zoned hot water system problem

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My BIL called me over to help him fix a leaking circulator pump on his system which was an easy swap and fixed the leak. But he still has a big problem with his system, here's the current setup:
Boiler in basement Split level house with all zone loops higher than basement Three zones - all thermostats working properly Circulator pump on the cold/return side of boiler mounted just above boiler inlet comes on with furnace (zone independent) Flo-control valve on the hot/supply side of boiler mounted near ceiling Air separater right after main flo-control valve with bladder expansion tank Three additional zone circulator pumps connected to the thermostat relays Three zone flo-control valves, one right after each zone pump
The problem is that whenever any zone calls for heat there is flow thru all three zones. I verified that each of the zone pumps are working indepently and correctly. He told me that the system has always operated this way and he just sets the thermostat on the upper level to 50 so it never kicks on because he always gets heat up there. On the zone I changed the pump the flo-control valve stopped the water from coming out when I pulled the pump. I'm assuming the other two flo-control zone valves are also properly preventing back flow. But the problem is they are are always allowing hot water to flow forward even if the pump for that zone is off. There are no zone valves on any of the zones, only the flo-contral valves. The zone pumps, flo-control valves and thermostats appear to be add-ons to the original system.
Does this system need a circulator pump for each zone? Should there be zone valves installed for each zone?
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Why? You have three zone valves and three circulators. The individual circulator for the zone should be doing the ork.

Was this a single zone system that was converted to a multi-zone system? Sounds crazy to have a main circulator plus the individual zones. Could also be the zone valves are not operating properly. Have you checked to be sure they are closed? .

Should be one way or the other. Any thermostat calling for heat would start the pump and open the valve for that zone. My house has two pumps, one for each zone. The thermostat starts the pump for that zone only and heats that zone only. The boiler is controlled by an aquastat that starts the burner when the water temperature gets below the set point.
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Edwin Pawlowski wrote:

to stop 'gravity circulation'. http://www.bellgossett.com/Press/BG-flocontrol.asp

Looks like it to me.

Again, no zone valves just the flo-control 'gravity flow' preventers.

I'm guessing the _main_ circulator pump is left-over from before the system was zoned. My previous house had only one pump and three zone valves and always worked fine. The pump was on the cold side of the boiler. I think whoever did the zone work did not set up the system properly. From what I read about these flo-control valves they will allow flow with a minimal amount of pressure just not gravity flow from rising hot water.
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RayV wrote:

Unless I'm misunderstanding, aren't they designed to prevent backflow, but allow flow from pumps, which appears to be the problem? When circulator(s) are running, they are indeed allowing forward flow of water through entire system. I think you need zone valves. As you say, appears to be retrofitted system by someone who didn't quite know what they were doing. Don't know how large the loops are, but main and zone circulators seem redundant, though don't see why that should be a problem(doesn't appear to be excessive electrical load at present), once zone valves are put in.
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Sev wrote:

You got it right. If you look at this page about halfway down they show these valves installed after the zone pumps. http://www.bellgossett.com/homeowners/BG-flocontrolvalve.asp I think the reason his are allowing flow all of the time is 'main' pump is on the return side of the bolier and forcing all three flo-control valves open even though the zone pump isn't on.
I'm thinking of disconnecting the main circulator and then running each zone to see if that cures the problem. Although having the pumps on the outlet side of the boiler _could_ lead to a boiler overheat more easily than if the pump was on the inlet side.
If it were my house I would disconnect the zone pumps and install zone valves and run it for a season just using the main pump. If all went well I would pull the zone pumps and have three spares.
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Again, check to see that they are operating properly. Mine have an adjustment thumb screw on the top of them.

