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Does Your Home Use a Boiler?

Heating and HVAC
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According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEE), heating can be the largest home expense in the colder areas of the country, accounting for 35-50% of yearly energy costs. If your home has a boiler, it may help to understand how it works, how to maintain it and when it should be replaced in order to keep your annual energy expenditures down to a minimum.

How does a boiler work?

Your home boiler system uses a burner, which is powered by natural gas, wood chips or oil. The fuel mixes with the air inside the burner and ignites to form heat. The combustion gases are released into the boiler to heat the water inside either by using tubes that run through the water in the boiler, which is the most common, or tubes that carry the water through the heat in the boiler. The latter is used only when large amounts of steam and heat are needed.

Boiler Safety and Maintenance

Steam created in the boiler is dispersed through your home using radiators, floor vents and pipes that run throughout the house. Some steam is kept within the boiler to prevent overheating of the home.

Because of the steam buildup inherent in this process, boilers cannot run continuously. To maintain safety as well as warmth in your home, a boiler must be turned off at various intervals; this avoids excess pressure inside the unit.

Always follow the maintenance procedures outlined by your boiler manufacturer for maintaining water levels, sediment removal and checking air vents. A qualified heating technician should be consulted before doing maintenance. The high pressure, high temperature steam from your boiler can cause severe injury, so tune ups should always be done by a qualified contractor or technician.

Hire a Pro

According to the ACEE, if your boiler is more than 10-20 years old, replacement with a high-efficiency model is often recommended. Hiring a qualified, experienced contractor is an absolute must. The contractor can evaluate your system and recommend home improvements that might help, such as adding insulation, sealing for air-tightness, repairs or insulation of existing ductwork or a system tune-up. An experienced technician will always evaluate your home and calculate heat loss before making a recommendation.

Evaluate Your Options

The annual fuel utilization efficiency, or AFUE, is a measure of the overall performance of a boiler and is expressed as a percentage. If yours was made after 1992, it must have an AFUE of at least 80%. Older boilers may have much lower numbers, often just 55-65%. If you have one of the older models, replacement can help you increase energy efficiency and lower your utility bills.

There are a few options you should discuss with your contractor before making a final decision on a new boiler, including the different types of controls to reduce heat loss during off-cycle or off-peak days. Energy savings can also be found through installing an Energy Star boiler with an 85% AFUE or higher. Your contractor will be familiar with several manufacturers, and you can also check the Energy Star website. You may also want to ask about boilers that use less power; information on this can also be found at the Gas Appliance Manufacturers’ Association website as well as through your contractor.

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