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Common Types of Boiler Losses
Boilers can encounter significant (and costly) issues, particularly during the winter months. It’s critical for adjusters to work closely with a trained technician to diagnose and repair all issues that may occur with a hydronic system, as the slightest oversight can create dangerous situations.
During the winter months, freezing temperatures can burst pipes and valves on all types of boilers. This can occur in a single zone or throughout a home’s system, and the resulting water damage can be catastrophic if it’s not handled quickly. Additionally, the scope of damage may vary significantly. While copper piping can be easy to repair, cast iron is not, and cracked radiators will need to be fully replaced. (Pictured: A cracked radiator caused by freezing conditions)
Puffback can occur when a boiler doesn’t properly ignite and allows gas or oil vapors to build up within the combustion chamber. When it does eventually ignite, the excess fuel can cause anything from a small amount of smoke to a mess of smoke and soot, which is then released into the area surrounding the boiler. In rare cases, smoke and soot can also travel up the piping along with the heat that continues to circulate throughout the home.
Low Water Cutoff Failure
A common boiler issue is a failure in the low water cutoff switch, which can occur due to either a lack of regular maintenance or age-related wear and tear. The cutoff switch ensures that the boiler does not heat up without an adequate amount of water. If the boiler runs without enough water, it could crack the heat exchanger or the combustion chamber.
While these low water cutoff devices come in both electrical and mechanical varieties, the mechanical switch is more likely to fail prematurely. One common reason for this failure is that the float mechanism sometimes becomes waterlogged, which then sends a false negative indicating that there’s not enough water in the system. This in turn automatically shuts off the system.
Another frequent issue with the mechanical switch is the buildup of Totally Dissolved Solids (TDSs), or mineral deposits that can prevent the float mechanism from freely moving up and down with the corresponding water levels. TDSs can also cause the water to foam, creating a false-positive effect that prevents the float from indicating when it’s time to shut off the valve due to low water levels. This can lead to dry fires, which can come at a greater cost to repair than replacing the boiler. (Pictured: A Mechanical Low Water Cutoff that has a buildup of TDSs and created a false-positive that lead to a dry fire)
High Voltage Surge
Another regular failure with hydronic systems is high voltage surge, since boilers are composed of a significant number of electronic components. You always need a licensed technician with the proper testing equipment to diagnose and fix any high voltage surge damage to a system.
A significant portion of a hydronic system uses valuable copper piping, so unfortunately theft is common. Depending on how the thieves have removed the boiler and piping, it may be costly for a licensed plumber to replace the stolen pipes. In any situations where exposed wires or other dangerous hazards may be present, adjusters should not touch anything until a licensed technician has surveyed the site. (Pictured: Copper piping cut from a boiler system)
Water damage can be disastrous to a boiler; it’s therefore critical that a full evaluation is performed when a boiler is exposed to water for any period of time. Following a water loss, the boiler’s electrical components, the burner, and even the combustion or heat chamber can have a myriad of damages.