Oil smell from burner

We have been getting a persistent oil smell in our apartment from our radiator vents ever since a new steam furnace was installed three months ago.
The oil company, who maintains the boiler, has been saying that it is due to the cutting oil that was used to store and lubricate the machinery, and they have been "top-flushing" the water to get rid of it (I have had them over to do that every week or two - they must have done it at least six times by now).
However, the flushing has made no difference so far, not even temporarily after each flush. Initially we were told the odor would go away in about two weeks, but it's been three months, and I am thinking that it must be something else.
I assume they would have seen any leaks during their visits, and I have held a CO detector over the radiator vents during venting without anything being registered.
Any recommendations? I'm about to break my lease because of the health concerns.
Andre
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There is some truth to that. There is always going to be some residual smell after a steam boiler installation. When exactly it burns off completely depends on how long the boiler operates, so you can't really determine it exactly. You might need one complete heating season to get rid of the smell. However, continued flushing is a good idea.
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When the boiler fires up, is there a "whoompf" noise? If so, you are getting delayed ignition which can cause a considerable oil smell. There are a number of things that can cause delayed ignition, but sometimes it is as simple as correcting the gap of the ignitor electrodes.
Mys Terry
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No, there does not seem to be a "whoompf" noise. When the heat goes on, (what I suppose is) the ignition assembly does run for about 10-15 seconds before it ignites the flame, but when it finally does, it seems to ignite smoothly, at the moment the little ignition light goes on.
The basement also smells of the oil, and specifically only when the furnace has been running - not so much otherwise.
Regards Andre
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Sounds like someone is BSing you. The residual oil should have been burned up long ago. I don't know what you mean by top flushing. When put into service, a boiler is often boiled out with some chemicals to get rid of any residue in the steam/water chambers. It is then flushed and closed up. Steam boilers should be give a "blow down" on a regular basis also. This is done when there is pressure in the system to flush out any accumulated minerals in the water.
Yes, it is not healthy. If you can smell it, there are solids in the air that you are breathing. The entire system may have to be flushed as whatever was in there has been spread around. Good installation practice would have helped.
When discussing this with anyone. you have a boiler, not a furnace. Boilers heat water and make steam. Furnaces heat air.
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Edwin Pawlowski wrote:

What they say they do is removing all the dirty water from the water chamber.
Something else I don't quite understand - how could the smell move between the basement and the radiator vents inside the house. Isn't the water/steam system supposed to be separate from the basement air? Could it be two separate problems?
Andre
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You can be looking at two problems. If there was residual oil in the boiler and it was not properly flushed at startup, some of the residue would be carried by the steam into the system, thus contaminating the entire system. When heated it will give off an odor that may come out the steam vents on the radiators. They are designed to purge air from the system. This should diminish in time. Any oil in the system should be long gone.
Another potential problem is the oil burner itself. There may be a leak someplace after the flame. This can be some bad gasketing on the burner, leaks in the flue pipe, some downdraft in the stack, etc. In any case, you should not be smelling oil of any sort. If it is from the burner, it may be seeping into your place from all the crack in the joints and air moving in the stairwell, or even as the flue gasses move across the roof and can seep back in if the flue it not right.
There is a difference between the odor of the fuel oil burning and the oil/water mix being heated. Get someone that may be familiar with them to visit and maybe give you a better idea of what the smell is. Anyone that works on car a lot can probably tell the difference as they washed down an oily engine and would know the odor you get when it is heated the first time or two.
In any case, you need a competent service tech to sort it out. Sounds like all you've had is a hack.
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Edwin Pawlowski wrote:

Yes, it's definitely a raw oil smell. Inhaling the airstream coming out of the radiator vents from close up, even for just a moment, causes a buzz, like having had a couple of glasses of wine or sniffing glue.

Well, a series of hacks, since every time it's someone different. Their initial reaction when I complained about the smell was that I wouldn't even notice it after an hour or so, having gotten used to it. The one guy's response regarding health effects was that the technicians work with it all day so I shouldn't worry. They're probably inured to the smell and think it's in our heads, and having a foreign accent probably does not help.
It looks like the only way I'm going to get any satisfaction is by hiring an independent contractor behind their (and my landlord's) backs.
Thanks Andre
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Just to clarify, I'm the one who has the accent (just to avoid possible misunderstandings).
Andre
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They should have use something like this before putting the boiler on line. http://www.thermidaire.on.ca/hd.html
More information here: http://64.233.179.104/search?q che:_bR8lyhnnLIJ:www.opp.psu.edu/construction/standards/design_standards/DIVISION15h.doc+boiler+boil+out&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd
A. Pre-operational Cleaner: All systems shall be flushed with water prior to chemical cleaning. Use water meter to fill, record, and tag (permanent tag) the system with the actual system volume. Chemical cleaner shall be added to remove grease, mill oil, organic soil, flux, iron oxide etc. All terminal control valves and valves at end of runs ("dead legs") shall be opened so that cleaner is circulated through the whole system. After cleaning, all strainers shall be flushed, and strainer screens cleaned or replaced. Once closed loop is chemically cleaned, system shall be dumped and flushed with water so that all cleaning chemical is removed from the system.
B. Chemical treatment: Shall be an alkaline, buffered, nitrite-based corrosion inhibitor, maintained at proper levels to prevent corrosion to the system.
What you can do now to help is to blow down the boiler frequently, a few times a day. That will help replenish with fresh water and dilute what residue is in there. In most cases, there is a drain valve on the boiler that is piped into either a drain or sump to be pumped. You slowly open the valve while there is pressure in the boiler and drain some of the water. There should be an automatic feed system to bring in new fresh water. Never take it down more than an inch or so at one time. There is a sight glass showing the water level and some sort of permanent mark on the boiler or the water column showing the minimum level.
BTW, I didn't even notice you had an accent ;)
--
Ed
http://pages.cthome.net/edhome/



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