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Tips and suggestions that can help the home owner notice an existing problem with the home heating equipment.

Updated on April 17, 2014
Lochinvar the condensing boiler.
Lochinvar the condensing boiler.

It is better to be safe than to be cheap, call a service company

The heating equipments covered in this article ranges from as low as 25,000 Btuto 300,000, anything else may not be considered residential. However, what qualify a boiler as commercial may vary from state to state. But as a home owner, the Btu rating of your boiler is more meaningless to you than its operation.

This article is intended to give the home owner a few tips about his or her heating equipment. At the end of this article, the home owner will know the sign and symptom of a poor fired boiler, some of the safety concern that is associated with them, and the difference between various types of heating equipments.

First, we need to be able to identify which kind of heating equipment we have. And we will know the difference between the types by identifying certain parts from the unit, which then will help us categorize which type of heating system we have.

To begin, we should know that there are three types of heating system that are commonly use in our homes. Those are hydronic system, steam, and furnaces. Most of us know hydronic system as hot water system, and furnaces as hot air system. Which ever term use to identify the system is acceptable, the only difference here, is that you’re able to recognize the parts or functions that is associated with your system.

Outside Set - Low pressure
Outside Set - Low pressure | Source

1997 Rules by NYS Public Service Commission.

Before we begin, there is one thing I would like for you to consider. If you live within the five boroughs of NYC - DO NOT call the Gas company National Grid to have your appliances repair. When you do that you tie up their emergency respond time. National Grid, formerly known as KeySpan is no longer a service company. However, if you do decide to call them for service, make sure you tell them that you're looking to get your boiler service so that they can transfer you to the company that handles that sector.

In accordance with the public service commission, in regard to appliance repair, NG has not been allowed to service your appliances ever since 1997. As a reminder, if you need any types of repair done on a heating system, whether it is to have your boiler or hot water heater lit or adding water to the boiler, you must call your service contractor. National Grid has certain procedures that they must follow, and they will only perform the aforementioned task if it's fall under their regulation.

When you call them with the intent of having your boiler repaired, not only do you occupied their time, but you might end up having your meter locked if a pre existing safety condition is discovered. Although it would be a good thing to find a safety problem, but if the outside temperature is reading 30 degrees fahrenheit, you'll be pretty upset about it. To avoid all of that, save yourself the trouble, don’t call them to repair your boiler, call your service contractor for that.

However, in conditions that preceded a meter service or a gas leak investigation, the service person from the gas company is obligated to relight all appliances in residential properties, and at least one for commercial use. This information if from 2009, new regulation may be in place, if in doubt contact National Grid.

Amtrol expansion tank is the most commonly used expansion tank in hydronic system
Amtrol expansion tank is the most commonly used expansion tank in hydronic system
A Circulator pump with a capacitor for starting torque
A Circulator pump with a capacitor for starting torque
The heart
The heart

Hot Water System

Let’s look at the hot water system (hydronic), this unit is referred to as a hot water system because its saturated (flooded ) with water from the boiler all the way up to the radiators. Usually a small bleeding key is used to bleed the radiators.

However, a more apparent identifier that is used to identify an hydronic system can be found over or around the boiler. There are two things that are always present in a hot water system. Those are expansion tanks or a circulator pump.

An expansion tank in a hot water system is use as a cushion, a device that is attached to the boiler as a back up. It is no different than carrying an extra diaper with you on your way out just in case the baby drops another stinky load for mama to clean up. The extra diaper is no different than the expansion tank, it served as a replacement for the used diaper, the new diaper is there just in case the baby dropped another load.

Well, the expansion tank used to carry the extra water obtained from the boiler to prevent it from releasing hot water through the pressure relief valve on to your basement. Most often the water pressure is kept at its level and nothing happen. As a home owner who uses a hot water system to heat your home, if you were ever to witnessed the relief valve realising, contact your service company immediately.

As for the circulator pump, it is a force applied from the pump to move the water from an area of high water pressure to an area of low water pressure, nonetheless, the opposite is also true.

