Save Money: Develop a Preventative Maintenance Program for Your Boilers

by | Sep 13, 2019

(Credit: jblevine2004, Flickr Creative Commons)

Equipment, such as a building’s boiler, is often taken for granted. You turn it on (or a thermostat turns it on), and it provides heat and domestic hot water for your building or space. Perhaps you do a little checking in the summer, and it’s ready for the heating season. And many boilers last a decade or two – or longer. But that does not mean that your boiler is operating efficiently.

A boiler that is not well-maintained can be costing you money in wasted fuel combustion every year, does not do its job, and does not last as long (forcing increased capital costs). A smart preventive maintenance program is an effective way to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, and will bring down costs at your firm. A preventative maintenance program for your boiler will save you in these areas considerably compared to the cost to implement it.

According to a study conducted by the National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Inspectors, poor maintenance practices cause most boiler incidents.

Each preventative maintenance program should be unique to your building, its needs, the equipment, and the workload of personnel. Therefore, the recommendations are merely that, recommendations. Your program should reflect your equipment and needs. Here are some of the things that your staff or contractor should look at.

A basic issue is that preventative maintenance programs should be written down. There should be a document listing the steps that need to be done, when and/or how often they should be done, and who is responsible. There should be a place to check off when and by whom each item was completed, the results, and any comments on the boiler’s results or “behavior.” Just saying one completes an item or two, but not recording it, is not a true preventative maintenance program. Management should oversee that staff takes the program seriously and look at the results and comments for critical trends.

A good preventative maintenance program can be divided into five categories: items which must be done daily, weekly, monthly, semi-annually, and annually. Again, this should be tailored to your equipment and needs. Daily maintenance could include blowdown of water columns and recording boiler temperature and pressure, gas or oil pressures, feedwater temperature and pressure, stack temperature, and visual inspection of soot, and water or oil leakage.

Weekly could include testing each low water cutoff to ensure it shuts off boiler at its set point, pressure controls, flow controls (i.e., combustion air), fuel valves (are they able to open and close completely at appropriate commands?), and motor operation (does it needs greasing?).

Monthly could include checking the burner diffuser (presence of cracks or sooting), checking the electrode for obstructions or damage, checking the burner tubes from the outside for damage or cracking, and inspecting the outside of the boilers for any hot spots.

Semi-annual inspections (shutting down the boiler briefly once during the heating season) could include cleaning and inspecting the probe and piping of the low water cutoff, cleaning the strainer, checking pumps that they are aligned and operating properly, and checking the accuracy of your analyzers for combustion, O2, CO2, and other parameters.

Annual inspections could include opening all doors and performing a physical inspection of the fireside tubes, cleaning and replacing tubes as needed, and inspecting the refractory and insulation – and the upgrading as necessary.

And again, take time to review the sheets that the workers or contractors fill out for each inspection to determine if certain trends are present and major upgrades may be necessary. It is better to catch problems early, compared to the boiler breaking down in the middle of the heating season.

By Marc Karell, PE, CEM, EBCP, Owner, Climate Change & Environmental Services

This article originally appeared on the CCES World blog and was reprinted with permission.

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