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boiler troubleshooting

Mid-Atlantic homes that use radiant heat rely on a continuous supply of hot water to provide comfort and safety when weather turns frigid. Boiler malfunctions are a major inconvenience that can make a home an icebox until the problem is fixed.

Because of high pressure and temperatures in a boiler system, many malfunctions require the expertise of an HVAC professional. There are some boiler problems, though, that may be resolved by the homeowner. Read through this boiler troubleshooting guide to see if you can resolve the problem yourself or if it's better to call a pro.

No Heat or Poor Heat

There are many reasons why a boiler isn’t providing heat. Begin with the common causes and fixes first, such as the thermostat and pilot light, and continue boiler troubleshooting tips as follows.

  • Thermostat – The first thing to check when boiler troubleshooting is the thermostat setting. Make sure the thermostat is in "heat" mode and that the setting is above room temperature. If you use an older manual thermostat, it must be level or the settings will be off.
  • Fuse box or circuit panel – Check the fuse box or circuit panel for a blown fuse or tripped breaker.
  • Standing pilot – If the boiler uses a standing pilot light, check to make sure it's on. If it's not, you may try to light it manually, but a malfunction with the thermocouple — the component that automatically shuts off gas — is a common cause. Also, air from a defective seal may be extinguishing the pilot.
  • Hot-surface ignitor – Hot-surface ignitors typically last up to five years. The device should actually be replaced every three years during professional preventive maintenance to avoid these situations. It’s not an expensive part, but you’ll need to call your HVAC pro to fix it.
  • Circulator pump – Check the circulator pump to see if it's working. If the pump is cool and you can't feel it operating, there may be a blown fuse. If the pump is hot, the malfunction may be with the motor, pump or the run capacitor.

Some Radiators Not Heating

You may also come across one or more radiators not producing heat when the rest of the boiler system is working fine. If you’re sure you've adjusted the radiator valve correctly to produce heat, the problem may be with a faulty circulator or zone valve, which would cause certain zones to receive hot water and others not. There may also be sludge, deposits or corrosion in the pipes to blame.

Frozen Condensate Pipe

The condensate pipe channels condensate from the boiler system to a drain located outside the home. Sometimes ice forms and gradually builds an ice dam inside the pipe. When this happens, condensate backs up into the boiler, and the boiler automatically shuts down. The boiler won't restart until the pipe is cleared. Try these thawing tips:

  • If you don’t see ice accumulation at the end of the pipe near the drain, the next logical place for ice accumulation is at the elbow or bend.
  • Once you’ve determined the location, you may pour bucket after bucket of hot water over the pipe until the ice has thawed. Don't use boiling water, as it may crack the pipe.
  • Alternatively, you may wrap the pipe in a heat pack or hot-water bottle.
  • Once the ice has melted, read the boiler’s manual on how to reset your model.

Strange Noises

Boiler noises are quite common, but they're still bothersome at times. If your boiler is rumbling (kettling), there's lime scale buildup on the heat exchanger, which will need to be cleaned. It will also operate more efficiently once cleaned. If your pipes are making a racket, there could be excess water trapped in the return lines or a faulty circulator pump.

While most noise issues don't cause a boiler to suddenly stop heating, ask your HVAC pro to pinpoint the problem and repair boiler issues for better heating efficiency and longer boiler lifespan.

Water Leak

A water leak should be handled right away. If water is leaking around the boiler, call your HVAC pro right away. Water pooling around a radiator may indicate a faulty relief valve, faulty pump or other issue. You want to take care of these leaks quickly, too, since they invite mold and water damage inside your home.

For more expert advice about boiler troubleshooting in your Mid-Atlantic home, please contact us at Griffith Energy Services, Inc.

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