Those of us who are familiar with how the heart pumps blood throughout the body, the function of the circulator pump if very similar with how the heart pump and received blood from the body. The heart pumps oxygenate blood to the body through a valve call the aorta, just like the pump transfer hot water in a gravity heating system.

The circulator pump is composed of three parts, the motor, bearing assembly & the pump (not true for all circulator). The left side of the heart consists of the left atrium (upper chamber) and the left ventricle (lower chamber) of the heart. Unlike the heart, the pump only has one chamber that is used to either pull or push water within the steam pipe.

Therefore, as an educated home owner, if your house is heated by a hot water system, pay attention to the circulator pump, if you noticed that you’re not getting enough heat in one side of the house, call your service technician immediately. It maybe that the circulator need to be replace, this situation sometimes occurred because of over use or lack of routine maintenance. This is why a service contract is necessary for the home owner to have.

Peerless Series 63 can be use for water or steam
Peerless Series 63 can be use for water or steam
The Hartford loop
The Hartford loop

Steam System

Now let us look at the steam system. Most home owners who have this system are familiar with the gauge glass, because you’re forever looking into this thing, and can’t see where the water level reach.

I got one advice for you; you’re not sure or can’t see where the water level is, call your service company. I’m sure you heard the term, It is better to be safe than sorry. Safety should be your first priority, the worse case scenario in this situation is for your boiler to run dry.

Unlike a hot water system, a steam system boiler is not flooded with water. The water level within the cast iron is separated with air and water. There is this thing call a Hartford loop design to keep the gravity return water to a minimal.

This pipe is known by technicians as an “equalizer” because it help balance out the pressure between the boiler’s steam which is leaving the outlet pipes of the boiler and the condensate-return coming back from the inlet.

In addition, the Hartford loop helps regulate the water level within the cast iron. A sensor is inserted right below the Hartford loop. That sensor is wired in series with an automatic feeder which feeds water in the boiler. This sensor dictates to the feeder when the water has reached the required level.

That sensor will not permits the automatic feeder to feed water pass the Hartford loop. In any case this may happen, either the sensor, the bypass or the feeder maybe defective. Again, call your servicemen, this information is just to help you understand why a technician is important to solve these sort of problems.

I will use the heart as an example again because to my imagination most people knows a few thing about the heart. The Hartford loop behaves more like the Mitral valve, preventing oxygenated blood from leaving the left ventricle.

At one time before the Hartford loop was invented, technicians use to insert a check valve (which serve the same function as the Mitral valve) on the return line to prevent the boiler water from mixing with the return. So as a home owner, if you notice a leak on your return line, contact your service company immediately.

Now you may wondered how your boiler could run dry. Simple, a boiler is said to run dry when they is no water within the cast iron body of the boiler. That usually happen when a control fail or where an the absent of a low water cut off (control) exist, forcing the home owner to manually feed water to the boiler. The usual case is that the home owner can forget to feed the boiler manually.

In this instance, if you got down to your basement, and noticed that they is no water in the glass gauge or you experience extreme heat or smoke escaping from the lower side of the boiler or between the jackets, turn off the emergency switch immediately, and call your servicemen. If you don't have an automatic feeder, call your service company and have one install. By installing an automatic feeder and low water cut off, you are protecting your home as well as your boiler from potential disaster.

Without an automatic feeder and a low water cut off it’s like insuring a building without a sprinkler system. No matter how you look at it, you wrong both ways. The insurance company won’t cover your damages if the sprinkler system is required. Meanwhile you lose every penny you ever gave them.

This hot air system uses electricity for creating heat and blowing it through the duct system.
This hot air system uses electricity for creating heat and blowing it through the duct system.

Combustion / and combustion analyzer

One more signs and symptom that is associated with hydronic and steam system is the combustion condition of the fire as it pertains to the flue pipe vent temperature. As a customer, you should be more worried with the smell given off by the improper combustion of the heating equipment than your comfort.

