Figure 1. Replace obsolete and no longer supported flame safety control units to get additional safety and diagnostic benefits.


Twenty tips for risk abatement and water damage repair - ahead of and following a disaster, respectively - for boilers, ovens, furnaces, and thermal oxidizers. In terms of both equipment and expense, preparation and proper recovery procedures could mean the difference between damage and devastation.

The recent hurricanes and previous floods in the Midwest have put many industrial plants and institutional facilities like hospitals in a position of trying to recover and get back into operation. This document provides information regarding pre-event considerations and post-event recovery issues for critical fuel fired equipment in these facilities. The information that follows applies to boilers, industrial ovens and furnaces, thermal oxidizers, and even space heating equipment. The issues are presented and discussed as pre- and post-event considerations.

Pre-Event design and installation considerations

Here are the ten actions that we’ll review for effective pre-disaster preparation.
    • Keep fuel train valves, piping and components as high off the ground as possible.

    • Make sure that burner management systems are not obsolete.

    • Consider NEMA weather-proof control cabinets, even inside.

    • Keep spare components on-site but in protected areas.

    • Prepare a list of vendors and suppliers for mission-critical components.

    • Run vent lines outside of the building from all regulators and switches.

    • Install rental boiler connections.

    • Install dual-fuel systems and or at least connections for back-up.

    • Consider the availability of components used in the fuel train and control systems.

    • Have all documentation in order including control and electrical drawings, lists of components, and setpoints for controls


Pre-event design and installation issues

Keep fuel train valves, piping, and components as high off the ground as possible. Many fuel trains are installed a foot or two above floors. There is usually not a typical reason for this. In most cases fuel train piping and components can be removed from packaged equipment and additional fittings installed to get 4 or 5 ft off the floor. This can help to avoid damage from some flooding.

Make sure that burner management systems are not obsolete. Burner management systems are the main safety brain for many types of combustion systems. In many cases, for older equipment, these are obsolete. This does not mean unsafe. It does mean, however, that the manufacturer does not support these anymore. This can mean days of rewiring to retrofit a different burner management system to a control panel. When recovering from a flood issue, no one wants to add three or four days for panel rewiring. Our website contains a list of obsolete burner management systems and components for you to review and identify any potential problems ahead of time. These are the kinds of things you want to replace now, and not during a crisis.

Consider NEMA weather-proof control cabinets and fan-cooled motors, even inside. There are a number of different control panel and motor options available. One can get weather-resistant controls panels designed for outdoor applications inside. One can also get TEFC, totally enclosed, fan-cooled electric motors instead of drip-proof motors. These options both make systems more floor resistant and robust.

Keep spare components on site but in protected areas. Some safety shut-off valve styles require a four- to six-week delivery. These are also not serviceable. Likewise, some regulators can be hard to get. You may do well to either have spares on site in a safe area or at least understand more available options that may be readily available for even short-term use.

Prepare a list of vendors and suppliers for mission critical components. There are many combustion equipment specialties that are not readily available even when there’s not a flood or emergency issue. People who do refractory or brick work, PLC programming, and instrumentation related to burners, and those who service burners can be hard to find in a crisis. Think through where you find these people, even out of state, if you would need them.

Run vent lines outside of the building from all regulators and switches. We find many vent lines from regulators and pressure switches not run outside as is required by codes. This leaves them susceptible to being filled with water and damaged internally. If vent lines are secured there’s a chance for keeping this water out of diaphragms and sensitive areas.

Install rental boiler connections. If your boiler system is damaged, rentals are available. However, you still have to get them fuel, electrical power of sufficient capacity, a steam connection, and some way to get feedwater. This does not happen instantaneously. It can take many days. Our firm has designed temporary emergency connection installations for a number of sites.

Install dual fuel systems, and/or at least connections for back-up. When installing new equipment or retrofitting, consideration should be given to making critical systems dual fuel capable. In some cases, the second intended fuel is fuel oil. This does not have to mean tanks and pumps. It could mean that an oil gun and the oil train exist so that a tanker truck can be delivered and the unit run on a temporary basis. In other cases, you might want to consider fuel connections for propane or propane air mix systems to simulate natural gas.

Consider the availability of components used in the fuel train and control systems. Try and use common readily available components. Specialty items that are from obscure manufacturers should be avoided. If you’re not in this business, you might not know who the popular players are. We recommend getting informed advice about this for your particular situation ahead of time.

Have all documentation in order, including control and electrical drawings, lists of components, and setpoints for controls. There will be people trying to scramble and get you back into service. They do not want to be burdened by trying to figure out wiring. Setpoints of control components will be needed to readjust new components.

