Hot Water Heat Boiler Troubles

chisueNovember 22, 2008

Our house is seven years old. We have gas forced air HVAC and a small boiler that feeds underfloor hot water tubing in some north-facing rooms. (Yes, the HVAC sub was an dope who didn't allow enough heat for the north rooms.)

We always have the heating serviced in the fall. This year the tech replaced the furnace filters and days later I realized that all the return air duct plates and vanes were filthy; had to remove and wash them all.

I asked the man if he'd needed to bleed the hot water system. He said he didn't, but that he'd added water and reaplaced the thermocouple.

We'd used the hot water heat before he came, then we had warm weather and didn't turn it on again until recently. No heat.

Another tech (same company; we've used them for years) was here yesterday. I have a $700 bill for new valves to fix the boiler.

What's going on here?

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Can you be more specific about the, "valves"? What kind of boiler is it?
Being the pessimist I am, I would say you have an issue with your heating company. I think you just got hosed.
It sounds like you have one circulator pump controlled by multiple zone valves. Are these the valves you are referring to?
I wouldn't think they go bad in groups.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2008 at 3:19PM
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A 7 year old boiler, if the lines were never burped they need it. I have no idea how you would burp floor heat though.

As for your HVAC, you paid them to change the filter? Was the last time the filter was changed when you had them in last year?

You need a new company that at least thanks you for your business and teaches you how to replace the filter yourself. Unless your home has no dust, the filter needs to be changed more than once a year.

Return air covers. If you don't pay someone to wash them for, you have to clean them. Course if you dust them once a month or twice a year.. The only one you will have to take down and wash is the one closest to the kitchen.

Furnace filters are easy. Look at the filter in your furnace now to find the size. My filters are 20x25. I buy the pleated kind for $2.50 and replace it every other month. I bought the expensive ones once. I had to dust more and my furnace sounded like it was choking.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2008 at 7:16PM
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Yes, I think I'm being had. Hard to face as we've been pleased with this company for many years. Hard times must be forcing some big attempts to coin money -- or hire incompetent techs.

Ron -- The company worksheets list the boiler as a Laars (no model number, but it's probably the smallest one made). It only supplies tubing under two areas: a room 220 sq ft and a back hall and powder room 175 sq ft. This company installed the boiler seven years ago.

The first tech charged me $23 for a #70184 thermocouple.

The second tech replaced:

1) #70438 Pressure reducing valve - $114
2) #5000 Tadio Mixing valve - $285
Misc. nipples, adapters, copper pipe - $38 total

He also added a backflow preventor - $134
All adding up (with 2 hours labor $200) to $772

They ordered the mixing valve; they are to install it Dec. 1 (and charge labor, but no $55 service fee, for doing so).

Gannyt -- The tech usually bleeds the system during the fall check-up. I was surprised this guy said it didn't need it and that he added water.

These are AprilAire filters. Several techs (here for fall or spring checks) have said they were not sufficiently dirty to warrant changing. I'd say the ones replaced had been in place for 18 mos. I had a supply on hand; these are about $20 each from Home Depot. I have asthma so it's not a good idea for me to get that close to the dust.

I use the central vac in the house twice a week. We have all hardwood floors w/low pile area rugs. I dust the return plate covers. I have NEVER seen a LAYER of dirt on the vanes before the first tech changed the furnace filters. This was 1/16" of silt, not just a bit of dust.

Can a furnace fan be reversed accidentally, blowing dust back INTO the returns? (This isn't the big problem, but it's another odd event that happened when the first tech was here.)

