OLD boiler... help! Not working right.

Discussion in 'Boiler Forum' started by WindyCityMom, Jan 19, 2012.

  1. WindyCityMom

    WindyCityMom New Member

    Messages:
    2
    Location:
    Chicago, IL
    Hi! I'm having a ton of issues.. I'm a renter and won't being DIYing this, but I'd like to learn more about it so here goes...

    I'm calling my landlady tomorrow. I live in a 2-flat, landlady lives downstairs. We have a natural gas fired boiler with hot water baseboard heat. Our apartment is appx 1100sq feet. My thermostat is turned to 80... yet it is 53 degrees in my house. Windows aren't leaking, insulation isn't THAT bad... honestly this is frustrating. Now, landlady has HVAC people that come to fix our stuff (there's a sticker on the boiler), Guth's in Chicago. Don't know how reputable they are.. but yeah.

    So anyways- I went down there tonight because I was curious about it- maybe the pump wasn't functioning.. I don't know. But it's OLD. The pump, the boiler...

    Ideally I'd like someone here to just let me know what you see- how old are these units? Any other observations? Can you basically tell me what all of these things are and what their purpose is? What should I see if they are fully functioning? Are they dangerous at all? Should the be replaced? Here are photos...

    Standard cylindrical hot water boiler- I don't know if this is ours or not, but I assume it's for our hot tap water and such?
    Cylindrical Boiler

    The setup. (The forced air system in the back is the landlady's.)
    [​IMG]
    Setup shot 2
    Setup shot 3

    The 'ol boiler herself.
    [​IMG]
    Boiler shot 2
    Boiler shot 3
    Boiler shot 4
    Boiler shot 5

    The pump, I'm guessing?
    [​IMG]

    I noticed this thing on the ceiling... what is it?
    [​IMG]
    Another shot with words on it (click the link, I could only add 4 images to the post)
    http://i348.photobucket.com/albums/q345/NayelisMomma/IMG_4286.jpg

    And this thingamabob. I believe it read 39psi and 220 degrees? (click the link, I could only add 4 images into the post)
    http://i348.photobucket.com/albums/q345/NayelisMomma/IMG_4278.jpg

    So... what are all these things. how do they work?


    I wanted to add- to the touch (checked with a thermal gun) the pipes in the baseboard heaters never go above 80 degrees. Once I caught one at 100 degrees. Right now, the connected set that are in my dining room and run through the bathroom are ice cold. *EDITED to add... they just turned on. Apparently water circulated through them, and they're registering at 110 degrees F on my thermal gun.

    There's a problem here.. I really hope they get it fixed! Anything I should be vigilant of? Sorry for so many questions.. but this stinks. I have two small children and we are freezing.
  2. WindyCityMom

    WindyCityMom New Member

    Messages:
    2
    Location:
    Chicago, IL
    Wanted to respond again and update, about 20 minutes later, I checked the pipe with my thermal gun and it is 65 degrees. So the pipes aren't staying hot.

    I hate this :(
  3. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    22,313
    Location:
    New England
    The big tank is an expansion tank. When you heat water, it expands, so since the boiler and piping is generally totally full of water, when it gets heated and bigger (expands), it needs somewhere to to...an expansion tank is where that happens. That tank is 'old school', but can work. It can get waterlogged, and need to be drained and there's a special air valve on it that can get rusted up and stop working. If it is waterlogged, when the water expands, there's no place for that 'extra' water to go, so it usually opens a safety valve. Then, when it cools off, it might sense it is short on water, and add some, creating a viscious cycle.


    When the thermostat calls for heat, the boiler should turn on if the water isn't already hot, heat the water to maybe somewhere in the 180-degree range and turn on the circulating pump to move that hot water through the pipes to the radiators. If the pipes near the boiler are hot, but the radiators aren't getting hot, the pipes may have some air in them, and the pump generally won't be able to circulate water. It might be as simple as letting the air out. This is normally done at a valve high up in the system, since the air wants to rise.

    If the boiler isn't turning on, or staying on, it could be all sorts of things. Near the boiler, there's usually both a pressure gauge and at least one thermometer, maybe more. When an old one like this is working, the pressure is normally somewhere in the 15# range and the temp may cycle from 180-190 down to 150-160. The circulator can run while the burner is off, but the burner should cycle to maintain the temp in the design range. Exactly what yours is, can't tell you.

    This also assumes that the thermostat in the apartment is actually working and calling for heat. If it has batteries, you may want to replace them.
  4. Dana

    Dana In the trades

    Messages:
    3,022
    Location:
    01609
    It should be dead-obvious if that monster-red pump is turning on. If it's not pumping the boiler may still fire up and get hot, trip it's high-temp limit, and refire when it has cooled off a bit, but if the boiler is hot and the room thermostat is calling for heat, that pump should be turning constantly. The pump itself may be fine (or not), and the problem may be upstream in the controls (a 60 year old relay that has finally given up, or something.) But you'd be able to feel the vibration of the motor with your hand on the motor housing (or pipe, if it's not too hot.)

    Sometimes the pump motor can be running an the impeller has corroded to the point where it doesn't move much water, but that would usually be a slow decline rather than one day it works, then next day it doesn't. Air in the system can keep flow from occuring in some loops, but air doesn't suddenly appear in the heating system either, unless the heating plumbing has been opened up.

    Very often you can get some minor flow to the baseboards simply by convection, which might be consistent with your low temp readings on the baseboard. Pointing the gun right at bare copper pipes will always give you a lower-than reality reading (the emissivity of bare copper is pretty low, so the infra-red sensor in the gun reads it as colder than it is.) Painted surfaces will give you a more consistent reading.

    Either way, this system isn't working and needs to be debugged by a competent tech. To stay warm in the meantime a single $35-$50 oil-filled radiator type electric space heater is enough to keep at least one decent sized room up to temp if you keep the door closed. These are much less of a fire-hazard than radiant type space heaters, and are more comfortable & quiet than the crummy little hot-air blower types.

    [​IMG]

    At full bore you won't want your kids to put their hands on it, just like they shouldn't be putting their fingers in the baseboards, but it's safe to place it against a wall as long as you don't then box it in and stack all your coats on top of it or something. If you have incandescent light bulbs, turning all of them on (and leaving them on) will make a difference the room temp too.
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