Heat for your home accounts for a large portion of your total expenses through the fall, winter and spring if you are a typical Canadian. A modern 3 bedroom townhome in Alberta costs $250-$380 a month to heat in the cold months. Are you spending more because of an old or inefficient boiler?
What happens when it is -3 outside and you hear an ominous rattle, then nothing? It's getting colder inside. What do you do? Do you know how to troubleshoot your boiler?
If it is an emergency, it's always good to have options. Here's everything you need to know about maintenance and boiler repair.
Read on to learn more.
How Does My Boiler Work?
The simple version is that a boiler heats water. This water is circulated throughout your home to heat radiators and warm the surrounding air. An electric pump pushes the water through the pipes and back to the boiler to begin the cycle again.
More in depth, the boiler is the heart of a central heating system. When you need to heat your home, you use the electric switch to ignite the boiler. This opens a valve. The gas then enters a sealed combustion chamber in the boiler. It is ignited by an electric ignition system.
The gas burns to heat an exchanger connected to a cold water pipe. Heat energy transfers from the gas flame and heats the water to about 60°C (140°F). The water pipe is part of a continuous circuit that passes hot water through each radiator in your home and then returns the cooled water back to the burner.
A thermostat monitors the temperature and when it reaches its pre-set, it shuts off the boiler ignition. If the temperature drops below a pre-set number, it switches the ignition back on.
How Do I Make My Boiler More Efficient?
About 45% of Canadian energy goes to keeping spaces warm. The more efficient your boiler, the lower your energy use, the lower your bills. It's that simple.
An older boiler can never meet the efficiency of a new model, unfortunately. However, there are still some steps you can take to make sure you run at peak performance.
An annual once-over helps your boiler run more efficiently. Your annual maintenance service should include dirt removal and corrosion prevention.
Smart heating controls and modern thermostats help your boiler run more efficiently. New radiators and a power flush cleaning of your pipes and radiators all help your boiler last longer and heat more economically.
Energy Saving Settings
Set your boiler up to make a difference. Change settings as the seasons change. Set your boiler temperature to avoid scalds from hot water or steam. Beware of too-hot radiators and pipes. Insulate exposed pipes and reduce access to hot surface areas.
Some boilers also double up as hot-water heaters. A conventional open-vented boiler heats water that's stored in a tank.
In the winter, set your temperature control to max (175°F or 80°C). Just beware of too-hot radiators or scalds, especially if you have children or elderly people
In the summer, when you don't use heating, set the boiler somewhere in the middle (130°F or 55°C).
A combination boiler heats water on demand. If your boiler has dials for water and heating control, set the heating control at a high setting. Set the water control as low as you can. Produce the hot water only as warm as is safe. That's usually somewhere around 120°F.
If your boiler has a single dial, set it at the maximum. The hotter the radiators are, the faster the rooms are heated.
Troubleshooting and Boiler Repair
Even if your boiler is working at peak performance, sometimes things go wrong. If you are suffering from a loss of hot water, low water pressure might be to blame.
The positive news is that low water pressure is easy to diagnose and, in many cases, you can handle this sort of emergency repair on your own. Here are our handy hints for to the most typical boiler pressure problems.
The water pressure in most modern boilers is maintained by using a connection to your cold water pipe, called a filling loop. If you have a leak in your boiler system, a slow drop by drop loss of pressure can happen.
Look around your home for signs of dampness. Check around radiators the boiler and the pipes. Don't try to look for leaks inside your boiler, though. Save that for a professional.
If you find a leak or need to top up the water in the system regularly, call a professional.
Fix Low Pressure Yourself?
Boiler systems differ. Always check your manual, to see if you can safely re-pressurize it. Your boiler may also have instructions on the rear of the control panel. Visit your boiler brand's website, to see if they have a tutorial or videos about topping up pressure on their systems.
Re-pressurizing your boiler means allowing more water to enter the system via a filling loop. Here's the basic re-pressurizing process. Adjust to meet the instructions of a particular manufacturer.
Switch off your boiler and allow it to cool
Securely attach both ends of the filling loop.
Open both valves, to allow cold water into the system
Wait for the pressure gauge to read green or 21 PSI Close both valves (start with the end attached to the cold water)
Press the reset button and switch the boiler back on
Remove the filling loop
If you have any doubts about the process, call a professional.
Check Your Boiler Pressure
On the front of your boiler, there is usually a water pressure gauge. If you have an old-school boiler, you have an analog hydraulic pressure gauge. The red sections of the dial indicate low and high-pressure situations. For digital gauges, you'll see a flashing warning if the pressure reading is too high or too low.
If your boiler pressure reads a low-pressure warning, you may have low water in the system. Replace the water using the filling loop.
