Boilers and pressure vessels are potentially very dangerous, and each year boiler accidents cause major structural damage to buildings and sometimes loss of life. Failure of a boiler interrupts service to a facility, the building’s occupants and their operations and can result in significant damage to the building, other equipment and contents.
Boiler breakdowns can cost thousands of dollars for equipment repairs as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars for additional property damage and business income losses.
If a boiler fails during the peak of heating season, the cost of repairing damage to a facility, its systems and its contents often exceeds the cost of repairing or replacing a boiler.
Regular inspection of boilers is the law, and they must be regularly inspected by certified inspectors. Yet they are typically maintained and serviced by building engineers, maintenance personnel and facility maintenance managers.
It is important to remember that most problems with boilers don't occur suddenly; instead they develop slowly over a period of time. So slowly, in fact, that maintenance personnel grow accustomed to the change without realizing it has taken place.
The majority of boiler accidents are caused by malfunctioning low water cutoffs, operator error, poor maintenance and/or corrosion. While boiler safety devices are designed to prevent dangerous conditions from turning into disasters, only proper maintenance of equipment prevents the development of dangerous operating conditions in the first place. Although maintenance requirements vary by boiler specifications and applications, all boilers require common maintenance activities.
Tips for Optimal Boiler Safety and Maintenance
§ Open the boiler vent valve or top try cock to vent air and fill the boiler with treated water to its proper level. Check that the expansion tank is properly filled.
§ Confirm that there are no signs of overheating, corrosion or erosion.
§ Test safety valves periodically. Replace leaking safety valves.
§ Ensure that all valves in instrument lines are functioning as they should.
§ Test the proper functioning of all boiler controls including the pressure gauge, low water cut off devices, thermometers, temperature controls, gauge glass and pressure relief valve.
§ Verify that the flame scanner or sensors are properly connected and functioning.
§ Test all drains and blow-offs to ensure they are functioning properly.
§ Check all instruments and safety devices for proper setting. Ensure that the water pressure regulator functions as required.
§ Check the fuel system for leaks and ensure that all fuel filters and strainers have been replaced.
§ Ensure that all shut-off valves are leak tight.
§ Ensure the re-circulation pump works as required.
§ Check that all heating system isolation valves are functioning properly.
- Verify that there are no leaks, cracked surfaces, or bulges from any part of boiler or piping external to the boiler.
- Verify that vent valve on gas fired boilers is operating as required and that the vent is not clogged.
- Verify that low water fuel cutoff control shuts off the fuel supply to the boiler as required.
Keep a Boiler Log
Remember, the majority of boiler accidents can be prevented. Boiler logs are the best method to assure that a boiler is getting proper maintenance, and they provide a continuous record of the boiler's operation, maintenance and testing.
Also, ask your boiler inspector more about how your boiler works. Their extensive knowledge and practical experience can help you learn everyday procedures to ensure a lengthy lifespan and safe operation of your boiler.
Stephen Kleva is president of Insparisk, the parent company of City Spec, Inc. City Spec was founded in 1992 to perform inspections on low-pressure boilers within the city of New York. Insparisk’s Versentia™ suite of software solutions manages safety inspection for boilers, elevators, fire detection/suppression systems, building facades, and other equipment. For more information, visit www.insparisk.com.