Boilers and Heating Systems: Prepare Now for the Cold Days Ahead

It’s hard to believe, but soon the cold days of winter will be upon us. Now is the time to ensure the boilers and heating systems in your facilities are properly functioning.

If regularly maintained, your heating system will provide decades of reliable service. If not, failure of the system can result in fire, steam explosion, frozen pipes, water damage or worse. Insurance industry statistics indicate that the leading cause of boiler accidents are low water levels, poor maintenance and operator error. The following steps can help prevent boiler failures.

Inspections & Preventive Maintenance

The first step to proper maintenance is to develop an inspection schedule for all boilers.  These inspections must be performed by a qualified inspector. A Boiler & Machinery insurance policy through Hartford Steam Boiler and Inspection Company (HSB) provides equipment breakdown insurance protection and is the authorized inspection service for the Diocese of Trenton.  HSB stores all mechanical information in a database and makes contact with each location when the time arrives to conduct the annual inspection.  The inspections are performed when the equipment is operational.

In addition to the annual inspection, your facility’s maintenance personnel should perform scheduled daily, weekly and monthly inspections. A record of each inspection and a maintenance log should be maintained and posted in the immediate vicinity of the boiler or other heating system. If your maintenance staff is unfamiliar with performing spot-checks, your regular boiler service provider (HVAC service and preventative maintenance contractor) can be a good resource to instruct your staff. For your convenience, please download one of the NJ Bureau of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Compliance’s checklists for inspections:

Pre-Inspection Checklist for Hot Water Heating or Hot Water Supply Boilers

Pre-Inspection Checklist for Low Pressure Steam Boilers

Pre-Inspection Checklist for Potable Hot Water Boilers

Below is a sample of what to look for at each spot-check inspection:


  • Check the boiler or furnace room for cleanliness.
  • Remove unnecessary combustibles and maintain a 36-inch clearance between heating appliances and any combustibles.
  • Ensure that the equipment is unobstructed and easily accessed.
  • Check boiler or furnace for water leaks and excessive fuel odors.
  • Observe proper firing, if you can do so safely.
  • Verify that pressures and temperatures are within allowable limits.
  • Check the fuel oil storage tank and schedule a delivery, if necessary.


  • Manually test the boiler low-water cutoff.
  • Manually test the safety relief valve.


  • Test all safety and pressure relief valves.
  • Test all combustion safety controls (e.g., safety shutoff valves, fuel-air interlocks, and flame failure devices).
  • Clean the firesides and flue to prevent soot accumulation.
  • Disassemble and clean the low-water cutoff.
  • Analyze combustion burner efficiency.
  • Check the steam traps for proper functioning.

Please note: Furnaces should be equipped with an emergency shutoff switch located in an accessible area. It is important to make sure that this switch is well marked for emergency use.

Before Cold Weather Arrives & During Cold Spells

  • If you are not scheduling routine weekly/monthly spot-check inspections, it is critical that you have your boiler serviced by a licensed contractor in the autumn prior to the arrival of cold weather.
  • Check to make sure that all windows, doors, and skylights close securely in order to maintain building heat.
  • Repair all cracked or broken windows and doors, especially near water pipes.
  • Set thermostats to maintain a temperature of at least 68° F. Post instructional signs at all thermostats.
  • Place thermometers in colder areas such as under sinks where water pipes are normally located and heat may not reach.
  • Monitor thermostats frequently to ensure the temperature does not drop below 40° F.
  • Verify that the boiler fuel oil supplies are sufficient and schedule a delivery or arrange for automatic deliveries.
  • Visit the facility on very cold days and nights if the building is unoccupied during the day. Failure of a heating system during unattended periods often goes undetected.
  • In the event electrical power is lost for an extended period, monitor temperatures and open faucet or drain lines to prevent freezing.
  • Never use unapproved heaters, open flames or torches to thaw frozen pipes.

Regulatory Compliance

 Verify that boiler operating, fuel storage or other required certificates are current and properly posted. Performing a routine inspection prior to the first firing of the boiler for the season and following the steps outlined above will have a substantial impact on the frequency and severity of boiler and machinery failures throughout the diocese.

If you have any questions, contact the Hartford Steam & Boiler Inspection Line at 1-800-333-4677.