The average homeowner rarely gives the boiler a second thought—until there’s a problem.
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The average homeowner rarely gives the boiler a second thought—until there’s a problem. Fortunately, as the engine that drives a steam or hot-water heating system, boilers generally deliver safe, reliable performance. But they’re not problem-free. On the contrary, boilers are prone to a range of issues. The most serious boiler failure also happens to be the most common, according to the National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Inspectors. It’s a condition known as “dry firing,” and its consequences can be not only damaging but dangerous. In fact, dry firing “can turn your boiler into a ticking time bomb,” says Daniel O’Brian, a technical specialist with SupplyHouse.com.
Of course, steam and hot-water heating systems are complex in design, but dry firing typically stems from a simple cause—a burst pipe, for example, or a loose fitting. Because boilers require a sufficient volume of water to operate as designed, any interruption in the flow of water to the unit results in overheating. Making matters worse is that without water, a boiler cannot do its job to heat the home. So, unaware of the low-water condition in the boiler, a chilly homeowner might turn up the thermostat, causing the appliance to get even hotter. If the dry firing continues, it can irreversibly damage the boiler, or worse, it can cause the boiler to become a volatile hazard.