Most people don’t think about their boilers and winter heating equipment toward the end of summer, but early preparation is key to an efficient facility with minimal downtime. Don’t wait until snow is on the ground to start your heating equipment preparation. Having a winter readiness plan will give you a checklist to follow to ensure your heating equipment will be ready to work no matter how cold it gets outside. Start early and follow these tips to ensure your building will stay safe and comfortable all winter long.
Preventative Maintenance Schedule
Making appropriate preparations will allow you to avoid many problems down the road. Your heating equipment is no different. Heating equipment preparation is much easier when the equipment is on a preventative maintenance (PM) schedule. Preventative maintenance helps ensure that little problems are caught early before they can become big problems. Some of the key aspects of preventative maintenance to be done on a regular basis include:
- Changing air filters.
- Vacuuming out coils and equipment.
- Checking and fixing leaks in ductwork, flue vents, or piping.
- Making sure air supply vents and return grilles are not blocked in your space.
In addition to following a preventative maintenance schedule, preparing a winter readiness plan will help make sure that your heating equipment is fully prepared this winter.
Every winter readiness plan should also start with checking filters and changing them as needed. Dirty filters make it harder for your heating equipment to pull enough air through the system. Clean filters ensure your equipment can breathe easy and warm air can reach your farthest vents. Changing filters monthly is a great way to make sure dirty filters never cause a problem for your facility.
Corroded gas lines can cause major problems. Not only can they pose a safety issue if your gas lines start to leak, losing the natural gas supply can cause your heating equipment to quit working when you need it most. Whether the gas line is for your hot water boiler or indirect burners that are part of the HVAC system, it should be in working order. Small water leaks can cause gas lines to rust and corrode over time. If you find any signs of moisture collecting on a gas line, be sure to fix those leaks now so that they don’t become problems for you in the future.
Run your heating equipment early, before the temperature drops too low outside. Running the system before it’s really needed lets you make sure everything is working properly. While the weather is still comfortable outside, your heating equipment should have no problem warming the space. If it’s having trouble already, it will definitely cause issues during the next snowstorm.
If your system does appear to be running properly, take this time to make some energy-saving adjustments. Check the stack temperature sensors on your boiler flue vents. High temperatures in your exhaust could be an early sign of a problem with your boiler. Efficient heat transfer lowers the temperature of your exhaust gas. If soot or scale has built up in the boiler, or if the burner tubes have rusted out, more of the heat will escape before it is transferred to the water in the boiler, leading to higher air temps.
Check Boiler Safeties
Checking the safeties on the boiler will help keep your facility safe and accident free, and is arguably the most important step in preparing your heating equipment for the winter. Make sure that the combustion and ventilation areas of your boiler are clean and free of debris or anything that could block airflow or become a fire hazard. The fuel cutoff stops the flow of gas to the burner if the water level in the boiler drops too low. The water level control ensures that water is allowed to enter the boiler to maintain the proper level at all times. Both of these components should be cleaned annually to keep sludge or buildup from affecting their operation.
All safety relief valves on the boiler must be tested. Corrosion and deterioration can cause the pressure relief safety valves to fail. These valves open in case the pressure in the boiler gets too high. An improper pressure relief valve is a serious hazard and should be fixed immediately.
While doing your heating equipment preparation, note the color of the flame on your boiler. Proper boiler efficiency requires a proper air-to-gas mixture going to your burner. Too much air wastes energy, while too little prevents all of the fuel from combusting. The color of the flame can be used to adjust the fuel mix in a pinch, but analyzing the composition of the flue gases is the most effective way of getting the mix just right.
Even if your boiler is heating properly and efficiently, you’ll be throwing money away if the insulation is in poor shape. Uninsulated steam and condensate piping can also be dangerous, in addition to being inefficient. Prevent injuries and lower your gas bill by checking insulation on all of your boiler pipes and replacing them as needed.
On steam boilers, check your steam traps to make sure they are in working order. Steam traps can become covered in scale or sludge, which may affect their operation. Steam traps that are part of a condensate recovery system help save energy by sending high temperature condensate (water around 160°F-180°F) back to the boiler instead of using fresh water. These systems save energy by giving your boiler a head start in heating the water, but they only work if the steam traps work.
Don’t let winter sneak up on you this year. Follow these tips to make sure your heating equipment preparation goes smoothly and is ready to operate all winter long. Having a preventative maintenance schedule and a winter readiness plan will take out the guesswork, so start those today. And make sure to change your air filters! For any help you may need with maintaining your heating equipment, or acquiring new equipment, feel free to contact the experts at Tate Engineering. And don’t forget to download our boiler maintenance checklist for some extra guidance!