Steam Boiler: Essential Checks

Earlier this month, our Technical Director Barry Higgins featured on the Scaling UP! H2O Podcast, hosted by Trace Blackmore. In Barry’s two-part series, himself and Trace discussed the water treatment of steam boilers and uncover what checks a necessary to ensure optimal boiler efficiency.

In this blog, we will give you a quick recap of the boiler checks deemed essential by Barry when treating your steam boiler. To get a full insight, and step-by-step guide into how Barry would service a steam boiler, give the Scaling UP! H2O Podcast a listen on their website or any podcast platform!

Barry’s Essential Steam Boiler Checks

Source of the Water

The critical starting point for Barry is to find out where the water is coming from as it will help determine the water quality. Assessing the incoming water under parameters such as hardness, alkalinity, and TDS, allows you to accurately pretreat the water.

Feedwater Samples

Feedwater samples are a very important part of steam boiler maintenance as it analyses and assess the quality of the water being supplied to the boiler. Barry, being a very tactile individual, uses his senses to help uncover what is going on in the boiler. Barry likes to ‘smell it, ‘feel it’, and ‘see what it looks like’ before any testing is done at all. Although your senses can offer you great insights, its important to remember NEVER TASTE the water.

Condensate Sample

Next up on Barry’s checklist is using the condensate samples to check pH levels, conductivity, and chloride levels. At this stage Barry would also make a note to check for metals such as copper and iron as some boilers would have had copper parts installed over the years. Condensate can result in the formation of carbonic acid which can corrode copper or mild steel and create problems for your stream boiler.

Steam Trap Monitoring

Barry is a big advocate for regular maintenance of steam traps to prevent leaks, or at least find them early. Barry is aware of the amount of money that can be saved through steam trap monitoring which is why he recommends for them to be maintenance on an annual basis.

pH Levels

Testing and maintain the correct pH levels is an essential part of steam boiler maintenance for controlling corrosion, preventing scale, and controlling foaming and priming. pH levels in steam boilers should be regularly tested using testing kits or meters. Barry makes a note the reagent must be in date when calibrating your probe. You also want to make sure your pH probe is kept hydrated, meaning its always properly sealed.

Blowdown System

The blowdown system is crucial in maintaining water quality as it prevents the buildup of impurities in the boiler. A bottom blowdown is used to remove any sludge and it is most effective in short sharp bursts. Following on from this, a surface blowdown is done to control the TDS within the boiler.

Safety Equipment

Safety equipment in steam boilers is essential to ensure safe operation, protect personnel, and prevent accidents. Some very important safety devices on boilers are low level probes and high level probes. In Ireland, you are required by law to test the low level probes once a week to make sure the alarms are working correctly. This way if there are any issues, in relation to foaming or priming, the boiler will protect itself by cutting out. Barry notes that the one thing he always checks is the feed pipes to make sure they are working correctly to eliminate any present danger.

Water Levels

Correct water levels are crucial for the efficient operation of steam boilers. It is important to not that there is a high operating level and a low operating level, and your water level should be in between that. According to Barry, your water level should be steady and not moving. Barry also likes to flash the side glass to make sure they are operating effectively and to check how the water levels bounce back up and see if it settles at the right level.

Words of Advice from Barry

‘Don’t think, just act. Jump in you will love it’. When asked about what advice he would give to someone thinking of joining the water treatment industry, Barry’s advice could not have been clearer. Barry’s passion for water treatment is evident both through his knowledge and his experience. It is in Barry’s nature to help people and a career in water treatment has allowed him to do just that by working with people to help solve their problems. Deciding on a career in water treatment is ‘something you will never regret as no two days will ever be the same’.


Listening to Barry was both insightful and interesting as he discussed the numerous ways to ensure optimal efficiency and safety in steam boiler operation. It requires a combination of diligent attention to various checks and maintenance procedures. Barry Higgins, as featured on the Scaling UP! H2O Podcast, highlights the critical importance of these checks in maintaining water quality, preventing corrosion, and maximising boiler performance.