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What You Need to Know About Inspecting Gas-Fired Boilers

Home inspections

Gas-powered boilers are powerful home systems.

Home inspectors check many important home systems, and one of these is the boiler. Boilers have the potential to cause catastrophic damage if they are incorrectly installed or otherwise improperly maintained, so it’s important to inspect these carefully.

As a home inspector, you are not expected to be an expert in the operation or maintenance of boilers, air conditioning units, electrical panels or any other home systems. However, you should be familiar with how they work and keep an eye out for obvious problems.

How do boilers work? 

Gas-fired boilers ignite natural gas that flows into the boiler to heat water that is then pumped through radiators in a home — or radiant heat pipes beneath floorboards. Boilers can also use oil or electricity as fuel to heat the water, but most use gas because it is cheaper. This is referred to as the combustion process.

A hot-water boiler doesn’t really boil the water, however. Instead, the water is heated to usually between 140 and 180 degrees. An electric pump then pumps the water into the pipes, and this heats the home.

Steam boilers, on the other hand, must boil the water to convert it to steam. These don’t require an electric pump; they use pressure inside the system to move the steam.

Some boilers do double duty as hot-water heaters as well.

Tips for Inspecting a Boiler

As you can imagine, with gas, fire, hot water and pressure, boilers can be quite dangerous. The first thing you want to check on a boiler is the nameplate, which shows what brand of boiler it is. It also gives some important operating information, such as the maximum allowable working pressure.

After you’ve checked the plate, turn on the boiler and allow it to work through a cycle. At this time, check the pressure gauge to make sure it works and to see if the pressure is under the limit specified in the nameplate. Check each radiator in the house — if it has radiators — to see if it gets warm. If you find any that stay cold, look to see if the valve is open before marking it as needing repair.

If the home has radiant heating, check for any cold spots on the floors.

Home inspections

The pressure on a boiler must be within a certain limit to be safe.

Also look for leaks, or signs of old leaks, which can include warped or discolored floorboards under radiators or water spots on the ceiling below the floor with radiant heat pipes.

Note any corrosion you find throughout the system, including on the radiators, valves and other components. Remove the boiler cover and photograph its inner workings, again noting any problems such as rust, pest infestation, leaking, etc.

Learning More About Boiler Inspections

If you have time, you may want to ask to go along at some point with an HVAC tech on a call so you can learn more about how this powerful home system works. In the meantime, advise the homeowner that they should get a full checkup of their system once a year — preferably before the start of the heating season — by a reputable HVAC tech.

Also advise them to purchase a CO detector if there is not already one in the home. A malfunctioning boiler can produce carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless gas that can overwhelm sleeping occupants, causing death.

For more information about performing home inspections, check out our website today

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