Follow Four Tips to Prepare Boiler for Heating Season
With the approach of the fall heating season, it’s a good time to consider the steps that need to be taken to get your heating system online for the upcoming cold weather. Increasing oil prices have alerted many owners to the basic fact that an inefficient boiler will waste unnecessary dollars that could be saved with proper maintenance. Such preparation assures the building that the boiler will continue to operate at peak efficiency, translating into meaningful dollar savings. When heating systems are operating safely and at peak efficiency, this translates into meaningful savings for the site.
In addition, proper care of heating equipment not only assures maximum efficiency but also reduces the risk of malfunction, which otherwise could cause hazardous levels of carbon monoxide to enter your building. Besides raising the threat of carbon monoxide, boilers require special attention because they are potentially dangerous to people working around them. The steam generated in closed vessels is superheated under pressure. Though boilers are usually equipped with a pressure relief valve, if the boiler fails to contain the expansion pressure, the steam energy is released instantly. The exploding metal and superheated steam that occurs when this happens are extremely dangerous.
According to Mark Good, president of P.C. McKenzie, a boiler supply and service company, the Number One tip regarding boilers is for owners and managers to take time to familiarize themselves with the boiler manufacturer’s operating manual and instructions.
“When our service technicians are trying to troubleshoot a boiler problem over the phone, the more information an owner can provide, the better,” says Good. When staff knows the location of the main components to the boiler, the problem is assessed much faster, damage can be minimized, and the service technician has a better idea of what the repair will involve. At the very least, Good recommends, owners should post the boiler’s wiring diagram somewhere near the boiler controls.
Tip #1: Schedule Cleaning and Inspection
Before heating season starts, Good recommends hiring a qualified boiler service technician to perform a yearly service inspection when the boilers are turned off. This way, any needed repairs can be made without any disruption to your residents.
Upon opening your boiler for inspection, clean both the fireside and waterside of the boiler. Fireside cleaning entails vacuuming all fireside surfaces. The inspector will note the condition of the fireside brickwork and insulation materials. Waterside work will include cleaning and removing normal amounts of accumulated sludge that may be in the boiler or control piping. The service technician will also check all safety devices. This includes a pop test on the safety relief valves, flame safeguard checks, and a leak test on safety shut-off valves.
Tip #2: Keep a Logbook
Once heating season starts, a daily logbook of boiler readings is a great tool against unforeseen problems. “Typically, an owner will call us after a failure has occurred,” says Good. Instead of anticipating necessary repairs, owners tend to respond to problems reactively. The stresses and costs of dealing with a boiler failure are high. Much of the repairs are done on an overtime basis, and the resident complaints from interrupted service will pile up the longer the system is down.
“The best preventive measure against failure is for the owner to have a daily boiler-room log. Someone from the maintenance staff can record critical, predetermined readings, which will help management respond to changes in boiler operation and overall performance,” says Good. Critical predetermined readings include fuel consumption and flue gas temperatures. They should be recorded daily. Using this data, past baseline readings are compared to current readings to determine if a problem may be forthcoming.
For example, if the flue gas temperature of a boiler has gradually increased over the course of a month, the owner might determine that a buildup of concentrated minerals and other contaminants, called boiler scale, in the boiler is reducing heat transfer. As water is converted into steam, contaminants in the water are left behind. The boiler distills the pure water out as steam, and leaves behind crystal-like materials. Boiler scale directly results in increased fuel bills because of operating inefficiencies—and it reduces the life of a boiler.
Accurate data in a daily log can help spot trends and discover problems before they result in unscheduled downtime. “Some boilers require more extensive logs than others,” says Good. He suggests getting professional advice as to what readings to record. Good recommends making daily recordings of the following gauges:
- Water Level
- Low Water Cut-Off Tested
- Blowdown Water Column
- Blowdown Boiler
- Visual Check of Combustion
- Boiler Operating Pressure/Temperature
- Feedwater Pressure/Temperature
- Condensate Temperature
- Feedwater Pump Operation
- Flue Gas Temperature
- Gas Pressure
- Oil Pressure and Temperature
Tip #3: Know When to Call a Professional
Before recording readings in the daily log, a maintenance staff member should do a quick check for obvious problems that need immediate attention. Maintenance staff should frequently inspect boilers for leakage, proper combustion, operation of safety devices and gauges, and other functions. Many older boilers, and hot water and steam piping, may have asbestos insulation coatings or wraps. Workers should periodically inspect these areas to make sure that the materials are not damaged, flaking, or deteriorating. Damaged materials should be reported and repaired, or removed immediately by a certified asbestos contractor.
Signs of cracked surfaces, bulges, corrosion, or other deformities should be repaired by an authorized technician immediately. Even with a logbook, problems can still happen, and understanding when to turn to qualified professionals for assistance can save time and money. Some of the areas where trained professionals are needed are:
- Leaking safety or safety relief valves;
- Steam leaks (steam systems);
- High stack temperatures (excess of 350° F);
- Insufficient heat for building;
- Condensate dripping down the stack or out the front of the boiler; and
- Constant resetting of controllers and safety devices.
Tip #4: Clear Area Around Boiler
If your building used the boiler room to store materials during the summer months, be sure to clear the area before the boiler is turned on again. Boilers have hot surface areas. Therefore, there should be plenty of clearance for workers to move around the room. The area around the boiler should be kept clean of dust and debris, and no flammable materials should be stored near the boiler.
Also, spills in the boiler room should be mopped up immediately. Floors are often sealed concrete that can be very slippery when wet. Without immediate cleanup, someone could slip and injure himself against the boiler’s hot surface. Adequate lighting in the boiler room also helps workers navigate the room, avoiding pipes and other possible hazards. Make sure that adequate lighting is provided and that malfunctioning light fixtures are repaired immediately.
Mark Good: President, P.C. McKenzie Company; Pittsburgh, PA; www.mckenziecorp.com.