Boiler maintenance: Best practices to save you money

Boiler maintenance can help you save significant money if completed annually.

Boiler maintenance points to remember

  • All boilers are not created equally
  • Educate yourself about your system
  • Recognize the value of regular maintenance
  • Realize the benefits of professional help
Maintenance and Repairs

Though their technology is older than more modern HVAC systems, boiler-reliant heating systems have the advantage of excellent durability and reliability. With fewer moving parts, they’re less likely to break down, and the heat they generate can be filtered or even humidified or dehumidified. They also maintain a classic aesthetic in historic homes and provide cleaner, dust-free heat, which is often preferable for those who suffer from allergies. 

Unfortunately, they are not always particularly efficient in terms of fuel or heat. Also, the heat provided by radiant heat systems isn’t always uniformly distributed, so they require regular maintenance to keep them running strong. Still, new boiler technology does exist. By and large, it is considerably more efficient yet also more expensive — a cost typically offset over time by less money spent on your utility bill.

Do boilers need maintenance?

The short answer is yes. The long answer is as follows: Homes use various approaches for heating, the most common being an HVAC unit that handles both heating and cooling. However, many older homes, apartment buildings and commercial buildings still rely on radiant heat that originates in a boiler. If your home has a boiler, it is likely either a steam boiler or a forced-air boiler that uses steam, hot water or warm air to generate and distribute heat from a hydronic coil and a blower. 

How often do boilers need to be serviced? While there’s no hard-and-fast rule, the easy answer is you should complete a service annually. Speaking of maintenance, it makes sense to schedule an annual maintenance check before the weather gets cold so you can be sure your system will be in good working order when you need it most.

Difference between a boiler and a furnace

Sometimes people confuse the two, but a furnace heats air and pipes it through your home via ductwork, and a boiler heats water that pushes hot water or steam through copper pipes to accomplish the same goal. Designs vary, however. Sometimes boilers use both hot water and steam, and push both through copper pipes and ductwork. A steam-based system usually consists of a boiler that heats water by using gas or oil for fuel, creating steam that pumps through pipes and radiators, which, in turn, warms the home. In this closed system, the steam cools down over time, condenses back into water, and trickles back through the system for the boiler to use again. A water-based system works similarly, but without creating steam, and sometimes filling and heating tubes in floors and baseboards.

How do you maintain a boiler?

Any system needs maintenance to run efficiently and reliably, and a boiler is no exception to this rule. An annual checkup by a professional is an excellent habit to get into because a skilled technician will know how to inspect and adjust your system to make sure it stays as efficient and reliable as possible. Maintaining a boiler — not just to keep it running, but to keep it performing like new — requires a routine of annual maintenance that breaks down into 10 key steps that will help your system maintain its efficiency and last longer:

  1. Clear out everything around the boiler to ensure airflow in and around the system. Inspect all air vents and flues for blockages, and clear any you find to ensure that air flows freely throughout the system. While you’re at it, make sure the boiler’s water level is at least the minimum for operation without risking damages. If the water level is below the minimum, look carefully for any leaks. They will need to be repaired.
  2. Look closely at the overflow pipe for signs of any dripping water, which could mean you should replace your pressure release valve. Find the blue pilot light. If the flame you see isn’t blue, call a professional because there may be a serious problem inside the boiler.
  3. Purchase or assemble an annual maintenance kit that includes parts that experience regular wear and tear, which you might need to replace every year. These could include gaskets, filters, seals and various incidentals. Upon a full inspection of the system, many of these parts could appear worn, cracked or otherwise stressed. Others may look fine. Replace them anyway, and you’ll be less likely to need it before your next inspection.
  4. The fireside of the heat exchanger should be inspected and is accessible behind the inspection covers. Remove the fouling, and wash the fireside surface with clean water and a mild detergent. Before putting everything back into place (and to minimize fouling over the coming year), add a thin coating of mineral oil to the boiler, and be sure to check for any residual debris that could be clogging up the air pathway.
  5. Take out the burner and wash the mesh, even if it looks clean. Once you’re satisfied that it’s clean, reinstall the burner and test the fan to dry the burner with the airflow. Never fire the burner when it’s wet. Give it plenty of time to dry thoroughly before firing it again.
  6. While you’re in there, go ahead and replace those gaskets, the igniter and the flame rod. The maintenance kit that you bought or put together on your own likely includes these parts. Even if any of these parts look OK, it’s a safe bet that replacing them annually will save you some unexpected and inconvenient trouble in the coming year.
  7. Poor water quality can make a significant impact on your boiler’s performance over time, so you need to be sure to prevent scale by selecting the right water treatment. Waterside scale creates a residue that becomes a barrier between furnace gases and water in the boiler, resulting in a hit to the boiler’s efficiency of as much as 20% or more. Bleeding the old water before treating and adding new can help get you back on track.
  8. Look for corrosion at any points where condensation may accumulate, especially on and around all electrical connections. Test and replace dead and broken fuses.
  9. Don’t forget to clean the condensate trap and check for any leaks that could have appeared over the previous year. Natural-gas boiler condensate is particularly corrosive. Make sure electrical connections are clean and dry, and then test the system.
  10. Perform a restart and adjust the boiler’s combustion with a calibrated analyzer. You’ll also need a water tube manometer to take draft readings.

Now that you know more about boiler maintenance, you can make your own home boiler maintenance checklist and prioritize it according to your particular system and needs. However, you really shouldn’t undertake any of this unless you have plenty of related skills and experience, and the confidence that you can safely get the job done. If you’ve learned enough to know that servicing your boiler is best left to professionals, it’s not difficult to leave this work to the skilled techs who know best how to accomplish it, and you can still protect yourself (and your budget) from surprise expenses resulting from the unexpected repair and replacement of complex systems. All you need is a home warranty plan that covers your boiler and related equipment.

How much does boiler maintenance cost?

Regular boiler maintenance isn’t very expensive and shouldn’t cost much more than the average retail cost of an annual service call. However, without some sort of home warranty coverage, you’re always going to be on the hook for any major or minor repairs, new parts, or even the replacement of an entire unit. Covering your boiler and radiant heating system with a home warranty can free your mind from worry about unexpected, expensive breakdowns and keep your budget both predictable and balanced.

How often do boilers need to be serviced?

As we mentioned before, and as with every complex system and appliance in your home, performing regular boiler maintenance at least annually is a good way to keep everything running reliably and to avoid surprise breakdowns. With regular use, all systems and appliances experience wear and tear that can add up over time. Without regular service, these small issues can become bigger problems. 

A yearly boiler-system check and water-quality test can nip these minor issues in the bud before they grow into full-on breakdowns. With regular service, you’re more likely to spot leaks and other problems related to water quality or water pressure before they get out of hand. Annual service visits not only make breakdowns less likely, but they also increase efficiencies and save energy costs.

If your interest is piqued and you’d like to learn more about boiler maintenance, your radiator heater system, related systems and what they require for effective upkeep, check out these three important steps in radiator maintenance. Are you wondering about furnace repair and DIY furnace maintenance? Take the next step by writing your own furnace maintenance checklist. If you’re wondering whether a home warranty covers water heaters, the short answer is yes, but click on the article to learn more about your options. Whatever sort of heating system you rely on, if you’d like the peace of mind and budgeting benefits that come with getting it covered by a home warranty, here’s your free quote.


The information in this article is intended to provide guidance on the proper maintenance and care of systems and appliances in the home. Not all of the topics mentioned are covered by our home warranty or maintenance plans. Please review your home warranty contract carefully to understand your coverage.

 

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