Calling all boiler operators

Don’t underestimate the art of the startup

Spirax Sarco engineer working in steam plant


Calling all boiler operators: don’t underestimate the art of the startup

If you went on holiday this summer, that first day back at work afterwards was tough. Most of us tend to take a while to get back up to speed again – and in some cases, it’s usually a few early starts before you feel like you’re back in the swing of things!

Getting back to work blues is that in many ways exactly the same as boilers. Just like a colleague might not know how carefully to tread as you settle back into work after a fortnight’s holiday, operators of steam systems could underestimate just how careful they need to be when starting up their system after a lay-off.

With the heating season just around the corner, you may be in a position where your steam system has been switched off and inactive for several weeks, or even a couple of months. Water hammer and thermal expansion can pose a real threat to your pipework when you start your system up again.

Some may think water hammer is merely harmless noise. When in fact what you are hearing is noise created from the vibrations by the water moving in a motion which is violent enough to cause damage to pipework and fittings, such as bends in the pipe, valves, strainers or separators.

So how do you make sure your system doesn’t fall victim to these threats? The key is patience. It can’t be stressed enough how important it is to open the steam valves incrementally. This should be approached with caution and done in a controlled and safe manner until the water has been drained. Reacting suddenly to water hammer can create a potential shock wave, which is something that you don't want. It’s worth noting here that draining the water is only one step in the process of dealing with water hammer. You need to be able to recognise that you have an issue in the first instance and then take the necessary steps to eliminate them. Steam system surveys are a useful tool to assess the steam system design and determine the best route forward for eliminating issues such as water hammer.

The HSE recently issued a safety bulletin regarding condensate induced water hammer. You can access this bulletin by clicking here.

For more information on potential hazards created by water in steam systems, the SAFED fact sheet is a useful resource that covers causes of water hammer, reducing known hazards and also provides a useful five point action plan to minimize hazards. Click here to access the SAFED fact sheet.

Anyone responsible for a boiler house must work to operating procedures and should be your first port of call if you need guidance. If you’re in any doubt however, call an expert. Don't underestimate the art of the startup.