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Cleaning a boiler.

BobBob Member Posts: 25
I have an old boiler. When it is cleaned the tubes are brushed and vacuumed.

However the tech never opens the combustion chamber to clean the sulfa deposits off the ceiling of the chamber . Is this acceptable?


  • STEVEusaPASTEVEusaPA Member Posts: 1,484

    Not for me.  The deposits off the ceiling need to be cleaned, but the chamber itself is probably filling up with (as Icesailor says) kibbles and bits.  This will affect how efficient your burner fires, and how clean it will run.

    Got to open the combustion chamber.  On an old boiler if it's going to be a nightmare (rusted/broken bolts), it will only be the first time.  After that, every year it will be easy.
  • KakashiKakashi Member Posts: 88

    Their are 3 types of customers in my book. Ball busters, curious ones, and lonely ones.

    If its a ball buster I tend to act gay(no offence to anyone)...if that doesn't work I tend to have a "delayed" ignition and then I say it's my first week with the company.

    If it is an old boiler. A good mechanic won't touch the chamber area this time of the year unless they have a quickie chamber and or a wet pack on hand. If it's not impinging on the fire it's best not to touch it in most cases. If its nice out day and night its a different story.
  • icesailoricesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    Boiler cleanings:

    I call that a "Buff & Dust". Buff out the tubes or the easier parts, dust off the cobwebs and dust off the jacket.

    Use a Universal Oil Burner for a replacement. 70 degree RED nozzle, a red cap or red lettering. Any brand will do and I will work better than the one that it is running on. The same as the 6 other old ones on top of the boiler.

    B & D'ers nave ALL the right answers.
  • icesailoricesailor Member Posts: 7,265

    Do I know you?

    I think I have cleaned boilers that you worked on. Or someone related to you.

    "There's never enough time to do it right. But always time for someone else to do it over". I was "someone else".

    I had an account with 3 Weil-McLain WGO-7's running on ODR but no bypass loops so the system ran a lot of the year while condensing. There was no inexpensive way to fix it and it was political beyond my control. I cleaned then (all three) every August when there was no heat call. I would take at least 33# of crud out of the boilers. I ran a soot saw through it. Not for soot but this cementeous like material. Every year.

    I've seen boilers replaced that had so much crud in the bottom that the flame was impinging on the floor and creating soot.

    I hate to think what that old boiler looks like.
  • BobBob Member Posts: 25
    cleaning a boiler

    How would I best remove the sulfa deposits ? Use a hammer and chisel ?

     Thanks for the advice.  Bob
  • billtwocasebilltwocase Member Posts: 2,385

    What boiler make/model do you have? 
  • KakashiKakashi Member Posts: 88
    I doubt it...

    What I do with on my own and what I do for my company are two separate issues. At our shop I am just Tech. 1842. While I am on my own, if I don't have the part I don't touch it. Write it up for when you have the part on hand.

    I could just see the conversation now, you had heat before the cleaning but, I broke the target wall and/or the chamber is caving in and it's going to take 2 days to get here.

    I can't fix stupid but, common sense should prevail. I would rather write it up for when I have the part on hand then to leave them with no heat.

    To each their own leaf tho.
  • icesailoricesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    Debris Removal:

    Soot Saw, piece of threaded rod screwed into a file handle. Throw away saw blade that the supply houses sell for cutting off PVC pipes and roots.

    Any or all of the above. And clean every year. If they chose to skip a few years, don't go back unless they are replacing the boiler or are going to re-pipe it so it stays hot or is switched to warm start. I've never seen a warm start boiler develop Kibbles & Bits. Only Cold Starts. And no matter how plugged up, a Soot Saw will clean it out.
  • BobBob Member Posts: 25
    edited February 2014
    cleaning a boiler

    I don't know what make or model the boiler is But it is large and has 8 horizontal tubes above the fire chamber. It resembles a steel new Yorker boiler I suspect it is 60 + years old.   It is shaped like a mailbox shrunk by a third.

