Common Boiler Water Problems

Common Boiler Water Problems

Table of Contents

Many boiler problems start with the water quality. Common boiler feed water issues or problems with the condensate return water can lead to severe damage to the unit. Instead of waiting for a problem to occur, find out how the most frequent water quality issues develop and how to prevent them.

Common Boiler Problems With Water Quality

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Common Boiler Problems With Water Quality

While boilers can have issues with their equipment, problems are more likely to develop from improperly balanced water. Poor water quality can subsequently cause damage to the components of the boiler. If you notice any equipment problems, consider all the causes, including possible issues with the water chemistry that require treatment to rebalance it.

Here is a look at common boiler problems with water quality.

1. Scale Build Up

Poor water quality can severely damage your boiler system. Minerals, like calcium and others, in the water can accumulate in the boiler and pipes as scale deposits. These deposits can slow the passage of steam through the system or block it entirely. In fact, scale is the most significant contributor to efficiency loss in your steam boiler system.

Scale buildup can reduce the effectiveness of heat exchangers and prevent hot water in the boiler from reaching the needed temperature. Therefore, by removing and preventing scale buildup, your boiler will restore its efficient operation.

2. Water and Safety Probes Breaking From Scale Deposits

Probes submerged in the water can also become encrusted with scale, just like the pipes. This coating on probes is another reason to have your tank water treated. If the probes cannot correctly measure the water temperature or pressure, the boiler may automatically shut off.

Safety controls and sensors that fail also could prevent the boiler from shutting off in a dangerous situation, such as the buildup of too much pressure. Because these safety controls prevent the system from running in dangerous conditions, regular inspections are critical for the operation of the tank and the safety of those who work around it.

Low water cutoff valves shut off the boiler if the water level drops too low. Checking the operation of these should be a part of the job of someone in the building. Drain the tank for a few seconds to test the float chamber whenever it’s not in a firing sequence. The low water control system should kick in immediately. This brief drainage examines the system while also allowing heavy sediments to flow out of the system.

3. Water Leaks

One boiler problem with the water chemistry that can happen is water leaks. Improper water chemistry inside a boiler can lead to pinhole leaks in the tank, pipes or other parts of the system.

Water leaks can occur anywhere in the steam system. Look for dripping around the tank or its pipes, but leaks may also occur away from the tank. Water can also leave the system through the air vents. These hidden leaks make identifying a problem much more difficult. Using a water meter will tell you if a closed system is losing water, even from a hidden hole. If you don’t have this type of gauge on your system, consider having one installed.

A water leak in a closed system will eventually drop the water level available for the system low enough that it will cause the system to shut down. If the water level does not decrease significantly but the system leaks, atmospheric moisture may be getting into the system. This untreated water in your tank can cause premature wear. In open-loop systems, an increase in the water delivered into the tank indicates an excessive loss of water somewhere in the system.

Due to the labor required to remove leaking parts of your boiler system, replacing multiple elements at once may be more cost-effective than having the leaks fixed piecemeal. This price savings is especially true if you have numerous holes in pipes inside the walls or other hard-to-reach places. Don’t attempt to change the pipes or other parts yourself. Leave that labor-intensive task to a professional.

4. Greater Than Normal Amounts of Sludge

Sludge is similar to the more solid deposits of scale but has a softer texture. When sludge reaches the boiler tank, it has exposure to high temperatures. However, it will typically only harden if the water level drops, such as during draining. As the sludge hardens, it creates a baked-on layer onto the interior of the boiler tank. This baked-on sludge can then create similar problems to scale.

Another issue with sludge is building up in areas that have lower pressure or flow rates of water. Continued buildup without checking can increase the temperature inside the pipes by insulating that area of the boiler system. Buildup anywhere in the boiler can restrict water flow. Consequently, more sludge or scale deposits build, temperatures increase and damage to the boiler’s components occurs.

