Most households, offices, and buildings rely more on their boiler when the weather starts getting cold.
Since it performs such an essential function in your home, it just makes sense for you to know more about it and how it operates – especially if you use it often.
What is a boiler
First, let’s start with the basics. A boiler refers to any closed tank where water is heated under pressure. Because the tank is sealed, it creates the pressure needed to heat the water, which helps heat up the temperature.
The heat or vapor exits the boiler and is used for centralized heating, water, and even boiler-based power generation. The tank is usually tucked in the basement, laundry room, or in a small closet.
How does a boiler work?
To heat the water, the boiler needs a fuel source. You can control the flow of the fuel source through a valve. The burner controls the amount of air that mixes with the fuel for a more effective combustion process.
The hot gas that is produced from the burning fuel will then be sent through the heat exchanger. The heat exchanger then transfers the heat produced by the gas to the water in the tank to heat it.
Once the water is heated, the combustion gas will be vented out of the house or building using a venting system or a chimney.
Take note that the venting system must be installed, designed, and maintained properly. Otherwise, carbon monoxide can build up, which can be a fire hazard.
While this happens, the steam or hot water will travel through the pipes to deliver heat where it is needed. Then, it will make its way back to the tank.
A boiler also has external controls that you can use to automatically or manually adjust the temperature for maximum efficiency.
How does a boiler deliver heat?
There are two ways a boiler can deliver heat: steam heat and hydronic heat.
For steam heat, the water in the boiler is heated until it boils to create hot steam. Because steam is lighter than air, it does not need any mechanical assistance to rise to the system’s highest point, which usually is a radiator.
The radiator will act as the heat exchanger. The steam then gives off its heat to the air and condenses back to water.
The water then falls through the boiler’s pipe system, where it will then be reheated to begin the whole process again.
For hydronic heat, the water is heated up to a specific temperature below the boiling point. Then, the hot water will be sent to the hydronic radiators around the house or building.
This heating system needs a pump to circulate the water from the boiler to the radiator since hot water rises slowly. Once the water gives heat to the air, the water returns to the boiler to begin the whole process again.
How to manage the efficiency of your boiler
When you can control how much heat your boiler produces, you will manage the efficiency of your boiler.
Some boilers have only one stage. This means they are working at full power or they are turned off.
Other boilers have multiple stages, which you can control through the thermostat. The thermostat can determine if you need more or less heat.
A staging boiler has a few discrete firing levels. A modulating boiler allows you to adjust the firing rate. This allows you to tune the heat output for your specific needs.
Conserving energy with an outdoor reset control
An outdoor reset control can help you match your boiler’s output to your actual conditions and increase its efficiency. An outdoor reset control adds outdoor temperature to the whole equation.
It takes less energy to heat up space when it is warm outside than when it is cold outside. Because of this, an outdoor reset control allows you to select the lowest water temperature possible to deliver the right amount of heat needed to heat up your home or building.
The colder the water leaves and returns to a boiler, the more efficient it would be to operate.
Outdoor reset controls can help you save 10% of your energy costs each year. If your boiler does not come with one, you can easily add an outdoor reset control for it.
Condensing boilers – why are they considered the best?
If you are in the market for a new boiler, you should consider getting a condensing boiler. Some models already have an outdoor reset control as part of their features.
So what makes condensing boilers different from conventional boilers?
A conventional boiler passes the vapor and gas through the heat exchanger and then a vent releases the heat.
A condensing boiler captures the vapor and condenses it back to water. The latent heat from that phase is used to support the heating process of the boiler.
Condensing boilers are more expensive than conventional boilers, but they are more energy-efficient.
Boiler maintenance tips
If you have your own boiler, maintenance is essential to ensure that it will keep working efficiently every time. Regular maintenance can help lessen the need for repairs and will help you save in the long run.
Here are some maintenance tips that can help boost your boiler’s efficiency and extend its lifespan.
Do a test run
For any heating or cooling system, the first step of maintenance is to do a test run to check if everything is working properly. It only takes 20 to 30 minutes to do a proper test run for the boiler and heating system.
While doing the test run, check if the boiler is producing heat. If the vents or radiators have heat output, if the pipes and boilers are not making any unusual noises, and if there are signs of leaks.
If there are signs of trouble, turn off the boiler and call a professional to deal with the problem.
Check pressure readings and temperature
Make sure you check the manual for the proper control settings and readings.
The pressure gauge of most boilers needs to be between 12 and 15psi. The pressure is controlled by the pressure relief valve and the expansion tank.
A boiler system also has temperature controls and gauges that set the boiler water temperature, room thermostat, and circulating pump temperature.
Inspect the air vents
Blocked air vents can prevent the boiler from working efficiently. This is a typical case among gas boilers.
Air vents can be blocked due to the accumulation of dirt. You should clear the blockage by cleaning the air vents to allow the air to pass freely.
Check the water softener
If your boiler has a water softening system, you should check on the water softener from time to time.
To do this, open the brine tank and then check if you need to replenish the water and salt levels.
If you see any large chunks of salt, break them up into smaller pieces. If the brine tank is dirty, you should take the time to clean it up.
Check the expansion tank
You should check the water level of the expansion tank from time to time.
It should be half full. If it is more than half full, you can return it to the right water level using the drain valve.
If you notice that the tank starts refilling again over the following days, this means that there is an air leak. You should call the professionals for help at this point.
Check the carbon monoxide detector
The buildup and emission of carbon monoxide gas are some of the deadliest consequences that can happen if you have a malfunctioning boiler.
This is why a carbon monoxide detector is vital. If your boiler does not come with one, you should get one. In fact, it is recommended to get carbon monoxide detectors spread out in your home.
To check on your carbon monoxide detector, make sure that it still has good battery life.
Lubricate the circulating pump
Some boilers need a few drops of pump lubricant from time to time. Making sure that the circulating pump is well lubricated helps ensure that there will be fewer system failures.
Aside from the circulating pump, you should also check if the fan needs lubrication.
Replace the oil filter
If you are using an oil-fired boiler, you need to replace the oil filter once a year. To do this, you have to turn off the oil supply with the oil shut-off valve, and the boiler must also be turned off.
Look for the oil filter and remove the housing cover. Then, you can remove the old filter and replace it with the new one.
Check the manual in case your boiler model has additional instructions for replacing oil filters.
Flush it out
Dirt, lime, and grit can accumulate in your boiler. You should flush out the water from the boiler from time to time – especially after winter.
When you flush out all the water, make sure you clean the interior properly.
Now that you know how the boiler works and how to maintain it, you can easily see for yourself if you need to do a boiler upgrade or not.