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Tim H.
Tim H., HVAC Professional
Category: HVAC
Satisfied Customers: 3971
Experience:  Experienced in all aspects of HVAC, both residential and commercial.
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I have a gas steam boiler that is appx 14 years old. There

Customer Question

Hello, I have a gas steam boiler that is appx 14 years old. There are a couple of issues I noticed since buying my home with this boiler:
- I have to add a little water every few days (depending on weather, when it is in 30s F, I need to add about 5 days, if it dips into below 10F then it is more like 3 days). I have lived here for two winters and this has not gotten better or worse. To refill, I turn on the water for about 7 seconds to get it from near bottom of sightglass to middle.
- On reading about cracked boilers, I checked for white smoke and yes there is white steam coming out of my chimney that dissepates within 5-10 feet of the chimney. I noticed that I dont see this when temp is above 45F, but today at 38F I saw lots of steam, it seems like more than neighbors.
- The chimney is brick and runs from bottom of house for two floors, exposed on three sides, painted with white paint and much of the top of the chimney has been peeling paint and chunks falling during winter time. I had the chimney cemented all around for this winter with a wire mesh.
My question -- do I potentially have a crack in my boiler above the water line? How can I safely test for this myself? Is the amount of water loss I describe typical? Can the peeling paint and bricks near top of my chimney be related to the boiler issues described?
Thank you!
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: HVAC
Expert:  Tim H. replied 1 year ago.

Hi, I'm Tim and I'm an HVAC expert here to assist you with your questions. Please provide all information I request as it makes it more difficult to troubleshoot something when I'm not there onsite. Essentially, you become my eyes and ears. Thanks for the opportunity to help. At the end of our dialog, you will have a chance to rate my service, but please wait until we are finished and you're satisfied you have all the information you need.

If this is a steam boiler, then, yes, it is very common to add water. This replaces water boiled off and not made up by the condensate return. In fact most steam boilers have autofeed water to make up lost water from producing steam.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Hi Tim, does the frequency I'm adding water seem unusually high though? My concern has been that if I have a crack in the boiler above the water line and the steam is condensating inside the chimney and on top of the chimney, that it is causing the spalling/exterior chipping. Now that I paid $3k for cementing the entire chimney, I want to make sure that I don't have a deeper problem that will just damage the new cement layer they put on the entire chimney..I read about testing whether there is a leak in the boiler above the water line by filling the boiler to the top with water while it is cold and off and then observing for any leaking, then draining to the normal level before firing it up. However I've been worried about doing this as I am not sure how much water to actually add... do you recommend doing this type of test?The other concern I had is with the steam coming out of my chimney.. When I looked at the chimney while the water heater is on, I do not see any steam coming from it, despite being vented via same chimney, but when the boiler is on I see quite a bit of steam.. is this typical or can I do any further investigation? such as looking for steam when first fired on vs after running longer if that makes any difference..thank you
Expert:  Tim H. replied 1 year ago.

You can do what's called a hydrostatic test, that is cap off the temp relief valve and fill unit to 1.5 times the working pressure with room temp water and check for leaks. But most steam boilers need makeup water and, in fact, have autofeed systems that automatically feed water into the boiler to make up for losses.

Expert:  Tim H. replied 1 year ago.

Let me know if you need additional help on this. Otherwise, good luck! Thank you for using Just Answer and please don't forget to rate my service as that's how experts get paid (Thanks in advance for any bonus left). Otherwise experts work at their own time and expense. Feel free to post back with any additional questions.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Apologies Tim, I had a family emergenccy and this took a back seat until things settled down ... for the hydrostatic test, how do I cap off the temp relief valve ? my previous boiler had an auto feeder and maybe thats why I did not notice this .. but i was surprised how frequently I have to add water, my neighbors mentioned they refill once every few weeks or as infrequently as 2x per season.
Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Adding a couple pics of my boiler.
Expert:  Tim H. replied 1 year ago.

You should be able to temporarily remove it and just use a pipe plug.