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What does annual maintenance entail?

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deyrup
deyrup Member Posts: 62
This is my fault for not asking more questions up front, but I hired a plumber to do "annual maintenance" on two steam boilers, and he didn't do what I expected him to do. I am not sure if annual maintenance means something different than what I think it means, and if I asked the right service person for the job.

The plumber did the following:

1. Check low water cutoff was working
2. Fixed a broken valve on one of the boilers, that lets you empty the boiler
3. Checked that boilers fired up
4. Checked that vents opened properly
5. Checked inside of boilers for wiring and that there was no damage to the system

I assumed that annual maintenance included the following services as well:

1. Clean out sludge in boiler, there is a ton of sludge in there.
2. Clean dust off the burners, the previous owner had never cleaned them and they are very dusty.

What service should I have requested to have the boilers cleaned? Does annual maintenance not include cleaning normally? Should I have asked a HVAC person to do the cleaning, or is a plumber the correct choice?

Comments

  • kcopp
    kcopp Member Posts: 4,432
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    If you expected him to the other things you should have asked him to do so ahead of time.
    Perhaps a call back to him to request the other items is in order.
    Getting the sludge out of a system is a long messy process.
  • deyrup
    deyrup Member Posts: 62
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    Yeah, in the future I will ask more questions up front; I just wasn't sure if generally when I make a request for annual maintenance what that entails. I could completely believe that it is unreasonable to ask for cleaning with annual maintenance and I should specifically ask for whatever that is called if I wanted it. I don't have any context on what is reasonable beyond my interaction with one plumber and what I assume is reasonable.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,311
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    Cleaning dust off... is not enough. Combustion test and adjustment?
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    SuperTech
  • deyrup
    deyrup Member Posts: 62
    edited November 2020
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    I don't believe he did that @Jamie Hall is there a checklist I could ask a plumber to do? I checked online for annual boiler maintenance and got some pretty vague info.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,311
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    I presume this is gas? A combustion test of the burners will check -- at least -- that the gas pressure is correct and that the draught is correct. This can't be done by eye -- it takes specialized instruments to measure oxygen, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide, and a manometer. Most plumbers don't do this, although some can. For that matter, not all HVAC people do it either...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • deyrup
    deyrup Member Posts: 62
    edited November 2020
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    Yes it is a gas boiler; am I better off looking for HVAC people or a plumber? I tried to get New England Steamworks to come, but I have been on the wait list for about a year, and wanted to get everything done before the winter. I live in the Boston Metro.
  • Joseph_4
    Joseph_4 Member Posts: 271
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    are these residential boilers...how many btu?
  • SuperTech
    SuperTech Member Posts: 2,165
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    I would look for an HVAC technician that is familiar with both oil and gas.  Better chance of getting someone who is familiar with the combustion analysis process.  I've never seen any plumbers who are familiar with combustion analysis,  maybe in other areas they do testing but not in mine.  

    Not all HVAC technicians do combustion analysis as Jamie mentioned. Some just check gas pressure and look at the flames and call it good.  You definitely don't want a tech like that.  I'd make sure that who you call is familiar with combustion analysis as well as steam heating, a lot of professionals are not. Good luck with it!
  • ksd99
    ksd99 Member Posts: 77
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    I found that most HVAC company's have a list of tasks for a annual cleaning - ask the question when reaching out to them. I’m in an area that “1 pipe steam systems” are rare and it took a while for me find someone that could do the right things.
    New owner of 1 Pipe Steam Boiler - learning all I can- no real steam pro in S.W. Michigan - if you know of 1 -let me know.
  • Zipper13
    Zipper13 Member Posts: 229
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    @deyrup, since you mention NESteamworks, it's worth noting that they have a maintenance services checklist on their website. might be a good place to start. not sure you need need all of the items or not, but I found it helped me ask questions while shopping around for other companies when I found I was out of NESW's service area.

    https://www.newenglandsteamworks.com/steam-boiler-annual-maintenance
    New owner of a 1920s home with steam heat north of Boston.
    Just trying to learn what I can do myself and what I just shouldn't touch
  • Zipper13
    Zipper13 Member Posts: 229
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    @deyrup, Also since you're in the Boston area (I'm on the north shore) I ended up calling Dan Cadotte to do my annual service when we moved in to our new house with a somewhat neglected gas steam boiler. I was satisfied and felt it was worth the money. I want to say he's out of Medford or Malden maybe. https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/daniel-e-cadotte-plumbing-and-heating.

    I see a lot of posts here highly recommending https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/charles-garrity-plumbing-and-heating as well.
    New owner of a 1920s home with steam heat north of Boston.
    Just trying to learn what I can do myself and what I just shouldn't touch
  • JohnNY
    JohnNY Member Posts: 3,230
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    Cleaning dust off... is not enough. Combustion test and adjustment?

    In a perfect world, yes. Unfortunately, the world of seasonal startups/annual maintenance service calls is a race to the bottom. Charging the right fee to do this well has always been a challenge and very often the services are performed at a loss just to keep the customer. The OP is right is to have a minimum expectation for standard of care but, as stated, doesn't know where that standard begins or ends. A combustion analysis is beyond the minimum and ought to be a fee-per-occurrence. As @SuperTech said, there aren't many people in the field, even good techs, who know best how to use an analyzer or how to interpret the results. It's a skill set that is becoming more and more rare and has value beyond the typical $99, $149, $249 annual maintenance visits that are run through in multiples every day in autumn.

    And know this...taking a combustion analysis of a boiler with clean burner tubes versus dusty/dirty ones dry often provides clearly different results. So let's not be so quick to discount those efforts.





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