winter

Beastly Boiler

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It’s a cold Monday in January, which means that the heat is out, and I’m huddled by the fire, waiting for Captain Idiot.

Actually, the date is insignificant. And the heating repair guy isn’t an idiot. I’m just sick of being a spectator in this tennis match: the heat goes out, (we schedule a repair, I babysit the house for its service call), then the boiler gets fixed. And then it dies a day later.

I blogged about this two months ago here, when we bought the new boiler. Immediately, we noticed a problem: a clanging cacophony that’s a nuisance during the day, and jarring and impossible to sleep through at night.

 Apparently, the clanging was a warning that failure was imminent. In the last 10 days, we’ve had to summon help last Friday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and last night.

The latest diagnosis: the auto-fill mechanism on the boiler is faulty and feeds water into the system, flooding the boiler and the pipes. (On one occasion, water spurted from the radiator vents. I discovered the puddles in the morning).

When the boiler is on its course toward overhydration, the clanging occurs as water and steam clash in the pipes.

Why wasn’t this a problem with our old boiler? Because that model had a manual fill — once a week we’d check the water level in a glass chamber, and top off as needed — and drain off the rusty/silty/sludgy liquid in a bucket.

This new heavy-duty, automated beast of a boiler is so powerful, it is forcing more silt and rust from the pipes. In other words, the boiler is not making a love connection with our old house.

Captain Idiot and crew are trying to amend the situation. The Captain just left after replacing the faulty part on the auto-fill. If that doesn’t work, the next step will be to disable the component entirely.

We hope that the boiler and house will find a way to peaceably coexist.

In the meantime, the 24-hour repair service is on speed dial and I’m thankful for our firewood supply, and for the dedicated service of our space heater brigade.

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Most kids crowd around the TV; ours flock to the space heaters.

Hammer Time

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Back in the old days — like last year — the radiators used to hum and sing.

In the winter months, the thermostat was set to roust the furnace just before sunrise, so the house would be warm in the morning hours. And more often than not, I’d awaken to the chorus of radiators. In fact, the gentle gurgle of steam through pipes served as a snooze button: gently hissing radiator vents spelled an extra hour of sleep before the chirp of an alarm clock.

Unfortunately, when we pronounced the old boiler dead and swapped it with a new model, the radiators changed tune. Classical music was out, heavy metal was in. The reliable and melodic hiss and ping was replaced by a clanging cacophony.

How loud? Imagine sleeping while someone stands over your bed beating a serving spoon against a cauldron. Or a baseball player whacking a pipe with a tire iron. Repeatedly — in a confined space.

The radiators no longer whispered, sleep a bit more. Now they SHOUTED, “HEY EVERYONE, WAKE UP! THE HEAT IS ON!”

Internet research confirmed that noisy radiators are commonplace, but the causes and solutions are poorly defined. The hammering racket may stem from steam working through pockets of water, specifically due to tilted radiators, victim of sloped, settled floors. In such cases the radiators should be leveled with shims. But in other cases, the radiator are intentionally sloped to guide water flow back toward the boiler, and those radiators shouldn’t be leveled. Alternate advice to cease unwanted clanking: bleed the radiators, close the intake valves, open the intake valves, replace the vents, re-insulate the pipe from the boiler, remove steam vents and soak them in vinegar to dissolve calcium deposits…

…lots of handyman, plumber-speak.

I asked Martin what he thought and his diagnosis was vague: “I think it’s excessive pressure building up in the pipes.”

His solution? Accept the noise but alter the timing.

“I can set the thermostat so the furnace kicks in later. Would that help?”

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A source of terrific heat… and noise.

Creature Comforts

Here are the facts:

  • The boiler, which drives steam into the radiators to heat the house, is kaput. Rusted out.
  • Replacement is neither simple nor cheap.
  • The house is very cold at night.
  • The dog sleeps in a 6- by 8-foot mudroom. With a space heater.
  • The dog is very happy.

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(Sorry, no image of dog-in-mudroom due to the graphic nature — i.e., cluttered mess. It’s just too grungy to photograph.)