Boiler PID Sensor Problems with 3rd Wave Water

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another_jim
Team HB

#1: Post by another_jim »

There have been a rash of complaints about steam boilers with PID controls going overpressure.

According to Jim P at 1st Line, this is not a manufacturing problem -- he's been getting this complaint all summer for his entire range of machines with PIDed boilers. His service department thinks there are several 3rd wave water recipes that create this problem since they appear to foul or film the thermocouples used for the PID sensors. Distilled or extreme RO water also cause overpressure problems by defeating the autofill controls.

NOTE: In this thread, there are reports of changing the water not solving the problems. If you are having problems, try a change of water; but this may not stop intermittent problems. Stay tuned.

So if you experience this problem and you are using a 3rd wave or super low mineral recipe, please go with natural waters that have normal calcium and magnesium balances, rather than using sodium or potassium recipes. If you are worried about scaling, dilute the water with distilled, or use a softener.

Simple instructions: 1) use a water softener. or 2) Mix your filtered tap water and distilled water to get between 50 to 75 ppm TDS. This will prevent scaling, allow the machines electronics to operate normally, and make very good coffee. TDS meters cost about $10 on Amazon; they are absolutely worth the money. For fancy instructions: go to the water forum and read the FAQs.
Jim Schulman
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TomC
Team HB

#2: Post by TomC »

This is fascinating and challenging to my untrained mind. I presumed it was an "either/or" situation. I thought the minerals dissolved in the water were either sufficient to be conductive or not, no grey area? What then is the threshold for proper conductivity for espresso brewing water?

Jeff
Team HB

#3: Post by Jeff »

it's challenging and fascinating even when you're familiar with the technologies.

This is a very unexpected situation as both thermocouples and thermistors/PTDs have been used for decades in environments a lot more aggressive than steam from drinkable water. These devices are generally self-contained and sealed in either a metal tube or some kind of waterproof coating for an application like this. They work very differently than water-level probes and shouldn't have the "not enough minerals" problem those probes can have.

One of the biggest challenges with finding the cause and a reasonable resolution for problems like this is being able to replicate it. If you're seeing these symptoms, you might send your vendor an email with a description of the problem you're seeing, the kind of water you're using, your model and serial number, as well as contact information so they can get back with you for more information or possible solutions in the future.

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another_jim (original poster)
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#4: Post by another_jim (original poster) »

I didn't ask JimP about which recipes that are causing problems, so I have little to offer.

Almost all hobbyist espresso machines use Gicar control hardware, so it may be a very specific interaction -- a mineral combo in these water recipes corroding a specific alloy used on their thermocouple sheaths. When I was doing my water research, the experts told me scaling is fairly easy to predict, while corrosion is very hard to predict.

Fortunately, the pragmatic solution is fairly easy -- if you experience the problem, adjust your water recipe, and see if that fixes it. As Jeff says, let your vendor know the specifics, so that they can communicate with Gicar.
Jim Schulman

Auctor

#5: Post by Auctor »

I have a new Synchronika and have had problems with Third Wave as well. After only 15 gallons of treated water, my steam nozzle saw decreased pressure, my brew head lost pressure and started to spit out steam, and water wouldn't properly flow from my tank to the boilers. It took several backflushes and a lot of filtered water to clean out the system, and even then, when I took my machine home I discovered that when I flushed out my steam boiler I saw a ton of flecks of something that looked like silver.

I've since switched to rpavlis water, but I'm still not sure if that's a permanent solve, or a stopgap. I've learned my lesson regarding Third Wave. Whether Crystal Geyser, Volvic, rpavlis, or tap+distilled is the answer is for another day.

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BaristaBoy E61

#6: Post by BaristaBoy E61 »

We only developed a problem with our steam boiler SS fill level probe after descaling with citric acid. This too caused an over pressure situation. Something else to be mindful of. We're now in the process of installing A BWT BestMax Premium water filtration system to at least ameliorate scale problems and to have to descale less frequently.
"You didn't buy an Espresso Machine - You bought a Chemistry Set!"

Bluenoser

#7: Post by Bluenoser »

Auctor wrote:I have a new Synchronika and have had problems with Third Wave as well. After only 15 gallons of treated water, my steam nozzle saw decreased pressure, my brew head lost pressure and started to spit out steam, and water wouldn't properly flow from my tank to the boilers. It took several backflushes and a lot of filtered water to clean out the system, and even then, when I took my machine home I discovered that when I flushed out my steam boiler I saw a ton of flecks of something that looked like silver.

I've since switched to rpavlis water, but I'm still not sure if that's a permanent solve, or a stopgap. I've learned my lesson regarding Third Wave. Whether Crystal Geyser, Volvic, rpavlis, or tap+distilled is the answer is for another day.
I have used Third Waver Water (espresso) exclusively on my Pro500.. I add it to really good RO water (TDS less than 5). I estimate I've gone through 20-24 5gal jugs in the last 2 years.. or 100-120 gal. I haven't noticed any issues with anything in my machine, which I've had for 2 years. About 6 months ago I took the top TS tube (HX) off and didn't notice any scale on the restrictor. I haven't check super thoroughly.. but if you had problems after 15 gal, surely I'd have problems after 120. I wonder if the base water you had was any issue. Did you use distilled?. I've noticed some RO water from supermarkets have high TDS, so I think they have minerals added; or are crappy RO systems.

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Auctor

#8: Post by Auctor »

I did use Supermarket distilled water (combination of a couple of different brands). I've always assumed that the water was good (never checked TDS). That said, it doesn't explain the silver flecks in the water coming from my steam boiler.

You raise an interesting point in how you prepped your water - it seems that you were diluting the packets into a much larger jug (5gallons to my 1 gallon). What was your technique? In my case, i put the packet into a fairly full gallon and swished it around. Not sure if that's enough to fully dissolve the packet appropriately, but i assumed that a single packet wouldnt screw up my boiler (since, over the course, a full gallon of distilled is eventually put through the boilers).

In general, I'm not convinced that the volume of minerals put into my boilers by Third Wave were safe. Frankly, I think the motivation of Third Wave is taste of the espresso, not safety of the boilers. And in hindsight, nothing about their marketing suggests that it's safe - they even say that the espresso blend protects your machine from scale. That doesn't seem right?

Bluenoser

#9: Post by Bluenoser » replying to Auctor »

Distilled should be great. I just poured package in first then filled jug. I did shake. But it gets well dissolved in a day. I never use it before a day. As long as you weren't using 5 gal sachets in a 1 gal jug I'm surprised at your scale.

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another_jim (original poster)
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#10: Post by another_jim (original poster) »

Let me be a little blunter: these problems are the result of human error.

A water whisperer mixing up chemical packets at home and selling them on line. Then you mixing these into a jug of water ... This is not a manufacturing process that will deliver consistent results. What are the chances that there's an oops somewhere along the line, and you'll get 1/10th or 10 times the minerals you want?

So if you mix your water, always check the result with a TDS meter. This is exactly the same as running a reverse osmosis system with bypass or remineralization. You need to check the result to see that the manufacturing process is on target.
Jim Schulman