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!

Heating Season Can Bring Added Hazards

We’re in the middle of heating season in Boston, and with the economy being as tight as it is, this information bears repeating: carbon monoxide (CO) dangers are sharply increased, so it makes sense to pay attention to what you may not see, feel or even recognize!

CO is a colorless, odorless gas. It can be a natural by-product of combustion and it will kill you, your family or anyone else it comes in contact with. CO is usually vented out of homes through the chimney or other direct-vent system. You’ll encounter it wherever you burn natural gas or other fuels (like wood, charcoal, kerosene or oil) for heat.

In the winter, some people attempt to use their gas stoves as an alternative, supplemental or even a primary heat source, especially during power outages. They rationalize that it should be safe, since the gas that flows from the burner is “completely” consumed, doesn’t require additional venting and shouldn’t pose a hazard to humans.

Nothing is farther from the truth. Gas stoves used as heat sources can certainly cause carbon monoxide build-ups in the home and should never be used for anything other than cooking. Your kitchen should also be equipped with ventilation equipment to prevent CO buildup from cooking. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has determined that CO in concentrations as little as 100 parts per million is hazardous to human health. In other words, it doesn’t take much CO to put you and your family at risk.

New building codes now require CO sensors to operate in close proximity to unvented gas-burning appliances (like stoves), but these rules don’t apply to existing structures and existing gas-burning equipment.

A common misconception about CO poisoning is that it happens over a long period of time. Actually, CO poisoning can happen in a matter of minutes. Long-term exposure to CO can cause permanent heart and neurological problems. The very young and very old are also at increased risk of experiencing permanent physical damage from CO exposure.

You should recognize the symptoms of CO poisoning and make sure your home has working CO detectors at all times. The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are dizziness and nausea, shortness of breath, mild headaches, light-headedness, chest pain, confusion, agitation, visual changes, hallucinations and impaired judgment.

If you begin to experience any of these symptoms, or encounter someone else who is, it’s important to get that person outside immediately. If the symptoms improve with exposure to fresh air, do not return to the building. Instead, call 911 for medical assistance and have the affected person(s) medically evaluated at a hospital. Your local fire department will vent the affected space and attempt to locate the source of the CO leak.

If you have experienced a CO leak, have all of your fuel-burning appliances checked by a heating and cooling professional before returning them to service.

CO leaks in appliances can happen without warning, or they can be the result of deferred maintenance over a long period of time. The heating and cooling professionals at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating can help you maintain your heating and cooling equipment and avoid CO mishaps. Contact us at (617) 288-2911 to schedule an inspection of your heating and cooling equipment today.

Basement Flooding Can Cause Big Boiler Problems

Flooding is among homeowners’ worst nightmares. The damage occurs fast – it’s often unstoppable – and water does a very good job of ruining a lot of things! It’s easy to see how carpeting, furniture, walls and wood can be damaged by water. Other items that might be in the basement – like laundry equipment, power tools and refrigerators or freezers – are also prime targets for water damage. Here’s something that homeowners don’t immediately think about: boilers and furnaces can also sustain critical damage during a flood.

If floodwaters make contact with your boiler, furnace or water heater, you’ll want to have these appliances replaced. Even if the unit isn’t completely submerged, replacement is warranted because water, dirt and condensation associated with flooding can accumulate in valves, gauges and controls for these devices. In addition, exposure to water can promote or accelerate the accumulation of rust and compromise the integrity of the equipment.

Do not attempt to restart a boiler or furnace that has been flooded or even partially submerged. Instead, contact a licensed HVAC contractor for an inspection. The contractor can identify the components that must be replaced, or will advise you on a complete system replacement.

Here’s something else to think about: a “manmade flood” – such as what might happen when a pipe bursts or a hot water tank gives out – can also cause significant damage. Generally, a home water heater holds 40-50 gallons of water, and tanks are often situated near furnaces or boilers. That volume of water is not enough to completely flood the basement, but it may cause significant damage to a nearby furnace or boiler.

To avoid this kind of problem, have your water tank inspected periodically for signs of rust or aging. Maintain the sacrificial anode on your hot water tank by changing it out according to manufacturer recommendations and inspect the check valve on the tank regularly. If your hot water tank sits in close proximity to your furnace, consider having it moved to a location that offers better protection to your furnace or boiler.

