Steam Boilers

Steam Boilers, Residential steam boilers and Light commercial steam boilers are exciting and challenging.  However, one thing I see often is the lack of maintenance.

In this picture, the installation of the steamer looks ok except for the riser (that’s the main pipe that sends steam through your radiators).  Manufactures suggest that the riser should be 18 to 24” off the skim line, this picture looks like it fell short. I might be mistaken, but I do pay attention to details.

Another important role for steam boilers is the Hartford loop.  The Hartford loop is basically an equalizer between the condensate waterline and the head of steam.  The Hartford loop equalizes pressure and aids the condensate return line to put the condensate from the cooled off steam back to the boiler.

I get calls from customers complaining about hammering and clanging from their steam boilers.  Often times, we go out and find that the head of steam is slamming against water trapped in the radiators.  Often, water gets trapped in radiators due to improper pitch of radiators.  Those cast iron radiators are heavy — put 40, 60, 80, even 100 years behind them and you will see the legs of the radiators had sunk into the floor.  It is usually on the side away from the isolation valve (here in Chicago we see more one pipe systems).

The importance of a slight pitch back towards the isolation valves can make the difference for proper condensate drain back. If water is in the bottom of the radiators and steam hits the water, that is your pinging or clanging.  There are other causes of clanging or pinging.  However, most of the time its steam smacking water.  Other simple causes I’ve seen is too much steam, steam pressure controls set to high, or malfunctions. Residential boilers should be set to ½ pound of steam or close to it.  Some light commercial applications like 12 flat apartments and such may be set to 1 maybe 1 1/2 pounds of steam. I’ve seen systems operate safely at 2 lbs of steam but that is not recommended.

I went on a call on the far northeast side of Chicago last heating season, and in the basement where all the steam boiler pipes were had been remodeled, the construction contractor had found that it was easier to shim a pipe here and there to make doors open and close and for cabinets to be installed.  Can you guess what the call was for? Clanging and pinging!  Some of the pipes actually were raised so much that water was trapped and when the head of steam hit the water “cablang” and I do mean it was as loud, as if a freight train was traveling through your living room.

When I had informed the customer of their problem and what the job entailed, boy were they mad and rightfully so. The home owner called the contractor out to make the repairs and guess what; they were out of business!

We made the corrections and the noises went away as well as their gas bills had dropped some.

If you have had a steam boiler system then you know the importance of boiler purge or drain down, you know that little handle towards the middle of your boiler on the side? That is there not for looks –  its sole purpose is to clean or skim the nasty and murky sediment that builds up in the boiler and piping.  Now some boiler guys will tell you to drain the system down once a week during heating season.  I like to drain or skim the system once a week all year long and get a schedule to drain or skim your steam boiler 2 times a week during the heating season.

A little can save you a lot. Heating season is near; Call Big Ed and crew at 312-243-9896 to schedule your steam boiler check today!