Step by Step Guide to inspection of heating boilers & furnaces for operating & safety defects - Heating system detailed inspection procedures for boilers & furnaces, & how to understand & report the significance of findings during a heating system inspection
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How to inspect a heating system for problems, safety hazards, operating snafus: this document presents a very detailed methodology for inspecting residential heating systems with focus on heating boilers and furnaces, on assuring
completeness, accuracy, and on maximum heating system defect detection. The heating system inspection methodology involved is intended to be generalized to
the forensic diagnostic inspection of any complex system in order to have the highest probability of detecting
important safety or operating defects.
This sounds fancier than intended. Our object is to use an organized
procedure for inspecting for defects, without losing the ability to discover unexpected problems as well. The heating system methodology discussed here includes both details specific to heating boilers (the full outline at "Contents")
and more general complex-system inspection methods (listed immediately below).
Preparation Begins Before the Heating System Inspection
Prior education & experience - prepares for the inspection
by knowledge and attitude. Your inspection of heating equipment begins
at or before the present seminar.
At the office - when order is taken (*)
Age of house--how old might the equipment be?
Location (neighborhood)--is it a builder's development with all boilers of a particular problem-brand?
Price range--is it a higher priced house likely to have more costly equipment/multiple systems?
Type of house--large "H" ranch (one story) may have two separate furnaces
Buyer's concerns--comments about heating system volunteered by client?
House is occupied? winterized system, has it been left on?
Was work done by seller or amateurs? IE: "the owner converted the basement" [and did heating and electrical work?]
Driving to the inspection
Rested, healthy, attentive, mind on work?
If not, recognize that extra effort will be needed to tune
your attention to the task about to begin.
Do not perform an inspection if you are seriously ill or
distracted. Life-safety issues may be missed.
Turn off the radio a mile or so before reaching the house.
Think about the process.
Tune your mind to the task at hand.
Observe the neighborhood, age of houses, quality of maintenance,
heavy trees (funny winds and flue draft problems or squirrels in chimneys).
CONTROL ATTENTION - How to Focus Attention to Assure a Thorough Heating System Inspection or other Complex System Investigations
How to pay close attention for hours at a time: without the audible
use of Zen mantras or other eyebrow-raising behavior the inspector
must be calm, relaxed, and completely focused on the process of inspection.
Relaxation as an Aid to Attention During Heating System Inspection
On arriving at a building inspection in preparation for inspection of the
heating system or any other building or building system or component here are some
steps that aid in assuring that the inspector's attention will be fully focused
on the job at hand:
Turn off the car ignition.
Calm yourself for a moment before getting out of the car,
before stepping into the sea of seller and buyer anxiety and sometimes
the cold acrid wind of realtor fear.
Take Control of the Inspection Process
The inspector must be in control of the process.
Do not permit distractions.
Focus must be on the house, then on clients to assure your explanations
How to Pay Attention During the Heating System Inspection
Home inspection is paying attention to everything, simultaneously. Each observation at every step might reveal a key which will trigger an important discovery later in the inspection.
The inspector must focus on a sequence of examination of minute details.
Simultaneously the inspector must remain open to the unexpected findings or ideas. The unexpected may be suggested by a detail under examination or it may intrude from the inspector's peripheral.
It is easier to notice the presence of a defect of commission (leaking relief valve) than a defect of omission (no relief valve installed). "Psychology and nothing," Eliot Hearst, American Scientist, Sept.-Oct. 1991 pp 432-443. Every home inspector can improve his/her inspection technique by reading this article. Recognizing and learning from absence, deletion, and nonoccurrence are surprisingly difficult. Thinking through sequences of construction or of operation of equipment can help find omissions.
Use techniques to stay focused, to avoid mistakes,
How to avoid heating system errors and omissions:
Balance Inspection Procedure & Randomness: Practice a balance between an orderly method or procedure
which assures completeness and sufficient random steps in the process to avoid becoming routinized.
When an inspection is done by "routine" or "habit" the inspector sees only what is in the habitual mental "list".
