Our house was built in 1929 and included a state-of-the art 2-pipe steam heating system complete with a coal-fired boiler and a basement full of pipes and associated steam traps. Some time in the late '40s or early '50s the coal-fired boiler was swapped out for a modern, gas-fired model. That chunk of iron and steel served the house faithfully for more than 60 winters, but in the spring of 2014 I knew the jig was up. The power company showed up to inspect our heating plant as a part of a change in gas metering, and our flue was found to have 'borderline' levels of CO. Likely reason? The gas jets, designed to mix air and gas into a hot flame underneath the boiler, were corroded and collapsing and no longer capable of sustaining a good, blue flame. Instead, they burned with a yellow, smeary flame that continually deposited incompletely combusted carbon on surfaces in their path towards the flue. I had laboriously cleaned them after last year's heating season, but it was now obvious that a wire brush and elbow grease weren't going to be bringing them back to the blue flames of their youth. Replace them? Not so much; they don't make 'em like that anymore. Clean the flu to get back to spec CO levels, only to face the same problem in a year or so? Not a fun proposition, as anyone knows who's dealt with a sooty flu. It goes EVERYWHERE you don't want it to. So, it looked like it was finally time to think about replacing the boiler.
By the end of the summer we'd lined up a contractor who does a lot of steam work locally, and also scheduled another local firm to abate all the asbestos in the boiler room (necessary before any fittings could be touched!). I spent some time searching for a set of steam heating how-to books by steam guru Dan Holohan that I'd purchased years ago when I was more casually thinking ahead to my boiler's end-time. I wish I'd looked a bit harder, because I could have saved myself some grief. (to be continued)