    Thanks Bob
  • BobBob Member Posts: 25
    Kibbles and bits

    Are the kibbles and bits the sulfa deposits?
  • heatpro02920heatpro02920 Member Posts: 991
    There are 2 types of cleanings...

    OK, for oil equipment I have 2 types of cleanings, they both cost the same...

    1- is the scheduled cleaning, we send our customers notices in the spring that we will be happy to "service and tune" their equipment {cleaning sounds dirty}. They call we schedule it {in the non heating season}.

    We arrive on time...

    clean the oil system- filter, strainer, nozzle, and oil line

    clean the flue way- smoke pipe, chimney clean out, boiler flue passages, firebox, and check the chimney, or oil and service the power venter}

    Clean the burner- combustion fan, burner body, end cone, nozzle assembly

    Set the burner- electrodes, z dimension, ect

    Set the combustion {adjust combustion air and draft} with the gas analyzer and perform a printed efficiency test... {also inspect the entire system as it is being serviced, check the transformer or igneter, check and set the pump pressure, ect}

    Wide down the boiler and components, clean the fans {furnaces, tow kicks, ect}, fill out the service card, and bill the customer...

    OK now, we have the other type of cleaning.

    The customer calls in January on the coldest day of the year and asks for a cleaning. There are 2 reasons for this, 1 the unit started to smell or sound funny, 2 for some reason they forgot, could not afford, or didn't have the time to get it cleaned during the off season.

    In either case, its a different cleaning.... First it needs to be scheduled and now the customer gets time window vs a set time, next if the unit is not running or in need of repair we charge a service fee on top of the cleaning fee...

    and the cleaning is less thorough....

    Brush and vac the boiler, change the filter, clean the strainer, change the nozzle, set the electrodes, check the retention head {clean if needed}, check the fan {clean if needed}, test the pump psi and ignition, do the efficiency test and set the combustion, wipe down the burner and bill the customer...

    It takes half the time as a scheduled off season cleaning, now granted if we are not busy and there are no calls on the book, I will "OK" a thorough cleaning, but if its in the middle of a snow storm, after hours, ect they get the fast cleaning. Granted it will be good until next year, but its not the same...

    Some may say "why would you charge the same for half the work, and the simple answer is because most of the winter the techs are on over time, where in the summer we are looking for stuff for them to do so they get their 40 hours... Its just time and preparedness, get your equipment serviced in the off season, and get it done by a company that you are comfortable with and believe will give you what you pay for... If you purchase a service contract, you will most likely get a good cleaning, since they are coming back for free and the tech is going to get a "call back" on his sheet...
  • Patchogue PhilPatchogue Phil Member Posts: 263
    Tune Time

    If you tune an oil burner in Summer,  won't the settings be "off" for dead of Winter running?
  • SteamheadSteamhead Member Posts: 11,373
    Not if you do it right

    and leave enough headroom.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    "Reducing our country's energy consumption, one system at a time"
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Baltimore, MD (USA) and consulting anywhere.
  • Patchogue PhilPatchogue Phil Member Posts: 263

    Not if you do it right

    and leave enough headroom.

    With very much respect to you,  that is very vague.

    How/what do you do "right" (versus regular tuning in Summer)?

    And what do you mean by "headroom"?

    Thanks!  :-)
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 6,693

    and it can be a very big if... the only real variation between summer and winter is going to be the temperature of the intake air (which is a minor variation) and the intensity of the overfire draught, which can make a fairly big difference -- but shouldn't be allowed to.  That is to say, there should be control dampers -- barometric and overfire draught -- on the stack, and these should keep the variation in overfire draught to a minimum.

    Of course, if one does all one's adjustments with a cold boiler and a cold stack... rather than hanging around for the thing to warm up...

    At least that's my feelings about it.

    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England.

