The home I recently purchased has a 2 year old oil furnace that is
hooked into the original 1940's radiator heating system. Everything has
worked fine so far this winter, but I have never owned a
hot-water/radiator heating system before. What is generally recommended
as to maintenance on my part, if anything? Do I just need to have
someone from the oil company clean the burner each year, or does a
water-based system require additional upkeep and maintenance? Do I drain
the pipes in the summer? I'm completely clueless....
The furnace (oil burner) and radiators are from the
houseowner's point of view separate systems.
The burner requires regular service as appropriate
(cf. exhaust gases, cf. fuel efficiency). You should
yourself "bleed" air out of each radiator when the
heating season begins. There is a small valve on
each hot water radiator for this purpose.
Hardly -- the boiler (not "furnace") heats the water, which is circulated
through the radiators. It's all part of one system.
.. but this is not. The bleed valves should be opened *only* if there is
actually air present in the system (indicated chiefly by bubbling or
gurgling noises) -- and that won't happen unless there's a leak somewhere that
allows air to enter (and water to escape). If there's no air, there's nothing
to bleed, and nothing to be gained by opening a bleed valve. In fact, in my
experience, the bleed valves are the most likely place for a leak to occur;
the less you monkey with them, the better. In a properly functioning hyrdonic
system, there is absolutely *no* need to bleed air at the start of each
heating season -- if you need to do that on *your* system, you'd better start
checking for leaks, because you surely have one somewhere.
Doug Miller (alphageek at milmac dot com)
OK, let's start with the basics. You don't have a furnace, you have a
boiler. Furnaces heat air, boilers heat water or make steam.
Oil fired burners, such as you have on you boiler, need cleaning about once
a season, or every 1000 gallons. You can do some of this yourself, or you
pay about $120 to have a pro do it.
The outer shell has to be removed, then some covers on the heat exchanger
are taken off now, you clean this out with a shop vac and a wire brush made
for doing just that job. You need a HEPA filter on the shop vac or you blow
soot all around. My advice is to at least the first time have the oil
company do it and watch so you can see if it is a job you want to tackle. It
can be messy.
The service tech will also replace the nozzle, the tank filter, and using
instruments adjust the burner flame.
No, you don't drain the pipes. In most cases, there is very little that has
to be done on the water side until something finally does wear out or break.
You can either buy a book or have the service tech point out the components
of the system, such as expansion tanks, circulators, zone valves, etc.
You're gonna love it. Much more even heating than forced-air, quieter, doesn't
dehumidify the house the way forced-air does. It's great. After one winter
with hot-water heat, you won't ever want to live in a house with forced-air
One thing to get straight right away, though: you don't have a furnace, you
have a boiler. That knowledge will come in handy when searching for
information online or in the library -- or when talking to HVAC contractors.
Furnaces heat air. Boilers heat water. Some boilers heat it into steam, some
just make it hotter water.
Oil your circulating pump(s) at least annually, according to the
manufacturer's recommendations (which are probably printed on the pump).
If your system has multiple zones controlled by electrically-powered zone
valves, you may need to oil the zone valve motor bearings periodically as
Dunno about that one... mine's gas-fired, so it stays pretty clean. I think
I'd have a local tech check it out at least once, anyway. When you call for
service, make sure you tell them it's a boiler, not a furnace, and make sure
you get a tech that's experienced in boiler service. It's a *completely*
different world from forced-air furnaces.
NOOOOOO!!! It's supposed to be a sealed system. If you drain it, you let air
in. Air means oxygen. Oxygen means corrosion. Keep it closed!
That's ok, I was too a few years ago when I bought my current house with a
hot-water heating system. But I think I'm up to speed now, at least on
my system. There's *lots* of information available at the library. The key
search term is "hydronics". Here are a few books to look for:
Hydronics Technology, by Justin Duncan
Modern Hydronic Heating, by John Siegenthaler
How Come?, by Dan Holohan -- and pretty much anything else he wrote on the
Also have a look at http://www.heatinghelp.com -- lots of info there, too.
Doug Miller (alphageek at milmac dot com)
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