cracked boiler, whose fault?

ljszone5November 9, 2007

One day last March I came home for my lunch break and heard the smoke alarm in the basement going off. The basement was filled with a hot, hazy-sooty smell (pretty much smoke). No flames. I shut the furnace off and called the gas company. Several hours later the gas company came and checked out the system and said it was fine. We pay extra for an extended service plan which fixes things without charge. I insisted that something was wrong and was not comfortable just turning it on again. He called a coworker, they checked it again and basically treated me as though I was crazy-- said perhaps there was dust on my smoke alarms. When husband came home from work he looked at the furnace and immediately noticed there was not a drop of water in tube! We put water in on a regular basis and the furnace doesn't run if it is out. We made several useless calls to managers to find out what happened-isn't that a simple thing to notice? If something is broken why wasn't it repaired?

Now this fall we filled it with water, ran it and the smoke came back-we shut the furnace off and called the gas company. One of the same guys came and said, "oh, sorry, your boiler is cracked." We had a plumber/contractor come to give us an estimate for installing a new furnace and he said we should call the Attorney General, our house could have blown up and the gas co. definitely have some responsibility to us. We have been calling the gas company all week- it was 25 degrees outside last night, we have had NO heat for a week they haven't called us back. Your feedback/suggestion are appreciated.


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There are several reasons for boilers cracking, due to cold water being applied to a hot jacket or the furnace being fired, while water is low.

Some boilers have "low water" sensors and "auto fill". If these become faulty, the water can get low and the burner fire.

The good news is, if the boiler was maintained, as recommended, and the "auto fill" failed, home-owner's insurance may pick up the tab. They will send an inspector, who will tear into the boiler and find out what happened .

    Bookmark   November 9, 2007 at 10:48AM
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Technically, you have a boiler, not a furnace. A furnace heats air, a boiler heats water.

While that may seem a bit pedantic, it will be helpful if you go to pursue a an insurnace claim.

You don't mention what kind of heat you have, but it sounds as if you might have steam heat if you regularly put water into the system.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2007 at 11:07AM
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It sounds like you have a steam boiler. A crack can come from firing a dry boiler then adding water to a hot heat exchanger. If you are manually adding water it most likely is an old system. Good luck having anyone doing warranty work on that oneor even collecting any insurance. The insurance Co. will repair any damage to your property from steam or water but not repair or replace the boiler. Boilers do not last forever especially steam. Every time you add water to the system you add oxygen. Oxygen causes rust and corrosion. That is why most boiler manufacturers only warranty steam heat exchangers for 10-years.

As far as an explosion, how will it explode if the piping has not been disturbed? It will leak water and possibly steam into the basement but explode, I think not. Relief valves and the Hartford loop is there to prevent explosions. What happened to the low water cutoff?

Good luck

    Bookmark   November 9, 2007 at 4:49PM
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I think the hazy hot smell was steam since the water tube was empty, but who knows why that happened.

But what responsibility does the gas company have to you? Boilers fail all the time for many reasons. Gas is the fuel that heats the water, but the boiler holds and utilizes the hot water or steam. The problem appears to be with the boiler, not the gas fuel.

If the boiler was under warranty, then you should contact the manufacturer if you are the original owner. Otherwise, your boiler is at the end of its life, just like many other unfortunate people this time of year.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2007 at 5:12PM
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"We pay extra for an extended service plan which fixes things without charge."

If the service agreement was with the gas co., they have some responsibility. If the "low water shut off" failed, there has to be a reason. Was it checked to manufacturer's service spec's?

My father had a boiler, which cracked. He was like 89 yo, with macular degeneration. I thought he accidentally drained the boiler and filled it with cold water, but the insurance investigator determined the low water shut off had frozen fast. A new boiler (larger) was installed. ..paid for by HO insurance and installed by the maintenance group. The boiler was long out of warranty!

    Bookmark   November 9, 2007 at 5:31PM
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That was really generous of the insurance company. Feed valves, LWCO, pressure relief valves go bad all the time and are replaced. I would say that was a real exception to the rule.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2007 at 8:55PM
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Baymee, I don't think so, from what I could gather. This guy, who checked it out, was one of the same guys, who would investigate if the house burned down, etc.

