An In-Depth Guide For Wintertime Commercial Boiler Maintenance

Steam heat is still a popular and practical choice for commercial facilities, which makes boilers a common sight in many office buildings and residential complexes. With the fall heating season well under way and winter soon to follow, now is a good time to make sure you have your ducks in a row when it comes to your boiler system. The following offers several steps you should take to inspect your commercial boiler to make sure it's ready for safe and efficient operation.

Pre-Startup Tasks

If you're just starting your building's boiler after its summer lay-up, here are a few items you'll want to check and tasks to perform before initiating the boiler's start-up procedure:

  • Make sure that the area immediately around the boiler is free of debris and stored objects. Don't forget to check the ventilation and combustion air louvers and openings for debris buildup.
  • Visually verify the boiler's current water level. If the water level can't be verified, do not start the boiler until a certified technician can be brought on site to inspect the boiler and correct any issues.
  • If the boiler was laid up with all water removed, have a seasoned technician open and inspect the boiler for signs of scale blockages or corrosion. Any desiccants used to keep the boiler dry should be removed.
  • Inspect the boiler furnace for any signs of debris and other foreign material.
  • Make sure that all stack-isolating dampers are fully open. Check the position indicator to verify that the damper is open.
  • Check the boiler's fuel level and verify that the fuel valves are open.
  • Make sure there isn't any unburned fuel accumulating in the flue gas path.
  • Carefully observe the boiler's pilot light. The pilot should remain stable throughout the start-up process.

Post-Startup Tasks

After successfully starting the boiler, you'll want to take care of the following items:

  • Inspect the boiler, as well as the supply and return lines, for signs of water leaks throughout the boiler's first day of operation.
  • Carefully observe the main burner flame from low fire to high fire for proper fuel combustion. Make sure the flame isn't flickering or producing excessive soot.
  • Make sure the low-water fuel cutoff functions correctly.
  • Perform a boiler blow-down to ward against scale accumulation.

In addition to performing the above actions, you should also keep a running log of all maintenance and inspection tasks performed on the boiler. Keeping a well-documented log can help operators detect unusual trends that could impact the efficiency and safety of your commercial heating system later on.

Issues to Watch For

Uninsulated and unheated areas can pose problems for supply and return lines that have not been properly insulated against the cold. These lines should be carefully wrapped with insulation or protected with heat tracing to prevent the water inside from freezing.

Operators of commercial heating boilers with multiple heating zones should also be mindful of lowering thermostat temperatures in areas with little to no heating demand. Instead of being returned to the boiler, it's possible for large volumes of water to remain stagnant within these zones. The combination of low water levels and cold water coming into contact with hot boiler metal when these zones are brought back into service can have potentially serious consequences for the boiler's integrity and longevity.

Operators should also make sure that the boiler has unobstructed access to outside air commensurate to the boiler's capacity (as well as the capacity of other fuel-burning equipment located in the boiler room). Without a readily available outdoor source of oxygen, the boiler will begin drawing oxygen from within the boiler room, creating an asphyxiation risk due to decreased oxygen levels.

For more information, contact a commercial heating company like Mercury Tec.