Keeping your boiler running.

These are the major players in your steam boiler's control system.

The sight glass's only job is to let you know how much water is in the boiler. It plays no role in the production of steam. 

The pigtail's job is to fill with condensate (water) which protects the pressure gauge and pressuretrol mounted above it from the damaging hot steam. It should be made of brass. Some are made of steel, are black in color, and are far more likely to clog and create pressure problems in the system. 

The pressure gauge's only job is to show us the pressure in the boiler. Just like the sight glass, there is no functional role in the production of steam with this device. 

The pressuretrol, Honeywell's invented word, is a combination of "pressure" and "control". It is the device we use to set our operating steam pressure. While it is not the best device to perform this function, it is included with every boiler and does a decent job. An upgrade to this is a device called a vaporstat. Regulating and controlling pressure in a steam system is vitally important in keeping noise, balance, and fuel use in check. 

The low water cutoff senses water at the minimum operating level in the boiler. When it stops sensing the presence of water, it cuts power to the burner wiring. When water is restored, it allows power to the burner again. If you've got an automatic water feeder, and you should, the low water cutoff will activate that feeder when the water in the boiler gets low.

The drain valve is a place to remove water and some sediment from the boiler. 


I've been advised to use the drain valve to "bleed" the boiler every two to three weeks.  Is this advisable?


Solid post. Recently had no heat for a weekend to realize the batteries in the thermostat died. Sheesh  tongue rolleye


This is a great schematic! 

I have to ask, however, why the boiler in the picture is half off the pad. Is that intentional or has it slid somehow?


No chance it slid. Has to be a replacement boiler with different dimensions than the prior unit.


Klinker said:

This is a great schematic! 

I have to ask, however, why the boiler in the picture is half off the pad. Is that intentional or has it slid somehow?

 It's not really off the pad. The (green) jacket of the boiler extends past the cast iron feet. It's solid.  question


joan_crystal said:

I've been advised to use the drain valve to "bleed" the boiler every two to three weeks.  Is this advisable?

It's fine. It's not doing much but it's doing something I guess and it makes everyone feel better to do it so g'head. The crud that accumulates in the bottom of a steam boiler needs real attention and big wrenches to get rid of. Very little of any consequence is coming out of that little hose spigot. 


master_plvmber said:

It's fine. It's not doing much but it's doing something I guess and it makes everyone feel better to do it so g'head. The crud that accumulates in the bottom of a steam boiler needs real attention and big wrenches to get rid of. Very little of any consequence is coming out of that little hose spigot. 

 Thank you so much for the prompt and reassuring reply.


MP:

Is the big time crud removal something that is done during the seasonal check up?


bub said:

MP:

Is the big time crud removal something that is done during the seasonal check up?

Yes it is. But not every time. Some systems can go two seasons without a major flushing of the boiler. The return piping catches a lot of the crud and so, where the proper piping-and-valve arrangement exists, we can usually flush the returns with greater benefit to the system. 


When it’s really cold, I find myself adding water to my boiler every other day or so. I had previously been told not to get an auto water feeder because it could lead to flooding.  Thoughts?


 What’s a rough cost estimate of installing one?


michaelgoldberg said:

When it’s really cold, I find myself adding water to my boiler every other day or so. I had previously been told not to get an auto water feeder because it could lead to flooding.  Thoughts?

 We had that problem and then our plumber went through our entire house checking all valves and replacing many that were no longer functioning fully correctly.  After that we typically only have needed to add water 2 or 3 times per season. I would suggest asking your plumber about this.  (We have just recently had some additions to our house with new radiators and are now seeing more frequent filling need which is raising red flags for us.)  I have been inclined NOT to get an automatic filler because then we would have no idea how often refilling is needed and might not realize if there were leaks or other issues causing a need for very frequent refills.


michaelgoldberg said:

When it’s really cold, I find myself adding water to my boiler every other day or so. I had previously been told not to get an auto water feeder because it could lead to flooding.  Thoughts?
 

I don't know a steam-heated building, whether a single/multi family or commercial, in NYC that doesn't use an automatic water feeder. They are difficult to sell in our neighborhood and I have no idea why. They are not prone to failure, though they do, just like every other mechanical/electrical thing on earth, sometimes fail. The good news is they tend to fail to the closed position which results in the boiler just not firing up due to a low water condition, at which point you would just add water yourself and deal with fixing or replacing the feeder when you get to it. The feeder not shutting off is most often a low water cutoff problem but you're right in thinking that's something that could potentially happen.

The gallon counter on the better automatic water feeders give excellent insight as to what's going on with your system and provides a much needed way of tracking water loss and usage: a great indicator of the overall health of your boiler and system. 

Adding water every other day or so means you've got a leak. You need to find and fix it because the constant addition of fresh water is killing your boiler. 


We're thinking of switching our Weil/McLain boiler from oil to gas. How complicated is that?  Is it just the burner that is replaced, or many other elements?  Any idea of cost?


How old is the boiler? Converting an oil-fired boiler to gas usually isn't worth doing. Convert when it's time to replace the boiler, which is at about 25 years for a steam boiler. 


The boiler is about eight years old, so I guess we will be staying with oil for awhile. 




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