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Topic: SM-11: No Steam!  (Read 8599 times)
Elmle
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« on: February 09, 2013, 07:09:32 PM »

Hello,

I've moved into a rented house with a Steamist SM-11 9kW system attached to the old DTC-225 controller. It worked for a while and then a connection appeared to get wet as I'd get phantom starts and the like.  I dried it all out, left it disconnected, rechecked all the connections, sealed everything and reassembled it. It was left disconnected (from the mains) for several months while I was away with business, and then recently I tried to get it going again.

It makes all the right noises; I can hear the intermittent noise of the water inlet, and it heats up, and appears to be boiling water inside itself. But I get no steam; absolutely nothing from the steam head, it stays completely dry and cold.

I'm assuming the heating elements might not be heating enough to produce steam, or else there's some sort of other problem. Could anyone offer any advice?
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Elmle
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« Reply #1 on: February 09, 2013, 07:23:28 PM »

More info; I have what looks like a waste line connected to the auto drain and also to the pressure relief safety connection. The steam outlet pipe that goes to the shower is cool to touch, but this entire waste line is boiling hot.

Could my system have "locked" the auto drain on, or triggered the pressure relief and locked it on?

It looks like that, because when I hit the "start/stop" button on the control pad and went to listen/look at the unit, I felt the steam outlet pipe getting hot. Went to look at the shower and it was being flooded with slightly cool steam! Trying to replicate that effect now, but it makes me think either my drain is stuck open or the safety valve is.
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Bernard
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« Reply #2 on: February 10, 2013, 12:03:40 PM »

Elmle -

Many questions here.
1.  Where did you hear the term "phantom start" and how did you determine that an interior wall connection may be wet?  When you removed the control, was it actually wet and did you see any rust stains?
2.  During 10 minutes of operation, how often does the steam bath generator take on water (a noise you seem familiar with)?
3.  You say the drain and pressure relief valve are plumbed to a waste line.  Do you know where this line terminates?  Is there a way, without tools, to see, hear or detect determine water is being expelled from these lines during operation?
4.  As far as you can see, does the pressure relief valve line or drain line intersect with the steam line?
5.  You say that the steam shower is being flooded with slightly cool steam.  Is the cool steam accompanied by any water and would this steam be sufficeint to formulate a fog if left to run for 5-minutes?
6.  Are you technical, do you have a voltage or amperage meter, where are you located and have you been troubleshooting this concern with any professional?

I look forward to your reply.
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Elmle
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« Reply #3 on: February 10, 2013, 12:58:41 PM »

Hi Bernard, thank you for your interest!  I'll start from the top....

1.  Where did you hear the term "phantom start" and how did you determine that an interior wall connection may be wet?  When you removed the control, was it actually wet and did you see any rust stains?

The steam generator would activate itself and start its own cycle.  When this happened, generally the exterior control (with the timer) would show the time remaining, the cycle light would flash as normal, but the interior control (with the temperature sensor and temperature setting) would stay blank.  A couple of taps with the palm of your hand would bring it to life and then you'd be able to stop the cycle.  I assessed that to mean the interior control could be faulty.  The faceplate that covers the screws had been lost by the previous tenant, and while all the seals seemed intact I thought it was wise to investigate.  We'd also have the steam unit randomly stop if we commanded it on; it would run for maybe 10 minutes on a 60 minute cycle, then the interior control would go blank, then the system would switch off.  Maybe after 15 minutes or something suitably random, it'd switch back on. 

It seemed to be much worse if the shower had been used and all the surfaces were wet, hence my original worry it'd be damp in the components.

The actual term "phantom start" I think I picked up from this forum; apologies if I've used it incorrectly!  I would occasionally get an E4 error (a communication problem; leading me to think the wiring could be wet or at fault) as well.

Anyway, I don't think the interior control was significantly or even noticeably wet, but I decided to check the connections, clean them, re-install the cable after a quick re-crimping, and then wrapped everything I could in electrical tape and seal the vast majority of the system inside some waterproof bags just to provide some extra help!  Since then, electrically, it's been fine; no issues with a blank interior control panel and no switching on or off unless commanded.  No rust stains or damage inside the control panel.

2.  During 10 minutes of operation, how often does the steam bath generator take on water (a noise you seem familiar with)?

Assuming I'm right and it's the sound like a faucet running followed by a "shutting valve" sound when it stops, I've just timed it.  After a relatively long (probably a minute?) period of running open, it starts a fairly regular cycle of about 7 seconds of water flow followed by about 7 seconds without.

3.  You say the drain and pressure relief valve are plumbed to a waste line.  Do you know where this line terminates?  Is there a way, without tools, to see, hear or detect determine water is being expelled from these lines during operation?

