Published onMarch 24th, 2022
What Is the Purpose of Steam Traps?
When safeguarding the boiler system in your apartment building, it’s important to remember to check your steam traps. If you’re new to property ownership or don’t spend a lot of time working with boilers, you might be fuzzy about “What is the purpose of steam traps?” This post will review their function and discuss common problems we see when servicing them. We’ll also review the three main kinds of steam traps available to you. You want to keep steam traps in tip-top condition, as they affect the efficiency of your boiler and, by default, your energy bills. When your steam traps work properly, you can save money all throughout the heating season.
A Brief Return to Physics Class
There are two states of matter that we deal with when talking about boilers: liquid and gas. When water is below the boiling point, it’s in the liquid phase. Once it starts to boil at 212 degrees Fahrenheit and evaporate, it becomes steam, which is the gas phase of water. Steam eventually cools and becomes liquid again, which is known as condensate. You probably have a condensate return system that channels cooled radiator steam back to your boiler.
How Steam Traps Work
Isolating steam from air and condensate
Likewise, you want to separate steam from air and condensate in the heating system. There are multiple benefits to doing this:
- The steam can be used again without going through the phase changes described above.
- Reutilizing steam can save money because your boiler doesn’t have to fire as often to heat water and make steam.
- Running your boiler less frequently is better for the environment because fewer emissions are produced.
- Trapping steam in the system and removing air and condensate can prevent water hammer, that annoying clanging you hear sometimes in pipes and radiators.
Unless you have a fairly small property, you likely have a series of steam traps that work together along your steam pipes. These steam traps typically fall into one of three categories, as defined below, based on their mechanism of action.
Different Types of Steam Traps
Thermostatic steam traps
These traps operate by sensing temperature differentials and can tell the difference between steam and condensate at the same pressure. A sensor detects condensate and lets it drain out via a valve.
Mechanical steam traps
This type of trap uses density to detect steam and condensate via a simple float mechanism. If you have steam traps that look like buckets, you likely have mechanical steam traps.
Thermodynamic steam traps
Using both pressure measurements and volumetrics, thermodynamic steam traps are smaller and less expensive than other types of traps. However, they’re also somewhat less efficient, as they lose a bit of steam as they work.
Steam Trap Servicing
Problems we see frequently
We see many of the same problems when it comes to steam traps in New York City apartment buildings. One of the most common is the steam trap remaining open when it should close. A clue this is happening is your boiler firing more than it should because it’s working harder to produce steam. You’ll observe that your fuel bills are higher, and your water expenses may be higher too, with the automatic boiler feeder constantly sending fresh water to the boiler. If the boiler can’t keep up, you might also hear from tenants that they aren’t getting enough heat from their radiators.
Sometimes the opposite happens, and the steam trap remains closed when it should open. When this happens, you’ll find less condensate returned to the boiler. Like when a steam trap fails in the open position, this problem also results in the boiler overworking and in less heat for occupants. However, you’ll also hear water hammer in the system as that extra condensate battles with steam and air.
Dirty steam traps can result from a multitude of factors:
- Old age and traps nearing the end of their lifespan
- Pipes too narrow for the system
- Poor water filtration (sediment or mineral scale accumulation)
- Wrong or excess chemicals used in boiler water treatment
- Lack of regular maintenance
You might have dirty steam traps if you notice valves in other parts of your boiler system are clogged, encrusted, or malfunctioning. They might leak or have unusual wear, such as hardened or cracked parts. You might also notice you’re replacing valves more often than you think is right.
Of course, you could have the cleanest and most expensive steam traps in your property. But if they’re not sized right for your boiler system, or if they’re not installed properly, they won’t get the job done. That’s why it’s essential that you have boiler professionals like Calray Boilers put your steam traps in place and service them regularly.
Every property is different, and your heating system’s unique anatomy demands a tailored approach. We can give you a consultation that examines all aspects of your system and helps you choose the right components, including steam traps for efficiency and cost savings.
Whether you would like to have your steam traps checked or upgrade your steam trap system, Calray Boilers is here to help. You can call us at 212-722-5506, or use our easy online form to schedule a service visit at your convenience.