Hydronic heating systems use natural convection to provide warmth. If you have a boiler in your Nashua, NH, home, you don’t have to deal with drafts, hot spots or unmanageable energy bills. Boilers produce clean, even heat and support a high indoor air quality (IAQ). After all, the radiant heat that boilers distribute isn’t traveling through long channels of dusty, debris-covered ducting. Boilers don’t dry out the air, and when well-maintained, they enjoy impressively long lifespans. However, when boiler problems arise, they can be daunting to troubleshoot. Fortunately, you can take advantage of the information that follows to safely troubleshoot the most common boiler issues.
What Troubleshooting Is and How To Do It Safely
There’s a big difference between troubleshooting boilers and fixing them. Before you get your toolbox out and start banging around or tampering with covered or moving components, it’s important to understand the risks of doing so. Do-it-yourself (DIY) boiler repairs can set the stage for:
- Carbon monoxide exposure and poisoning
- Serious skin and eye burns
- Extensive property damage
- Explosions and fires
No matter what type of heating equipment you own, taking heater repairs into your own hands can also result in the loss of all protections provided by your manufacturer’s warranty, home insurance plan and home warranty.
To compare, troubleshooting is largely exploratory. It’s about assessing your equipment and its settings to determine if there are minor oversights or errors that can be easily corrected. There’s no need for special tools, skills or training, and there’s very little risk of property damage or physical injury.
Always Start by Checking Your Thermostat
The first and most basic step in boiler troubleshooting is making sure that your thermostat is set correctly. In all heating systems, thermostats act like brains. They tell heaters when to turn off and on by registering the current indoor temperature and tracking temperature changes. If your boiler isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do, there’s a good chance that you’ve set it incorrectly.
Make sure that your preferred temperature is below the current temperature reading. It may be that the interior of your home is actually much warmer than it feels. Checking the thermostat could reveal that another building resident has made a temperature adjustment. When there are multiple people living in a home, unannounced thermostat changes often cause confusion.
If your thermostat is set correctly, the problem might lie with its location. Whenever thermostats are positioned too near ovens, high-functioning gaming computers or sunlit windows, they struggle to read indoor temperatures accurately. Although your thermostat’s current location may have worked before, small changes in the layout of your living space can make all the difference. For instance, if someone has set a portable heater up in this location, you’ll have to move it or turn it off to get your boiler back on. If residual heat from your oven was once blocked by a partial wall or furnishings, you may need to relocate this device or establish another heat-blocking barrier.
Surprisingly, even cutting down a tree in your yard can make a formerly suitable thermostat location unacceptable. The removal of outside shade can leave thermostats bathed in sunlight and affected by solar heat. On a bright, sunny day that’s actually bitingly cold, your boiler might never turn on at all. Fortunately, you can have your thermostat replaced or moved to a more optimal location during your next boiler maintenance service.
Make Sure the Circuit Breaker Hasn’t Been Tripped
Gas-fired and oil-fired boilers burn fuel to produce heat. However, these units require a steady stream of electricity as well. This is why when your power goes off, your boiler won’t turn on even if you have a full tank of heating oil or an uninterrupted supply of natural gas.
Unlike major household appliances that are plugged in, boilers are often hardwired directly into residential electrical systems. Whether yours has a three-pronged plug and a special outlet or is seamlessly integrated into your home’s wiring, it has the potential to trip the circuit breaker. Sometimes circuit breakers trip due to power surges or mini-surge events. At other times, they trip due to wiring problems along their circuits and as a preventative measure against electrical fires and electrocution.
It might be that your boiler has tripped the circuit breaker because the circuit is overloaded. This is sometimes the case when two or more appliances on a shared circuit are used at once. However, if your boiler was properly installed, it should have its own dedicated circuit.
There may be a functional or mechanical issue within your heating system that’s tripping the breaker. When boiler problems cause circuit breakers to trip, flipping breakers back on won’t keep these heaters running for long. The connected breakers will trip repeatedly until the underlying problems are resolved.
Circuit breaker boxes are usually located in low-traffic areas like utility closets, remote hallways, basements, or garages. Open the breaker box and find the breaker that’s labeled for your boiler. Then, switch it all the way into the “OFF” position and toggle it back on. If your boiler fires up and runs continuously, you should be good to go. If it shuts back down within minutes, leave the breaker in the “OFF” position, and call for service right away.
Check for Signs of Leaking or Sweating
There’s nothing you can do to safely resolve a boiler leak on your own. However, if a leak exists, finding it will give you the chance to mitigate water damage and prevent problems with mold. Aging boilers often develop small imperfections within their pipes and at their connections as temperature-related expansion and contraction gradually break down these features. If there’s a small and growing puddle of water in a visible area, you likely have a leak.
Corrosion and sediment-related pressure issues within hydronic heating systems often force water out of their weakest points. This is the more likely case if there’s no pooling water to be found but various components are covered in beady, sweat-like condensation.
Check Your Boiler’s Pilot Light
New boilers have hot surface ignitors that are electrically powered. Older boilers often have pilot lights instead. If you haven’t replaced your boiler in two decades or more, check its pilot light and make sure it’s lit. Drafty conditions in boiler storage areas can knock pilot lights out. Someone may have slammed or briskly shut a nearby window or door and have temporarily taken your boiler out of action.
When checking your pilot light, take a look at your boiler’s burners as well. These should always glow bright blue. If the burner flames are ever yellow or orange-tipped, this may be an indication of a gas leak or another serious issue. If you suspect that your gas-fired boiler has a gas leak, turn off the gas line and exit the house.
Schedule Professional Boiler Maintenance or Repairs
Bleeding boilers, on a regular basis, release trapped air within their lines that might otherwise lead to rust and progressive, corrosion-related damage. Annual boiler maintenance ensures the safety and efficiency of these heating systems. It’s a chance for HVAC technicians to inspect venting systems, carbon monoxide detectors and other features that are key for protecting human health. If you can’t get your boiler to work by adjusting your thermostat, resetting the breaker or relighting its pilot light, it’s best to pass the problem on to a licensed professional.
Since 1995, we’ve been proudly serving residents of Nashua, NH, and the surrounding communities. We offer furnace, boiler and air conditioner installation, maintenance and repairs. We also provide ductless mini-split systems, water heaters and indoor air quality solutions. Get in touch with Joyce Cooling & Heating Inc. for more boiler troubleshooting advice or to schedule an appointment!