Boiler breakdowns can cost thousands of dollars inequipment repairs, as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars for additional property damage and business income losses.

Regular boiler inspection is the law, most often governed by the state, but in some cases governed by municipality and city. Inspections are done by certified inspectors, but the boilers are typically maintained and serviced by HVAC contractors, building engineers and maintenance personnel, or plant and facility maintenance managers.

Safety Issues and Building Damage

The majority of boiler failures are caused by malfunctioning low water cutoffs, operator error, poor maintenance and/or corrosion. Therefore, properly functioning control or safety devices are absolutely essential for any boiler. Yet, the only way you can be confident they're present and will work when necessary is to regularly perform required boiler maintenance, testing, and inspection.

A boiler failure interrupts service to a facility, the building's occupants, and their operations, and can result in significant damage to the building, other equipment, and building contents. Failure during peak heating season can result in a cost to repair damage to a facility, its systems, and its contents that exceeds the cost of repairing or replacing a boiler. Proper and regular boiler inspections can, in many instances, help prevent situations like this.

Regular boiler inspections are also important for optimal function and energy efficiency. Boilers are high energy users — typically second only to HVAC systems in annual energy use. Inefficient operation means wasted energy and increased operating costs.

Regular inspections can help extend the life of the pressure vessel. This is especially crucial when you consider that boilers are a major investment, costing upwards of $200,000 for large industrial models.

Boiler safety devices are designed to prevent dangerous conditions from turning into disasters, yet only proper maintenance prevents the dangerous operating conditions from developing in the first place. Maintenance requirements vary by boiler specifications and applications, however, all boilers require common maintenance activities.

It's important to remember that most problems don't occur suddenly. They develop slowly over a long period of time. So slowly, in fact, that maintenance personnel grow accustomed to the change without realizing it has taken place — such as corrosion slowly building up in the safety valve, or sediment collecting in the float chamber on the connection lines of the low water fuel cutoff device.

Inspection Laws Getting Stricter

As time goes by, more improvements are being written into boiler regulations. For example, effective July 1, 2008, New York City changed its laws to require owners of boilers to correct defects found during a low pressure boiler inspection and provide written confirmation to the City of corrections within 45 days. Penalties for failing to comply with these new requirements can include fines of up to $1,000 per boiler per year.

Some important issues related to New York City's boiler inspection law changes are:

  • If you own a boiler which has defects found during a jurisdictional inspection, you must have the defect(s) repaired by a licensed boiler repair contractor.

  • The boiler must then be re-inspected by an approved inspector to confirm the defect has been repaired.

  • Once the reinspection is complete, you must submit an Affirmation of Correction (BO-13) to the City which has been signed by the approved inspector attesting to the compliance of the boiler.

Maintaining a boiler is much like maintaining a car; do it regularly to optimize efficiency and performance and so that it doesn't break down. In addition to mandated inspections, it is important that you regularly observe and check on the status of a variety of components of the boiler, including pressure gauge, low water cut off devices, thermometers, temperature controls, gauge glass, and pressure relief valves.

Keep a Boiler Log

The majority of boiler accidents can be prevented. Boiler logs are the best method to assure that a boiler is getting proper maintenance. They provide a continuous record of the boiler's operation, maintenance and testing. Because a boiler's operating conditions change slowly over time, a log is the best way to detect significant changes that may otherwise go unnoticed. Maintenance and testing should be performed and recorded in the log regularly.

Also, seek out the assistance of your city's boiler inspector. A boiler inspector's extensive knowledge and practical experience can help you learn everyday procedures to ensure a lengthy lifespan and safe operation of a boiler. More importantly, the education will help you keep your customer's facility and its occupants safe.

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. For more information, visit www.insparisk.com.

TIPS FOR OPTIMAL BOILER SAFETY AND MAINTENANCE

  • 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.

  • Confirm that there are no signs of overheating, corrosion or erosion.

  • Test all drains and blow-offs to ensure they are functioning properly.

  • 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. If unsure, perform leak tightness test.

  • Ensure that all valves in instrument lines are functioning as they should.

  • 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.

  • Verify that vent valve on gas fired boilers is operating as required and that the vent is not clogged.

  • Verify that the flame scanner or sensors are properly connected and functioning.

  • Check all instruments and safety devices for proper setting. Ensure that the water pressure regulator functions as required.

  • Ensure that the re-circulation pump works as required.

  • Check that all heating system isolation valves are functioning properly.

  • Verify that there are no leaks from any part of boiler or piping external to the boiler. Have any cracked surfaces repaired immediately by a qualified repair company. Bulges or other deformities indicate defective controls, safety devices or improper burner operation.

  • Test safety valves periodically. Replace leaking safety valves. Test safety or relief valves by lifting the test lever at least once a year.

  • Verify that the low water fuel cutoff control shuts off the fuel supply to the boiler as required. Inspect the low water fuel cutoff control for proper sequence and operation.