Do not rely only on written heating system inspection checklists: Otherwise the inspector will observe only what's on the checklist and may miss glaring defects. Inspect the house and use your checklist to record it easily. Do not fit the house to the checklist.
Deliberately vary the inspection order and routine:: once an inspectors heating system inspection procedure is well established and familiar s/he should deliberately vary some of its components at every inspection. Change an order, reverse a sequence.
Outdoor Points of Heating System Inspection
Outdoor heating system inspection from a distance
Viewpoint #1:--Distant (from the heating equipment): walking
around the house, from the ground, just looking, notice and record:
Type of Heating Equipment Installed
Age of the neighborhood, other inspections done in the area, age of
the house, may suggest type and even the brand of equipment which
may be in place. Builders of developments often purchased many of
the same brand and model for all the houses there.
What Heating Fuel Is or Has Been in Use
ASHI 9.2.A.1 The inspector shall describe the energy source Identify probable fuel source: oil, gas, electric, coal, wood, solar
Notice the oil filler and vent, spills, and whether or not there is easy access to
the oil tank filler pipe.
Also notice any evidence of old, possibly abandoned oil tanks (abandoned oil lines, protruding pipes, age of property, depressions in the soil), or
of changes from one type of fuel to another (coal bins). These have potentially major cost implications (improperly abandoned oil tanks)
or safety concerns (changes of fuel, unsafe chimneys).
Venting and possible hazards noted from outside:
[Examples of "distant" implications] ASHI 9.1.A.4 chimneys, flues, and vents Look for, then at the chimney. Is there a chimney?
If not is there electric heat, direct-vent equipment, or no heat?
Thinking about what chimneys do lets you understand the implications
of your observations. These items are examples, not a comprehensive
If there is no chimney cap
is flue blocked by debris?
has wind-blown rain damaged the masonry interior?
has wind-blown rain run down chimney into flue vent piping and on into the equipment?
Did it cause rust damage? Fire chamber damage?
damaged flue liner? Damage by condensation, frost, acid rain, sulphation (especially with gas-burning equipment)
Unlined single-wythe brick flues (still common in large cities)--if damaged, risk of fire, leaking flue gases, blocked flues. Look further in the attic and assure there's a cleanout or suggest vent connector be pulled to check for blockage.
Old stone chimneys
often stop at foundation, heaters were added, connected in to very base of chimney - easily blocked by fallen debris.
Signs of history of water entry (risk unsafe flue: blocked, fire risks - falling debris
possible damaged heating equipment (more likely for furnaces than boilers)
Potential Heating System Problems Seen from Outdoors
buried oil storage tanks or abandoned or leaky above ground or underground oil storage tanks
indoor tanks used outside
risks of water entering fuel from location of filler
ease of access to filler pipe
oil filler pipe left in place when the house converted
to gas? (Potential very serious problem if oil is delivered by mistake.)
More information: see Oil Tanks Home which includes articles on spotting buried and abandoned or leaky oil storage tanks as well as oil tank leak reporting regulations and oil tank testing and abandonment advice.
Heating System Operation notes taken from outside:
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Domestic and Commercial Oil Burners, Charles H. Burkhardt, McGraw Hill Book Company, New York 3rd Ed 1969.
National Fuel Gas Code (Z223.1) $16.00 and National Fuel Gas Code Handbook (Z223.2) $47.00 American Gas Association (A.G.A.), 1515 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA 22209 also available from National Fire Protection Association, Batterymarch Park, Quincy, MA 02269. Fundamentals of Gas Appliance Venting and Ventilation, 1985, American Gas Association Laboratories, Engineering Services Department. American Gas Association, 1515 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA 22209. Catalog #XHO585. Reprinted 1989.
The Steam Book, 1984, Training and Education Department, Fluid Handling Division, ITT [probably out of print, possibly available from several home inspection supply companies] Fuel Oil and Oil Heat Magazine, October 1990, offers an update,
Principles of Steam Heating, $13.25 includes postage. Fuel oil & Oil Heat Magazine, 389 Passaic Ave., Fairfield, NJ 07004.
