The Hidden Danger of Water Heaters and Boilers

You don’t hear about it happening very much (thankfully!) but tank-based water heaters and boilers can (and do) explode, often with catastrophic results. Water heaters and boilers are designed to be safe, and are installed in literally millions of homes in the United States. Water heaters and boilers include failsafe devices to prevent the build–up of dangerous pressure levels inside the devices. Occasionally however, the failsafe devices fail.

This slow-motion video, compliments of the Mythbusters television show on the Discovery Channel, demonstrates (safely) what happens when a water heater pressure and temperature valve fails. Although the demonstration involves a hot water tank, the same thing can happen with a boiler. And in this case, size matters! The larger the device is, the more damage it can do!

The failsafe for a water heater or boiler is a device called a pressure-and-temperature valve (PT valve). Some people call them T & P valves – they’re the same thing. The valve usually sits on or near the top of the water tank or boiler and is designed to open when a set pressure or temperature inside the tank is achieved. Some tanks are outfitted with a pressure valve, which opens only when a higher pressure is detected, regardless of the temperature in the tank.

Basic physics says that temperature and pressure in a closed system have a direct relationship. That is, when the temperature goes up, so does the pressure, and vice versa. Turning up the heat on your hot water tank or your boiler control will increase the pressure in the system.

These systems are designed to handle “modest” changes in temperature and pressure. Manually adjusting the temperature upward on your water heater or boiler should never produce catastrophic results. So what can go wrong? Usually a combination of things!

Regulators and thermostats are designed to keep the operating temperature of a device within a specified range. When the temperature drops below the specified range, the regulator turns on the heater to heat the water in the system. When the temperature rises to the top of the range, the regulator turns off the heat. If the regulator or thermostat in the system goes bad, one of two things can happen: no heat at all, or heat all the time!

If the regulator or thermostat gets stuck “on” and heats the system constantly, the T & P valve or pressure valve is supposed to open and relieve pressure build up in the tank. It’s supposed to prevent the tank from ever reaching the point where an explosion is imminent.

Here’s the bad news. T & P valves and pressure valves can fail. Unlike the regulator or thermostat– whose erratic behavior will indicate a failure – there’s no way to know that a PT valve is going bad or has failed without testing it. Fortunately, testing is simple and homeowners should test the PT valves on their water tank(s) every month or two.

The valve (shown in the picture accompanying this post) can be lifted or flipped into the “open” position by hand. If the valve opens and closes smoothly, it’s still doing its job. If it doesn’t open, or opens and closes only with difficulty, it should be replaced. As a rule, PT valves on boilers and water heaters should be replaced every three years, whether they’re working or not. A PT valve is an inexpensive item, and the peace-of-mind is worth every penny.

Don’t underestimate the amount of damage a defective water heater can do to your home. Depending upon its size, a water heater or boiler can build up more than 100,000 pounds of pressure before it explodes. An exploding tank may lift off its base at a velocity of 350 MPH, and will easily shatter the foundation, floors and roof of a home. Unimpeded, a fully pressurized 50-gallon water tank can achieve an altitude of more than 500 feet!

Pressure aside, a hot water tank is also carrying 40 or 50 gallons of potentially scalding hot water, which will be distributed over the tank’s exit path. And then there’s gravity – what goes up must come down! An empty water tank can weigh between 75 and 200 pounds, and when it returns, it may come back down in one piece or it may split into multiple pieces.

Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating can help you perform regular maintenance on your hot water tank and/or boiler, show you how to test your PT valve and provide valve replacement services as needed. Water heaters and boilers can be operated safely in a home, but these devices do require regular professional inspections and maintenance.

Give us a call at (617) 288-2911 anytime to schedule an appointment. Call us if you experience any operating problems with your water heater or boiler – including over- and under-temperature conditions, and pilot light or electronic ignition problems.
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Gas Networks Boiler Rebate Extended Through September

Great news! The Gas Networks boiler rebate program for Boston homeowners has been extended. Homeowners who have a working boiler that is more than 30 years of age can receive a rebate on the purchase and installation of a new, high-efficiency gas boiler as long as they begin the rebate process by September 30. To qualify, installation of the new boiler must be completed by October 31.