If the pressure gauge on your boiler indicates high pressure, you need to bleed some air and water from a radiator to bring the pressure down to safe levels. This can be difficult and dangerous due to potential scalding. Call a professional to examine high-pressure warnings and make sure there is no hazardous condition.
Other Boiler Woes
Low water pressure isn't the only thing that could go wrong. Signs that you are approaching boiler replacement versus repair include frequent breakdowns, upward creep of consumption without explanation, noises, yellow flame or smell.
A noisy boiler, a noisy radiator or noisy heating pipes each can have different causes. Here are some things to check.
Boiler Diagnostic Code
Digital displays on modern boilers now come with diagnostic error codes. Familiarise yourself with your boiler owner's manual to save precious time when you need heat. If you don't have access to the original manual, many are published online, even for older model units.
A small amount of gurgling in a boiler is normal. However, constant noise or suddenly loud gurgling indicates a problem. If there is no pressure problem (see above) try these tips. Often it's simply air in the system.
There is no need to get a professional involved yet, just follow a few simple steps:
Open all radiator valves fully and run the boiler at max temperature for 10-15 minutes
Shut off the circulation pump and wait for the radiators to cool at least 30-60 minutes
Starting with the radiator closest to the boiler, use the radiator key or screwdriver to open the bleed valve until water comes out ( a towel and bucket will come in handy)
Repeat for the whole system
Turn on the boiler
If the noises continue, the circulation pump could be the problem. An overworked pump causes a rapid gurgle or bubbling sound. If the boiler has a manual option to slow the pump, this may solve the problem.
Boiler Making a Whoosh Sound or Hammering
Loud whoosh sounds or vibrations could be a blocked air intake. Check the flue and remove any obstructions such as dust, lint or bird nests. If you place a sheet of paper over the vent, you should be able to detect air movement.
A blocked air filter is another common cause of boiler problems. If the air filter is user-serviceable, remove it and clear it of any build up.
Check the air intakes
Check the air filters
Boiler Making a High Pitched Whine or Buzz
It may be necessary to engage the services of a professional for these noises. The whine could be your pump bearings, a defective burner or fan vibration. None of these are user-serviceable.
Call for Repair or Replacement
Noisy boilers or pipe hammering can be a sign of residue build-up in your system. This is easy to fix with a power flush. However, humming, vibrating or banging could be a larger problem within the boiler.
Your boiler flame safely burns a bright blue color. Any other color requires service. It could be as simple as taking a steel brush to the burner to remove soot or a more serious incomplete burn. The scent of sulfur, (described as skunk or rotten eggs) while burning means you have a leak. Shut off your boiler immediately and close the gas valve.
If you notice these symptoms, it's time to consider more than just maintenance.
Soot buildup below burners or on the face of the boiler
Lime/copper corrosion deposits at the pump or joins in the pipes
Rusted metal vents
Needing to add water more than annually to maintain boiler pressure
Noise from radiators or piping when the boiler runs
Radiators not heating well or at all even with valves open
High carbon monoxide detected
Call a trusted professional to walk you through your options at this point.
Replace When Repair Isn't Economical
Boilers don't last forever. The performance and efficiency of the boiler suffer from age. Limescale inside your heat exchanger and carbon buildup outside can reduce efficiency.
It's important to know how old your boiler is. The average lifespan for a high-efficiency boiler is about 20 years. Older cast iron boilers might last 30 years or more but are not very efficient. Often times repair costs of the oldest boilers exceeds the cost of replacement.
Choose Reliable and Trustworthy Repair Service
In an emergency, you might not have time to do research about a reliable and fast repair company. Take the time while your boiler is working well to find a professional to trust. Here are some things to look for:
Years in operation- poor service rarely survives long
Brand-name repairs- look for someone certified to repair your brand of boiler
Clear and transparent pricing- if you have the time to get competitive quotes, try to get at least three and examine the work plan details
Professional associations, qualifications and certifications- ongoing education and service certifications are an indication of quality service
The most important aspects of selecting a boiler repair company are competency and consideration. After getting quotes, ask for references from recent jobs. Use these objective viewpoints to help you make a decision.
Boiler Repair in Edmonton
With the cold winters and short summers in Alberta, your boiler is a large part of your total energy consumption. You need to ensure safe and efficient fuel burning. Choose a reliable boiler repair company to perform regular annual maintenance.
It's always better to anticipate boiler repair or replacement before you need an emergency call for a technician. However, there are several small things you can troubleshoot before calling for service. Get familiar with your boiler owner's manual and know how to access shut-off valves.
We have experts always available to help you with plumbing and heating maintenance, repair and installation. Call us today to discuss your boiler needs.