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Garet

Steam System w/ Old Boiler

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Steam systems are almost as rare as hen's teeth around here. This is the 2nd one I've seen in 11 years. I plan to tell the buyer that the boiler is at the end of its expected useful life and to have an HVAC contractor look at it to determine the need for short term repairs and tell him how much it will cost to replace the boiler and convert to hot water. Any other input would be appreciated.

Boiler was Bryant, S/N 43457, Boiler No. 7-4. Looked original to the house (1928), but could be 1945?

Is it normal for the burners to cycle off and back on (like on a hydronic system)? I expected the burners would stay on until the thermostat was satisfied.

Is it normal for the pressure gage to stay on zero?

I assume the stains, corrosion and drip are routine maintenance issues?

Do the covers over the radiators make them significantly less efficient?

What's the small, black gizmo in the third-to-last picture? (sorry, not the greatest photo)

I'm also telling them the fill valve needs to be opened (it's bank owned) for the system to continue to operate.

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That boiler is a thing of beauty. Looks like a two pipe installation. Don't convert it to circulated hot water. Find someone who is familiar with steam, and have him maintain the system, such as repairing the leakage at the steam trap.

The black thing looks like a main vent, to get the air out of the piping. The burner will cycle on/off depending on the pressure in the system. The pressuretrol above the low water cutoff will cycle the burner, and should be set very low; just a few pounds.

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In the hand of the right person, it can be a great system. I know looks dont account for much but that system as a whole looks better than any I've seen.

I certainly would not condemn it. I would most definitely recommend a well qualified steam boiler technician evaluate it. The typical HVAC guy would probably just run for the hills.

Here's the go to guys in the Baltimore area. Maybe they know how to contact someone in that area.

http://steamhotwaterheating.com/index.html

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Until I saw a radiator to know for sure, it looks like single pipe to me. Just because there's "two pipes" coming out of the top, that doesn't mean it's a two pipe system.

Before I'd can it, I'd have to look @ the section gaskets. They could be fine, or not. It's very easy; you get in under the combustion chamber and check them out with a mirror.

I wouldn't sweat the rust drips and rust @ that one pipe joint. I'd put it in the report, but wouldn't worry too much about it.

The other rust is the usual stuff; those parts will blow a bit of steam when they're cold, then they tighten up. Or not. If not, you repair them, but again, I wouldn't worry too much about it.

The black thing looks like a vent, but it's hard to tell.

Yes, pressure around zero is "normal" unless the thing has been cranking for a long time. It's low pressure steam. 1 - 1 1/2 psi is when they're really cranking.

I'd recommend an automatic water makeup . I like McDonnell.

I'd tell them to flush the low water cutoff every 7-10 days.

The arguments continue about covers. People like them. The system is about as efficient as a '57 Buick, so covers aren't going to make all that much difference in overall cost.

Of course, you know the white stuff is probably asbestos.

Other than that, it looks pretty clean.

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The black thingy you refer to is a low water cut off. It will shut the system down if water gets too low and an internal float drops. It can be tested with a bucket. The ball valve needs to be open while the burners are on and if it works properly water will gush out and the burner will cut off. If it does not do that then it is a potential rocket if it runs out of water.

You do not open the water feed for this system to operate. You only replace water to a point in the site glass slightly below the top of the glass. The system should have an automatic water feed, but the manual feed is adequate as long as you don't go away for long periods. It looks like the site glass has water in it so it should run as is if the gas is on.

Hope this helps.

You did not show the back of the boiler so no comment on piping.

Did you poke the pipe wrap to see if it was asbestos?

You probably would not want to convert this to water, but rather, put in a replacement steam.

The corrosion and drip on the pipe at the joint should be repaired.

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No, the black thingy in the 3rd pic from the end is not a low water cutoff.

The low water cutoff is that black thingy in the 2nd pic, with the yellow handle ball valve.

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Until I saw a radiator to know for sure, it looks like single pipe to me. Just because there's "two pipes" coming out of the top, that doesn't mean it's a two pipe system.

Definitely 2-pipe. Here's the return at the back.

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Before I'd can it, I'd have to look @ the section gaskets. They could be fine, or not. It's very easy; you get in under the combustion chamber and check them out with a mirror.

I wouldn't sweat the rust drips and rust @ that one pipe joint. I'd put it in the report, but wouldn't worry too much about it.

The other rust is the usual stuff; those parts will blow a bit of steam when they're cold, then they tighten up. Or not. If not, you repair them, but again, I wouldn't worry too much about it.

Good info. That's what I was thinking.

The black thing looks like a vent, but it's hard to tell.

It's located on top the pipe elbow, just out of the top-left of the first pic in the original post. Well above the water level.

Yes, pressure around zero is "normal" unless the thing has been cranking for a long time. It's low pressure steam. 1 - 1 1/2 psi is when they're really cranking.

I'd recommend an automatic water makeup . I like McDonnell.

I'd tell them to flush the low water cutoff every 7-10 days.

The arguments continue about covers. People like them. The system is about as efficient as a '57 Buick, so covers aren't going to make all that much difference in overall cost.

Isn't a 10% improvement (or whatever the number is) actually more valuable on a '57 Buick than on a 2010 Prius? Let's go for the low-hanging fruit.

Of course, you know the white stuff is probably asbestos.

Sometimes you don't have to guess.

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Just because there's "two pipes" coming out of the top, that doesn't mean it's a two pipe system.

I certainly didn't ID the system as 2 pipe because of 2 pipes coming out the top of the boiler. One of the pictures shows steam traps. I've never seen steam traps on a single pipe system.

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Isn't a 10% improvement (or whatever the number is) actually more valuable on a '57 Buick than on a 2010 Prius? Let's go for the low-hanging fruit.

Where'd 10% come from?

Argument Pro......

Covers are "pretty" and prevent one from touching the very hot radiator

Argument Con

They "restrict" heat flow around the radiator.

I think both arguments are fatuous, specious reasoning. It would be impossible to come up with any provable argument for or against based on the single data point.

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I certainly didn't ID the system as 2 pipe because of 2 pipes coming out the top of the boiler. One of the pictures shows steam traps. I've never seen steam traps on a single pipe system.

I wasn't commenting on your comment, sorry if it appeared that I was.

I was commenting to Garet. Lottsa folks think that because there's two pipes, it's a two pipe system.

I saw the traps, but hesitated on saying it's a two pipe.

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Keeping the system flushed out and using rust inhibitor in system makes a major differance in the efficiency of any boiler.

Ive worked on many old kewanee steam boilers in the past,several 90 plus hp.

People are amazed in the differance in their utility bills after having me spend a day filling and flushing,filling and flushing yes sometimes it takes several times to get the crud out on a system that hasnt been serviced in 20 plus years! [:-yuck]

On big systems i recomend flushing some water daily from several locations on boiler.

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