Mechanical Insights

Diagnosing the Most Common Commercial/Industrial Boiler Problems

May 28, 2020 9:00:00 AM / by Tate Engineering

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Although a boiler operates on a straightforward mechanism, it can encounter problems in the system or pressure vessel. Every entry or mid-level technician interested in learning to fix and maintain boilers must know these issues and how to run a diagnostic check.

Six Common Boiler Problems

Common problems with commercial and industrial boilers can range from missing insulation to blockage. Some issues may display visible signs, whereas others will need close investigation and diagnostics to pinpoint.

Scale Build-Ups or Blockages

Poor water quality severely damages a boiler. Calcium and other minerals from the water can accumulate as scale deposits within the boiler’s pressure vessel and pipes. Such deposits can interrupt the water pathway or even block it in extreme cases.

These deposits also cost money, as they increase the amount of fuel needed for the system to operate. A water treatment system for a boiler can prevent this issue. Remember, scale deposits are the biggest contributors to reduced efficiency and premature metal fatigue (costly repairs) in a commercial or industrial boiler.

Water Leakage

A water leak is common and can occur anywhere in the system. You must thoroughly inspect the pressure vessel and its pipes. However, the leak may have occurred somewhere else in the system away from the pressure vessel. It makes identifying the source difficult.

Using a water meter can help you identify water leakage in a closed system, even if it is from a concealed hole. If you do not find this gauge on a system, you can recommend having one installed.

A water leak will eventually result in water levels dropping low enough to shut down the whole system. If the system continues to leak without any drop in water levels, that means atmospheric pressure is getting into the system. This untreated water can damage your pressure vessel by causing premature wear. In an open-loop system, increased water delivery to the pressure vessel also indicates excessive water loss. Remember that leaks mean untreated water, which when introduced into the boiler, brings in the potential of air (resulting in holes) and hardness, which can cause overheating of the boiler metals.

Slow Pressure or Loss of Pressure

Weak pressure generally indicates leakage in the system. A leakage in the steam pipe will prevent the buildup of necessary internal force. As an industrial boiler technician, you will need to conduct an inspection of the boiler for leaks.

You can start the examination by thoroughly checking all the valves. These valves are most likely to be affected by a miniature hole that can go unseen, affecting the pressure. The pressure vessel’s exterior may also experience leaks, preventing the boiler from maintaining adequate pressure.

In open system boilers using freshwater inside the pressure vessel, the water can cause holes in a cast iron jacket by boiling away at the waterline. If you are unable to see any visible holes, the next step will be to shut down the system and fill the pressure vessel up to the piping.

Another common pressure-related issue occurs in boilers with an on-off water feeding system. Although the new water that enters the boiler is hot, its temperature is still lower than the water in the boiler. This difference in temperature reduces steam production until the newly added water reaches the desired temperature. Low steam production can reduce pressure. However, an uninterrupted water feeding system can help alleviate this pressure issue.

An inadequate heating element can also cause pressure issues. Obviously, an undersized heat source will not be able to boil the water to the desired temperature. Be sure to check and see if any parts were recently replaced in the boiler.

Safety and Water Probes Break

Just like pipes, water probes can get encrusted due to staying submerged in water. It prevents these probes from effectively gauging the water pressure and temperature, and the boiler automatically shuts down.

Faulty safety sensors and controls may also fail to shut off the boiler in dangerous instances, such as excessive pressure buildup. These sensors and controls are immensely critical for the safety of the boiler and the safety of the ones working around it. Therefore, you must inspect them regularly.

Random System Shutdowns

You may run into situations where the heating component automatically switches itself off. It may happen as the safety system detects an issue. If the system shuts off due to a safety concern, do not turn it on before running a full inspection.

Irregular Maintenance

Although not directly a boiler’s fault, irregular or inappropriate maintenance is one of the major problems with boilers. An unnoticed or ignored minor issue may end up resulting in more serious damage. It can also pose a safety threat to people working in the vicinity. Therefore, be a responsible technician and run regular maintenance checks on your boilers. Remember that most catastrophic boiler failures are caused by low water condition and lack of maintenance (together, these lead to almost 80% of catastrophic failures).

How to Troubleshoot Boiler Problems

As a boiler technician, you must know the basics of troubleshooting a commercial or industrial boiler. Here are some details to get you started.

Check Water Treatment Daily

Attention should be paid to checking boiler water daily. This can be done by the operator in very short order. This can help to avoid premature pressure vessel damage and leaks that might otherwise occur at the boiler itself.

Check the Pressure

Some issues have a simple solution, such as making minor adjustments to pressure and temperature. However, if the pressure is too high, it can cause a bigger problem. The right settings depend on the usage and system the boiler operates on. Check the requirements and verify them before making adjustments to the pressure.

Check the Gauge

A faulty gauge is a culprit at times. If your boiler is heating fine and the building is getting the heat as usual, then it may be time to replace that gauge. However, you must get the right gauge for the boiler and system running in the building.

Safety First

An unchecked, malfunctioning boiler may result in a catastrophe such as a boiler explosion. Regular inspection routines can help you identify many minute problems in early stages, saving the equipment, yourself, and colleagues from any unfortunate incidents.

Be sure to take proper caution and care when doing boiler maintenance. Use this list to help educate yourself on the issues you may need to address and set yourself up for success. If you’re looking for help, Tate Engineering has you covered. Our experts are ready to help with your boiler installation, maintenance, and repairs. Contact us to set up an appointment today!

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Tags: Maintenance, Equipment

Written by Tate Engineering