Trouble Boiling Over? Maintaining a building's Boiler Requires Vigilance

Modern cities are amazing creations, pulsing with life 24 hours a day, and built to cater to every need of residents. Take away just one of any city dweller’s basic necessities like plumbing, electricity or heating and air conditioning, though, and the big city quickly becomes a nearly unlivable concrete jungle.

The discomfort and inconvenience of being stuck without plumbing or heat for just a few days can seem unbearable to many people. Sometimes these inconveniences are just part and parcel of life in New England—such as during a heavy storm, for example—but often, energy stoppages can be avoided. Murphy's Law might suggest that a condo or co-op building’s boiler will inevitably break down on the coldest, snowiest day of the year and leave all of the residents freezing. But even Murphy can be foiled if you understand the workings of your building’s boiler and its maintenance needs. Knowing those basics will help ensure that you’ll never need to use the electric space heater stashed in the back of your closet.

Revving Performance

Keeping a boiler humming requires off-season maintenance and regular checkups. Boilers are machinery that are in near-constant use when they are needed most and, like any equipment, sometimes they have problems. But regular maintenance can prevent many of those problems, such as when a boiler is not cleaned properly or regularly and residue builds up in the equipment.

To prevent excessive residue accumulation, a building’s superintendent or chief engineer can open the boiler’s blow-down valve for a few seconds each day, which cleans out the residue. A boiler’s motors should also be cleaned and lubricated monthly.

A building’s chief engineer or superintendent also should clean an oil-burning system’s oil strainer once a week. If this task is not done, dirt will clog the strainer and shut down the system. A building engineer/super should visually inspect the boiler at least weekly, though some pros suggest checking it daily. When checking the boiler, remember to also inspect the bolts on the pump, check the water level and always check for oil leaks or water leaks.


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