How Do Boilers Work?

Published: 10th July 2008
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A boiler is an important component of a heating system used in homes, buildings, industries and in making hot water. It is the part that contains water and moves heat in the form of steam from a fuel source such as oil, gas or coal to provide warm air. This is often found in hot water heating systems that convert heated water into steam and returns it to the source to be reused when the air gets cooler.

Specifically, a boiler works by burning natural gas, oil or wood pellet to heat water that goes through hot water tubes or cylinders, radiators or underfloor systems. Boilers can be energy efficient if well maintained, properly set up and their insulation intact and sealed well.

In most residential and small commercial applications, boilers can produce hot water at around 160 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit which is then circulated throughout the system using a pump. At temperature above 212 degrees Fahrenheit, steam is produced.

Types of boilers

Boilers can be closed or open systems. A closed system refers to one which is able to reuse 100 percent of the steam produced by a boiler. In other words, the energy from the steam is converted back into the form of water to be used again in producing heat. A hot water heating system is an example. On the other hand, an open system is one which does not return the condensate back into the boiler as the process of heating may be a source of contamination.

Boilers also come in two basic types - the firetube and the watertube. In the firetube or shell boilers, the fire or the hot gases are directed through the inner part of the tubes situated within the boiler shell surrounded by water. This design type, which is found in 80 percent of boilers, can produce steam of up to a maximum of 25,000 pounds per hour.

In the watertube, the fire or hot gases are directed to and around the exterior of tubes containing water. The boilers in this type are rectangular in shape and have two or more drums. In the top drum is where steam and water are separated while the lower drum acts as a collection point. When a huge amount of steam is needed, this system is very ideal.

How it works

Boilers operate when fuel is supplied to the burner. Natural gas is supplied through the gas pipe, oil or LPG through a pressurized tank while the wood pellet is blown to the burner. Fuel is then mixed with air and ignited.

The next stage is when the fire from the burner and its combustion gases escapes into the boiler. What follows is the transfer of heat to the water that circulates through the heat exchanger within the boiler.

When water is heated, it then produces warm air around the house via the radiators, underfloor heater and hot water tubes.

Keep in mind that boilers have to be regularly cleaned to make it work for a longer period. As they age, boilers that are not well maintained usually become less efficient.

Here are some tips then to follow. Run your boiler for short periods of time. Also, avoid turning it on and off very often as doing so could affect its system. Leave at least a one-hour interval before switching it on again.

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dmilesut on September 6, 2011 said:
In general, it probably is not a bad idea to have your furnace serviced once a year

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