The only way I've assessed that something is flowing through this is because when the generator is running and has been for 10 minutes or so, the copper waste line is extremely hot while the steam outlet line that leads to my shower is cold; hence I've theorised that all the hot water/steam is being expelled to the drain line.  It disappears into my wall and I've got no means of assessing where it goes, although it looks like it's straight into an exterior wall so could be anywhere.

A photo of my installation; you can see a bit of the waste line.  The pressure relief line is underneath the steam outlet, as per the installation instructions I found on the internet.  It feeds into the lowest copper pipe which is also attached to the auto-drain box.



A better photo showing the waste pipe more clearly.



4.  As far as you can see, does the pressure relief valve line or drain line intersect with the steam line?

No; the pressure relief line runs directly vertically down to the waste pipe.  The steam outlet line isn't connected to anything else, it's straight into the wall from the generator.



5.  You say that the steam shower is being flooded with slightly cool steam.  Is the cool steam accompanied by any water and would this steam be sufficeint to formulate a fog if left to run for 5-minutes?

I don't think there was any water, apart from a little expected condensation; there wasn't any water obviously dripping our pouring out of the steam head.  The steam's definitely enough to fog out the shower room, it ends up completely covered in steam to the extent you can't see in it.  This only happens if I leave the generator running for a period of time (I've tried 20 and 30 minutes) and then switch it off.

6.  Are you technical, do you have a voltage or amperage meter, where are you located and have you been troubleshooting this concern with any professional?

I'm pretty technically minded but I don't have access to a multimeter.  I could pick one up at Home Depot and happily have a play with the PCB.  Opening up the generator, there are 4 LEDs on the PCB; one is lit all the time, and when I push the "test" switch 2 of the remaining 3 light as well and the generator starts running; but I can't find any guidance on the internet or on Steamist's website as to what these LEDs refer to.  All of the electrical connections I can see inside the generator seem robust, well made, solid and aren't affected by moisture or damage.

I've asked my landlord to arrange for a professional to come out, but the contractor they use took one look at the system, noted serial numbers, went away to ask about "parts" and then didn't speak to me for 4 months.  After a prompt, he finally came back after 6 months to say he "couldn't get the parts," but didn't explain what parts he thought it needed.  I get the impression he's happy with a central air unit or a dishwasher but this is outside of his sphere of experience!

I've emailed Steamist tech support, and I've asked a couple of local resellers and installers if they can recommend an engineer who can come and do maintenance, but no luck yet.  This site is the first I've seen with any serious discussion on the subject, so I have high hopes...!!
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Bernard
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« Reply #4 on: February 10, 2013, 01:58:10 PM »

Elmle -

Great detail.  Thank you.  We are getting close.

Prior to investing in a multimeter, provide the answer the following and await my reply.

1.  Can you locate the main electrical panel to turn off the breaker serving the steam bath generator?
2.  So you are saying that after the steam bath generator fills with water (about a minute) the same or a similar sound reoccurs every seven seconds? 
3.  Can you provide the model number and serial number off the name plate on the side of the generator casing?
4.  Inspect the sides of the auto drain valve (silver cube).  Do you see a stem or metal lever of sorts (it would be about 1" long, flat and 1/4" wide?
5.  Follow the drain line, is there any shutoff valve on this line?
6.  Where are you located?

Thanks!
 
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Elmle
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« Reply #5 on: February 10, 2013, 02:16:14 PM »

1.  Can you locate the main electrical panel to turn off the breaker serving the steam bath generator?

I certainly can.  It's on the same circuit as the regular power outlets in the bathroom, I've already checked that.  I've tried setting the breaker off and leaving it for a day in case there was some way to force a full reset.

2.  So you are saying that after the steam bath generator fills with water (about a minute) the same or a similar sound reoccurs every seven seconds?

Yes, exactly that.  You get the "running water under pressure" noise as soon as you switch it on, which lasts for perhaps a minute.  There's then a "swoosh" noise of a valve closing and silence for about 6-7 seconds, then I get the same "running water" noise.  It lasts for about the same time, about 6-7 seconds, then another 6-7 second pause, and so on.  The only other noise is the gentle bubbling sound from the generator's water tank, much like a kettle close to the boil.

I can easily grab a 10 second video on my phone if it would help with the diagnosis!

3.  Can you provide the model number and serial number off the name plate on the side of the generator casing?

Definitely:



In case that's quite small, it's a Steamist SM-11, 9kW, serial MR-15964.

4.  Inspect the sides of the auto drain valve (silver cube).  Do you see a stem or metal lever of sorts (it would be about 1" long, flat and 1/4" wide?

Nothing there; both sides of the cube are bare, as shown:





However, if I look at the pressure relief line, there's something similar to what you describe there:



It's so loose I don't think it's likely to be doing anything.  In the "raised" position where I found it it doesn't appear to be acting on anything, and if I give it a gentle tap, it drops flat and swings loosely.  I didn't get the impression it would tighten anything or operate anything, but I'm happy to be told what it's for!  I'll try running the unit again with it in the other position just in case.

