As Calgary homeowners start to think about the fall, it’s the right time to consider the essential maintenance required to keep things comfortable during the long, cold winter months ahead.
Your hot water system is one of the most vital elements. Imagine tackling those winter mornings without that heating system and a hot shower!
Just like with your car, your hot water system will perform more efficiently with a regular service from a professional – but just like with your car, you can handle a few basic maintenance steps yourself too.
Whether you have an old boiler system with cast-iron radiators in your home or a new hydronic heating system, nothing remains in tip-top condition unless you work it a little.
Here we take you through what you can do to maintain your hot water heating system in the fall so that it stands up to the test in the months and years ahead.
Check the boiler’s chimney and vent
The first thing to do is to examine the parts of your boiler that are most susceptible to damage or deterioration with time.
The vent and chimney are prime candidates. Do a physical check for any holes or broken connections along the chimney that may cause leaks.
Pay particular attention to the connection between the vent and the boiler unit.
This is an easy spot check that you can conduct a few times per year – in the fall, midwinter and at the end of the winter at least. It can flag problems early and save you from performance issues and expensive repairs further on down the track.
Examine your boiler’s heat exchanger
If you suspect a leak in your boiler, there’s a good chance the problem originates in the heat exchanger.
Inspect the heat exchanger as often as you can, checking for signs of possible leaks. If tiny pools of water around the heat exchanger are visible during and after using the boiler, it might be due to a leak.
Continuing to use your boiler with a leaking heat exchanger could lead to a much larger leak and water damage. It’s best to have it replaced as soon as you confirm a leak.
Lubricate the circulating pump of the boiler
The circulating pump of your boiler ensures that the water constantly circulates through the pipe system in your home and into the boiler.
In older systems, this all occurs through a single pipe system while newer systems have “zones” with two pipes linked to each zone (one for feeding the heated water and one for the cooled water).
Either way, the circulating pump is central to the water heating system and sees a lot of work. Like with all pumps, it will operate more efficiently if it is well lubricated.
Choose a lightweight oil such as “3-in-1”. Pour it into the oil cup of the pump. Make sure this is done at least once a year to prevent any grinding and “sticking”.
Remember, a problem with a broken-down circulating pump will mean no hot water until it’s fixed or replaced. So, keeping it lubricated is essential maintenance.
Drain the boiler
Draining or “flushing out” the boiler and venting or purging the radiators is also essential maintenance for the fall and the winter months.
Some radiator systems have automatic purging. If not, then follow these simple steps for draining your boiler:
- Open the valves on all radiators and convectors (this will let out the air)
- Close all valves once the water comes out (catch it in a container)
- Switch off the water and the power
- Insert the end of a garden hose into the boiler’s drain cock
- Open the vent valves on one of the radiators on the top floor of your home
- Turn on the water supply valve (fresh water will then flush through the system)
- Close the drain cock and vents once the water stops running
Performing the above steps will help you keep your hot water heating system free of rust and other debris that can build up in the boiler system and eventually affect performance.
Steps for maintaining a hydronic heating system
Many homes in Calgary now have a hydronic heating system as opposed to the older cast-iron radiator system.
These have free-standing or baseboard convectors and are generally less bulky and more efficient than their predecessors. They also heat the rooms more evenly.
While hydronic systems may vary from home to home, the most important maintenance step is usually to check for standing water.
Standing water is not a good sign for any hot water heating system. Try turning up the thermostat to build heat and pressure in the system and then check the boiler’s pipes and valves for leaks.
A leak means you’ll need to give a professional plumber a call.
You should also consider the following regular maintenance checks, many of which will require a trained plumber to perform:
- Check water temperature and pressure: check the temperature and pressure gauge after your hot water heating system has been running for around an hour. The temperature should be between 180⁰F and 200⁰F. Pressure within the system should be between 12 PSI and 25 PSI (a standard two-storey house should require around 18 PSI).
- Lubricate the circulating pump: see above
- Purge the radiators: see above
- Drain and flush the hot water system: see above
- Clean soot from inside the combustion chamber: a professional technician should clean the system with a wire brush and vacuum away the soot.
- Straighten fins on baseboard heaters: if fins are bent, a fin comb may be used to straighten them (usually the job of a professional)
- Dust radiator surfaces: use a vacuum to dust the radiator surfaces regularly
Get help from a professional boiler service technician
Boiler systems are a big investment. They should last many years when properly looked after. Don’t take any chances.
While most of the above steps are basic to someone who knows their way around heating systems, don’t attempt maintenance unless you know what you’re doing.
If you need assistance with maintaining or “tuning up” your hot water heating system, call Alpha Plumbing on 403-589-7843 to arrange service from our qualified technicians.