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How Do Boilers Work?

How much do you know about your central heating system? Understanding the basics of your HVAC will help head off minor problems before they become bigger ones. It will also help with maintenance issues and keep your system running efficiently for years to come. Is your heat generated through a boiler system? Several modern designs are not that different from boilers used over 150 years ago. In fact, the fire-tube boiler is very similar to boilers that were used to power trains and ships. It’s a testament to the efficient, reliable design that it hasn’t changed much in over a century.

A boiler generates heat through combustion using a variety of different fuels including wood, coal, and oil. However, if you own a relatively new system and live in a metropolitan area, then you probably own a natural gas boiler. The fuel is often dictated by geographical location and gas mains are easily accessed within city limits. Homes in more rural areas generally need to seek out alternative fuels such as oil and coal. Gas boiler systems are less expensive, easier to run and better for the environment.

Most Important Component

Your boiler is the most important component of your central heating system. It is connected by a pipe to a gas main (under the street) for a continuous supply of natural gas. When you switch the boiler on, a valve opens, releasing gas through small jets into a sealed combustion chamber within the boiler tank. An electric ignition system then lights the jets, which work with a heat exchanger connected to a pipe that holds cold water. The exchanger then heats up the water to 140 degrees.

The pipe holding the water is part of a much larger system of pipes that snake throughout your home. This system carries the hot water to each radiator (or distribution points), which travels back to the boiler to be reheated. When the hot water reaches the radiator, that heat is used to warm the house. Driven by an electric pump, the water within is continuously flowing – traveling back to the boiler to heat up again and repeating the process.

Heating Boiler Operation Details

There are several components to a boiler system, they include:

  • Boiler Burner – Composed of the jets that flame to heat the pipe that holds the water.
  • Heat Exchanger – Connected to the water source. Allows the heat from the burner to heat the water without direct contact.
  • Supply Lines – The piping used to deliver the heated water (sometimes steam) to the radiators, also referred to as the distribution points.
  • Return Lines – The piping used to return the cooled water back to the boiler for reheating.
  • Fire Box – The area where the fuel is exposed to the air and generates the flames.
  • Refractory – Materials that are used for filling any gaps around the firebox to ensure the flames are contained.
  • Circulator Pumps – Used to push the hot water throughout the pipe system to heat the radiators (distribution points).

A good way to get better acquainted with your boiler system is to watch the technician the next time it is serviced. They can point out the various components and give you a first-hand view of how it works. Remember that Cassel offers complete boiler repair and maintenance. Call us today at (217) 866-1596 and we’ll send a technician out to fix the problem right away!