5.  Follow the drain line, is there any shutoff valve on this line?

No, it loops out of the generator, past the auto drain box, does a 180, collects the vertical line from the pressure relief valve, and then disappears into the wall with no valves or anything.  At least none as far as I can see, unless they're beyond the wall, in which case I'm a bit stuck.



6.  Where are you located?

I'm in Las Vegas, NV.  Thanks very much for your help so far; the couple of token times I did manage to get it working before going on business for a few months I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I'd love to have it working again!  I'm sure my landlord will happily foot the bill, but I need to be able to at least advise him on a contractor and then advise the contractor on what I think the issue is.
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Bernard
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« Reply #6 on: February 10, 2013, 03:13:28 PM »

Elmle -

Again, you are providing fantastic detail.  Let's diagnose.

Turn off the breaker that serves the steam bath generator.  IMPORTANT!!!  I remain concerned about your breaker situation.  The steam bath generator operates at 240VAC and is to have a dedicated circuit (no other components on the same line).  It should not provide any power to 120VAC typical household outlet unless someone did something improper.  Please double check this.

With power off to the steam bath generator, push the black button on the side of the auto drain actuator (silver cube-top).  With button depressed, lift up from the bottom of the cube and remove it to the side (away from the brass valve it was affixed to).  If the black button does not push inward, reply for plan B.

With the silver cube (electronic valve-operating mechanism) to the side, note the orientation of the stem (important for reinstalling the silver top) and inspect this mechanism that controls the flapper valve positioning (open or closed) inside the brass valve housing.  Grab pliers or channel locks (with rubber handles) and gently turn the stem back and forth.  This opens and closes the valve and corresponding water flow.  This stem should move quite freely to an open and closed position). 

Once you have an understanding of this open and close process, restore power to the steam bath generator by engaging the breaker at the main panel.  Then, initiate the steam bath generator control and walk over to the steam bath generator.

You should hear water entering the steam generator as it always did.  While the water is entering the generator and flowing through the drain valve, turn the stem as you did before (back and forth) in a manor that would possibly free-up any debris that could prevent the valve from closing.  After several back and forth motions, turn the valve clockwise and wait for the water fill noise to stop.  If the water fill noise persists longer than normal, turn the stem counterclockwise and wait for the tank to fill and the water flow or noise to stop. 

Once water flow noise stops, observe if the makeup water fill noise continues in a similar fashion or pattern as you have reported.  We are looking for the water flow to stop for at least 2 minutes.  Ideally, you would like to hold the stem until steam enters the steam shower.  If the steam shower is close by, leaving the door open may allow you to hear the hiss. 

The object is to confirm that water is no longer escaping the steam generator (as you suspected).  Once confirmed, turn the steam shower off at the control and then breaker.  Attach the auto drain cube (you will hear a snap when it is secure) and then begin the test once again to determine if the electronic mechanism will now operate as designed.

Let me know how it goes!
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Elmle
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« Reply #7 on: February 10, 2013, 03:20:26 PM »

Excellent! Unfortunately I need to head to work soon so it may be this evening by the time I get this checked. Regarding the readers, I think there were 2 breaker switches together labelled "steam," so I presume one is bathroom outlets and the other is the single outlet the generator's plugged into. It has a huge, heavy duty plug like you'd find on a tumble drier or similar appliance so definitely connected to a regular 240V line.

Last question before I head out; why are rubber-handled pliers important? I tend to use my all-metal Leatherman in lieu of pliers, so I can easily get some rubber ones if required, but I'm curious if I need to?
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Elmle
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« Reply #8 on: February 10, 2013, 04:13:56 PM »

Well, I managed to inspect the valve; will upload photos, but it seems to have just 90 degrees of motion. It was a bit sticky, so I've set it to the opposite sense to the way I found it with the power off, and sure enough the time between refills seems to have increased. It's now about 20 seconds between 5 second fills, rather than 7 seconds between 7 second fills!

In addition, when I turn the valve the other way (clockwise), there's an increase in temperature and a gentle feeling of rushing water from the drain valve.

But, it's been running for 2 minutes now and I still have no steam. Maybe the valve is a bit gummed up? Should it rotate more than 90 degrees? Looking along the pipe to the generator, the valve appears fully open at the "7 o'clock" position, maybe 7:30, and fully closed at 4:30/5 o'clock. Actuating it while the system is running hasn't made much of a difference although it has noticeable freed up in terms of how easy it is to move, but no extra movement is available.
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Bernard
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« Reply #9 on: February 10, 2013, 05:29:57 PM »

For an SM-11 with an auto drain, one can expect 5-7 full minutes from control initiation prior to producing steam.

