Staying Out of Hot Water (Part 1)


(Cover image: © iStockphoto/ultramarinfoto)

Carlo Calma |

Tips to keep boilers/water heaters in tip-top shape

CHICAGO — There are many components to running a self-service laundry business. While washers and dryers make up a significant piece of this operation, another integral part of the equation is one that laundry customers rarely get to see, but come to rely on each time they come in to wash their clothes—a boiler/water heater system.

Ensuring that this component is well maintained and is running efficiently is vital to not only the laundry end-user, but also for the life of the laundry business itself.

How can operators ensure that their boiler/water heater system is running in tiptop shape? And, what are the signs/symptoms that a boiler/water heater system is in need of repair, or even replacement?

American Coin-Op reached out to experts from the boiler/water heater industry to find out.


For Greg Thorn, sales engineer and service manager at Milwaukee-based Ludell Manufacturing, the ideal conditions for direct contact water heaters is in an equipment room that is “secure and clean.”

“The room should not be used for other purposes than intended,” says Thorn.

“[Also,] the room should be provided with adequate clean make-up air for combustion.”

“Manufacturer-recommended clearances and access for maintenance should be followed in the positioning of the water heater. All local up-to-date building codes should be followed,” adds Thorn.

Michael Leeming, national sales manager for Los Angeles-based Parker Boiler Co., also stressed the importance of operators following manufacturer/state requirements.

“Access for maintenance and service [is ideal], and some states require 30-36 inches for this, even if manufacturer UL (Underwriters Laboratories) listing is for less,” says Leeming. “Adequate air openings for combustion and cooling—normally half a square inch per 1,000 Btu and more—will cool [the] room better.”

Adherence to all local and state code requirements is also of importance to Doug Ritchie, president of Danville, Ky.-based Sellers Manufacturing Co., when describing ideal conditions for boiler/water-heating systems.

“The boiler/water-heating system should be leveled and installed in a clean and dedicated area, unencumbered by other equipment,” he says. “The floor for the installation must not have carpeting or other combustible flooring, and must be appropriate for the installation.”

A minimum clearance of 6 inches for hot water pipes and venting from combustible material is also necessary, according to Ritchie.

The location of the boiler/water heater installation must also meet clearances specified by the manufacturer and allow for service without removing the heater/boiler system, or any surrounding structure, he explains.

“The room must be protected from freezing and have adequate drainage for condensation or leakage, or a catch pan that will not restrict airflow to the burner,” Ritchie adds. “The boiler gas ignition system and other electrical devices must be protected from direct or indirect water during operation and service, which includes all prevention of dripping, spraying, rain and so forth.”

Finally, according to Ritchie, the boiler/heater room must have two openings to allow for adequate combustion air and proper ventilation.

“One opening should be 6 to 12 inches above the floor and the other opening should be 6 to 12 inches below the ceiling, preferably on opposite walls. The opening size will vary with the boiler/heater requirements, specified by the manufacturer.”


For Thorn, daily inspections of the boiler/water heater system is a maintenance must, in addition to keeping a detailed log of what areas were analyzed during these inspections.

“Items to log would be inlet fresh water pressure and temperature, outlet water temperature, exhaust flue gas temperature, ambient air temperature, and inlet gas pressure, to name several,” says Thorn.

Other items to check on a regular basis include the burner and flue passageway, pressure relief valve, high temperature switch, a presence of condensation, and specific noises, “especially knocking sounds,” according to Ritchie.

For overall inspections, Thorn also stressed the importance of having manufacturer-issued manuals on hand as a guide.

“It is a good idea to refer [to] the direct contact water heater manufacturer’s operation and maintenance manual provided with the equipment, and any other component literature included for additional detailed requirements,” says Thorn.

Check back Wednesday for Part 2, covering components that deserve special attention, and signs/symptoms of a faulty system.

About the author

Carlo Calma

Freelance Writer

Carlo Calma is a freelance writer and former editor of American Coin-Op.


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