Heating is a field of technology that most people will have to deal with at some point in their life. Unless you live in a tropical paradise where it's always the perfect temperature, then you will need to control your indoor climate conditions sooner or later.
Starting out with the basic types of heating available today is easier once we know what they all are. Getting an insightful explanation of how your particular system works can make it easier to stay up on the required maintenance when it comes due. Knowing what to do in an emergency, like a leaking pipe on your hot water boiler, or a busted fan belt on the furnace, can help the homeowner to get the right service company to perform the tasks required to keep our heating system up to snuff.
Maintenance procedures are necessary to keep any kind of heating working to the best of it's ability and to keep the efficiency ratings optimal. Each type of heating system will require different annual maintenance. A record of the dates and service that was performed is recommended so future service people will know whats been done. This can help immensely when performing diagnostics of a system having trouble.
Below you will find some simple explanations for the different kinds of heating available and a little about their series of operation or how they work. Take a gander at your system type and find out if you are up to date on all thats required to keep it running problem free.
Gas Fired Forced Hot Water;
This type of heat will include a boiler and radiation, pumps pipes and valves to connect it all. There will be radiation in one form or another. Some systems of this type will use baseboard throughout the area to be heated. Some will use radiators. All will have heated water circulated from the boiler to the radiation and back to the boiler.
Many elements go into the hot water heating system. There are valves and controls, both mechanical and electrical and learning all there is to know would take some time. Homeowners need only worry about leaks, air in the system, fuel problems and series of operation. This information is enough to let you know when you need service.
The series of operation for any hot water heating system is quite simple. A thermostat controls the whole deal. If the temperature of the room, drops below whatever it's set at, the message goes to the boiler controls and the boiler gets a call for heat. The boiler fires and the pump for that specific zone will turn on and begin to circulate heated water through the pipes. The water lends it's energy to the radiation which in turn passes it on through the convection process to the room.
One issue this type of heating system will have is air in the lines. When this occurs, a sound resembling that of a rushing stream will be heard coming from the piping in the system. The system will need to be looked at for an entry point that the air got in through. This is usually a leak on a pump flange or a burst expansion tank. A service company will be needed to remedy this situation as eventually the pumps within the system will air lock and heating capabilities will be lost.
Any leaking pipes, fittings or valves should immediately be repaired as leaks will cause bigger leaks. Boilers will rot out very quickly if a leak is allowed to continue even for a short time. Minerals and corrosives are added to the system when makeup water is automatically put back in by the auto feeder this will rot out the boiler and other system parts. When a leak is detected repair should be immediate.
Cleaning a gas boiler doesn't really take to much work and should be very inexpensive. It will however increase the life expectancy of your system.
Oil Fired Forced Hot Water Systems;
Basically the heating system of this type is the same as the one above with one exception. This system will need an extensive cleaning every year and should be done at the beginning of each heating season. Oil boilers tend to soot up very quickly and a dirty oil boiler will send your hard earned money right up the chimney. Again leaks should be repaired immediately.
Hot Air Heating;
Hot air heating is another animal. This type will use a gas or oil fired furnace to heat air and then deliver it to the rooms we are conditioning. The unit fires and air is passed over a heat exchanger by a fan motor and as it goes by it gets hot. The air travels through a duct system to be dispersed at it's remote local. Air in the room is mixed with heated air from the system and thats it. Very simple and easy to maintain.
Oil furnaces must be cleaned and the filters changed at least annually. Again your efficiency ratings depend on it so unless you have money to burn literally then get it cleaned. Hot air is a good heating source if you like rapid recovery.
Gas furnaces will require very little maintenance. Vacuuming out the unit and wiping down the cabinet along with a new air filter is usually all thats required. This type of system burns very clean and barely any residual ash will be found.
Radiant Floor Heating;
A newer and more efficient way of heating an area is Radiant floor heating. This type utilizes piping within the flooring or under the flooring, that radiates like baseboard but up through the floor. Everything touching the floor becomes the baseboard as well as the floor itself. A great way to heat any area this type of heating has no maintenance except the previous mentioned annual service because this is actually a type of forced hot water heat.
Steam heat has been used for many years and is still in use in many older homes today. The maintenance on these will include all the annual stuff you do with a hot water boiler and a few extra things. Skimming of the boiler should be done once a year to remove contaminates that can rot the boiler. This can be done by a service company when they come to clean your boiler for the season. Steam boilers require constant make up water as they use it up creating steam. Many systems will have an automatic feeder set up to perform this duty. Some older systems will require the user to add water manually every so often. Auto feeders can be added to these systems and greatly increase there user friendliness. Not having to go in the basement once a week to add water can be a great convenience.
Steam is made by the boiler firing and then it gravity feeds up into the radiators. Cold air escapes out of a radiator vent. However much cold air we let out is how much steam can enter the radiator. This is how a steam system is controlled. Bad vents can make certain units not work while others still do. Checking your steam vents for functionality is another item that should be done annually.
Heating Systems in general need maintenance and providing an annual schedule is adhered to most will last a very long time. Neglecting to maintain them on the other hand will cost a great deal of money to repair or replace when the heat goes out.
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