Yes, 90-degrees seems right.  You can use a bit more "closing" force to assist in dislodging any lime or sediment if it exists.  Do not use much force in the open direction though.

Try a 7-minute test and see if you can create steam before you put it back together.  Based on what you are reporting, the valve closing seems to be the culprit.

If we create steam, the concern is in the P.C. board or valve.  If the valve, sediment removal may be the cure.




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Elmle
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« Reply #10 on: February 11, 2013, 02:57:02 PM »

Ok, no luck so far... here's what I found.  This is the valve in the "fully open" position, that produces 5-7 second periodicity with the refill cycle, 5-7 second refill, 5-7 second break, 5-7 second refill and so on.



... and here it is fully closed, turned as far counter-clockwise as I can manage.  Putting a high level of pressure on it with pliers doesn't get any more movement out of it so I get the feeling that's the full range of motion.  This gives me a 5-7 second refill with around a 20 second gap between refills.  Does that sound normal or should I be getting much more?



This next image shows the state of the auto drain box as I removed it.  You can see it's a little gummed up and was set, unusually, about half way between fully open and closed.  Now, with it still disconnected, when I run the system it moves its little actuator to a position that seems to mimic the closed setting on the valve as you'd expect, although it looks like it might be trying to move further than the valve will when I turn it manually.  If it is, it's not by a lot. 



I've left it disconnected and run several long cycles, actuating the valve by hand and by pliers.  It's freed up a lot in terms of ease of motion but won't go any further.  However, still no steam; I'm stuck with the 5 second refill noise occurring every 20 seconds or so, which is a marked improvement, but nothing's actually being produced and getting to the shower.

I've been given the name of a local authorised service agent, but professional pride has me wanting to find out if there's more I can do myself.  I wonder if the pressure relief valve is somehow stuck open as well, so my next move is to assess whether or not there's flow through that when it's in operation.

Thanks again for all your help so far Bernard; I'm more than happy to accept more if you have any ideas!
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Elmle
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« Reply #11 on: February 11, 2013, 03:06:04 PM »

Following that last post, it looks like the performance is actually slightly worse than yesterday.  Instead of a 20 second gap between fills with the valve closed, I'm getting closer to 10 seconds. 

The pressure relief line is hot to touch, but as it's connected to the waste line I can't tell if that means it's open or if it's just filling up to its valve with hot water/steam from the drain line. 

Last thing I think I can do is reassemble the auto drain unit, try it on fully automatic, and then call the experts....!!
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Bernard
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« Reply #12 on: February 11, 2013, 07:04:23 PM »

Elmle -

We will get this...

Check something for me.  As some of the information you have presented is not adding up, I reviewed you images once again and noticed the pressure relief valve stem is in the horizontal position.  If so, this means that the valve is in the open position and that a good portion of steam and water would be exiting from this opening. 

Try your test again with the Pressure relief valve stem pointing downward.  Simply push it down.  It should snap shut as the valve has a spring inside.

As for the drain valve, you have done all you can do.  Do not force it or be concerned with its motion.  All you picture and describe is normal.  The substance you see in the valve actuator is grease and it is placed there on purpose.  The range of motion is also good.

Report your findings.
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Elmle
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« Reply #13 on: February 13, 2013, 12:14:00 AM »

Progress!

I snapped the auto drain box back into place, and felt it push the valve a little further over than I managed to do with my hands. I then put the system on for a cycle, nd after the usual 30-second first fill, it stayed quiet... no refilling at all!  Looks like I managed to get the valve fully closed!

I left it running for 30 minutes, and in that time, it maybe refills for 5 seconds every 5 minutes. And, more importantly, I have steam! However, it's not particularly warm... I've just checked on the system now, and after 34 minutes running from cold my shower is full of steam, but the temperature's only elevated from 60F to 66F. Perhaps I need an installer to come round and check the system regardless?

The steam is coming out of the steam head at a constant rate, and it's hot to touch; but I seem to remember a year ago, when the system worked last, it was more "stop-start," in that it would fill, sit quietly for a few seconds, then blow steam out at pressure, rather than "trickling" a constant stream of steam into the cubicle. It certainly isn't heating it much, despite being run for almost 40 minutes.

The pressure relief valve is an unusual one; despite the lever being horizontal,  there was hardly any force required to move it so I think it's already out under spring pressure. 

I have one day left before the installer arrives, any thoughts on whether or not it's behaving correctly, or how to get more heat into it?
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Elmle
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« Reply #14 on: February 13, 2013, 12:21:43 PM »

It's now been running for 2 hours. Shower is full of steam and hot steam is coming out of the steam head at a constant rate; but despite having it set to 120F (max is 130!), the temperature's only climbed from 60F to 76F.
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