All About Boiler Repair and Installation
The amenities and conveniences of today’s modern homes are amazing, especially when it comes to heating. Not that long ago, wood was the primary heating source used to warm your home. Fireplaces were strategically located throughout the home to provide heat and a means to cook food and heat water.
Today, many methods are used to provide heat to your home with one of the most reliable being a boiler. Most common in the northern region of the United States, and other parts of the world, the basic job of a boiler is to heat water by using natural gas, oil, electric or solid fuels such as wood, coal and wood pellets as a fuel source. Once heated, the water is dispersed via an electric pump to carry heat to radiators conveniently placed throughout the home to provide heat.
How Boilers Work
The boiler is an integral part of your home’s central heating system. You activate the boiler by setting a thermostat to the desired temperature. A valve opens to allow gas– natural, propane or butane — to enter a combustion chamber where it is ignited by a pilot light or electronic ignition system.
Jets direct the gas flames and heat onto a heat exchanger connected to a section of water pipe. The heat is transferred to the water pipe through the exchanger where it is heated to about 140 degrees Fahrenheit. From here, the water then travels through a series of pipes that travel to and from radiators strategically located throughout your home.
An electric pump connected to the water pipes provides the necessary pressure and circulation to distribute the water through the pipe and radiator system. As the water reaches each radiator, it emits its heat through the radiator to warm the air in your home in an even and consistent manner. The water then travels back to the boiler through a return pipe where it is reheated and circulated through the system again. Since this is a continuous process, the boiler must keep firing to maintain the required water temperatures.
Radiators are coils of copper pipes incased in a metal housing. As the heated water passes through the copper tubing, it emits heat through the metal housing to warm the applicable room. Its simple operation allows the user to turn it on or off using screw valve at the bottom of the unit. This simplicity has one drawback; you cannot set it to different temperatures. The radiator is either on or in the off position.
To overcome this problem, TRVs (thermostatic radiator valves) were designed to allow more temperature range with individual radiators. The valves attach to radiators to allow more temperature versatility in rooms you might want cooler or warmer. A TRV regulates the temperature of the water flowing to the radiator by controlling how often the boiler fires. When the boiler fires continuously, the water flowing through the pipes is heated to maximum temperature.
After the radiator valves reach your preset temperature, they begin to shut off reducing the load on the boiler, causing it to fire less often, thus reducing the temperature of the water. When the temperature falls below the settings on the TRV, the valve opens which increases the load on the boiler and increases water and room temperature.
Open-vented and Combi Boilers
Gas-operated boilers are also capable of supplying your home’s hot water needs. Open-vented boilers use a storage tank to house the hot water so there is always a supply available. Combination or “combi” boilers heat the water on demand. When a hot water faucet or tap is turned on, the boiler activates and fires to heat the water. Combi boilers alternate between heating water for house temperature and heating water for hot water use, as they are incapable of performing both tasks at the same time.
A condensing boiler is a super efficient combustion system designed to maximize the produced heat. Since a gas boiler requires a flue to emit heated gas out of your home, some heat loss is experienced. A condensing boiler utilizes the heated gas by diverting it to another heat exchanger to warm the cold water returning to the system. This helps to reheat the water before passing the main heat exchanger, which reduces the load on the main boiler. With these systems, over 90 percent of the gas is utilized to heat your home, reducing energy consumption as well as energy costs.
Installing a new boiler system or replacing an old one is a major home improvement project that should be considered and thought out carefully. Since installing or replacing these systems are complex and labor intensive, it is not recommended to attempt to do it yourself. Only licensed and insured contractors experienced with these types of systems should repair or install them.
One of the most important decisions to make when replacing or installing a new boiler is the type of fuel required by the unit to heat water. Some folks are limited when it comes to fuel types because of geography and other limitations. However, this article will explore the various fuels used for the systems to help make your decision easier.
Oil is one of the tried and true fossil fuels this country was built on and still depends on today. This fuel source is ideal for homes without access to a major gas line or connection.
Pros of Oil
- Modern high output oil-fired boilers require less space due to their compact size.
- Oil is stored onsite in storage tanks located in or outside the home.
- Ample supply is available, under normal conditions, providing economical fuel for a home’s heating and hot water needs.
- Boiler system maintenance and cleaning are usually required only once a year.
- Fuel delivery and periodic adjustments are required twice a year, or as needed.
Cons of Oil
- Burning oil as a fuel source releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to the greenhouse effect.
- Price fluctuates due to demand, supply, refinement limitations and world events.
A number of homes use natural gas, propane or butane to provide their heating, cooking and hot water needs.
Pros of Gas
- Provides an even, constant room temperature.
- Customers connected to a main gas line can pay monthly, eliminating the need of large storage tanks on their property.
- Homes without the convenience of a main gas line can use an under or above ground storage tank to house their gas supply.
- Clean-burning gas contributes far less to the greenhouse effect versus oil and solid fuel boiler systems.
- Natural gas emits hardly any odor as it burns.
Cons of Gas
- As with oil, natural gas prices can fluctuate throughout the year making it harder to plan and budget.
- Natural gas systems require annual cleaning and maintenance.
Electric boilers offer a more environmentally friendly alternative to gas and oil fired boilers.
Pros of Electric
- Increased energy efficiency. A boiler can provide both the heating and hot water needs of your home.
- Because they do not require a flue or chimney, an electric boiler runs at approximately 99 percent efficiency.
Cons of Electric
- Power outages due to downed power lines resulting from inclement weather or natural disasters result in no electricity to your home. During winter months, this translates into no hot water or heating in your home.
- Depending on how and what source is used — oil, coal, hydro or nuclear –to produce your electricity, producing it could be as detrimental to the environment as gas and oil-fired boilers.
Wood, coal and wood pellets are all considered solid fuels.
Pros of Solid Fuels
- Solid fuels produce a gentle heat with satisfactory output levels.
- Wooden pellets are stored in a tank and fed to the boiler via an automatic conveyor belt. Their storage tanks can hold up to a year’s supply of pellets.
- Wooden logs are an ample and inexpensive fuel source that is 100 percent natural.
Cons of Solid Fuels
- Solid fuels, especially coal, burns dirty and has a negative impact on the environment.
- Wood and coal require larger areas for storage versus wood pellets, gas and oil.
Maintenance and Repair of Boilers
Boiler maintenance and repair is crucial to help keep your heating system running efficiently and avoid major breakdowns. While it is strongly recommended that you hire a licensed and insured heating and air conditioning contractor to service and repair your boiler, there are a few things a homeowner can do before the winter season to save a few bucks.
- Inspect the vent pipes and flue if gas, oil or solid fuels power your boiler.
- Verify that the pipes are free of any obstructions like bird nests, leaves and other debris that would hinder the exhaust from exiting your boiler and home.
- Look for visible signs of wear and tear on exhaust pipes such as rust, cracks or holes and make sure they are supported appropriately.
- Older circulation pumps might have oil ports while newer pumps are self-lubricating allowing you to oil the pump and motor.
- Verify all carbon monoxide and smoke detectors are in working order and replace when necessary.
- Start the system up and do a test run to make sure it is working properly.
- Schedule regular maintenance with your heating and air conditioning contractor.
Now that you understand how a boiler system works, you can operate it safely and with peace of mind throughout the winter months. You should also understand the importance of regular maintenance, repair and adjustments required by the system to keep it running at peak performance and energy efficiency.