Stoking the Fires Getting Your Boiler Winter-Ready

In a few months, the hot summer weather will be just a distant memory, and all that time spent trying to get cool will be behind us. Instead, co-op and condo residents will be turning up the thermostat for some soothing warmth. Now is the time to make sure the boilers that keep our buildings toasty are in good working order and ready to face the challenges of those icy winter nights.

Knowing how a boiler works and how to keep it operating at peak performance are both key to keeping co-op and condo residents happy during the long, cold months ahead. Maintaining those systems require weekly, monthly, semi-annual and annual check-ups - a rigorous schedule that may seem like a lot of work initially, but which will pay off in the long run with increased efficiency and boiler longevity, and - most importantly - contented residents.

How it All Works

Almost all co-op and condo buildings with more than a few units use boilers to provide for their heating needs. Boilers work on the simple principle of heating water, creating steam and then sending that steam through a series of pipes into each unit, providing an even heat for residents. Those boilers are fueled by oil or gas. "Unless the building is of a more modern design, most systems are either one- or two-pipe steam systems," says Robert T. McCarthy, president of Industrial Heat-Tech in Staten Island. With a one-pipe system, the steam goes up, becomes water, then goes back down to the boiler all through the same pipe. The two-pipe system has a vacuum. That vacuum sucks steam through the building within the second pipe. Ensuring that all those passages are clean is just one of the tasks building superintendents need to be thinking about now that fall is here.

Preparing for Winter

Now is the time for managing agents, boards, and building staff to get their boiler in shape. If anything does go wrong with the system, it's best to get a repair crew in now so as not to create any inconvenience or danger for residents when it really gets cold. Pre-season maintenance can be done any time, although it's most often done between late July and September. "As we start to gear up for the winter, the boiler should be cleaned - brushed out and vacuumed - to establish the highest efficiency," says Bill Jebaily, president of Aggressive Heating and Bay Ridge Fuel Corporation in Brooklyn. "If there's dirt in the tubes, it prevents heat from conducting properly."

McCarthy agrees, adding that clean-ups should happen at least twice a year. "A lot of boards feel that cleaning once a year is sufficient," he says. "But when soot builds up, it cuts down on the effectiveness of the boiler." Not only does that mean potential heat problems for residents, it also means higher fuel bills for the building. Studies have shown that nearly seven percent of total boiler fuel costs stem from poor maintenance. "Think of the boiler like your car," McCarthy says. "You want to keep it tuned up."

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