What can I say to the company president? Doesn't it sound like the first tech failed to bleed the air and the boiler valves were damaged due to pressure? It would have been more obvious -- like the vent dust -- if we'd needed the heat immediately after he left, but we didn't.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2008 at 10:35AM
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There seems to be an odd assortment of parts. The backflow device should have been installed when the boiler went in originally.
Why were the, pressure reducing valve and a mixing valve replaced(pending as it is). Do you now have heat? Even though the mixing valve is the same?
Was the boiler working before. By that, I mean was it running along with the circlator but the rooms just didn't get warm. Or did the boiler just not turn on?
Hot water boilers usually have air eliminators on the boiler that sort of bleed the boiler as water flows by it. You shouldn't have to bleed zones every year. Only when they're drained and refilled.
The dust on the grills could be from the guy dropping the filter in the ductwork or replacing a dirty filter backwards for a short time until he realized his mistake.
Pure guess work on my part.
The filter changing interval seems way too long.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2008 at 12:26PM
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Ron -- We had heat *before* the first tech came to do the fall check-up, then we had a warm spell and didn't need it until this month. No heat then, although I could hear the boiler's gas ignite when I turned up the thermostat. After the second tech drained the system and replaced one valve and some copper piping on the boiler we got heat again.

The valves were/are leaking. The mixing valve has a little moisture on the outside of it today -- not a 'leak, leak'' with a puddle. The tech said to replace it now rather than have an emergency this winter. I just went to the basement to check it. BTW the boiler is a 50,000 Waterpik JVT050ND15.

There is an air chamber of some sort attached to the boiler.

When the second tech drained the system the water was very rusty and I could hear the air as it spurted out.

I think you nailed the dust thing. Still curious how it didn't harm the supply vents -- just the returns. I've looked at the filters in the past when the techs claimed they didn't need changing; they didn't appear to have much on them, so I went along with it. We have two two-stage furnaces for a 2900 sq ft house with 9-foot ceilings and two cathedrals -- if that makes a difference.

I have no idea why they didn't install the backflow seven years ago. We have one on our sprinkler system -- has to be tested by a certified plumber every year. Not sure if that's a state, county or city ordinance, but it is one of those three.

Thanks so much for your help. It's so trying! We shouldn't even have to HAVE this boiler setup...if the HVAC sub had known what he was doing.

Is is likely that a mixing valve would be fine, even with a little moisture on the exterior? I could tell the company not to install a new one now and ask for my payment back, thus skipping charges to install the thing for now.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2008 at 1:09PM
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"There is an air chamber of some sort attached to the boiler."
This would be the expansion tank that's installed on water boilers and water heaters with sprinkler systems. It prevents water from being purged out of the relief valves and onto the floor.
If a part is leaking on the boiler, it's best to have it fixed. I have never heard of a Waterpik boiler. I doubt it 's a good unit if all these parts are failing after 7 years.
Good luck with it after the repairs are done.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2008 at 5:18PM
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Ron -- One more thing: What fails when a system is full of air? If Tech #1 added water and did not bleed, what is the effect on the boiler parts? What 'blows'?

    Bookmark   November 27, 2008 at 11:56PM
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To clarify, a waterpik boiler is a Laars Copper tube boiler. For what it is, it's a fine boiler properly installed and piped.

The mixing valve is a thermostatic valve installed external to the boiler and from a different manufacturer and it's purpose is to deliver preset & constant temps to the floor radiant.

Seven years ago, installing a small RPZ (backflow) was not an automatic, however today because of codes, but more often enforcement and industry knowledge and compliance, makes the install automatic.

I'd be surprised if a recent install needs regular air bleeding as usually something automatic is installed however, stranger things happen. Air in system, introduced during normal water makeup and much worse if there is a leak or relief valve functioning or dripping, wreaks havoc on circulators, valves, and all other components. Once air is elinminated to a point, corrosion subsides.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2008 at 10:34AM
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Tech #2 returned this morning to install the mixer. He says the feed is fine. In fact, he says the whole system is now 'fine'. (Only $700 later, plus today's $87.)

All I know is that the system was fine until after Tech #1 was here; added water; didn't bleed. A month later, when we turned it on, there was no heat -- when Tech #2 arrived there was zero pressure.

OK, so now we have a year's warranty on work done. Let's hope there are no more problems because if there are I think I have to call the same company back again -- at least for a year.

It just seems terribly coincidental to me that the boiler system would spontaneously fail in the month between the time Tech #1 added water and said all was well and the time we turned it on and had no heat. But I can't *prove* anything.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2008 at 2:33PM
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