Sunday, November 02, 2014

Errands, the Moon, and Steam Heat

Southbury, Connecticut

Doing a couple errands at half past four this afternoon, the return to standard time meant a blazing sun was near the horizon to make interesting light, shadow, and reflection in shopping plaza store windows. By the time I got home it was dusk, with a waxing gibbous moon 80% illuminated. I detest Daylight Savings Time, because I'm a morning person. Whether the days are short or long, I want whatever morning light there is, and have little interest in evening light. So this is nice.

Woodbury, Connecticut

The new steam boiler ran wonderfully for two and a half days. The house has never been so comfortable in our 23 years here. All the radiators, even the ones at the farthest end of the two steam circuits, heat right up. So the formerly "cold rooms" of the house are now comfortable, while the whole system is more efficient because the warm radiators, you know, slowly radiate all that heat out into the room. That is, until those end of the line radiators stopped heating up, late Saturday. Then, later still, I realized there hadn't been a cycle in much too long. The system had shut itself down.

So, another cold night. A system like this always has a safety cutoff for low water level in the boiler. There's a glass-tube level gage on the front of the cabinet that should be half to two-thirds full. It was crystal clear on Wednesday, but now it was coated with dark red gunk, and I couldn't see a water level at all. Maybe decades of crud throughout the system got blown out by the new monster boiler and came back down to plug up the pipes. Single-pipe steam systems return the condensed steam back through the delivery pipes until it's diverted, down in the basement, into lower return pipes. When a tech arrived early this morning, he determined that the reason we couldn't see a level in the gage was because it was filled to overflowing, not empty. That, too, caused the system to shut itself down.

Working theory—those end of the line radiators built up dams of loosened-up gunk built up over decades of hardly ever getting much steam. The dams held back the condensate from heat runs. Then, at some point late yesterday, Super-Boiler blew steam through the dams, and a flood of too much condensed water washed into the returns. With the excess water drained out of the system, it went right to work and is performing perfectly. The steamfitter may decide to "flush the system" with liquid chemicals under low pressure, or maybe not if it seems to be clearing itself. Like the developer I use for Pt/Pd prints, a single pipe steam system isn't closed, with a shelf life—it simply keeps being renewed with fresh inputs of water. Letting it clear itself may be the best option.

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