The Heat is On Taking the Steam out of Boiler Problems

The rarely stated—but all too well understood—Murphy’s Law for Boilers— asserts that if your boiler quits working, it will do so on Christmas or New Year’s Eve, or at 4:45 p.m. on the coldest day of the year. With some planning, though, that broken-down boiler won’t be yours on those inopportune frigid days. An association’s management and staff can head off a worst-case scenario by scheduling regular maintenance and keeping an educated eye on the whole system.

To avoid that irksome phone call to a technician—along with everyone else whose boiler seems to have “picked now” to stop working, a little maintenance goes a long way and breakdowns are preventable. Understanding a boiler’s life expectancy and tending to boiler maintenance can avoid the no-heat nights (and days) that seem to happen at the most inconvenient times.

You know the old saying in real estate, “location, location, location?” For boiler care, it’s (the admittedly less catchy) mantra of “maintenance, maintenance, maintenance.” Lack of routine, preventative maintenance inevitably leads to problems, says Phil Renzi, senior property manager at Thayer & Associates in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Don’t just “turn it on [when the season starts] and expect it to run,” he cautions, because he has seen the aforementioned scenario play out many times before. So much of what happens in an emergency situation is not, in fact, an emergency—or needn’t be, if cautionary steps are taken in advance.

Maintenance Musts

Boilers are durable for many decades—or used to be, anyway. Vintage matters: Steven Dannin, president of Dannin Management in Brookline, Massachusetts, says in his experience, older boilers have a longer life span. “In the past 20 years,” he says, “I’ve replaced boilers that were 30 or 50 years old. In our last project, we took out two 50-year-old boilers. The newer ones are more efficient but the older boilers were built to last.”

David Barrett, who serves as director of operations for Crowninshield Management Corporation in Peabody, Massachusetts, adds that the high-efficiency stainless steel boilers that have emerged recently last about 25 years. Although the boilers themselves don’t last as long as the cast iron ones, the savings in fuel costs offset the shorter life expectancy. That being said, the boilers “have to be run at the proper temperature as suggested by the manufacturer, or they can decay prematurely.”

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