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How long should a boiler last?

I've been in my house since 1992 (it was built in 1928).  In 1993 I had to replace the boiler which was about 16-18 years old, based on what the previous owner said.  It was rotted out and leaking.  The plumber who installed that boiler told me that the water in the area (Bergen County, NJ) tended to shorten the life of boilers.  He installed my new boiler using copper piping, BTW, rather than black pipe.

Last year, I had to have that boiler replaced -- it having rotted out, so it lasted about 17 years.  A different plumber installed this boiler (and used black pipe) and told me that this 17 years was not an unusual life expectancy.

My neighbor, I might add, just had to to have his boiler replaced after about 16-17 years, so or.

But when I started reading this site I see that people talk about their boilers lasting MUCH longer, so what gives?   I just read a post about a 75 year old boiler!!!!! How long should my boiler last?

Both my boilers are/were water manual fill, not automatic, if it matters


  • Coany
    Coany Member Posts: 91
    my standard answer

     when a customer asks me this question is:

     Are you a lucky person?

     its no different than asking how long a dishwasher or a dryer will last.

     nobody can predict the future.

     15-20 years is what sales people will tell you.
    " Do what you can, with what you have, where you are" Teddy Roosevelt
  • Unknown
    edited February 2010
    Boiler Failure

    Hi David-  Here's a good article that might help answer your questions.


    When you add new (fresh) water to your boiler you always want to bring the boiler water to the boil to drive off excess dissolved oxygen as it can be very harmful to your boiler. Also as mentioned in the article, keep your boiler water between 7 to 9 on the PH scale. You can use swimming pools test strips to check this out.

    - Rod
  • Brian_74
    Brian_74 Member Posts: 237
    What do you do if the PH is off?

    Hi Rod, I'm curious, suppose your PH is off, what can you do? Would a filter on the fresh water help? I would think you'd need a special one, since the most common ones are for taste and would remove chlorine and not chloride, which Dan mentions as a particularly bad salt to have in the boiler.

    I suppose I should add: I've always wondered how people get cleaning agents into their boilers. That ignorance might explain why I don't know what to do if the PH were off.

    1929 Ideal Heating vapor system.
  • Mark N
    Mark N Member Posts: 1,090
    Boiler Life Expectancy

    In Dec 2008 I had a Weil-McLain boiler replaced that was at least 75 years old.  This boiler didn't have a Hartford Loop, or a LWCO.  The boiler was not leaking when I had it replaced.  Actually I only added water about 1 a month.  Last summer my neighbor had a 35 year old Burnham replaced.  This boiler had a hole in it right at the water line.  This boiler had a float type LWCO that was blow down every week. Water added to replace what was lost doing the blow down.  Still 35 yrs isn't bad for any modern appliance. 

  • Chemicals and PH

    Hi Brian - To tell you the truth I've really never have had to adjust my water that much as it comes out of the tap it is pretty close to 7 and since I flush my boiler twice a year, at the beginning and end of heating season, the PH has never gone too far one way or another.

     The old standbys, mainly because they are cheap, is to add white vinegar (it can smell) if you need to lower the PH and add Baking Soda if you have to raise the PH.  If I had to lower the PH I think I'd just use diluted swimming pool acid.  The Rhomar 903 will raise the PH so that's what I  use to do that.

     To add chemicals I just screw on a street elbow to my skim port. Rhomar 903 is really the only chemical I use and I use it just mainly during the idle months as a preservative when the boiler is not operating. . During the heating season I just use straight water (with probably a small amount of 903 that was left over in the system from the summer and add a bit more if necessary.) My big cleanup is done in the spring and so then in the fall it is just a quick drain and a refill with fresh water

    - Rod
  • David07666
    David07666 Member Posts: 9
    That's a great article, Rod!

    That's a great article, Rod!  Thank you.

      It also confirms what my second plumber said about adding water and the perils of auto water feed.  With the boiler I replaced in '93 I would never boild the water after adding it.  Furthermore, I had been give the clearly bad advice of filling the boiler at the end of the heating season and letting it sit.  I got that advice from my house inspector from when I bought the place as well as from a gas company repairman who worked on my boiler once. 

