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Solid fuel boiler
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Pete Summers    Posted 01-05-2004 at 15:47:34       [Reply]  [Send Email]
I've just moved to very rural france and i have a solid fuel boiler and radiators heating the house. Trouble is it is very inefficient. The kitchen which has the boiler is like a sauna but it doesn't heat the radiators so well so the rest of the house is a bit cold. The radiators feel warm to the touch. I want to know if there is a more efficient fuel, I have trie anthracite and it just burns like a furnace for about half an
hour then dies to nothing, or can i just replace the boiler with a oil burner and use all the same radiators etc.

Dieselrider    Posted 01-05-2004 at 18:15:57       [Reply]  [No Email]
The hot water system can be a very very good system if it is working right. Once a hot water system is hot it stays hot for awhile and continues to radiate heat, especially if it has some big old radiators on the system. Unlike a hot air system that starts to cool down the second the furnace and blower stops. Like the others mentioned air could be the problem. Feel the radiators, if they are hot part way up then colder at the top you have air blocking that one. Check each one or if possible have someone who knows these systems look it over. It is possible if the system is old the pipes could be blocked up. Coal in itself is very good source of heat, just a bit dirty. Let us know how you make out and good luck.

Red Dave    Posted 01-05-2004 at 18:01:55       [Reply]  [No Email]
I had a oil-fired gravity type hot water system in a house I used to live in. It was VERY sensitive to air trapped in the system. If there was any, heat would not get circulated. There should be a valve somewhere that supplies water to the system, crack it a little and go around and bleed each radiator, then do it again to make sure.
Anthracite is nearly 100% carbon and should burn very efficiently, but coal burning is not like wood burning. It should settle down to a very even, very hot fire and stay that way as long as it has fuel and draft. Is there anybody around you that can give you a little "coaching" on coal burning? Took me a while to get the hang of it too.

Rowdy Yates    Posted 01-05-2004 at 16:34:14       [Reply]  [Send Email]
TB is right, very important points. My experience with boilers, especially old ones is that none of them are very fuel efficient compared to other systems, nice heat if they work. Piping could be plugged, circulating pump (is it working?), or does it even have one, alot of old systems were gravity feed and didn't have pump. I have installed pumps on systems which originally didn't have any, but then you get into zone valves etc. But air in the system is a very important factor and you may have to overide the pressure in the system to push the air out of the system thru the bleeders. Air in systems is a very big problem with hot water heat. If one register is getting very warm and the others are not, then it is not a "hot enough fuel" problem. It is a air or no circulation problem or just an "incorrect" installation right from the start. Be careful, too much pressure applied while bleeding can cause you problems that you don't want!! I had a natural gas fired water heating system once and man you talk about super high gas bills, heat was nice though.

deadcarp    Posted 01-05-2004 at 16:25:41       [Reply]  [No Email]
Sounds like you have a circulation problem pete - if there's corrosion or something in the pipes there are chemicals that can dissolve it. they're made for car radiators but how does the chemical know what it's cleaning? just make sure it's safe for the metals used throughout the system. beyond that you should examine your pump and filter - usually they install a dirt trap (with a screen filter) upstream of the pump and they can get full or plugged. as a sorta make-do setup, you can add an actual radiator at the cold end of the house. i have added one to remedy the chill in the cellar. if you're already burning coal you're getting about maximum out of the system. stop all the house's air leaks, even if you have to tape them. if you have a reservoir for storing the heat, this much effort should work. if you don't have thermal storage maybe it's time to add a fuel oil burner unit to your boiler. new boilers are expensive so unless the existing one leaks-- :)

TB    Posted 01-05-2004 at 16:14:17       [Reply]  [No Email]
Burning hard coal can be tricky and takes a while to learn. Chances are that a more effecent system may be in order. Is this a hot water system or steem. The radiators may need the air bled out of them. Just anouther thought Does the radiators have one pipe or two pipes going to them?

Pete Summers    Posted 01-06-2004 at 03:35:17       [Reply]  [Send Email]
Thanks for the tips guys.
The system is a fully pumped system vented with a header tank. The radiators have two pipes, feed in the bottom return from the top on the other side....a french thing i beleieve not like we have in the uk. The pump works fine and when after lots of work the boiler gets hot the radiators are ok, trouble is like this it either burns tons of wood or dies with the anthracite after a half an hour. Question, could the pump be running too fast, i.e. not allowing enough time for the water in the heat exchanger. I don't mind the cold so much but if i don't get this sorted i'll be living here all alone.....


TB    Posted 01-06-2004 at 17:22:47       [Reply]  [No Email]
Is their a barometric damper in the flew pipe. And is it working. It would be very hard to control without one.

Wet hard coal burns better than dry. try wetting it down once every two weeks or so.

Never poke at a coal fire. use the shaker.

When you stoke the fire leave a little draft overtop of the coal until you burn off all the coal gas then you should be able to let the automatic controls take over.

Once seen a system that had a hidden run under neath the floor. I guess it was to warm the floor. All it seemed to do was circulate all the time and rob all the heat. Just a thought

Is the return pipe hot? Unless you have some extremely long runs it should get hot

Whare does the feed pipe stop being as hot as the boiler temp? If it isnít that is another sign of a vapor lock . Donít bleed the radiators when the circulator pump is running. How many pounds pressure is in the system?

Sorry it took so long to get back but itís been one of those days. Hope this helps.

Red Dave    Posted 01-06-2004 at 08:25:41       [Reply]  [No Email]
After half an hour, the anthracite should be just getting warmed up. I had that problem in a Franco-Belge coal stove, turned out I was losing draft. I was leaking air into the chimney through the cleanout below where the flue went into it. Once I got that plugged up, it worked a lot better.
Fluepipe and chimney need to be pretty tight, no obstructions either. If the chimney is too big for the stove, it will have trouble keeping it warm enough to maintain the convection currents that keep your draft too.

Let us know what you found if you get it working.

deadcarp    Posted 01-06-2004 at 07:15:46       [Reply]  [No Email]
no you're not gonna get more net heat by restricting the flow, and the boiler shouldn't be that dependent on the water's heat anyway. i'd guess you might gain by more thermal storage. we have a 100-gallon tank and could use another 200 gallons in cold weather. the idea is to get whatever fuel burning good and then store that burst of heat so it will last overnite. for now i'd start a hot wood fire and dump some coal on top of it til you get really proficient at burning coal. with the goal of using all coal.

sounds like you're dealing somewhat with modern expectations too - years ago we'd keep longjohns at our bedside and chuckle at a dipper frozen into a water bucket in the morning - nowdays there are people who expect to make breakfasts in nitegowns :)

let us know how it works out :)

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