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Excitement! Adventure! Explosions! « Well that was… an idea
18 Oct 2008

Excitement! Adventure! Explosions!


No, not really with the explosions. Actually, not really with the other two if you don’t find boiler maintenance to be exciting or adventurous.

The boiler’s water level sight was coated with rust and other sediment, so I took the opportunity to, as my neighbor Joe put it, get to know my heating system. Monroe’s Heating is right up 58 and Tim, the owner, was able to stop down today for a full cleaning and inspection. Gave me plenty of do-it-yourself pointers (including ‘clear out the sight glass like you’d do with a gun’ – a point not lost on this former Boy Scout, although it’s been almost 15 years since I’ve done that), spotted a couple of potential trouble spots and told me what to look for to know something has to be replaced, screwed everything back together, and headed off.

Minor snag though – he detached the wires powering the starter by hand to shut off the power (not recommended, but doable if you know where to grab and not grab – I always flip the breaker first, but then again I’ve been known to look both ways and still step into oncoming traffic) and thus was reattaching and capping live wires. I think one of them was loose as a result which kept the burners from kicking on when I turned up the thermostat this evening. Ten minutes with some electrical tape though and things are running fine.

Except for the last part of today’s adventure. Heat comes on, normal radiator noises, some of the abnormal radiator noises I’ve been meaning to address (see below) – and then a new noise from the radiator in my bedroom (which I could have sworn I turned off) which sounds suspiciously like water splashing on the floor. Somehow the valve had been turned upside down and had bled out a good half cup of water. Fortunately I caught it and mopped everything up before it could damage anything.

What all this means is that I’ve just added a significant (in terms of time) project to my Project Weekend – getting all the radiators in shape. I’ve been hearing some bad whistling on the downstairs radiators and have been meaning to clean them out – you can literally screw apart the valve and tap/blow out most blockages, and vinegar and hot water works for anything worse. The color of the water on my bedroom floor tells me that there are probably deeper clogs in each unit, which means putting some vinegar into the boiler* and doing some brush and wire work on the inside where the valve screws in. A couple of units also have excessive sloshing sounds, meaning I should level them to make sure water runs all the way back out and down to the return piping. After all that I should still bleed each radiator before winter, but pulling the valves to clean them technically overbled them. This will probably be a two-part project, then. 1) Clean the valves and level the radiators to eliminate unwanted noises; 2) Let the boiler push air and water back into all the radiators, then go through and bleed as necessary to ensure even heating.

*Careful with this if you have a boiler system of your own. It’s not caustic, but it can still do damage. Plus my system is a pretty simple steam system – yours may not like the home remedy approach (assuming you have an annual professional checkup anyway your boiler company should be able to tell you the risks and benefits). Moreover, and here’s the ‘planning’ part of all this – if you’ve ever cleaned out an iron by putting vinegar in the tank, you know what steamed vinegar smells like; not bad, but not what you want around your house all day. You’ll need to leave windows open to let the smell dissapate – shouldn’t take long, but unless this weekend’s temperatures get back to the 60s, the vinegar treatment may have to wait ’till spring at my place.

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