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Springtime is the right time for your boiler maintenance.

There is no better time to inspect and maintain a boiler than the spring. This is because in the pre-summer months, a boiler's primary function shifts from heating a building to supplying hot water, making it much less problematic to shut the equipment down for a few hours for a maintenance check, cleaning or repairs. Many boilers are also used to power a building's air conditioning in the summer, making the spring lull in activity the perfect time for maintenance. By taking advantage of this opportunity, owners can extend the life of their boiler as well as improve its operation and save on fuel bills.

Cleaning the soot inside a boiler is a good springtime habit for a boiler owner to get into. This is so because during the winter, the level of soot and debris inside a boiler rises dramatically because of the high usage. This soot acts as an insulator, preventing the proper transfer of heat, which in turn causes a boiler to work harder and burn more fuel to compensate. Soot can also cause damage to boiler tubes, in addition to serious buildup problems that can translate into higher fuel bills in the short-term and debilitating mechanical problems further down the road.

In addition to a good spring cleaning, an owner should develop a checklist for spring boiler maintenance which includes:

* Performing an efficiency test to ensure the equipment is running at a minimum of 80 percent efficiency. This involves checking carbon dioxide, smoke and stack temperature readings to make sure they're at acceptable levels.

* Checking all gaskets for cracking, leaking or discoloration. Damaged gaskets can result in dangerous gases being released into the boiler room and other parts of a building.

* Having any leakage of air into the fire box repaired immediately. If the boiler is natural draft, excess air could cool down the heating surface, keeping fuel from combusting properly.

The burner should also be part of the maintenance checklist, which should include:

* Checking the burner to make sure the fuel is getting the proper amount of air for complete combustion. This is done by looking at the color and shape of the flame. If it is lazy, dark or smoky, it means the burner is not getting enough air. If there is too much air, the flame will be bright yellow or orange with sparkles at the end. Too much air will cause the flame to become too cool, while too little air will cause carbon monoxide and soot to be produced and fuel to go unburned.

* Checking the flame to determine the correct ratio of oil to air. If dark smoke is being produced it may mean that the mixture contains too much oil. Without the proper balance of air and oil the burner will experience operating problems, as well as use more fuel than is necessary.

* Checking all draft controllers, oil heaters, pre-heaters and compressors. An improperly functioning draft controller can cause poor combustion, while oil heaters need to be flushed or they will clog. The compressor needs oil to stay at its proper level, otherwise it will burn out. And the air filter in the compressor needs to be cleaned regularly to maintain proper combustion.

* Closely monitoring the heat timer settings to ensure they meet the requirements of the law. Overheating a building will not only waste fuel but will create uncomfortable temperatures for residents.

* Making sure the automatic low-water cut-off device is in working order. If not, boiler meltdown is a risk because it is the low-water cutoff that shuts down the burner if there is insufficient water in the boiler for safe operation.

It is also important for owners to keep an updated log to track boiler inspections, cleaning and repairs. This log should also include rising stack temperatures, which are a good indicator of burner failure or soot build-up. As well, it's a good idea to put a water meter on the make-up water line to ensure the system is not losing water. If it is, the result can be increased fuel costs and corrosion of the water side of the boiler.

It pays to maintain and be aware of a boiler's operation and condition. Doing so is not a complicated process and most of the above checks can be done by an owner or in conjunction with a service professional. However, it is important that only qualified service professionals with an "R" stamp make welded repairs to a boiler, lest a service company's inexperience result in more problems than they set out to fix.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Hagedorn Publication
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Blaser, Richard
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Jun 11, 1997
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