Hot water flowing into header tank through expansion pipe in vented system

Discussion in 'Plumbers' Talk' started by adrian reginald, Oct 9, 2019.

  1. adrian reginald

    adrian reginald New Member

    Two years ago, I requested a fully qualified plumber to change the location of the hot water cylinder in a vented central heating system. I wanted to move it from the first floor to the loft, which he did. During the last two years, I have often noticed when I have been up in the loft that the header tank in the loft just above the hot water cylinder was warm. Due to past experience when I discovered a leak in the boiler itself which had been leaking probably for years, I deliberately do not have a ball valve in the header tank, but simply a hand operated valve to fill it, so that I know if there is ever a leak in the system. As a result, I check the water level of the water tank visually from time to time.

    I have however been surprised at how often I have had to re-fill the header tank since the hot water cylinder was moved. I have checked for leaks very thoroughly all over the house but can find nothing. So I put it down to evaporation during this hot summer.

    As the evenings have been getting colder, I turned the central heating on last week. I then thought that I ought to just check the level of the header tank at the same time. When I went into the loft, I could hear water trickling constantly. So I naturally investigated, to discover that warm water was flowing out of the expansion pipe. It was not hot enough to be boiling, and therefore it could not have been due to normal expansion. It had to be pumped water. If I put my finger just lightly over the end of the 15 mm expansion pipe, the flow stopped and there was no build-up of pressure. The water level in the tank was also normal.

    Having a basic understanding of central heating plumbing, I started to investigate further. When I went down to where the old hot water cylinder used to be, I soon discovered that the expansion pipe which had originally been 28mm copper had been reduced by the plumber to 15mm plastic. I was not happy about this and immediately called him to come and take a look.

    I should explain at this point that the expansion pipe is probably EVEN more critical in my house than in most, because, in addition to an oil boiler, we have a wood-burning stove with a back-boiler to provide hot water when there are power cuts - we live in a very remote rural location. Power cuts are frequent, and as we had a disabled daughter who loved a hot bath, we could go without everything except hot water !

    So the wood-burner is connected (through separate isolating valves and pressure relief valves) to the hot water cylinder as well as the oil boiler. But obviously a wood-burner cannot have thermostatic cut-offs unlike an oil boiler, and therefore it was imperative that all pipework in the domestic hot water circuit from both the oil boiler and the wood-burner is run in 28 mm, including the expansion pipe. This system has been in place for thirty years and has always worked excellently - until now.

    [As an aside, one of the advantages of 28 mm pipe is that the pump does not have to be circulating the water for the hot water cylinder to get hot, as a result of simple gravity circulation. Therefore to turn the central heating off, all I have to do is to switch the pump off, and the boiler still continues to heat the domestic hot water cylinder.]

    I can only assume that the reduced size of the expansion pipe from 28 mm to 15 mm has reduced the resistance in the circuit, causing the central heating pump to pump hot water up the expansion pipe to the header tank, which it never used to do before. As I probably never checked the level in the header tank in the past when the pump was on, I never of course heard the water flowing out of the expansion pipe, splashing into the tank during the last two years.

    So anyway, my plumber has said that it will mean a lot of work to drain down the system, open up where the pipes run into the loft and replace the 15 mm pipe with 28 mm. I do sympathise but then, he is the specialist and should have realised what he was doing was wrong. What he has proposed is to fit a pressure relief valve over the end of the 15mm expansion pipe, which would allow the expansion pipe to release water into the header tank if it were to over-heat or over-pressurise for any other reason.

    I am pretty certain that it is just the reduction in expansion pipe size that has caused the problem, and nothing more dramatic. But it must be rectified, one way or another.

    My plumber's solution does sound logical, it is a very simple fix and it would avoid a lot of disruption. But is it a safe solution ? That is where I am not qualified to judge, and would appreciate other opinions.

    Apologies for such a long post and many thanks.

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