage, the generator was limited. With the grid down you can't get gasoline until the gas station is running on standby power. Believe it or not, very few stations have generators large enough to remain open while running on them. Most places here were closed for the first day. You also have to consider generator failure. They do break. The battery I'm running is solid state and has no moving parts. If it has power, it will discharge.

So in a nut shell, I'm still a fan of running the boiler on battery. Even with a generator. I've lived through the usefulness of this thing and seen all the times the boiler would have been down without it. With single digit temps, I don't want it off for even a few hours. I would strongly suggest replacing your valve with a 12 vdc model when it comes time to swap it. If you want to prepare for things like this, do it now, otherwise wait until it breaks and needs replacing anyway. There is certainly no disadvantage to buying a 12 vdc valve instead of a 24 vac valve.

DC Gas Velves

@ December 25, 2013 10:32 AM in Steam Heat Saves The Day

My valve is 24 vac or 12 vdc. The system used to be 24 vac, I have now swapped the transformer out of a DC one and hardwired the battery backup. A single charge of a 900w jump start unit will cycle the valve for about a month being that it only uses .18 amps.

Steam Heat Saves The Day

@ December 24, 2013 5:29 PM in Steam Heat Saves The Day

Well, we are now on day 4 with no power due to an outrageous ice storm. Expected restoration date is Jan 3. In the middle of the storm, at 3am, when it was obvious power was going to be lost, we had about 1 1/2" of ice of the ground at that point, I started thinking. A quick middle of the night trip to Meijer to get a 900w Diehard jump start unit, and a little rewiring on the boiler, we have maintained heat the entire time. Since Saturday night the unit has only used 13% of it's power so it should last about a month on a single charge.

I have the generator running to power the house now but still left the boiler on battery power. No sense in using the amps to power the transformer if it's not needed. I would highly recomend all you steam heads to look into rigging up an emergency 12 volt solution to run your system. I was lucky to be able to get it done the way I did. Once you loose power across the entire grid and no stores are open, you'll be glad you have heat and no need for parts from Lowes. Lights and electricity are luxuries, heat is not.

All of the above

@ December 21, 2013 9:44 PM in Proper skimming technique...the details.

New install, skim as much and often as you can. Personally, on the initial fill I'd let it sit for a few hours and skim it cold. Then, run it for a bit of testing and skim some more. Then, run it for heat and tweaking and skim some more. You want all the oils out, at whatever point in time they are in there.

I think the most important thing is to clean it with the wand before the initial firing. The inside ot that thing is going to be full of cutting oils. Cast iron is actually like a spounge. You can put a fitting in a quart of oil and it will soak a ton of it up. Clean it right off the bat, then clean it again after its had a few days of heat, then again after a few weeks of heat. Like NBC sated though, make sure you're cleaning the water in the equalizer as well. Because you have a nice big header any oil the leaves the boiler won;t carry over to the mains. Just make sure you get it all out of the near boiler piping as well. Bottom line, you have to clean and skim until nothing but clean water is coming out. That's when you know you're done.

Runs Great

@ December 21, 2013 2:39 PM in High Boiler BTU

Overall, the system runs great. But, I've done a lot of tweaking to get it there. I am now able to recover 2 degrees while staying under 1 psi. From a cold start, a 2 degree swing takes about 30 mins total, stays below 1 psi, and shuts off with the tstat.

I have an Eddy low pressure vacuum system. Runs in excess of 45 mins puts heat the air return lines and it's enough to shut the vacuum vents and start building pressure. In those runs, the pressuretrol will shut down at 2 psi and fade back to cut in at .5 psi in about 15 mins.

I don't do any setbacks over 2 degrees, so my system pretty much always runs at a few oz's and shuts down by tstat.

It's run for 20 years like this so I don't think it's hurting anything. And, the house is mostly uninsulated and 110 years old so it's drafty enough of never really have any CO issues. I do have detectors in several parts of the house, including near the boiler, and they never go off. I am however going to call someone to do a combustion analysis and look at the valve. As long as the exhaust is OK, I wouldn't mind having them turn it down and seeing if I can still maintain the low pressure cycles. I don't want system performance to change any, but if i can keep it the same, and save some fuel by turning it down, win win.

No I didn't

@ December 21, 2013 12:59 PM in High Boiler BTU

The calculations I found on here said to take the time the meter records one CUF of gas and divide that number by 3600 to calculate CUF per hour. Then multiply by the BTU therm conversion of 1050. I actually used 1015 which is the them conversion at my elevation according to a website I found that allows you to enter your zip code to get a precise value.

I wasn't aware the deviated them conversion was listed on the bill. I will check and see if their rate is in line with my 1015 vs 1050 difference.


@ December 21, 2013 12:22 PM in High Boiler BTU

I don't have much experience with electric gas valves other than replacing a few of them one for one with OEM units. I've never had to adjust the regulators to size the output. However, I am assuming the output of these valves is in fact adjustable? Since the specs say it's good up to 725,000 BTU, do you adjust them to match the rating of whatever your feeding? If this is the case, then someone specifically dialed in this higher BTU rate on purpose and it's been that way since 1994 when it is was installed, so I don't think it's hurting anything. But, how does this affect efficiency? Would the boiler run better at the stated rate or 360,000?


