Boilers are one of the most important components in HVAC systems of institutional and commercial facilities. They require significant investments for installation and maintenance and are one of the largest energy users in the facility. The failure of the boiler during the heating season can lead to malfunctions and major damage to buildings and their contents. It is therefore not surprising that maintenance and engineering managers must pay special attention to the operation of the boilers of their facilities.
Like everything, water heaters have a limited lifespan. Even with the best maintenance, they eventually need to be replaced. The challenge for managers is to find the right moment. Is it better to repair an existing water heater or is it time to invest in a new one? If you wait too long, the cost of maintaining the boiler could become extremely high or the boiler could fail. However, if you replace it ahead of time, the money will be thrown away.
Making the right decision to repair or replace requires that managers know how to recognize the condition of the boiler well. They also need to understand how these water heaters serve the facility and the future needs of the facility. They can develop this understanding by carefully examining the seven key factors concerning the boiler.
The age of the boiler is more than the number itself
Although water heaters are long-lasting, they do not last forever. Cast iron water heaters have a normal service life of 30 years or more if properly maintained. Condensing boilers have a service life of 15-20 years, again under the assumption of proper maintenance. But this does not mean that the boilers will need to be replaced when they reach the expected service life. The method of maintenance is a factor that managers must take into account when deciding on repair or replacement.
The cost of maintaining a water heater grows as it ages. Managers need to look at the trend line for boiler maintenance. If it is flat, repair might be the best option, even if the boiler is approaching or has passed its expected service life. If maintenance costs are relatively high and rising, then replacement is the best option.
Records of operation and maintenance of the boiler
The history of the boiler is another important factor that managers must take into account when deciding on repair or replacement. Frequent failures indicate that either something is wrong with the installation of the boiler or it is no longer reliable. If the problem is an installation, such as faulty piping, technicians can correct the problem before managers consider replacing it.
Managers can also review boiler maintenance records. Does the same problem always occur or do new ones appear? Are the problems minor and easy to correct or are these warning signs that the chance of a major breakdown is on the way? Again, look at the trend line to see if the number of maintenance problems is constant or increasing. An increase in maintenance requirements means an increase in operating costs, which is a sign that the boiler may be nearing the end of its effective life.
The biggest problem with frequent boiler failures is that they usually occur at the worst possible moment – in the middle of the heating season, on the coldest night. If the boiler then breaks down, building systems and facilities can freeze. If the damage is big, it may require moving the boiler repair to another facility. If the boiler has a history of failures, operators must weigh the risk of potentially costly damage relative to the replacement cost.
Consideration of costs
The availability of repair parts will also influence the manager’s decision to repair or replace the water heater. Manufacturers are doing an excellent job of maintaining an inventory of replacement components, but as they introduce new models, they are gradually eliminating the inventory of replacement parts for older models. This can put technicians in a position to have to conduct a lengthy search for the parts they need while their water heater is defective, or it can force them to produce a replacement part.
Many boiler repairs can be made using generic parts, such as valves and gauges, but some require OEM parts. Managers must take this into account when evaluating a repair or replacement decision. Will they be able to get what they need when they need it? If so, how much will it cost?
Assuming that technicians can procure the necessary parts, managers must weigh the cost of the repair against the cost of replacing the boiler. In most cases, the cost of repairs will be less than the cost of replacement, so it makes sense to make the necessary repairs.
Reducing energy costs has long been a goal of managers. Since water heaters are one of the largest consumers of energy in facilities, managers have paid due attention to the efficiency of water heaters. It is natural for boiler efficiency to decline with age, even if properly maintained. Parts are worn out. Calculus slowly appears on heat transfer surfaces. Earlier repairs, even when performed correctly, could further reduce efficiency. Tests on a typical 30-year-old water heater show an operating efficiency of 70% or less, while a new condensing water heater can have an efficiency of 95%.
Potential energy savings that managers can achieve by replacing the boiler even if it is in good working order. But before making that replacement decision, managers should analyze the future energy costs for each system in one year. The energy savings alone may not be enough to guarantee replacement, but among other factors, efficiency could be enough to encourage replacement.
The focus is on security
Safety is very important when deciding whether a water heater is for repair or replacement.
Technicians must regularly test all safety parts of the boiler to confirm their proper operation. Managers must also consider working with a water heater expert to assess the safety of an existing water heater. Based on the recommendations, managers can assess whether a more appropriate move is to replace an existing water heater to improve safety or to install a new water heater that meets applicable regulations.
Boiler installation in a larger building consists of one or two large boilers. Each water heater is dimensioned so that it can carry the heating load most of the time, while the other water heater serves as a spare. Although this system works well to meet the heating requirements of a building, it is not the most efficient method.
Boilers can adjust their ignition speed to meet different loads. If the load falls below the minimum ignition speed of the unit, the boiler could be temporarily switched off. This cycle reduces the operating efficiency and burdens the boiler components due to temperature changes.
Instead of replacing a faulty unit one by one, managers may consider installing more smaller water heaters and positioning them so that as the heating load increases, additional water heaters come into play. This strategy allows managers to more easily match boiler capacity to the heating load, eliminating cycles and improving operating efficiency. Multiple smaller boilers also improve the reliability of the system because the failure of one unit will not significantly affect the heating capacity.
Advances in technology
Innovations in boiler design are constant. Digital technology has replaced the mechanical controls in next-generation water heaters, allowing technicians remote control. Major improvements in boiler design have resulted in greater work efficiency.
Taking these seven factors into account when evaluating a boiler repair or replacement option, managers can decide on a position of understanding. They can more successfully take into account the current and future needs of the facility, the condition of existing boilers, the cost of continuing to repair existing boilers, and the cost of installing a new system. By assessing each factor, managers can identify the best option.