Asbestos-paper covering, will help to keep hot-air ducts from chilling. In cold cellars, this method has been highly effective.
While on the subject of fuel, it might be well to say-that there are a great many grades of coal. The fact that you buy the cheapest grade, does not mean that you are being economical. The sure indication of what you are getting for your money is right in the ashes you take out of the ash-pit. If it is fine ash and has few clinkers in it, the chances are that it is good. If the ash is full of clinkers and pieces of slate, and half-burned pieces of coal, you had better change, or at least consult your coal dealer and ask his advice. Quite a few dealers offer a free service intended to assist their customers in burning the proper size and quality of coal. The service is usually fair and impartial, and well worth asking for.
When the heating season is over, and you shut down your furnace, you should clean out the last fire, and all the ashes. Both top and bottom doors should be left wide open, so that there will be a good drying draft through them. This will prevent any undue rusting. It is also a very good idea to clean off the doors and the damper and give them a coat of black varnish, because in summer time there is usually quite a lot of humidity in the average basement, and door hinges and slides will rust up if the metal is bare.
The average steam heating boiler can hardly be called a complicated piece of mechanism. It consists of a cast-iron receptacle in which you burn either coal, oil or gas, and at the top it has a series of hollow cast-iron sections in which there is water. The heat from the fire boils the water, produces steam which is conveyed through pipes to the steam radiators, and makes them hot. After the steam heats up the radiators it naturally condenses and becomes water again, and then it flows back through the same pipes to the boiler where it is again converted into steam. Because of the inevitable loss of some steam through the radiator valves, it is necessary to replenish the supply of water occasionally.
The plain steam plant is a highly effective heating medium for a small house. It is economical to install and easy to operate.
To keep a steam plant in good repair requires very little time or attention. If you are burning coal, everything that has already been said about coal, ashes and draft control in a hot-air furnace, applies to the steam boiler, but there are other matters as well. The first is that you must always keep the water level in a steam boiler at the right height. If you do not you will burn out the boiler, and probably crack the sections containing the water. (It is exactly the same thing as running your car without any water in the radiator.) On the side of your boiler you will see a water gauge, and it will show plainly how much water is in the boiler. As a rule there will be a mark showing how high the level should be. If there is not, half-way up is a good bet. On top of your boiler you will find a safety-valve. It is there so that it will relieve the steam pressure before it gets high enough to rupture the boiler; which may happen if you forget to put water in and have a hot fire going. Your boiler may also be equipped with an automatic draft control. This is usually a flat disc from which protrudes a long lever. From this lever a chain is attached to the bottom door of the boiler. If the pressure gets too high it works against the disc, and the lever drops down and the draft at the bottom of the boiler is closed. It may sound complicated, but if you will stand in front of your boiler and operate it by hand, you will see what a simple mechanical operation it really is.
Steam boilers must be kept supplied with water. Usually there is a gauge on the outside of the boiler which will show the level of the water inside.
The average steam plant will have a damper control which closes the draft when the steam pressure gets high.
If you are burning oil in your steam boiler, you will probably have a thermostat which will automatically start the oil-burner when the temperature in the house drops below the mark you have set it for. In that case you will not have an automatic draft control on the bottom door. In fact the bottom door will be sealed up.
The main feature to be attended to, outside of seeing that you have enough water in the boiler, will be to keep the flues inside the boiler clean. You will find two or three small slot-like doors near the top of the boiler at both front and back. If you open one of these, you will expose the sections inside which contain the water. In all probability you will see about a quarter of an inch of soot lying on top of the sections. This prevents them from heating properly and making steam rapidly. By using a cleaning tool, which looks like a small hoe, you can draw off this soot and dust. If you will insert a wire brush, and give the sections a good scrubbing, your job will be that much better.
The oil-burner nozzle should be adjusted so that the flame burns with a bright white glare. When you see yellow in the flame you are not getting complete combustion and your flues will soot up rapidly. All oil burners have an adjustable valve which permits you to mix more or less air with the oil as it is sprayed out flaming. You should secure a pamphlet describing the particular make of burner which you have, read it thoroughly, and make your adjustments accordingly.
All boilers have flues or tubes which gradually become clogged with soot. A boiler cannot operate efficiently unless the flues are clean. The small clean-out doors make this easy.
Proper adjustment of an oil-burner is essential to economical operation and to prevent sooting of the boiler flues.
When the steam boiler burns gas as a fuel there is very little for you to attend to, because as a rule the gas company makes the adjustment when the burner is installed and you will probably never have to change it. Gas will never soot up the boiler flues or the smoke-pipe because gas is all pure fuel while coal and oil are not.
The same recommendations made for closing up a hot-air furnace after the heating season apply to a steam plant, along with the added advice that the water be drawn off and the boiler left dry. Fresh water boils more readily than dead water which has been lying stagnant, so it is well to fill the boiler with clean water every fall.
Hot-water heating plants are usually economical because once the water in the system is hot, it takes but little energy to maintain the temperature at a fairly even level.
The third type of heating plant in general use is the hot-water system. In many ways it resembles the steam plant in appearance; but instead of converting a comparatively small amount of water into steam, the hot-water boiler is filled with water and so are the pipes and radiators. The heat generated in the boiler brings the water up to a temperature of about one hundred and twenty degrees and it naturally starts to rise upwards, and thus forces the cool water in the pipes and radiators down to the boiler where it is reheated. In short you have a natural circulation as long as you have a fire in the boiler. Steam plants usually have but one line of pipe running to the radiators, but hot-water systems have two lines of pipe. One conducts the hot water to the radiators, the other returns the cooler water to the boiler.
It is generally conceded that hot-water plants are economical to operate, because once the water is thoroughly heated, it requires a minimum of fuel to maintain it at the desired temperature. It is also conceded that hot-water heat is even, and not red-hot for a certain length of time and chilly for another, as in the case of a steam heated house. Therefore, if you have a hot-water system you should enjoy great comfort with economy if you take proper care of it.
The cleaning of a hot-water plant is exactly the same as that of a steam job. The flues inside the boiler and the smoke-pipe must be kept free of soot and dust. The next important thing is to see that the system is full of water at all times. You will find an altitude gauge on the top of the boiler showing the height of the water, and this must always show that the system is full up to, and slightly above, the highest radiator. In other words, if the distance from your basement floor to the radiators on the second floor measures thirty feet, your gauge should show that there is thirty feet of water in the system. It is a good idea to check this weekly, and let in as much water as is required to maintain the level.
Hot water radiators have a habit of not heating up at times. Usually this is caused by the fact that air accumulates at the top of them and prevents the hot water from filling them. This is cured in exactly two minutes.
Hot-water radiators will have small air-relief valves at the top, which may be opened to release any accumulation of air. This type of radiator should be vented at least once a week.
At the top of every hot-water radiator you will find a small pet-cock. When this is opened any accumulated air can be relieved. As soon as water starts to run out, close it, because you then know that it is full of water again and the radiator will heat up properly. It is well to do this about every week or two.
When you close down a hot-water plant it should be done in the same manner as the steam plant, but you should not draw off all the water because it is not necessary. It is true that fresh water boils and steams more rapidly than stale water, but it is also a fact that stale water in a hot-water plant holds a dead heat better than the fresh water.