When is That Old Boiler Shot? Deciding When to Replace It

Like many questions, the answer is "it depends." Many people think about a 20- or 30-year-old boiler the same way they think about a 10- or 15-year-old car: "It might need to be replaced soon, so I won't spend much money on it. I'll just wait and see what happens." When a car makes it several more years, people start to think, "If it lasted this long, there is no telling how long I can keep it, so I'm going to take good care of it." The same thing tends to happen with boilers if they make it to 40 or 50. The trick is knowing whether or not the boiler is likely to keep working for years and years.

There are several factors to consider when deciding whether to keep an existing boiler or install a new one, but the main factor is the condition of the metal the boiler is made of. Others include the condition of the doors, brickwork, burner and controls, and the suitability of the existing equipment to the application. If the boiler is the wrong size it might be wise to replace it regardless of its condition.

A visual inspection of the metal inside of the boiler is the most reliable way to assess the condition of a boiler, and should be done whenever practical. Steel boilers over 100 horsepower, which typically might be found in a multifamily building, are equipped with manholes that can be removed so the inside can be inspected visually. However, cast-iron boilers and many steel boilers do not have provisions for inspecting the inside. Shutting a boiler down and draining it to open it up is not an every-day event, therefore other methods must be used. If local codes or insurance regulations require annual internal inspections, checking the condition of the boiler once a year usually is a good measure.

Ridding the Rust

As mentioned, the condition of the metal the boiler is made of is a primary consideration for boiler repair or replacement. How does metal begin to deteriorate in the first place?

Some boilers are used in applications such as hot water heating systems that, theoretically, are closed loops with no water lost from the system. Other boilers never heat the same water twice. For example, a desalination boiler on a submarine boils seawater to separate the water from the salt so the resulting steam can be condensed into drinking water. The salt stays behind in the boiler, which is frequently cleaned by blowing it down with pressurized water or steam, and mechanical cleaning. Most boilers fall somewhere between these two extremes, using a mix of new and recirculated water.

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27 Comments

  • What about water leaking inside the boiler?
  • I have a very old broiler. one of my raditors upstais does not warm up & no water. What should I do. I cant even find a water supply to boiler execpt a darin valve. Is the drain valve also used for water supply. Thanks
  • does anyone buy old arco boiler burner assembly motors
  • Very clear, very helpful. Thanks
  • can you get parts for circa 1982 glow worm boiler
  • I have a 20 yr old Utica oil fired steam boiler. I noticed what appears to be a wet spot underneath the boiler. How can I tell if I have a leak. Can it be fixed if it is a leak? My house was built in 1915. Other options include a new replacement oil driven steam boiler, or switch to natural gas and purchase a new steam boiler. (the later would be quite expensive but perhaps worth it in the long run.
  • need parts for Potterton (bi-gas) diplomat 39/40 produced by Thomas Potterton ltd can anyone help?
  • my boiler allways has to much water10 to 15 gallons
  • I have a large antique cast iron boiler manufactured by Standard Sanitary and Dominion Radiator Ltd. It is labeled Severn Boiler w170 02h. I need a circular pot for the inside. Do you know where I can find one?
  • I bought a foreclosed house with hot water boiler. We live in Michigan and the house was empty for a few months. They drained the boiler but water was still in radiators. A couple of them cracked. Can I take them apart and remove the only the cracked part of radiator?
  • i need burners for my 50 yr old Bryant boiler. is there anywhere i can get them
  • i have a 2006 trinity 150 combi boiler. nothing but corrosion problems . hard water and bad design are culprits. anyone with similar problems? dangers of? thanks
  • I work at a place that has 50 yr old boilers and 6 months ago our DA Tank got holes in it and is no longer servicable. With no plans of replacing it in the near future. What are some of the hazards I need to be worried about as an employee and what can I do to help myself? I need the job.
  • How can the temperature for a oil heated water tank be regulated? The house was build in 1955
  • I have a circa 1972 bryant cast iron boiler in good working condition. The jacket needs to be replaced.Any Ideas where to find one.
  • I have a Burnham boiler only 12 years old with section leaks. I live in NYC, Anyone know where to buy the sections?
  • Still using an Arco pancake furnace (22179 is the number, not absolutely sure of the second number, not very clear), estimated age 100 plus. After reading the article, I think that we have had small leak , because a part is badly rusted and breaking apart. Looking at the furnace, outside top right, it looks like a four-post unit with a metal coil in the middle. Attached is a bar with two weights. The posts on the unit have rusted through. Are replacement parts available / where? (I need to think positive) (don't need the bar/balls). The asbestos was all removed before we purchased our home 45 years ago.
  • Potterton Kingfisher around 30years old Imaculate, works perfectly, Brit Gas serviced annualy, they have just turned off and put 'At Risk' Notice, apparently for no other reason than, to OLD, is this a Gas Safe regulation ? ?
  • My CO detector went off and called someone, and was told the boiler has carbon built up and needs a cleaning. the problem is have quotes from $1500 to $186.00. Most want to come to assess for $86-$89. I have got three quotes from, not even close to each other. What's the average cost before I drain my$$. I live in NJ. The Boiler is at least 12yrs old.
  • I HAVE A 50 YEAR BURNHAM AND I THINK IS WORKING FINE; HOWEVER, WHEN COMPLETING A SECOND BEDROOM IN THE SECOND FLOOR THE HEATING LINE WAS RUN THROUGH THE FLOOR AND FOR SOME REASON I HEAR LATELY, BANGING ON ONE SIDE . DOES ANYONE KNOWS A GOOD RELIABLE HONEST HVAC PERSON WHO CAN GIVE AN HONEST OPINION AND FEEDBACK ON WHAT I NEED TO DO. I SUFFERED TERRIBLY DURING THIS PAST WINTER. AND DON'T WANT TO GO THROUGH THAT AGAIN
  • what it will be cost for sell I have o3 no. of steam high pressure industrial boilers having 27 MT capacity each. DOM 1996 in all equipment electrical, mechanical instruments and control in a good condition
  • I live in a apt complex of 15 units. However, my apartment is directly over the boiler system. Every winter the boiler give off a vibration and a very load knocking sound. You cannot sleep because of the continued load noises. The boiler vibrates my entire master bedroom. My question should the apartment management purchase a new boiler. I AM desperate. It is so load that I cannot sleep at all. PLEASE HELP!!!
  • Why no answers to above questions. I was hoping for answers. Otherwise great work. Thanks.
  • Hello: I have an old boiler/cast iron radiator heating system - original w/ the house which was built in 1918. It's recently developed an inability to maintain the required water pressure so I'm guessing that the boiler has become cracked. There's no visible evidence of water leakage though. Can a problem such as this be repaired? Many thanks for your inputs!
  • My old house has a vintage boiler as well (gas fired boiler/hot water to radiators. I had a plumber install new pressure regulator controls, etc. that maintain 15 lbs. pressure. It now works well. Plumbers tell me this vintage system works better and more efficiently than a new boiler would, so I keep it. My home insurance company doesn't agree and charges me premium rates. It is really confusing.
  • My house has a burnham gas boiler the pipes stared making noise a few days ago a friend came over and took a look at it and said that the cast iron cracked . Is that something That can temporarily be fixed until I can come up with the money to buy a new one .,
  • Hello, I just purchased an older home that has a Viessmann Atola jot water boiler. There is rust perforation on the back right side of the units metal vent. Otherwise the rest of the unit looks fine. No other rust can be seen. It is about 20 years old. I can add a piece of sheet metal to replace the area that was rusted out. Do you think the unit is still viable? Thanks in advance!