Here in Cleveland and across most of America, homes are typically heated in two ways: furnaces or boilers. Older boilers tend to be less efficient than furnaces – water must reach a higher temperature than standard water heaters – but there are newer, high-efficiency options are available now. If you know you need to replace your unit or if you’re unsure of its condition, here is everything you need to know about replacing your residential boiler.
The Trouble with Boilers
If your boiler does need to be replaced, there will typically be signs first to alert you to any issues. Sometimes they’re a quick fix, but they could also be warning you of impending failure.
You’re getting no heat
If the problem isn’t with your thermostat, it’s going to reside with the heating element. You’ll want to check if the pilot light is lit – if it is, contact a professional for an inspection.
Leaking or dripping
If you notice water leaking from your residential boiler, do not attempt to repair it yourself. Always contact a professional to resolve the issue.
The cause will usually be from a broken or damaged internal piece such as a seal or valve. You could have a simple issue like high pressure. But there could be worn out components which need to be replaced.
Maybe you’ve begun to notice some unusual sounds emitting from your residential boiler. Air caught in the system commonly causes this, but there could be another source such as low pressure or kettling (a buildup on the heat exchanger which restricts flow and overheats the water, resulting in kettle-like noises).
Loss of pressure
If your central heating seems not to be running well, or the boiler continually shuts off, you could have an issue with low pressure. Check your pressure gauge for a level. If it’s below a 1, there’s a problem, and you need to contact a professional.
Lack of heat from your registers
There are several reasons your radiator may not produce heat, most of which are resolved quickly. If the bottom of the element is the only part conducting any heat, you may need to bleed it, which you can do yourself if you’re comfortable with it. If only specific radiators aren’t heating up, you may need to balance them, which generally just involves adjusting valves.
However, if neither of those things seems to be the solution, there most likely is an issue with sludge buildup in the boiler. The fix for that comprises of chemically cleaning or flushing the system which should only be performed by a professional.
Some discoloration such as black soot or yellow flames on the burner can mean your fuel isn’t burning correctly and must be repaired immediately. This can, in turn, mean a buildup of carbon monoxide. If this is the case with your boiler, check your CO detectors and contact a professional.
All of these problems will be relatively noticeable on a day-to-day basis, but there are a few signs that might not be as obvious without a little investigation.
Signs of Residential Boiler Failure
You don’t want to wait until your boiler fails before you consider replacing it. Here are four things you’ll want to review before your system breaks down:
1. How old is it?
There are a few different types of boilers floating around, and they each have a different lifespan. Condensing boilers, which are a little newer to the market, are a little harder to establish a timeline for, but they’re expected to last 15 years or more. Cast iron boilers are a little sturdier with a 20-30 year lifetime and can last even longer with proper care and maintenance. However, they’re much less efficient than condensing boilers, so while you may pay more upfront for a new unit, your efficiency savings can pay it off after just a couple years.
2. What are your energy expenditures?
As a residential boiler ages, its efficiency drops, and your utility bills slowly rise. When they reach an unusually high point, there’s a strong chance your system has reached the end of its life.
3. How often does it need service calls?
Any piece of equipment is going to need maintenance and minor repairs from time to time. But if you have to make abnormally frequent calls to your contractor for problems, you’ve reached a point outside of the norm. You should start considering a replacement boiler.
4. How comfortable is your home?
If you’ve noticed temperature variation throughout the day in your home – especially in different areas of the house – there’s a strong possibility your unit no longer has sufficient controls.
Choosing a New Residential Boiler
After a thought out analysis and evaluation of your current system, you’ve decided it’s time for a replacement system. How do you determine what is best for you?
What type of boiler do you want?
There are several different types of boilers on the market, so you’ll need to decide which one will work best in your home.
- Steam boilers: These are not as common in homes today, but they do still exist. A heat exchanger boils the water and sends it through a system of pipes using pressure, and gravity brings cooled water back to the boiler.
- Hot water boiler: Like the steam boiler, this type uses a heat exchanger. They differ in that they use pumps to distribute the heat through your home.
- Natural gas boiler: Gas boilers need to connect to a natural gas line for power. In more rural or secluded areas where no gas lines are available from the main road, residents may use propane. The gas or propane supports the pilot light which warms the boiler heating coils.
- Oil boiler: While water-based, these are still fueled by oil, so they are more common in rural areas for the same reason natural gas boilers are used there.
- Condensing boiler: Condensing boilers use two individual heat exchangers to heat both the outgoing water and returning water. This increases the energy efficiency of the boiler and lowers utility bills for you.
- Electric boiler: These are the most efficient of the residential boilers thanks to their lack of reliance on gas and oil, making them a popular option. The emit no gas fumes, installation is generally more affordable, and they’re typically quieter than other options. However, the cost to run them is usually higher, and if you have a power outage, it’ll mean no heat.
What about efficiency?
You always want to look at the AFUE (annual fuel utilization efficiency) rating of a new residential boiler. For a high-efficiency system, you’ll want to look for anything with an AFUE of 85 percent or higher. Oil furnaces typically run between 80 and 90 percent, gas is between 89 and 98, and condenser boilers can reach above 95 percent when appropriately configured. Electric boilers are nearly 100 percent efficient as they produce no waste-gas.
What are your venting abilities?
Different types of boilers also have different venting requirements. If your home has a chimney, a chimney-vented boiler will easily pair with your ventilation system. Power-vent and direct-vent boilers need access to a roof or wall vent; if you don’t have a vent currently available, you’ll need to create one. The power-vented systems can only be placed in open rooms, as well, and condensing boilers have particular requirements.
There’s a lot to take into consideration when replacing your boiler, so if you’re still at a loss, contact a professional like Stack. They can help you analyze your heating system and current boiler to decide which replacement is best for your home.