When the weather outside is frightful, a functioning boiler system pumping soothing warmth into each and every apartment in your building is definitely delightful. Keeping boiler systems in tip-top shape is paramount to ensuring that warmth continues all winter long. Happily, that's not too difficult to do with a little regular maintenance and a good thorough cleaning each fall and spring. If your boiler's giving you fits this winter, the following may help you avoid the chill next year.
Semi-annual cleanings are vital to maintaining peak boiler efficiency. Irwin Sandler, president of Brooklyn-based Nu-Way Boiler and Nu-Way Environmental, recommends that oil and gas burners undergo a major cleaning before and after each heating season, usually around September and then again in April or May. This is not a job for your super to tackle, no matter how capable he or she may be. Professional personnel and equipment should be brought in to get the job done properly. In general, the cleaning consists of wire-brushing all fire tubes, and vacuum-cleaning the entire boiler, breaching, chamber and chimney base.
Without these cleanings, significant debris can build up, hobbling your boiler's efficiency. That can mean significant financial loss; the less efficient the boiler, the more fuel will be needed to achieve the same level of heat. According to Sandler, tests also have shown that - depending on the system - even as little as an eighth of an inch of soot can reduce boiler efficiency by as much as 30 percent.
Dangerous chemical combinations also can result from soot and the water that runs throughout the boiler system. "Soot is 80 percent sulfur," says Sandler. "Mixing it with water creates sulfuric acid, which eats away at your pipes."
A trained mechanic should also be brought in to overhaul your building's burner each fall to insure proper combustion. The boiler should be checked thoroughly for leaks, gaskets should be inspected, and any leaking tubes or open seams attended to immediately.