seasonal steam boiler prep

I know it's a recurring subject around this time of year (though I'm finding less than expected in searches).  My specific question is, should the boiler be completely drained of water at the beginning of the season?  I find that in discussion threads about this subject, people talk about "draining" but they do not clearly distinguish between the occasional in-season partial drain to get the "mud" out and a complete emptying of the tank.   I understand you want to limit draining because there is an issue with oxygen and corrosion but there seems to be this idea that you do the full drain once a year.  True?


bub said:

I know it's a recurring subject around this time of year (though I'm finding less than expected in searches).  My specific question is, should the boiler be completely drained of water at the beginning of the season?  I find that in discussion threads about this subject, people talk about "draining" but they do not clearly distinguish between the occasional in-season partial drain to get the "mud" out and a complete emptying of the tank.   I understand you want to limit draining because there is an issue with oxygen and corrosion but there seems to be this idea that you do the full drain once a year.  True?

 I have my boiler serviced by my plumber annually.  I don't think he fully drains it, but I suppose I could be wrong as I don't stay down there and watch the whole process.  It is definitely NOT good to do often as mentioned, due to the oxygen in the freshwater causing more corrosion.


My boiler man drains enough water down as to be able to pull out the sight tube and clean and re-install During the yearly maintenance . Not sure if that’s considered a full drain. I will top off my boiler periodically during the season with less than a gallon, and drain the brown sludgy water as well. 23 years at it and no ill  effects to the system whatsoever.


Thanks all.  Every year, I wrestle with whether it's really necessary to do the whole servicing routine every year and whether I can do at least some of things alone.  I don't know if it's bad form to stand over the guy's shoulder but I also wonder whether the guy is doing everything on the list of things that are supposedly done during the annual servicing (no specific offense or accusation aimed at any of our plumber participants here).     


There's lots of DIY guides for this. I've never done it myself, but it seems like self-service is an option.

https://www.atiofny.com/boiler-maintenance-checklist/


I'm a big fan of DIY.   Youtube has been a god send of DIY info.  But with plumbing, I'm always reluctant to unscrew and re-attach anything that might leave me with a leak, like the sight glass.  


I normally would clean the sight glass when I couldn't tell where the level was due to some rust sludge. -That way I didn't have to entirely trust the warning light (which did once fail on me). I don't drain the tank very often (although quite a bit at the beginning of the season) and usually only let out enough water until it starts to run clear.

The last boiler I had lasted 25 years with a few parts replacements that I did myself. Finally it developed a soft spot in the bottom corner of the cast iron block and started a slow leak which means "end of days". 

Fortunately my Irish luck remained largely intact as it failed literally on the very last chilly day of the season so there was no urgency it replacing it (whew). Despite best efforts over time, sludge can build up in one area of the block which creates a "hot spot" and eats at that section of the block.

I have a new boiler now. It feels like a stranger in the house so I'm keeping an eye on it but so far, so good. 

PS: I agree about the usefulness of YouTube. I have fixed almost every appliance in my house (washer, dryer, dishwasher and fridge) with the sometimes darkly comical help of other frustrated online homeowners.


There was a time when we were having to fill our boiler way too frequently during the coldest times (more than once a week, sometimes almost daily.)  Then we had our plumber check and update the valves on all of our radiators and now we only have to add water a couple of times per season and this probably helps reduce the corrosion issue. Hopefully there wasn't too much damage before we did it.


How much are people paying for the annual boiler servicing?.


Meanwhile, speaking of seasonal tasks; I just cut the lawn for the last time this year and drained the tank of the mower. Always feels good to get that thing out of the garage and tuck it under the back porch behind the lattice for it's winter hibernation.


How high should the water level be during regular heating season?


Apollo_T said:

How high should the water level be during regular heating season?

 I try to keep mine around halfway or a little above the halfway mark of the sight glass. Less than that and I get concerned that it may get too low. More than that is a waste of energy heating more water than necessary to create steam.

Opinions may vary.


The plumbers seem to mark it about 2 thirds up the sight glass. 

On the question of whether the full once a year servicing is really necessary, our original boiler was ancient when we moved into our house and it lasted about 1/4 century more before we replaced it.  It was rarely serviced. 

Maybe the question is, what are the real priority items on the checklist of things you see on plumbing sites about annual boiler servicing?


bub said:

The plumbers seem to mark it about 2 thirds up the sight glass. 

On the question of whether the full once a year servicing is really necessary, our original boiler was ancient when we moved into our house and it lasted about 1/4 century more before we replaced it.  It was rarely serviced. 

Maybe the question is, what are the real priority items on the checklist of things you see on plumbing sites about annual boiler servicing?

 Two points.  First, boiler technology has changed a great deal since that boiler was new.  Higher efficiency units with modern safety features need more care.  Second point was made by a plumber here years ago.  What are they actually doing?  Is a $100 service cheaper than a $300 service if they don't actually do anything?


"What are they actually doing? Is a $100 service cheaper than a $300 service if they don't actually do anything?"

I'm never sure what the $300 guy is doing.




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