|A New Gas Boiler For Our House|
|Written by John Abbott|
|Tuesday, 21 December 2010 08:01|
Ok so what has been going on in my life, over the past three weeks? Well, for one thing, I came down with this nasty-ass'd cold that has been going around this area. I personally think I got it from my plumber Steve*. He was over to talk boiler with me on Saturday, confessed that he had spent the last two weeks "sicker'n a dog" and this was his first day back. By 3pm Sunday afternoon I was reeling with a fever. So that wasn't a fun week. This week I have been consumed in getting our heating system setup.
We have two heating systems in our house for a reason. Natural gas and solid fuel. So, if we have trouble with one, or if the economic advantages are tilted in favor of one fuel over the other, we are set. What we really didn't count on was the backup system (gas) not being there for us when we needed it.
Over the years, watching over the repair guys' shoulders, I have picked up enough tricks to fix most of its woes. Even the ultra scary job of vacuuming out the fragile heat exchanger. There, one false step by one ham fisted, vacuumer and its toodle-oo boiler. But, it seemed like this pile of failure was always going to die when we needed it the most. --Did I tell you about last year at Christmas? We have a big Christmas dinner at our house. Family and friends, usually there are about 25 adults, maybe twice that many kids. I got up at 5am the morning of the dinner to get the turkey in the oven. I walked into the house and it was forty three degrees in there. The gas boiler was dead, and we had to fire up the Traeger and burn pellets. Luckily we were sitting on a pallet even though we were burning gas.
So I suppose it really shouldn't have been a surprise three weeks ago when the Traeger developed its leak, that the gas boiler wouldn't be there for us. It would start up, light and run just fine for a few seconds and then purge and recycle. Every once in a while it would catch and run fine. But, if it recycled ten times in a row, it took a power off reset to get it to start over.
So I wanted a new gas boiler. I wanted to install it myself. I wanted it to be highly energy efficient. And I wanted it to be a modulating/condensing type. Nothing here seems all that difficult, but I hit some problems right away. I could buy a four thousand dollar boiler off Ebay and get it (hopefully) shipped to my house. Or, pay a little more and buy it local. But, buying local is tough. Suppliers only sell to contractors. They will not sell to home owners. So, sure I could install my own boiler, but no one local would sell me one. What I ended up doing was working the local neighborhood network again and found a guy with a contractor's license but he wasn't actually doing any contracting right now. I was able to let him buy the boiler for me.
What I didn't do was the best layout for a perfect boiler setup. Daytime highs are running about twelve degrees right now in Wisconsin. Below zero at night. I am working alone on this project. I just didn't figure there was going to be any way I could rip it totally apart and design a whole primary/secondary loop setup before the house would freeze up. So, what I did was more a combination of system improvements that will make it easier to build such a configuration in the future, and then just tying the new boiler into the old setup.
Previously I had more of a serial line setup. Two pumps, one for each of the two zones in my house, feeding into the return on the Traeger. Then out of the Traeger and into the Heatmaker which had its own pump. Out of the Heatmaker and into the radiators. More than likely there was some issues with flow reduction through the Heatmaker. It had just a single half inch tube as its heat exchanger. Likely there were also issues with the heat exchanger acting as a little radiator when we were only running the corn/pellet boiler. Some of our heat had to have been going up the gas boiler flue.
Any new setup is going to allow me to manually switch between heat sources. But, I am no longer going to have the ability to have both online at the same time. Originally the thought was to have the gas as a hot backup to the corn burner. So, if something happened, the corn fire went out an aquastat would notice the cold pipes and the house calling for heat, and the gas would kick in. It never really worked out though.
The current setup didn't allow me to do much work on it without draining the entire house. There were ball valves at the back of the two boilers, but that was it. There was no way to do any additional plumbing. So that had to change. Additionally, there was no drain valve, low in the system. The lowest drain valve was about four feet up in the air at the back of the Heatmaker, so it was tough to get all the water out. Since I had to drain everything anyway, I changed that by adding a low spigot on the return water pipe. I also put in a temperature dial at this spot. Now, with temperature dials at both ends, I should be able to calculate how much radiator load I have by knowing the heat loss. Should be interesting.
Soldering inch and a quarter copper is a little bit different than soldering the small stuff. On half and three quarters, I would point the propane torch at one side of the fitting, and after about a minute touch the solder to the opposite side. If it melted, I would lift the torch away and let the joint fill up. Doing this technique with large copper doesn't work at all. It will never get hot enough on the oposite side. And another thing, I don't think a propane torch puts out enough heat. I bought a MAPP gas torch, and I think it was a very good investment. The gas has considerably more heat and is just the ticket for this large copper.
I got a few tips from users here but the best info was from my plumber Steve. He told me on a horizontal fitting, start at the bottom, six o'clock. Put the heat to it. Then, when it looks ready, touch the solder to the joint, and if it melts, work your torch up and follow along with the joint with the solder until you get to three o'clock. Stop there and switch to the other side. Start again at six, the solder should melt right away, and wrap the torch up and around, following with the solder, past twelve and around again to three. Using this method I didn't have a single failed joint. Steve said the reason was the capillary action drew the solder in too quick. And if you just try to work all the way around a fitting in one pass, as you get to eleven and twelve the solder wrap around, will fall and then cool too close to the edge of the joint. There will be pockets behind the initial edge that will have no solder, and won't take any because of the cooled solder in the front.
The new boiler is pretty amazing in construction. The main body is injection molded foam core plastic. The stainless steel boiler is cradled within this. Closed up you have to look at the indicator light to see if the boiler is running. You can't hear it. Being a sucker for cool little features. It has a little tiny window, like three fourths of an inch around, looking into the fire box. It looks like Dante's Inferno in there!
It was a big project. One of the bigest plumbing jobs I have ever done by myself. And also, in the shortest amount of time. But, it was one of those things that just had to work. There was no other option. Really the project was very straight forward. I did the half day of prep work on Thursday, and with two very long days, Saturday and Sunday, the project was done.
We still need to do some tuning. The unit has a control panel which lets us set different modes it can run. I have the house warmed up to seventy two the last two days, just to see it under some load. It seemed to run just fine. I kicked it down to 65 tonight. Once we are assured it is running fine, we will lower the house temp to our normal 59 degrees. Then we use the gas fireplace in our office where we spend most of our time. The only trouble we seem to be having is it seems to overshoot the temperature mark. We set it to seventy two, but sometime the room gets up to 76. It is also possible we are getting some convection when we run the boiler to heat our office. So, we have some learning to do. Who knows, maybe even some additional changes. Like maybe adding an automatic zone valve in the house zone so it can't get any heat unless the thermostat is calling for it.
I have an update on the Traeger boiler typed up as well. I will post it in a couple of days.
* Funny thing, nobody in this tale wants their names to be known. So, the names, the businesses, don't really exist. I figured, heck a little free advertising. But, "Steve" my plumber said he could be kicked out of the union for letting me do my own work. And, the boiler repair place said they would get in trouble for doing any repair that wasn't then pressure tested. The place where the furnace company would never want it to get out they sold a furnace to me. It is a strange world we live in where there are so many controls in place to prohibit something we have the ability to achieve.
|Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 December 2010 23:18|