Whether you currently have a hot-water heat system or a steam boiler in your home, you can take advantage of this great program, which can put as much as $3,500 back in your pocket. Thirty-year-old boilers are not efficient at all and end up costing you significantly to operate over the course of a year than high efficiency boilers do.

With this rebate program, you’ll save on the purchase and installation costs, and you’ll also save on the operational costs of the boiler over its lifetime because you’ll use less gas. You’ll benefit in a third way because the cost of gas is in steep decline right now, while the price of oil continues to rise. With the savings on the initial purchase, as well as the reduction in operating costs, you should be able to realize a return on your investment within two years.

To take advantage of the boiler rebate program, you must have a participating Boston heating and cooling contractor complete a home energy audit prior to September 30, 2012. Once the audit has been completed, the new boiler must be installed by October 31, 2012. Rebates of $3,500 on hot water boilers and $1,900 on steam boilers are being offered.

One important requirement of the program is that the boiler being replaced must be in working condition. The rebate is not available to homeowners who are installing a boiler for the first time or to replace a non-boiler heating system. The contractor that performs the energy audit will verify the operational status of your boiler.

For more information about this great rebate opportunity, please give us a call at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911. We’ll set up an appointment for your home energy audit and help you complete the process of qualifying for this extraordinary rebate program.

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Don't Miss Out On This Great Boiler Replacement Rebate!

There’s still time for you to take advantage of this great rebate program, which provides a rebate for a qualifying Boston boiler replacement. The rebate program is offered through Gas Networks and can put as much as $3,500 back in your pocket!

Now through July 31, 2012, if you have a boiler that’s at least 30 years old, you can get a rebate of $3,500 on a new gas, forced hot-water boiler or $1,900 on a steam boiler if you replace the system. Homeowners are required to complete home energy assessment through MassSaves as part of the qualifying process.

Summertime is the ideal time to consider a boiler replacement. Homeowners can consider all of their options without the pressure of having to make a snap decision in the middle of the winter, or having to make expensive, emergency repairs to an old boiler that really should be replaced.

One of the catches to the program is that the boiler being replaced must be operational at the time of replacement. It’s hard for some homeowners to justify the cost of replacing a boiler when the one they have still works. But keep in mind that new boilers are more efficient and cost less to operate, and take up less space than the 30-year-old models do. You can also assure yourself that a new boiler will get you all the way through the coming winter without expensive repairs or maintenance work.

The home energy assessment must be completed no later than July 31 to qualify for the rebate. If you’re considering replacing your boiler, or would like more information about this great rebate program, contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911 for a consultation. We’ll come to your home, perform your home energy assessment and make sure you qualify for the program rebates.

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Back To Boilers: Stainless Steel Makes Sense

In my last post, I discussed the IBC line of residential condensing boilers . One of the things that makes this line of boilers special is their use of a stainless steel heat exchanger. That’s a very important differentiator for boilers, and it’s part of the reason that we at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating will be installing and servicing IBC boilers.

The basic operation of a boiler is simple. Boilers raise the temperature of water in a closed system. The heated water is then distributed around the residential space through pipes and radiators, and raises the temperature of the surrounding air.

There are a few major considerations that homeowners with boiler-based heat systems need to be aware of. One important factor is the composition of the heat exchanger. Heat exchangers in boiler systems are usually made either from aluminum or stainless steel.

The composition of the heat exchanger is important because the heat exchanger comes in contact with the water in the system. While the water in the system comes from the municipal water supply and is “clean” when it is added to the system, water has its own properties that can actually support and encourage corrosion inside a boiler system.

The pH level of the water is a good example. pH is a relative measure of the acidity of the water. Aluminum heat exchangers work best only in a narrow pH range. To ensure that the pH range is optimal, boiler water must be treated with special chemicals, and regular maintenance is required to maintain the proper pH and preserve the manufacturer’s warranty protection.