Sure sounds that way. The main pump would have enough force to get water past the flo-controls.
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061031 0950 - Edwin Pawlowski posted:

with zone valves, when a zone thermostat calls for heat, the zone valve will open, and that turns on the circulating pump. Only that zone will get the hot water. The same for the other zone. The circulating pump won't shut off until all the zone valves are closed.
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Like Ed said, you either use circulators and flow controls or circulators with zone valves and no flow controls. When you buy the boiler, it comes with one circulator mounted on it, if you need more zones, you usually remove that one and build or buy a manifold and mount them all together. So you have a total of 4 zones, and I'm assuming 4 thermostats and relays. What concerns me is what is controlling the boiler? Ed mentions an aquastat maintaining his boiler temperature, some boilers maintain temperature and some are wired for cold start, which means each zone control would turn on its circulator and fire the boiler as well. What do you have for domestic hot water? If it's a coil built into the boiler, you will have a triple aquastat relay mounted on the boiler to maintain temperature, but if not, you may have issues with the original circulator becoming energized when any of the others come on.

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RBM (remove this) wrote:

Separate water heater.

for heat the 'main' circulator pump kicks on with the boiler as well as the zone pump. The pressure from the main circulator is enough to lift the flo-control valves off their seats in every zone.
The biggest problem is my BIL makes Tim 'the tool man' Taylor look like Tommy Silva. So I can't try things like disconnect the main circulator and let it run for a few days. I told him several times after I changed the zone pump and refilled the system to check the pressure a couple times a day for a few days. He still hasn't checked it (he forgot). I'm thinking there are three options: 1-Have him buy three zone valves and replace the flo-control valves with zone valves and leave everything else alone.
2-Put in the zone valves and disconnect the three zone pumps to see if the single circulator pump can move enough water. If it works then remove the zone circulators in the spring.
3-Tell him to call in a heating guy who will sell him some fancy interconnected thermostats with ambient temperature probes along with with cyclonic self-equalizing pumps. Oh yeah and a new boiler since the old one isn't up to the task of properly heating the house efficiently.
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RayV wrote:

Ray, Did you check to make sure that the top nut of the check valve was closed tight? Most times people forget to tighten this nut. If not tight, it will allow for the hot water to enter into the other zone causing ghost heating.
Paul
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snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com wrote:

Yes. After I replaced the pump I fully opened (bypassed) the flo-control valves and ran all of the circulator pumps to hopefully flush any dirt from the seats and get the air moving. Then I closed all of the flo-control valves. They were all closed when I got there and hadn't been touched in years if ever.
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RayV wrote:

Well, then if they are tight and have been there for awhile and you are getting ghost heating you may want to try and replace one of the check valves. There really isn't much to forced hot water system.
Paul
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snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com wrote:

I was thinking about trying that but all three flo-control valves are allowing flow no matter which of the zones is calling for heat. That would mean all three of them have failed or are stuck, he also told me that he has always gotten heat everywhere in the house since he moved in 8 years ago. This has to be an incorrect zone job done for the previous owner.
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--
Regards,
Doug Miller (alphageek at milmac dot com)
  Click to see the full signature.
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RayV wrote:

Can you post a pic of the whole system? Can you take apart one of the valves and look inside?
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snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com wrote:

Here is what the flo-control valves look like http://www.bellgossett.com/Press/BG-flocontrol.asp
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RayV wrote:

Hmmm. I was just about to suggest exactly that- that the fix might be as simple as unscrewing the wire nut that secures the hot wire for the main circulator...
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As Doug and Sev said, disconnect the wire to the "main" circulator and see what happens. If the problem stops and this main circulator is not part of a manifold, but instead, is inline in the return, I'd remove it altogether

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RBM (remove this) wrote:

Sorry....Disagree!! If you are NOT using zone valves then you need a circ for each zone...PERIOD. If your using zone valves then one circ wil work as long as you have the proper controller for the zone vavles. How else are you going to get the hot water to each zone when there is a call for heat by the thermostat? In my house I have two zones. I choose to plumb my heating system with individual circulators because I don't like zone valves. I have a Taco 503 controller that turns on each individual circ when each thermostat calls for heat. In a basic hot water boiler setup the only component that will prevent "Ghost Heating" into a zone that is NOT calling for heat is a check valve.....PERIOD.
So, don't remove the circ. I would make sure that the valves are working properly. You should be able to open up the valve without removing it completely form the system. Now, if your still confused on this issue all you have to do is call a professional. They will figure it out for you.
-paul
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Another possibility is that the "main" circulator is not pulling in the same direction as the three on the manifold

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