Fall-to-Winter Boiler Safety and Maintenance Tips

  • Expert Tips

Around this time of year people living in private residences get reminders from their utilities companies or their insurance companies to get their homes ready for winter. Facilities Managers for commercial or industrial buildings seem to get overlooked in that process, but the need is every bit as great to take care of your HVAC systems.

A lot of people in your facility rely on having a safe, comfortable, and efficient environment in which to work. Are you providing that environment? When was the last time you really updated your evaluation and maintenance approach?

Is it really all that important? Good boiler maintenance is about more than comfort and economy (as important as those things are). There’s also a significant safety (and liability) factor that you need to consider. A neglected or improperly maintained boiler presents a danger of exploding and endangering the lives of building occupants—not to mention the damage it can do to the building it’s in. So let’s take a look at a couple of “best practices” when it comes to boiler safety and maintenance.

Set-up for Efficiency: How can you ensure that you have an efficient central boiler plant?  The basics are simple: You need three things to make a flame—fuel, oxygen, and ignition. What do you need to do to ensure burner efficiency? To be honest, most boilers only operate at 30 to 40 percent of their capacity!

Some maintenance personnel believe that all that’s required is to simply look through the boiler’s peephole. If they see a blue flame, they make the (mistaken) assumption that the boiler is running properly.

That’s a mistake! Human vision is such that a person can see one color with one eye and a completely different color with the other eye! Plus, it’s a subjective judgment. Exactly what shade of blue signifies safety and efficiency? Keep in mind that flames can also vary in color from boiler to boiler. What that means is that a visual cue doesn’t tell the whole story.

To maximize efficiency a boiler must be tuned for various operating conditions as it cycles. You’ll also want to keep the oxygen levels under 3 percent. If they exceed this level, your boiler loses efficiency. That means tuning your boiler with the proper air/fuel mixture to achieve optimum efficiency. That’s not something you can do by simply glancing through the peephole!

Making those adjustments typically requires special combustion testing equipment that can cost you thousands of dollars if you purchase it yourself. Then, you’ll need adequate training to use it properly. That’s one reason it pays to have a certified boiler technician who can fine tune your boiler for its entire operating range. And the good news is, if that’s done properly it can save you 5 to 15 percent on your energy bill!

Thorough Tube and Section Cleaning: One of the primary culprits for poor performance of steam boilers is poor or inadequate water treatment. You may not think water quality is that important for your boiler systems. Scale and corrosion build-up on tubes and boilers can make a big difference.  According to Goodway Manufacturing, “Because soot has five times the insulating value of asbestos, the heat transfer loss in a dirty boiler rises dramatically as the layer of soot builds up. For example, 1/8″ of soot (which can build up in only two weeks) can result in a heat loss of 47%, with an increased fuel consumption need of 8-1/2%. Regular boiler maintenance that includes thorough cleaning of the boiler tubes will result in lower operating costs and fuel consumption, greater efficiency and longer life for your heating system.

Those are just a couple of simple but essential steps you can take to ensure that your boilers are ready for winter—and will deliver the safety and comfort you and your occupants need and expect. If you need help to ensure that your boiler adequately cleaned