Supposedly, the valves have a method for checking them during routine seasonal preventive maintenance. Now, it's possible that the older ones didn't have a means to access them. ??? .... Maybe, 'cause he liked me!

All is well, that ends well. If it were my boiler, I'd make some waves.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2007 at 9:08PM
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Initially, I didn't catch the "extended service plan" point. But let's say that the serviceman checked a resettable device and later on it failed. Do service plans cover items that wear out over their expected lifetime? I don't know because I never had the plan.

I hope we find out what the gas company ended up doing.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2007 at 7:17AM
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Here's one article I found, indicating the importance of the LWCO valve and how it should be part of the regular maintenance/service inspection.

I believe, in regards, to the insurance claim, they feel if it's been inspected and serviced, as recommended, and it fails, it falls under the insurance coverage obligations.

Here is a link that might be useful: Boiler safety & maint.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2007 at 8:37AM
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All of this information is really useful--thank you!

Here is an update: The gas company called yesterday and a sympathetic person listened to the whole story. She told my husband she thinks can get us some help. She is supposed to call on Monday...we'll see.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2007 at 2:13PM
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I would talk to the insurance agent, also. Was there any other damage to the home, due to this? (wet carpets, etc.)

The only reason (IMHO), that the gas co. would be offering any help, would be because they realize, that they may have contributed to the problem. Don't think for a second, that they are going to help you out, because you give the guys coffee and donuts when they are done.

From what I've read, a boiler cracking and possibly blowing up, can be a real serious issue, to be avoided at all costs!

    Bookmark   November 10, 2007 at 2:46PM
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"RE: cracked boiler, whose fault?"

Its my fault. Always my fault.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2007 at 1:11PM
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How did you make out with the company?

    Bookmark   November 13, 2007 at 8:04PM
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Of course the gas company did not call us as promised on Friday, Monday or return our new calls until Wednesday. It has been really hard to even speak to the same person twice dealing with a big company. But, there has finally been some movement. The Gas co. has responded saying that if the furnace broke immediately after the guys were here it would have been a sure bet. The service plan does cover the LWCO and they should have noticed. They will, however, pay our deductible if our homeowners insurance determines that it was due to a broken valve.(Admission of guilt?)The insurance people say they do pay for a replacement minus the faulty part(?) If it was caused my a part that is covered by them, of which a LWCO is.
The gas co. representative and the insurance inspector are meeting here on Friday to check it out. In the mean time, we should figure out how to get the replacement poised to be installed no matter what happens.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2007 at 7:26AM
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Thanks for getting back to us.

From the sounds of things, I'd say there is a good chance it will come together.

"In the mean time, we should figure out how to get the replacement poised to be installed no matter what happens."

I don't think, you'll have to worry about that. I believe the gas co. and insurance co. will coordinate it.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2007 at 7:49AM
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If I understand this correctly: The LWCO failed, so the boiler ran dry and cracked. Or, did the boiler crack and run low on water, which wasn't subsequently shut down by the LWCO.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2007 at 5:48PM
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I'd guess, The boiler got low on water, the LWCO didn't report it to management, the burner fired on low water and as a result, the boiler cracked.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2007 at 10:20PM
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"The LWCO failed, so the boiler ran dry and cracked. Or, did the boiler crack and run low on water, which wasn't subsequently shut down by the LWCO."
They are coming in a couple of hours to determine what happened. Can one tell which came first? If it is the latter, things will turn out very differently.
Last minute input welcomed. Thanks.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2007 at 8:39AM
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There shouldn't be any good reason for it to crack, while full of water. I think, you'll do OK.

Keep us posted.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2007 at 9:23AM
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Anybody want to take a guess on the disposition of this issue?

I'm guessing, the HO insurance covered the boiler and sent them to Florida during the installation.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2007 at 8:46AM
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I was reading in the paper today about home warranties. These cover such things as heating systems, but I just can't see how homeowner insurance would cover this. It will be a learning experience for me.

