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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.

Avoiding Frozen Pipes In The Winter

All Boston homeowners worry about the possibility of frozen pipes in the winter and with good reason. Frozen pipes can lead to expensive plumbing repairs, property damage, and other disasters like mold growth. Ice in a residential plumbing pipe can exert more than 2,000 psi of pressure. Your pipes aren’t designed to handle this kind of force, and they will burst. There are a few things you can do to keep your pipes in good shape in the winter, no matter how low the outside temperature may go!

First, keeping pipes thawed relies on heat. If you plan to leave your home for any length of time (even during the day while you work) do not set your thermostat lower than 62°F. Your home’s plumbing is often found encased in walls, unheated crawl spaces or in the basement of your home. Some of the heat from the living spaces and duct work in your home will help to keep these areas warm, but this type of heat will only go so far. The warmer your living space is, the warmer the unheated areas of your home will stay and the less likely you are to experience a frozen or burst pipe.

Insulate the pipes in your home. This will help keep the pipes warmer and will also help prevent radiant heat loss along your hot water pipes. Pipes in and near outside walls and crawlspaces are the most likely candidates for freezing so be sure to keep these as warm as possible.

Be very careful about the pipes that enter the home from outside. This would include your main water line and any outdoor spigots you may use for gardening or home maintenance. A shutoff valve should protect your outdoor taps. Every fall, close this shutoff valve and drain any standing water out of the outdoor taps. Remove any garden hoses and store them for the winter. Also drain any standing water from your sprinkler system, if one is installed. This will protect these systems from expansion damage that standing water could otherwise cause.

If you use rain barrels, dry wells or other rainwater run off collectors, drain these for the winter. Clean your gutters, too! This isn’t strictly a plumbing tip, but plugged gutters will cause backups in the downspouts and severe icing along your eaves, which can force water into your home.

If a pipe in your home has frozen but has not yet burst, you can thaw it out. Do not use any type of open flame (such as a torch) to melt the ice. This creates a high risk of fire, as well as a high risk of personal injury. Open the tap and locate the frozen area. This area may be frosted over on the outside due to condensation. The pipe may also be deformed in the critical spot. Heat the pipe from the tap back toward the frozen spot. You want to clear out the pipe, and if you start from the frozen point, the newly melted water may have nowhere to go.

You can heat exposed pipes using a hair dryer, an incandescent or infrared light, or a space heater. Use foil, a cookie sheet or rolled aluminum behind the pipe to reflect heat evenly around the pipe. You can also use “heat tape” to help warm up the pipes. If your frozen piping is below a sink, open the doors to the base cabinet and circulate warmer air around the pipes.

If your pipe is unexposed, you may need to remove drywall or plaster to expose the pipe. If you don’t want to do that, turn up the heat in the home and wait or use an infrared heat source to help warm the hidden pipes. If the pipe bursts while you’re trying to thaw it (a real possibility), turn off the water at the main shutoff immediately. At this point, you will have to expose the pipe to repair the damage and dry up the water.

If you think you may have frozen pipes or your pipes are in danger of freezing, you can call Boston Standard Plumbing at (617) 288-2911. We offer emergency plumbing services and can help you assess the condition of your plumbing, turn off the water, thaw pipes and make any needed repairs.