Stainless steel heat exchangers work optimally in a wide range of pH levels, so this actually reduces the amount of maintenance and care the boiler requires. With a stainless steel heat exchanger, a boiler can give years of trouble-free service using just clean water and propylene glycol, a common organic alcohol.

The flip side of the pH issue is corrosion. The reason boilers need this kind of maintenance is to avoid corrosion throughout the system. Aluminum heat exchangers work well in only a narrow pH range. Once the system water goes out of this range, the corrosion begins. Corrosion reduces the efficiency of the system and the lifespan of the boiler’s major components. You’ll spend more money on preventative maintenance with a system that uses an aluminum heat exchanger than you will on a system that uses a more efficient, more durable and less vulnerable stainless steel heat exchanger. You’ll also replace your boiler more often.

Another major consideration is that aluminum heat exchangers wear faster in high-intensity operations. If you run your boiler at or close to its peak flow, the aluminum heat exchanger will wear out faster than it would if you operate your boiler in a more controlled way. Stainless steel heat exchangers are much more tolerant of peak operation, and don’t tend to wear out from this kind of use. Based on how you use your boiler, this could be a significant consideration for you. An outdoor reset control can give you better control over your boiler operation, but you can also gain efficiency and lifespan by using a boiler with a stainless steel heat exchanger.

If you would like more information about stainless steel heat exchangers, boilers, outdoor reset controls or boiler maintenance, contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911 anytime. We offer round-the-clock boiler and furnace repair. We’re also happy to consult with you on boiler replacement options. Don’t forget to like Boston Standard Plumbing on Facebook!

High Efficiency IBC Boiler Can Make A Big Difference

If you need to replace your condensing boiler, here’s an attractive option you should consider. IBC makes a line of high-efficiency condensing boilers that offer exceptional performance and durability.

One of the nicest features of this line of boilers is the stainless steel heat exchanger. Because the heat exchanger is made from stainless steel, you’ll get the long-life performance you’ve been looking for, as well as outstanding efficiency. Stainless steel offers significant protection against corrosion and deterioration, which means you replace the heat exchanger less often and enjoy high efficiency operation longer than you would with a traditional heat exchanger design.

Using a properly sized boiler can help you manage your heating costs. Unfortunately, most older boilers aren’t properly sized for the space they heat. An undersized boiler can’t keep up with your need for heat. An oversized boiler not only works harder and less efficiently, it also performs less consistently and negatively impacts the comfort of your home. IBC residential boilers come in a range of sizes, so you can increase efficiency and lower the cost of operation by installing the right boiler for your particular application.

Because IBC boilers offer such a high efficiency rating, they qualify for some very attractive rebates and incentives. Residential IBC boilers are rated with an AFUE of 95.7% or better and qualify for some rebates through the State of Massachusetts.

In addition, IBC’s residential boilers are all designed with built-in outdoor reset controls, so the boiler will operate at peak efficiency and give consistent performance, no matter what the temperature outside is doing. Outdoor reset controls help to maintain the efficient operation of your boiler based on the differential between the outside air temperature and the inside temperature of your home. The outdoor reset control acts like a fine-tuning adjustment to ensure that your boiler heats only to the temperature required to heat your home. The outdoor reset control prevents your boiler from heating to maximum temperature unnecessarily.

IBC residential boilers are wall-mounted units, so they offer a compact profile, multidirectional piping options for maximum installation flexibility, and quiet operation. Homeowners can expect reliable, long-life performance from an IBC boiler. IBC boilers can operate on either natural gas or propane, and can be vented directly or through an existing chimney. IBC boilers also have a limited lifetime warranty.

If you would like more information about IBC boilers, their stainless steel heat exchangers, or even outfitting your existing boiler with an outdoor reset control, contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911 anytime. You can also like Boston Standard Plumbing on Facebook!