The Lost Art of Steam Heating, Dan Holohan, 516-579-3046 FAX
Principles of Steam Heating, Dan Holohan, technical editor of Fuel Oil and Oil Heat magazine, 389 Passaic Ave., Fairfield, NJ 07004 ($12.+1.25 postage/handling).
"Residential Hydronic (circulating hot water) Heating Systems", Instructional Technologies Institute, Inc., 145 "D" Grassy Plain St., Bethel, CT 06801 800/227-1663 [home inspection training material] 1987
"Warm Air Heating Systems". Instructional Technologies Institute, Inc., 145 "D" Grassy Plain St., Bethel, CT 06801 800/227-1663 [home inspection training material] 1987
Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning Volume I, Heating Fundamentals,
Boilers, Boiler Conversions, James E. Brumbaugh, ISBN 0-672-23389-4 (v. 1) Volume II, Oil, Gas, and Coal Burners, Controls, Ducts, Piping, Valves, James E. Brumbaugh, ISBN 0-672-23390-7 (v. 2) Volume III, Radiant Heating, Water Heaters, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, Heat Pumps, Air Cleaners, James E. Brumbaugh, ISBN 0-672-23383-5 (v. 3) or ISBN 0-672-23380-0 (set) Special Sales Director, Macmillan Publishing Co., 866 Third Ave., New York, NY 10022. Macmillan Publishing Co., NY
Installation Guide for Residential Hydronic Heating Systems
Installation Guide #200, The Hydronics Institute, 35 Russo Place, Berkeley Heights, NJ 07922
The ABC's of Retention Head Oil Burners, National Association of Oil Heat Service Managers, TM 115, National Old Timers' Association of the Energy Industry, PO Box 168, Mineola, NY 11501. (Excellent tips on spotting problems on oil-fired heating equipment. Booklet.)
R.E. Prescott Company, a producer of other REPCO™ residential and industrial products as well as a provider of design-build engineering services is at 10 Railroad Avenue, Exeter, NH 03833. Tel: 603-722-04321 or 888-786-7482. Trish O'Keefe from Prescott informed us (10/7/2009) that their company had nothing to do with the failed Repco heating boilers discussed at InspectAPedia.com. She wrote:
Our company manufactures & distributes residential water treatment equipment, including our Repco line of conditioners. We have a plumbing & heating supply dept as well. We are mistaken for the Repco Boiler company on a regular basis, most frequently in Oct. and Nov.
Any information you could give me on the other Repco company would be appreciated. We've assumed it is no longer in business, and we'd like to know that for sure. Many callers want to know where to get replacement parts and I would be glad to direct them if I knew...plus there's always a chance they might be interested in a Crown Boiler instead
Books & Articles on Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, & Repair
The Home Reference Book - the Encyclopedia of Homes, Carson Dunlop & Associates, Toronto, Ontario, 25th Ed., 2012, is a bound volume of more than 450 illustrated pages that assist home inspectors and home owners in the inspection and detection of problems on buildings. The text is intended as a reference guide to help building owners operate and maintain their home effectively. Field inspection worksheets are included at the back of the volume. Special Offer: For a 10% discount on any number of copies of the Home Reference Book purchased as a single order. Enter INSPECTAHRB in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space. InspectAPedia.com editor Daniel Friedman is a contributing author.
Or choose the The Home Reference eBook for PCs, Macs, Kindle, iPad, iPhone, or Android Smart Phones. Special Offer: For a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Home Reference eBook purchased as a single order. Enter INSPECTAEHRB in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.
Carson Dunlop, Associates, Toronto, have provided us with (and we recommend) Carson Dunlop Weldon & Associates' Technical Reference Guide to manufacturer's model and serial number information for heating and cooling equipment Special Offer: Carson Dunlop Associates offers InspectAPedia readers in the U.S.A. a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Technical Reference Guide purchased as a single order. Just enter INSPECTATRG in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.
Links to our list of additional information on heating system inspection, repair, maintenance