My gut feeling is that the fill valve malfunctioned or wasn't turned on, and there is another leak somewhere in the system, and the LWCO didn't work and the boiler ran out of water and cracked.

I suspect I'll learn something new from all of this.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2007 at 11:37AM
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I believe the key here is, that it's a "safety item" (LWCO), which is supposed to be checked during regular service. If it was faulty, it should have been replaced. If it wasn't faulty, but failed, it falls under HO. If it wasn't checked during regular service, I don't know who goes to jail (pays the bill).

If it were determined, that it wasn't the LWCO, but possibly due to the home owner or boiler fatigue, that's another story.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2007 at 11:52AM
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Hi everyone.

On Friday the insurance company inspector spent over an hour in the basement and told me his finding was "broken low water cut off valve and system needs to be replaced." The gas company was there at the end of the inspection but they did not speak to each other(?). Gas company measured all of our radiators and determined we needed 125,00 BTUS--with all the rebates it is around $5,200 for the " Weil-McLain" unit. There is no use telling me if it is a bad deal or a poor performer at this point.
We were very reluctant to give them the green light to install it because we cannot get the final word from the insurance if it is absolutely covered. The local agent said she has seen it before and cannot imagine what could stop things at this point. We were so cold we said just do it!
The gas company spent the entire day here yesterday, finishing the installation at 7:00. From the moment they left the pipes have been banging. They were so loud last night that the noise woke everyone up. Today, several of the radiators spilled water all day, soaking through towels and because the house is so uneven, creeping all across the floors.
Anyone know if that banging needs to be addressed?
Thanks for hanging in there with my saga!


    Bookmark   November 20, 2007 at 4:14PM
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I'm guessing it's a steam system. Did they skim the boiler until the water was clear? Usually multiple times. I don't suspect improperly pitched pipes because you didn't have the banging before ???

If it's not the pitch of the pipes, dirty boiler water will cause wet steam, which can cause banging.

There are others things to look for, but I'm not a steam mechanic.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2007 at 4:37PM
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It sounds to me like your gas company "sucks". Maybe, you should call the insurance company. They will have more of a feel for the incompetency of the gas company, plus they'll have more pull to get the gas co. over there to fix things "right"!

The gas co. should have left, with the new system purring like a kitten.

The banging certainly isn't normal. It's air or water in the system, which can't get out.

Thanks for getting back to us. Don't leave us hanging.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2007 at 4:38PM
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"several of the radiators spilled water all day"

Steam? They didn't perhaps, overfill the system, did they?!

or, if it's a hot water system, the valves on the radiators are leaky and not shutting off when the air gets out, thus the water spilling over. The bang is air trapped in the lines, which might work it's way out or might need help.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2007 at 5:02PM
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I know at least Tom is still following this story so here is another update:
Tonight a service person came to address the clanging pipes and gushing water--we actually had to shut things off yesterday it was so bad. He immediately noticed the system was overfilled and proceeded to empty bucket after bucket of excess water out (six 5 gallon buckets). He was trying to delicately tell us that we put in too much water--saying it was an honest mistake, everyone does it once or twice, carefully showed us how to add water and where the fill line is etc. At the same time we were like, whatever, good thing it is fixed now, who cares how it happened. Then we all realized he thought WE overfilled it! He was speechless when said his company people just set the whole thing up two days ago.
It is quiet, warm and dry here right now. Ahhh.
The insurance company is sending us a check next week.


    Bookmark   November 21, 2007 at 8:33PM
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That is a beautiful Thanksgiving story!

I'm glad is all came together for you. I hope, it may benefit someone else, if needed.

Happy Thanksgiving .. to all.

    Bookmark   November 21, 2007 at 9:00PM
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I've been following it too, but it never occurred to me that the "company" would overfill a steam boiler. Not by that much, anyway.

    Bookmark   November 21, 2007 at 9:05PM
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One thing to be aware of with your new system is, as the physical size of the boilers get smaller, so does the water capacity. The old hand fired boilers wouldn't have to have water added all winter, on the new boilers you might have to add water every day or so. And of course, as the temperatures go down and the boiler runs more, the frequency will increase.

    Bookmark   November 21, 2007 at 9:48PM
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