You can request that the technician who comes to troubleshoot the problem, hands you a printout of the combustion result. A good company, who cares about the health and life of their customers, they technicians carries with them a CO2 analyzer which tells them the condition of the fire within the chamber before they leave the premise.

Since they is no state agencies that supervise the combustion efficiency on residential units, it is then your job as the home owner to make certain that you invest your trust as well as your equity in the hands of a service company that cares.

Make sure you are handed a print out that tells you the condition of air to gas ratio, flue temp and Nitrogen Oxide content before the technician leaves your home. Normally a flue temperature on a residential home should be anywhere around 100 – 480 degrees Fahrenheit minus ambient (room temp) temperature, depending on the unit Btu output. Something that can easily figured out via a temperature gauge but would not suggest any one to try it, for the flue pipe can be dangerously hot.

One more thing that the home owner should know about, is the combustion air which composed of 21% oxygen and 79% nitrogen. As a result, to supply the oxygen needed for combustion, a great deal of nitrogen goes alone with the ride. Not all the nitrogen reacts with the air for combustion, only a small amount.

However, the small amount that is mix, is referred to as Nitrogen Oxide. Some burner manufactures have employed a technique to reduce the nitrogen oxide by recycleling the usable air the burner needs for combustion.

This process has caused both the burner and boiler to operate more efficiently. Some of these burners are available for residential use, and as a home owner, considering the price, if you are thinking about changing your inefficient burner, the low NOx one maybe a good choice for you.

Carlin's light commercial dual fuel burner 702G/O  - it uses Gas or Oil your choice.
Carlin's light commercial dual fuel burner 702G/O - it uses Gas or Oil your choice.
Buderus G125BE Low NOx burner
Buderus G125BE Low NOx burner

Hot Air System

The hot air system has become more popular, some of you may very well have this system. A system in which air is ventilated throughout your living area, keeping you warm under below 0 degrees. How would you know if that is the system you have? Well, it speaks for itself, this system is loud, and it usually consumed a fair amount of space in your basement. This system uses ductwork which can be made of sheet metal or plastic “flex” duct.

Unlike the hot water or steam boiler, the furnace uses a storage tank containing of water. The fire within the furnace chamber heats the water within the storage tank until it reaches a satisfactory temperature. Like the circulator pump, this system uses a motor belt function to push the hot air within the duck. That process continues until the temperature within the return duck drops below a certain degree or the temperature in the storage tank decline below unacceptable ranges.

The safety concerns associated with this system are as follow: low water in the storage tank, a broken belt, uncontrollable temperature or a return duck that is discontinued from the furnace. This system can be more difficult to troubleshoot than the hydronic or the steam.

However, whereas a broken belt can visually be identified, a decrease in motor velocity can be the cause of a decreasing torque or an overload, depending on how the system is wired. As a home owner, you don’t trouble yourself with things like that. If you experienced a drop in temperature, call your service company, it may very well be a motor problem which you wont be able to fix.

Nonetheless, the most server problem that can happen with a furnace is when the return duck reside in a boiler room where carbon monoxide can be found. As you should know, carbon monoxide is a deadly gas which can kill you slowly at sleep.

Therefore, when the furnace is not pushing air throughout the living area, that gas can get into the ducks and travel its way between the vents, through your bedroom where you and your kids sleeps at night. Again, as a home owner, if the return duck is not attached to the furnace, please contact your service company.

But what if you noticed a small hole in the return or the suction line that brings air to the living area? You should treat it similarly, call your service contractor. A small hole on a duck work locating in a boiler room consisting of hot water heater is just as dangerous. Carbon monoxide can get into that tiny little hole and travel its way into your bedroom, get it fix, your life worth more.


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    • Coolbreezing profile imageAUTHOR

      James Dubreze 

      9 years ago from New York, New York

      I can teach you while helping  you adjust that, perhaps your temp. maybe to hot, it needs cooling. One way to solve this problem is to hire an experience technician. If you want to learn tough it may cost you.

    • Single Mama profile image

      Single Mama 

      9 years ago

      interesting hub. i need to learn how to adjust the temp on my h20 heater.


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