@ December 21, 2013 12:11 PM in High Boiler BTU

Stamping says 810 sq/ft of steam

How it's built

@ December 21, 2013 11:05 AM in High Boiler BTU

I get that the boiler plate stating 360,000 BTU input was based on the OEM equipment that came with the boiler, mainly the gas valve train. But my real question is, are the boilers built to withstand those BTU factors specifically, or can they take more? Is there something specific about the design that allow them to only withstand the manufacturers stated rate, or can they handle more than that? I realize not all boilers are the same and no one can know for sure in my case, but in general, is the overall design limited to these numbers?

High Boiler BTU

@ December 21, 2013 12:05 AM in High Boiler BTU

Here is the situation. I have an American Standard 6 section boiler installed in 1955. On the stamp plate the input BTU is stated as 360,000 BTU/H. This was of course with the original valve train. I have the old install docs and manuals and it looks like there were regulators, a mechanical pilot valve, an electronic gas valve and some kind of air intake regulator originally installed. All of this is of course gone now, and there is now just a single Robertshaw-Grayson 7000ERHC-S7C electric valve on a 1" gas line. This valve is specd for 725,000 BTU/H.

Tonight i measured the gas usage at the gas company meter and calculated an actual usage of 455,400 BTU/H when the boiler is firing.

So, is the extra 95,000 BTU/H a problem on the boiler? It has the original cast iron burners and baffle tubes and they work fine. All the orifices have gas flowing and the flame is a nice tight blue cone with little to no yellow. The valve was installed in 1994 so it doesn't appear to have been hurting anything, However, I'd like some input on this. Tonight I replaced the gas shut off with a new ball valve so I can reduce the flow to get it back inline with 360,000 BTU if needed. BTW, I checked the flow before and after replacing the shut off and it was identical. The new valve didn't increase the flow. So, is the extra energy just wasted here? Would the over firing have any negative effect on steam generation or turbulence? Should I turn it down?


Is the 360,000 BTU/H rating based solely on the original valve train and has nothing to do with what the burners and water chest can handle?


@ December 18, 2013 11:20 PM in gorton #2 vents issue

I am curious about this statement NBC. This is my ignorance, not a disagreement with you. Why would a "properly" sized boiler not be able to reach 3 psi? Wouldn't any size boiler have the ability to continually build pressure well above 3 psi? I realize that as steam is being generated it is also condensing, but I would think that even the smallest of boilers matched perfectly in size could steam faster than the steam would condense.In the initial parts of a long run I can see this happening, but once all the pipes and components are at maximum temp, wouldn't condensing slow, allowing the steam to continue to build?


@ December 18, 2013 8:23 PM in gorton #2 vents issue

How old is the pressuretrol? Some old ones won't mechanically allow for anything less than .5 and about 3 psi. If you have an older one, this is probably the best you can do.

As for the vents, they are doing what they are supposed to. They vent to cool air, then close when steam reaches them. They aren't supposed to let steam flow through them to regulate your pressure.

How long does it take from the boiler first firing until it reaches 3.5 psi and the pressuretrol shuts it down? Once it shuts down, how long does it take for the pressure to fall to .5 and fire back up? Depending on these two intervals everything might be just fine. The boiler cycling on pressure is a normal operation for some designs and can actually be pretty efficient.

Start With Venting

@ December 17, 2013 7:57 PM in Venting at elbow supply valves

Get lots of vents on the mains. The end of each main should have at least one good sized vent on it. Some systems use a single vent at the return which is OK too, but make sure you have plenty of venting going on there. If you only have one place to vent from, put at least 3 or 4 Gorton #2's on it. Try to get the air out of the mains as fast as possible. Get an antler with some big high quality vents on the mains as soon as possible. Then, reassess the problems.

If you still have issues, move of to the radiators. Radiators you want to vent slowly. The Gorton website has a pretty useful graphic to help size them, but it can be some trial and error. You will find yourself moving them around and trying them in different locations. Once that's done, reassess the problems.

As for pressure, this is a must to take care of. I doubt you are actually running at 27 psi. Either the gauge is broken or its plugged up with gunk. I would make it a high priority to replace the gauge and see exactly what you are running at. They are easy to swap out and not too expensive. You say you have a siphon gauge, is this a vacuum system? If it is, get a low pressure combination gauge, if it's not, get a regular low pressure gauge. No matter what, you need to figure out the pressure. Running anything over 2 psi is costing you a ton of money and is totally unseeded. It might also be the reason for the water loss and noises. Once you know exactly what pressure you are running, you will know what to do with the pressuretrol.

As for venting the take offs though, don't.. It's unneeded work and expense, and will probably just make a huge mess spitting water all over the place.

Not At All

@ December 17, 2013 7:02 PM in King Valves: unsafe???

First off, anything can be dangerous if human error aligns just right. But, as long as you have pressure relief valves on each boiler, INSIDE the isolation loop, you're fine. The PRVs will blow at 15 or 30 depending on the model. You're boiler isn't going to explode at 30 psi.

Don't Need Vents

@ December 17, 2013 6:50 PM in Venting at elbow supply valves

Are you having troubles with these radiators heating up or the radiators vents whistling? Typically, you don't need to vent the radiator take offs. As long as the mains are vented properly, you should be good. What problems are you having?
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