    Hoffman Equipped System (all original except boiler), Weil-McClain 580, 2.75 gph Carlin, Vapourstat 0.5 -- 6.0 ounces per square inch
  • heatpro02920heatpro02920 Member Posts: 991

    The only thing that changes is the outdoor ambient and maybe the temperature of the fuel. But if your tune is that in depth, you are spending much more time on it than me. I have adjusted boilers in the summer and then checked them mid winter and never seen a discrepancy.

    As far as the chimney getting warm and evening out the draft when the outdoor ambient is 70 it doesn't take much to heat them up, plus most homes have chimney vented domestic hot water systems that do a fine job of keeping their flues warm through out the summer days...
  • SteamheadSteamhead Member Posts: 11,373
    The other factor

    is the temperature of the oil- which will affect atomization if it gets too cold.

    We first locate the point at which the burner starts to make smoke by reducing the air supply, then back off until the smoke disappears.

    Take a CO2 reading. Then, if it's summer, add enough air to drop the CO2 by one percent, if it's cold you can usually get away with half a percent. Note that some people do this slightly differently, but the principle is the same- we never leave the burner set up so that any slight reduction in air or increase of oil will make the burner produce smoke. This allows for any such variations while maintaining good combustion efficiency.

    That's what we mean by headroom.

    Of course this assumes the boiler is in good condition and equipped with a flame-retention burner. And it requires the use of a smoke tester and electronic combustion analyzer. But the result is, or should be, good efficiency and little if any cleaning to do next time the boiler is opened up for service.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    "Reducing our country's energy consumption, one system at a time"
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Baltimore, MD (USA) and consulting anywhere.
  • heatpro02920heatpro02920 Member Posts: 991
    Steamhead, I am curious now..

    I was service manager of an oil company for 7 years and we never did summer/winter tunes, we tuned it once and didn't make any "headroom" changes {usually during the summer months} and I never noticed a difference.

    For example a boiler gets tuned in June, its 77 degrees out {printed eff test is done and recorded as well as a smoke}, I go back for a bad t-former in January when its 15 degrees out, and I take another eff test and print it, compare them and they are identical more times than not, and when they aren't they are so close you wouldn't call them different...

    I have heard others say they make changes for the tuning, but never seen it, I am curious about this now, next time the temp changes drops below 10 degrees {probably mid week} maybe I will fire up my riello fired g115 and take an efficiency test to compare to the one I took this summer when I tuned it... What should I look for as a difference? thanks
  • billtwocasebilltwocase Member Posts: 2,385
    I have also

    seen little to no difference in readings, other than breech draft readings, and that is regulated for over fire. I have customers that request all times of the year, but I have preferred spring or fall
  • SteamheadSteamhead Member Posts: 11,373
    Probably because

    it doesn't get as hot in Cranston, RI as it does in Baltimore.

    If you happen to have an appointment to set up a burner when the outside temperature is in the high 90s, as often happens here, that burner will be operating under conditions quite different from when the outside temp is in the 20s. The air and the oil will both be colder and therefore more dense, making them more difficult to move and therefore to control. And the chimney will be pulling a lot more draft because of the greater ΔT between the flue gas and the outside air. Sure, we have barometric draft regulators to regulate this, but a high wind on a cold day or night can overcome the barometric's capability.

    Probably the best discussion of this I have seen is in George "Firedragon" Lanthier's book, Advanced Residential Oilburners. He goes into a lot of detail which I won't duplicate here, since he covers it much better than I could hope to.

    When we go back to a burner we have set up in this way, there is little if any cleaning to do. That boiler will have maintained its efficiency all season, without the drop-off associated with soot and sulfur deposits. I remember opening up such a boiler when the customer was in the basement, and having her remark that it was clean enough to eat off of, which never happened when the oil company was "tuning" it. And the oil company noticed she was using less- I just smiled.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    "Reducing our country's energy consumption, one system at a time"
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Baltimore, MD (USA) and consulting anywhere.
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