5. Foaming in the Boiler Tank

Foaming inside the boiler tank occurs when solids in the water float to the top. When the water heats, these solids foam from the steam. Some rise through the steam to the turbines or superheaters. When the solids deposit on these, the system loses efficiency. Eventually, the solids will work their way throughout the rest of the boiler, causing more damage.

6. Corrosion Within the Boiler System

Corrosion can transpire anywhere in the boiler. In fact, this boiler problem often happens starting on the inside and eventually works its way out. Therefore, signs of corrosion may not be evident until a pipe or tank leaks.

Typically, corrosion stems from a chemical reaction of the boiler water with the material of the pipes or tank. This situation may happen from too much dissolved oxygen in the boiler water, an improper pH level or dissolved solids. A qualified water treatment professional will know the type of chemicals to use to protect your boiler from this type of damage. Preventing corrosion is essential to preserving the integrity of the system. Plus, by preventingcorrosion, you also avoid leaks caused by chemical damage to your boiler system.

The initial treatment of the water is important, in addition to filtering, monitoring water quality and adding chemicals as needed to maintain balance.

The Importance of Boiler Water Treatment

Boiler water treatment can prevent many issues with the system, ranging from minor to severe. The initial treatment of the water is important, in addition to filtering, monitoring water quality and adding chemicals as needed to maintain balance. To facilitate the process, have equipment set up on your boiler to monitor water chemistry and automatically dispense treatment chemicals to ensure the fresh makeup water does not contribute to imbalances.

Vital boiler water treatment equipment includes the following monitoring devices:

  • Boiler probes take measures of the boiler water, including tank level, pH and more. The information from the probes goes to the controller to adjust chemical additions.
  • Contact headwater meters monitor your boiler water usage.
  • Corrosion coupon rack find the rate of corrosion in your boiler system without opening pipes by using one of these coupon racks.

Additionally, boiler equipment includes controllers to meter out the appropriate levels of boiler water treatment chemicals. These pieces of equipment make the work of measuring and administering water treatment products easier, keeping the system cleaner for longer.

Types of equipment used for boiler chemical control include the following:

  • Chemical mix tanks: These tanks safely store and mix chemicals for addition to the boiler water.
  • Chemical pumps: Pumps deliver the chemicals to the boiler from the chemical mix tanks.
  • Bleed valves and solenoids: These valves regulate the flow of chemicals or water.
  • Automation controllers: The controllers adjust chemical additions automatically with information from the probes.

Having the right equipment is important to retaining water quality. That said, the chemicals added to treat the water make the biggest difference in the longevity of the boiler and the quality of the water. These chemicals play different roles, and each boiler may require a different composition of water based on its materials and operation. Therefore, trust professionals in water treatment to choose the correct chemicals for your boiler water and how much to add to keep the system clean.

The precise chemicals used will vary based on your system, but common categories of boiler chemicals include:

  • Condensate return water treatment: These chemicals regulate the pH of the condensate from the boiler returning to the system. They also protect pipes from corrosion.
  • Boiler inhibitors: These are all-in-one packages of chemicals that treat the boiler water to control pH, stop foaming, prevent corrosion and protect against scale and pitting.
  • Chemicals to control pH: Keeping the pH of the boiler water is essential to preventing scale and pitting.
  • Scale prevention: Scale prevention requires chemically balancing the water to prevent scale solid deposition.
How to Troubleshoot Steam Boiler Problems

How to Troubleshoot Steam Boiler Problems

To troubleshoot steam boiler problems, consider the issues and the most common causes behind them. You can save time and money by looking at the composition of the water first and progressing from there during the troubleshooting process.

Corrosion or Leaks in the Pipes

For leaks or corrosion, especially in heated portions of the boiler, consider water chemistry. Measure the water quality carefully for dissolved oxygen levels or low pH. Both of these factors are common causes of corrosion or damage to steam boilers.

