Published: April 27, 2016 - by Ray Wohlfarth

Categories: Commercial Heating

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Acres of Diamonds

Russell Conwell, founder of Temple University, would often tell a story about a man named Ali Hafed.  Ali Hafed was a rich farmer that was once visited by a Buddhist priest who regaled Ali with stories about diamonds and their worth.  Ali sold his farm and spent the rest of his life searching for diamonds. The story ended tragically for Ali as he took his own life, broke, and in despair. The new owner of Ali’s farm was leading his camel to the water and discovered a large, shiny stone in the water.  He picked it up and kept it in his house. It was soon discovered that the stone was actually a diamond. Ali Hafed’s farm became one of the richest diamond mines in the world. If Ali had only looked on his own farm, he would have been one of the richest men in the world.

What does this story have to do with boilers? I hear many contractors bemoaning the state of the economy. Many are trying to open their business to other avenues. Some are contemplating closing their business. If we look on our own farm, we may find our own riches. All it takes is a visit to our client’s boiler rooms and a copy of the boiler codes for your area. I would wager that more than half of the boiler rooms in the country do not meet the current boiler codes.  There are great opportunities to increase the safety of our clients’ buildings and enhance our sales.  Let me show some of the most common opportunities:

Gas Train Venting - Many of the components in a gas train should be vented to the outside. This would include gas pressure switches, gas pressure regulators, and some gas valves.  These vents are only connected in about half the boiler rooms that I see.  There is only a thin rubber membrane that separates the gas inside the pipe from a leak into the boiler room.

Emergency Door Switch -  ASME CSD1 code calls for door switches to be installed on the exits for every boiler room. The switches shut off the power to the boilers when pushed. These are a great idea and will make the boiler room safer. If you have ever been inside a boiler room when the relief valve opens, you will realize the value of this switch. Within minutes of it opening, there is zero visibility in the room. Steam displaces oxygen so breathing is labored. If you have to shut off the boilers, it is almost impossible to navigate the room.   You may walk into a pipe or duct. How many of your boiler rooms have door switches? ASME is the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Leak Test Gas Valves -  Every gas valve manufacturer has information about how to leak test their valve. Many will suggest that it be done as part of the normal preventive maintenance. ASME CSD1 code recommends it as well. Did you know that gas valves have an allowable amount of leakage? It amazes me that we would never tolerate a leaking valve on our sink but gas valves have a certain amount of tolerable leakage. The most common way to leak test a gas valve is with a bubble test.  Honeywell has found that electronic leak detectors  will give you a false reading in most instances. If the gas train has a solenoid valve, it has a life expectancy of about ten years. I would recommend testing the main gas valves, pilot valves,  and the normally open vent valve. The following is the amount of permissible leakage in a gas valve according to ANSI Z21.21, Section 2.4.2

Valve Size Inches

Allowable Leakage (cc/hr)

Maximum Bubbles per 10 second test

¾”

458

16

1”

458

16

1 ¼”

458

16

1 ½”

458

16

2”

752

26

2 ½”

752

26

3’

752

26

4” and Larger

1,003

35

 

Combustion Air- Make sure that the boiler room has adequate combustion air. The International Mechanical Code requires two openings in the boiler room. One should be within a foot of the ceiling and one within a foot of the floor. The size of the direct openings should be at least one square inch for every 4,000 Btu/h  of combined input rating of the fuel-burning appliances drawing combustion and dilution air from the room.  This would include the boiler and the water heater. When sizing combustion air louvers, you will need to know the Ak or Area Factor of the grills. This is the free area of the louver.  A rule of thumb is that metal grills have about 75% free area and wooden grills have about 50% free area. For example, a  10” x 10” grill equals 100 square inches. If the grill is metal, we would have about 75” free area. If it were wooden, we would have about 50” free area. Assuming our 100 square inch louver is metal, we would have enough combustion air for about 300,000 Btu/h of fuel-burning equipment.  If the heating plant exceeds that, we would have to increase the size of the grill or add mechanical ventilation. When using mechanical ventilation, the code calls for 1 CFM for each 2,400 Btu/h of fuel burning equipment in the room. A good idea is to mechanically interlock the fan with the burner. In this way, the burner will not start until the flow of air into the mechanical room is verified.

When I talk with contractors about this, many will say “Well, the old boiler rooms are “Grandfathered” in.”  My answer is that most automobiles used Asbestos brake shoes at one time. You would be hard pressed to find any of those anymore.  The client is looking to you as their expert. You have a responsibility to inform the client if their equipment does not meet the current codes. They will appreciate it. I like to present a report to the client that shows the current status of the equipment as well as current code violations.  This piece of paper is like magic. It will not stay on the client’s desk. They will have to either forward it to their superior or authorize the repairs. 

When you have looked at every boiler room in your client base, you could get a list of all the boiler rooms installed in your state by contacting the agency that regulates the boilers in your locale.  Some states, such as Ohio, have their list on line.  I hope that you discover your own Acres of Diamonds. 

Would you like to learn more from Ray? Check out his seminars and books.