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Automatic Water Feed


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I rarely see steam systems, and have never seen a device like this before. It seems to be an automatic water feed. This is a 2 pipe steam system in a 1906 house. Boiler was replaced in 2005. This device is on the water line into the boiler. Condensate goes directly back into the boiler.

1) There's a large, open vent pipe coming off the top of the tank, leading almost up to the ceiling and then back down near the floor. Air exited the vent pipe when the system started up (I could see cobwebs blowing). It also made a burping or gurgling sound. Is this normal? The floor around the vent was rust-colored.

2) Why such a large pump? I assume we're talking about replacing a very small amount of water into the system, on the order of a few cups at a time.

3) Anything the homeowner should be aware of related to this device?

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Lots of owner's junk in the way that I didn't feel like moving. Looking again at the photos I see a pipe I might not have been aware of, coming down from above and turning to the right behind the gray tank.

So if it's a condensate return, then I was hearing air being pushed out of the system as steam moved in? System was cold prior to inspection. Is it possible to have some condensate returning directly to the boiler and some returning to the condensate pump?

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It's a condensate pump. Yes, some drains back with gravity and the pump is there to make sure it keeps draining, more or less. Did you check all the traps @ the radiators? Very common to have screwed up traps; they should be cleaned out.

There's a leak @ the return nipple (very common).

Tell your clients to ditch the digital low water cutoff. Those things are crap. Read the fine print; it says pull the probe every year to clean it, or it can fail. Guess how many folks do that? And, on this boiler, they got the thing where you can't get to it. Expect the installer to disagree.

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Did you check all the traps @ the radiators? Very common to have screwed up traps; they should be cleaned out.

How would I check the traps? I felt the radiators about 10 minutes after starting the system: one side was warm and the far side was still cool. I thought that was normal when starting up from dead cold. One more reason why I disclaim steam systems and tell them to get an expert to take a closer look.

There's a leak @ the return nipple (very common).

Yep. We talked about that.

Tell your clients to ditch the digital low water cutoff. Those things are crap. Read the fine print; it says pull the probe every year to clean it, or it can fail. Guess how many folks do that? And, on this boiler, they got the thing where you can't get to it. Expect the installer to disagree.

Is that the black box beside the site tube?

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