Simply knowing your boiler has damage is often not sufficient because there are several types of both mechanical and chemical corrosion that can occur. If possible, evaluate the damage done to the interior of the pipes for signs of specific chemical corrosion.

Types of chemical corrosion include the following:

  • Oxygen damage: Pitting over a localized or widespread area in portions of the boiler carrying hot water indicate this type of damage.
  • Acid damage: When the pH of the water is too low, the water is acidic. Without neutralizing the acid, it will cause overall thinning of the metal inside a boiler.
  • Caustic corrosion: At the other end of the pH spectrum is damage caused by water that is too basic or has too high of a pH. Typically, this type of damage occurs under scale deposits where the water can boil. This type of damage often causes an irregular gouging pattern.

The above types of damage have water chemistry as their main cause. Therefore, correcting the water to prevent scale, reduce dissolved oxygen and raise low pH can protect against future corrosion and boiler failure. Consulting with professionals in providing you with a clean boiler system can prevent corrosion and subsequent leaks, as well.

Scale or Sludge Buildup in the Boiler

To treat scale or sludge buildup in the boiler, you must consider your water composition. Both the makeup water and return line water need chemical treatment. Both issues will cause problems with increased water pressure or reduced flow. Plus, they prevent efficient heating of the boiler.

For severe problems, you will likely need to drain and clean the system. Then, start with properly treated and filtered water.

Scale prevention chemicals will also stop sludge from depositing inside the boiler. Therefore, ask your water experts about how to protect your boiler from scale and sludge with future use.

Boiler Tank Water Foaming

As with other boiler problems, clean the boiler of any contamination caused by foaming before correcting the water chemistry problem. Treating the water with anti-foaming agents prevents the chain reaction caused by foam production. The chemicals alter the surface tension to prevent any solids from creating foam in the water.

Call the Professionals for Treating Boiler Water

If you suspect the problem stems from poor water quality, contact us at Chardon Labs to have a water treatment system installed or to have your boiler system evaluated. You should never operate a boiler without untreated water because the damage can appear with few symptoms over time until the pipes become clogged, or the system gets corroded. These situations will often require expensive repairs. Our systems help you stay free of scale at a consistent, reasonable price.

Know Your Course of Action for Problems

Once you have your boiler operating again, become more vigilant in maintaining it. Because the water is such an essential part of your steam boiler’s operation, water treatment is critical for the system’s longevity. With treated water, you can avoid problems such as scale buildup or blockages in the system. Use water treatment as a part of an entire system of regular maintenance for your boiler system. Keeping up with it will ensure your boiler continues to function appropriately, and problems can be addressed before they cause disruptions.

Trust Chardon Labs for Your Steam Boiler’s Water Treatments

Trust Chardon Labs for Your Steam Boiler’s Water Treatments

At Chardon Labs, we do water treatment for boilers in a variety of applications. Everything from health care facilities to HVAC systems to industrial plants may use boilers that need water treatment. It does not matter if the system is open or closed — scale can build up over time in either. We will install a customized solution to prevent boiler problems with your tank and steam system that stem from its water.

We’ve been treating water since 1965. In that time, we’ve become the place businesses turn to for results from their water treatment. Contact us to schedule a treatment for your boiler or if you have any questions about your boiler’s water. Our results and expertise have made us a leader in the water treatment industry, and we are here to help your business.

Portrait of Matt Welsh, the co-president
Matt Welsh
Vice President, Water Consultant at Chardon Labs | Website | + posts

Matt Welsh is the Vice President and Water Consultant at Chardon Labs.  He helps consult a wide range of customers utilizing various methods of water treatment, from chemical to chemical-free approaches, large and small applications, and across a wide range of geographical influences.  With 20 years of water treatment experience, including a wide range of troubleshooting and service in potable water and non-potable HVAC and industrial applications, he is an expert in water treatment chemistry for cooling towers, boilers, and closed-loop systems.


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