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Why You Should Inspect and Maintain Your Boilers Regularly

Thermal Thoughts Volume 1, 2014

Why You Should Inspect and Maintain Your Boilers Regularly


Roughly 43,000 commercial/industrial boilers are in operation every day in the U.S. These boilers are employed in industries ranging from chemicals to pharmaceuticals, food processing to auto manufacturing, paper refining to petroleum refining. Periodic boiler inspection by a certified inspector is mandated by law – usually by state regulation, but sometimes by local or city ordinance. Inspections are also required by insurance underwriters and risk managers.

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Boiler maintenance, servicing, and inspection is a critical safety protocol as well as an economic requisite. Aside from the serious risk to human lives and limbs associated with boiler mishaps, boiler breakdown can impact industrial operations and shut down production, with every hour of downtime costing potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars. On top of this, factor in the cost of equipment repair or replacement and the fact that boiler accidents and explosions often cause substantial structural damage to plants, facilities and equipment and interrupt business for days, weeks or even months.

Clearly, there are many dangers associated with neglecting to perform regular boiler inspections. On the other hand, there are positive benefits to doing regular boiler inspections. Regular inspections can significantly extend the life of a thermal boiler. As every plant owner and manager knows, commercial/industrial boilers are a major investment, costing anywhere from $50,000 to $1 million. Furthermore, regular inspections provide optimal function and energy efficiency. Because boilers are energy hogs, inefficiency means wasted energy and increased operating costs.

ASHRAE Standard 180 defines the standard of practice for maintenance and inspection of boiler systems and recommends these installation protocols:

  • Assure adequate/sound boiler piping supports, foundations and settings for all equipment;
  • Provide for access to ladders/runways/controls, safe exiting and egress from the boiler room;
  • Protect the water supply to the boiler with an approved back-flow preventer and keep floor drains free and clear;
  • Make sure valves and fittings assure allowances for thermal expansion and properly insulate applicable piping;
  • Identify or mark piping systems including flow direction or post a current piping diagram;
  • Check fuel system and test boiler safety devices per manufacturer’s recommendations, NFPA, FM, GE/XL GAPS (upon installation and annually);
  • Provide ventilation and adequate “combustion air” for all fired appliances in the boiler room;
  • Maintain clearances for operation, clearance to combustibles, repair and maintenance as recommended by the manufacturer (upon installation & daily).

Most boiler problems develop slowly over a sustained period of time. That’s why regular upkeep is also important. The responsibility for day-to-day boiler maintenance rests with plant engineers, facility managers and maintenance managers who should be tasked with observing and checking a variety of conditions and boiler components.

Basic periodic daily, monthly, quarterly, semi-annual and annual maintenance tips include:

  • Keep the boiler room clean (daily);
  • Ensure the recirculation pump functions properly (daily);
  • Verify that there are no leaks from any part of the boiler or external piping (daily). Have a qualified contractor repair cracked surfaces immediately. Bulges or other deformities indicate defective controls, safety devices, or improper burner operation;
  • Perform boiler water analysis and chemical treatment to prevent corrosion, pitting and scale (monthly);
  • Check the fuel system for leaks and be sure that fuel filters and strainers are replaced regularly (monthly);
  • Test drains and blowoffs to make sure they’re functional (quarterly);
  • Clean, inspect exhaust venting, breeching and chimney to assure proper draft to remove combustion gases (semi-annually);
  • Test for proper functioning of all controls, including the pressure gauge, low-water cutoff devices, thermometers, temperature controls, gauge glass, and pressure relief valve (semi-annually);
  • Verify that the flame scanner or sensors are properly connected and functioning (semi-annually);
  • Check instruments and safety devices for proper setting (semi-annually). Ensure that the water pressure regulator functions as required;
  • Inspect low-water fuel-cutoff control for proper sequence and operation (semi-annually). Verify that it shuts off the fuel supply to the boiler as required;
  • Ensure that safety shut-off valves (SSOV’s) are leak-tight (annually);
  • Ensure that all valves in instrument lines are functioning properly (annually);
  • Check that the expansion tank is properly filled on hot water systems;
  • Verify that vent valve on gas-fired boilers is operating as required and that the vent is not clogged and/or leaking through (annually);
  • Confirm that there are no signs of overheating, corrosion, or erosion (annually);
  • Check that heating system isolation valves are functioning properly (annually);
  • Test safety valves on a regular schedule (annually). Replace leaking safety valves.

While boiler safety devices and maintenance protocols such as those listed above can prevent dangerous conditions from becoming disasters, only regular professional inspection and maintenance can detect and deal with dangerous operating conditions and ensure the effective, efficient functioning of a commercial/industrial boiler.

The best way to ensure a boiler is getting regular appropriate maintenance is to keep a boiler log. This provides a continuous record of the boiler’s operation, maintenance and testing. Because operating conditions change slowly over time, a log is the best way to detect significant changes that might otherwise go unnoticed.

When installing a new boiler or when professional repair, maintenance, inspection or servicing is called for, obtain the services of a trained, knowledgeable, and experienced industrial contractor. Insist that the contractor you hire has a current workers compensation insurance and liability insurance.

Compared to the safety of your employees, the safety of your plant and premises, or an unplanned plant shutdown, the cost of professional boiler inspection, maintenance and repair is a bargain indeed.

Need an evaluation of your current boiler systems? Call Robb at 513-561-2100