As a final step, verify that your homeowners’ insurance covers both “dirty” and “clean” flooding. Dirty floods are those created by natural events like rainstorms and snowmelts, where water seeps or pours into the foundation from outside. Broken or open pipes and damaged hot water tanks cause most clean flooding. You may require special additional homeowners insurance to cover both hazards, and to ensure that your HVAC equipment is completely protected against this kind of loss.

As always, if you have any issues with flooding, or with your boiler, furnace or water heater, please give Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating a call at (617) 288-2911. We offer around-the-clock service and complete furnace and boiler service in Boston. Don’t forget to friend Boston Standard Plumbing on Facebook!

Draining A Boiler In Your Boston Home

In my last post, I talked about winterizing a property that will be vacant/unheated over the winter. In this post, I’ll talk about how to drain and winterize a boiler-based heat system in your Boston home.

If you have a boiler, you’ll need to turn off the heating source and drain the water from the system if you expect the home to be vacant during the winter months. Turn off the main circuit breaker that powers your boiler controls and if needed, extinguish any gas or fuel feeding the burner by closing off the appropriate valves, or extinguishing the pilot light. You’ll need to let the water in the system cool for two to three hours before you drain it. Turn off the main water supply for the boiler.

At the base of the boiler, you’ll find a drain port that looks like a garden faucet. Attach a garden hose to the drain and direct the water to a floor drain, utility tub or sump well. Because a hot water or steam heat system is pressurized, you’ll need to open the bleeder valve on the radiator located at the highest point in the house. Make sure all of the other radiators in the system are able to drain. Depending upon the size of the tank, the draining process may also take a while to complete.

At Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating, we add anti-freeze to boiler systems to prevent residual water from freezing and to inhibit corrosion of the empty system. We can also assist with refilling a formerly inactive system and bleeding the air out of the radiators and pipes.

As a side note, boiler water doesn’t smell very good. This is not unusual and doesn’t indicate a problem, but it is the sign of a biologically active process. (Yes, some water-borne bacteria can survive boiling.) The smell may be stronger if the boiler water has been stagnant for awhile, such as might be the case during the summer. If the smell of the water is bothersome, open a window or use a fan to provide fresh air during the draining process.

Regular boiler maintenance is important. You should be draining a boiler about once each year. Doing so will give you the opportunity to spot corrosion problems, and will also allow you to refresh the rust inhibitor in the system. Proper boiler maintenance can extend the life of your tank, too.

When you need to drain the boiler for winterization, you don’t need to do anything special, however you may want to provide a little extra attention to the system when you refill and restart it. Rust inhibitor is a must, and bleeding the air out of the system will help reduce noise and uneven heating throughout the home.
At Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating, we’re trained to maintain, winterize and restart boiler heat systems. If you want help or a consultation, please call (617) 288-2911. We’re available around the clock to help you with all of your heating needs.

Tis The Season To Stay Warm! Boston Home Heating Tips

Boston winters can bring surprises, including heavy snows and winter storms. Making sure your home is ready for winter before the snow flies is the key to staying comfortable all season long. If you’ve had your furnace or boiler inspected and all is well, here are a few more tips to keep your Boston home heating properly during the winter.

If you have a furnace, change your furnace filters regularly. Most manufacturers recommend changing furnace filters once per month. The furnace filter accumulates dust and other air particles that can reduce the air quality of your home. Changing the furnace filter keeps your home air quality higher, and improves the efficiency of your furnace. You can get reusable filters or paper-based filters. Reusable filters can be washed out and returned to service. Paper filters are used once and discarded.

If your furnace has a belt-driven motor, keep a spare belt handy. Usually, you don’t need special tools or training to replace a broken drive belt. If the belt breaks during the winter, you can quickly replace it and get your furnace back into service without a service call.

For boiler systems, make sure your radiator valves are open and adjusted properly to prevent parts of your home from becoming too hot or too cold. Test the valves to ensure that you can completely open and close them. If a valve is difficult to turn, or just plain stuck, it may need to be replaced.

For boilers, you can also consider installing an outdoor reset control (ORC). This handy little device will help your boiler maintain a comfortable temperature inside your home, and will help you reduce your energy expenditures. An ORC acts like a middleman between your boiler and your thermostat. By keeping track of the outdoor temperature and the indoor temperature, the ORC – not the thermostat – decides whether the boiler should fire up or not. When installed, an ORC can help prevent your boiler system from turning on too frequently and making your home uncomfortably warm.

Boston Standard Plumbing can help you with all of your heating and cooling needs. Contact us at (617)288-2911 and schedule an appointment today!