Winter is coming. Don’t wait for the cold temperatures to get here before you start worrying about whether or not your facility is prepared. Spending time now, to make sure your boiler is winter ready, helps in more ways than just comfort. You want to make sure your facility’s boiler system can provide the right amount of heating to keep everyone comfortable, but economics and liability should also be big motivators for getting your winter boiler operational.
Taking the time to get your boiler cleaned and tuned can translate into big savings for your facility. Boilers can also be a big liability - a lot of energy goes into a boiler, and it’s up to your boiler to contain that energy safely. Neglected or improperly maintained boilers can explode. You need to know that your boiler is in good shape structurally so that your facility and its occupants can stay safe. Breaking your boiler’s components into fireside, waterside, and general safety will help make it easy to get your boiler ready this winter.
The majority of boilers only run at 30-40% of their max design capacity. A little tune-up for your boiler can help make sure that you’re not throwing money away because of something simple like the wrong fuel-to-air mixture. Many technicians just look to see if the flame for a boiler is blue. If so, the boiler must be tuned and ready to go, right?
Not exactly. While this method is good in a pinch, having a certified technician tune the boiler can pay for itself in a very short amount of time. Someone with the tools and experience required to adjust a boiler can measure the amount of oxygen in the flue gas to get the air-to-fuel mixture just right. In addition, they will make sure the burner operates well throughout its capacity range.
Clean Those Tubes
Brand new boilers are great. The tubes are clean and the heat transfer is so efficient. It does not take long at all for this to change, especially if you are using a fuel that doesn’t burn clean. Cleaning the boiler’s tubes removes all of the scale and buildup that keeps your boiler from operating efficiently.
Be sure to monitor your exhaust gas temperatures as well. Soot and buildup acts like insulation on the inside of the tubes. If your exhaust gas is coming out hot, you are throwing money away. High exhaust temperatures are an easy-to-check sign that your boiler could use some deep cleaning.
Check Your Fuel
Depending on the type of fuel you have, you may need to insulate the fuel lines that feed your boiler. Some fuels begin to gel up when they get too cold. Once the fuel gels up, it’s like pumping molasses and your boiler will be starved of fuel. The last thing you want to happen is for your facility to lose its boiler just when it's getting coldest.
Switching to a winter blend of fuel may be an easier option for your facility to consider. If you ultimately decide not to put a boiler into operation this winter, go ahead and drain it to avoid any new problems from cropping up.
As your boiler operates, scale can build up from mineral deposits in the water. Just like soot on the fireside of your boilers, this scale can act as insulation and reduce your boiler’s efficiency. Luckily, most scale can be cleaned off chemically by circulating special cleaning compounds in your boiler for a few hours. In addition to chemical cleaning methods, scrubbing with brushes is another effective way to get your boiler clean again.
Just like the pipes in your home, water pipes in your facility are susceptible to freezing when cold weather strikes. Make sure all of the pipes running to and from your boiler are properly insulated or heat traced. If the lines are heat traced, make sure that the heat trace is working properly and is rated for whatever temperature the pipe will typically see. If using steam tracing, make sure that your boiler is operational and the steam trace is working well before the mercury dips below freezing.
Check Water Levels
It may seem like common sense, but checking for proper water levels is one of the most important steps before starting up your boiler. If the water level is too low, all of that heat that you are dumping into the boiler will have nowhere to go and can end up melting the metal components of your boiler. Check water levels before beginning the start-up procedure and make sure any float switches on the boiler are working properly.
If your boiler has been out of commission for an extended amount of time, you don’t want to just flip on the burner and put it back into service. Take the time to make sure all of the proper preventative maintenance has been completed and the boiler has been inspected by a knowledgeable technician. All relief valves and safety devices should be checked to ensure they are operating properly.
Once you are satisfied that the boiler is in good condition, slowly start warming the boiler and increase pressure over time. Like many other pieces of equipment, the metals in a winter boiler expand as they are heated. By slowly warming a boiler, you allow the boiler to expand in a controlled manner. This method avoids putting too much stress on the joints of the boiler and helps ensure safe and long-lasting operation.
If you wait too long to restart your boiler and you end up with frozen pipes, make sure you keep safety in mind as you defrost your system. Open release valves downstream of where the pipe has frozen. Frozen ice in a water pipe can flash into steam as you are heating the pipes. This steam can generate dangerous pressures if you are not careful. Having release valves open lets you bleed this pressure off without it becoming a problem.
For help with getting boilers set up for your facility, you can contact the experts at Tate Engineering. To make sure your boiler is maintained properly, download our Boiler Maintenance Checklist while you’re here!