Please also keep in mind that you may be forced into full code compliance on old systems when replacing critical components. In many cases, existing equipment does not meet current codes. In some cases, state laws require that when substantial repairs are made, the entire pieces of equipment must become code-compliant. This could add considerably to the complexity and works scope of trying to get your service restored.

Dry out and inspection, testing, and recommissioning

And here are the ten tasks for getting back up to speed safely in the wake of an event.
  • Check vent lines and regulators for water incursion.

  • Remember that refractory dry out is critical.

  • Pay special attention to control panels and components.

  • Fuel oil tanks need water removal, biocides, and cleaning.

  • Test all safety interlocks.

  • Check all valves for leakage.

  • Remove burners and check for corrosion.

  • Reset and check fuel air ratios.

  • Check and clean combustion air fans.

  • Have procedures in place for emergency response when an event may be imminent.
Check vent lines and regulators for water incursion. Regulators and pressure switches have vent openings. These are supposed to be routed outside. Having a vent line usually means water will be kept out. If there is no vent line, then water can easily enter the regulator diaphragm and/or the pressure switch. Water and the contamination it brings can render this equipment unsafe.

Even vent lines that run outside could have been contaminated from outside and inside. Unscrew these and check them for water.

Remember that refractory dry out is critical. All fired equipment has some type of refractory. Drying out castable refractory, bricks, and mineral wool in ovens is crucial. When water goes from being a liquid to a gas (steam), it expands 1,600 times. If you don’t slowly and carefully release the water, your refractory can literally explode into pieces. This will keep you down a long time for repairs. Proper dryout may not be possible with the unit’s existing burner or burners. You might need to bring in rental burners or heaters and let them run for days. This is something you want to start as soon as possible after water damage.

Pay special attention to control panels and components. Floodwaters usually contain contamination that is corrosive and may be conductive. Do not power panels that have been wet. You can end up shorting out equipment that was not previously damaged. Make sure that panels have first been properly cleaned with contact cleaners and thoroughly dried out including all electronic components. Replace all relays and critical components like burner management systems that have been submerged. The cost is not worth someone’s life.

Fuel oil tanks need water removed, biocides, and cleaning. Remember, water can get into fuel oil tanks. When it does, the water makes for biological fouling since bacteria ends up growing rapidly in an oily water environment. In some cases, oil can be pumped out and reconditioned with mobile equipment. If you don’t clean the oil and treat it with biocides, you will end up fouling all of your oil distribution, pumping systems, and burners.

Test all safety interlocks. You will need someone experienced to test all the safety interlocks including flame detectors, low-water cut offs, high-temperature limits, and about a dozen other systems. As an example, our firm has proprietary checklists that contain over 100 items to check to validate safety. This is an annual code requirement that many people ignore.

Check all valves for leakage. All manual and automatic fuel train valves need to be tightness tested annually. This especially needs to be done after a water contamination incident. Some valve designs are more susceptible to water damage than others. If seeking a third party to help with these, seek one with ongoing experience at conducting manufacturer and code-required bubble testing on these valves.

Remove burners and check for corrosion. Some burner styles with small gas holes are susceptible to water damage and corrosion. Corrosion can occur quickly within days of an incident. These need to be cleaned and checked prior to any firing.

Reset and check fuel air ratios. Fuel/air ratio control systems come in many types and styles. In some cases, sensitive valves and controls could have been compromised. You will need to have burner flue gasses checked with a flue gas analyzer over the complete firing range of the burner. A burner that is not operating at its proper fuel air ratio can create an environment where considerable carbon monoxide becomes an explosion risk.

Check and clean combustion air fans. Combustion air fans are the heart of any combustion system. You will need to make sure that if filters exist, they are not saturated and or clogged. Fan blades will need to be clear. Fan rotation will need to be checked. Fans will also need to be reviewed for vibration and balance.

Have procedures in place for emergency response when an event may be imminent. Think through issues and abatement measures prior to events. What valves will be secured? What condition will equipment be left in? In some cases, sensitive components like expensive burner management systems can be popped out of a cabinet in less than 5 minutes and removed from the site. ES

CEC Combustion Services Group is headquartered in Cleveland, OH (www.combustionsafety.com). The firm provides services worldwide to many Fortune 100 companies focusing on the safety, reliability, and efficiency of fuel and combustion systems for industrial and large commercial/institutional facilities. The firm’s staff can support clients on an emergency basis by calling 216-533-7292 or during normal business hours at 216-749-2992. The company has experienced controls technicians, fabricators, and engineers specializing in boilers, industrial ovens, thermal oxidizers, and many other types of combustion equipment.