The Two Most Important Boiler Safety Devices You Need To Know About

Boilers are among the leading workhorses in American industry and have been since the early days of the nation. Through a simple process of transferring heat to water in order to create steam, boilers are a key link in the production of energy. When heated to its boiling point, each unit of water expands more than 1,600 times to form steam; this can be harnessed to provide power to generate electricity, heat buildings and perform other useful work. However, the expansive power of steam can be dangerous if not monitored or properly handled. That's why boiler safety devices are so important to have in-place and be fully operational. Below are two critical boiler safety devices and what you can do to ensure they are functioning properly:

Safety release valve

Undoubtedly the most important of all boiler safety devices, safety release valves are given the responsibility of opening to release excess pressure that forms inside a boiler. Safety release valves rely on mechanical actuation, such as a spring-loaded component, and don't require electrical power or other potentially-unreliable inputs to function. Their design is not complex, but they do demand careful attention, maintenance and testing to ensure a perfect response in case of emergency. Here are a few important tips that can help you make sure safety release valves are in excellent working order:

Choose an approved repair professional

Safety release valves are not the most complex piece of equipment in your facility, but the repair of broken valves is complex. Only American Society of Mechanical Engineers' (ASME) approved boiler and fittings repair professionals possess the expertise and qualifications needed to repair safety release valves. The ASME is the organization tasked with developing boiler safety standards in North America, and their standards are often codified in state and federal legislation. Using an unapproved "outsider" could endanger lives and also result in large fines.

Be sure your incoming water supply is pure

Boilers are susceptible to rust and scaling, which is the deposit of solid minerals that are normally dissolved in ordinary water but precipitate out under heat and pressure. Scale can cause all kinds of problems for boilers, including building up on heat tubes which causes a reduction in heating efficiency. Worse, however, scale can cause safety release valves to malfunction if the scale accumulates around their parts. If a valve sticks in the closed position, it may not open in time to release explosive pressures. Consult with a boiler engineer for assistance in learning how to remove minerals that can accumulate and cause trouble down the road.

Test safety release valves for proper functioning

An untested safety release valve can be worse than one that isn't there at all. Should it be inoperable without anyone's knowledge, a false sense of safety and complacency could set-in and lead to tragic results should an accident occur. Therefore, testing is vital for making sure that the valves are in working order. Through the use of sophisticated computer programming, electronic testing equipment physically interacts with valves and predicts their release pressures without actually permitting steam to escape. As with repair of valves, always use an ASME-approved protocol when testing valves; no one without proper training and credentialing should be involved in the testing process.

Low water cut-off valve

Boilers also utilize another type of valve to maintain safe operating conditions. The low water cut-off valve is a device capable of monitoring water levels within a boiler and responding with appropriate actions should the water level drop too low. A low water level is hazardous because water serves as a coolant to keep the metal casing from being overheated. If there is a leak or failure to maintain an appropriate water level, then the metal will heat beyond its safe point and fail. Below are a couple of things to keep in mind concerning low water cut-off valves:

Use cut-off valves in tandem

Boilers should be equipped with two low water cut-off valves that operate in tandem; the first triggers an alarm, and the second shuts off the boiler's heating system if the water level continues to drop. This is a redundancy which helps add to the safety of the system. If you have a boiler that has only one low water cut-off valve, then contact an ASME-approved boiler installation professional to install a second valve. 

Replace aging valves

As with safety release valves, low water cut-off valves are fairly simple and reliable. However, that doesn't excuse lack of maintenance and proper inspection of the valves. Malfunctioning low water cut-off valves are a result of excess sediment and scale buildup; simple wear-and-tear due to age can also cause valve failures. That's why you must have a maintenance plan that addresses the replacement of these critical components on a scheduled basis. Contact your ASME approved boiler installation professional from a company like Nationwide Boiler for assistance with replacement and repair of low water cut-off valves.