    I'm not up to adding chemicals to the tank -- I'm not handy at all, so I think I'll have to pass on that.
  • Another thought

    If your water has high Chloride concentrations, that can cause early failure.  You may want to have your water chemically checked.  Its alot cheaper than replacing boilers every 16 years.  I tell people steam boilers should last 25 to 30 years. There is one make and model that consistantly fail in about 15 years in my area, both steam and water versions.
    The Steam Whisperer (Formerly Boilerpro)

    Chicago's Steam Heating Expert

    Noisy Radiators are a Cry for Help
  • malp
    malp Member Posts: 27
    manual's advice

    My boiler's manual says to fill the boiler at the end of the heating season. You're supposed to bring the water  to near boiling to drive off the oxygen.
  • David07666
    David07666 Member Posts: 9
    So how do you add chemicals to the boiler water?

    I'm taking away two somewhat related pieces of advice:

    (1) Check the ph of the water (easy to do) and if acidic, add something to lower it (hard to do -- how do I do that?  It's not like there's cap I can unscrew to add water, like a car's radiator!)

    (2) Check for chlorides (not sure how to even do that) and if too high, adjust it (how in the world do I do that?)
  • water test

    your water company should be able to tell you what is in the water, and a search here for water analysis will bring up the names of a couple of testing labs you can send your water to. the most damaging components are any compound of chlorine. even storing water-softener salt nearby can be dammaging, and of course, do not fill the boiler with softened water. you may want to share the lab results with the tech department of the boiler mfg.

    i would like to think that a life of 30-40 years is possible with proper maintainace.--nbc
  • Brian_74
    Brian_74 Member Posts: 237
    A skim port! Something else I'm missing.

    Thanks, Rod. As always, I learn a great deal from you. I guess this is another reason I ought to think about adding a skim port. I'm guessing that my water is okay because I think my boiler is around 25-30 years old. Probably by the time I get the whole system sorted out I'll be moving into a newer home with forced air.
    1929 Ideal Heating vapor system.
  • clammy
    clammy Member Posts: 2,668
    bergen county ,chlorides

    David as boilerpro stated and i know because i live in bergen county it is the hi level of chlorides in the water in the past few years i have seen plently of steam boiler fail and leak at or slightly above the water line and most where propely installed no wet returns and did not use alot of make up water .I do not know of any steam boiler which is enume from this the only execption would be that it seems to be more common with gas fired atmospheric steam boilers then with oil fired steam boiler ,i cannot think of any gas steam which it does not effect the most common one which fails that i have seen has been peerless followed by utica and weil ,hope this helps peace and good luck clammy
    R.A. Calmbacher L.L.C. HVAC
    NJ Master HVAC Lic.
    Mahwah, NJ
    Specializing in steam and hydronic heating
  • chlorides=public enemy number one

    could not reverse osmosis [or distillation] be used to get the chlorides out of the makeup water?

    a boiler is a terible thing to waste!--nbc
  • Charlie from wmass
    Charlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,195
    when was the boiler made?

    A boiler 60 years old may last another 10 to 20 years, wasting fuel every day. another boiler 2 years old could be dead in a month due to poor installation. 35 years +- is for cast iron hot water. Steam it depends like was said " Are you a lucky person? " My Weil McLain Hot water boiler is 37 years old. I should have changed it years ago but since I can fix it I keep it. I also do not pay me well to do a change out so it stays for now. One day I am sure I will come home and that weekend it will get pulled and a nice new one will be installed with outdoor reset and an indirect but just not that mad at it yet.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
  • kevin_58
    kevin_58 Member Posts: 61
    adding chemicals

    You can siphon them into the boiler. Add whatever you want to go into boiler into a clean bucket. Then put a small piece of hose on a boiler drain, I use an old washing machine hose with one end cut off. Then start draining water from boiler through hose into bucket, when you have a few inches of water in bucket keep hose below surface of water and lift bucket above water level in boiler. The contents of bucket will be siphoned into boiler.
  • David07666
    David07666 Member Posts: 9
    Thanks everyone

    Thanks to all that replied, this was very enlightening for me
This discussion has been closed.