With impressive levels of efficiency and superior heat distribution, boilers are an excellent choice for residential heating. Unlike forced-air furnaces, boilers don’t dry the indoor air out, and they don’t introduce airborne particulates. However, these appliances do come with a few unique concerns of their own. If your boiler’s pressure is too high or too low, it can lock out and stop working. Excessively high pressure can also lead to expensive boiler repairs. So, how much pressure should the boiler at your home in have? Read on to find out.
Ideal Boiler Pressures Across Different Boiler Brands and Models
For residential boilers, acceptable pressure levels are about the same across all models. It doesn’t matter when you had your boiler installed or what type of unit you own. Higher than normal or lower than normal readings are always cause for concern.
However, there are different levels of acceptable boiler pressure at various temperatures or stages of operation. Cold boilers, hot boilers, and boilers that are just heating up will all have different pressure readings.
Bars vs. PSI
It’s first important to understand what boiler pressure readings mean. If you’ve already done a bit of research, you’ve probably noticed that boiler pressure can be measured in both bar and PSI. PSI, or pounds per square inch, refers to the one pound of force being exerted on an area that measures exactly one square inch. Bar measures pressure as a perpendicularly applied force on a single unit area of any surface.
There are handy conversion charts that you can use to convert readings that are offered in bar to PSI. In general, boilers that are active should have one to two bars of pressure but no more than 30 PSI. Anything over this can cause problems. PSI to bar conversions that are worthy of note include:
- 1 bar = 14.5 PSI
- 2 bars = 29 PSI
- 3 bars = 43.5 PSI
- 4 bars = 58 PSI
Whether your boiler measures pressure in bars or PSI, you should be able to find a chart in your owner’s manual that lists acceptable limits.
Ideal Pressure Levels for Cold Boilers
Cold boilers should have pressure readings that range between one and 1.5 bars. The ideal pressure level for a cold boiler is usually 1.3 bars. However, slight variations aren’t always a sign of problems. One thing that does vary from one model to another is the ideal pressure reading for a boiler that’s completely off. To find out what this is for your boiler, be sure to consult with your owner’s manual or ask your HVAC technician.
Pressure Readings While Your Boiler Heats Up
Pressure levels as your boiler moves from a state of inactivity to active heating shouldn’t swing wildly. However, it is completely normal to notice a gradual pressure increase throughout the first hour of operation. This movement should range between 0.3 and 0.5 bars. Thus, if your boiler pressure was just one bar at rest, it should move upward toward 1.3 bars or 1.5 bars as it heats. If you notice a rapid and far more significant increase in pressure, contact your HVAC company right away.
Increases in water pressure when boilers are turned on is the direct result of water expansion. As water gets warmer, it takes up more space. When the water within a boiler starts moving through the towel rails, radiators, and pipes, both heat gains and pressure increases are expected.
Hot Boilers and Pressure Readings
For the sake of safety and performance, the maximum amount of pressure that any residential boiler should have is 30 PSI. As seen above, this means that anything over two bars puts a boiler at risk of serious damage. If your boiler maintains a pressure reading of 1.5 bars while cold, you want to make sure that it doesn’t experience any pressure gains that exceed 0.5 bars throughout its first hour of operation.
What Happens When Boiler Pressure Falls Too Low?
Excess pressure is often a concern among homeowners with boiler heat systems. However, low pressure can be just as problematic. When too much pressure is lost, boilers have a tendency to lock themselves out. When lockout occurs, boilers have to be repressurized and reset before they’ll restart.
Low boiler pressure or boiler pressure that falls below one bar while a system is at rest and never rises beyond 1.3 bars when the boiler moves from inactivity to active heating likely means that there’s a water leak. Although boiler systems can be repressurized during the reset process for a lockout, their leaks have to be identified and repaired first. Adding more water to a leaking system won’t provide any long-term benefits, and it will also increase any water damage that the leak has already created.
Continuing to operate a boiler that has extremely low pressure can lead to an issue that’s commonly referred to as a “dry fire.” A “dry fire” or a hot boiler that lacks adequate water can damage the heat exchanger, the pump, and many other important and incredibly costly parts.
Common Reasons Why Boiler Pressure Rises Too High or Falls Too Low
Leaks are the most common cause of increasingly low boiler pressure. With high boiler pressure, the most common cause is errors made while repressurizing a system. This is why leaks and other issues should always be handled by licensed HVAC technicians instead. Abnormally high boiler pressure caused by incorrect troubleshooting and repairs can be dangerous. It can also permanently damage hydronic heating systems.
If your boiler pressure is too high, your HVAC technician may need to bleed out excess water. These adjustments are incredibly sensitive and often involve using the filling loop to create the perfect balance before closing everything off, resetting the system, and starting it once more.
Having an HVAC technician inspect your boiler when pressure levels continue to rise is the best way to accurately diagnose the source of the problem. Although excess water within the system is likely, high pressure levels can also be attributed to:
- Worn components
- Excessive expansion of select boiler components
- Failing pressure release devices
- A filling loop that isn’t fully closed
When pressure release systems malfunction or fail, excess pressure has nowhere to go. This may be the problem if pressure readings rise quickly during heating and continue to rise even when the boiler is hot. To prevent serious problems, turn your radiator off and contact an HVAC company right away. As the water within your hydronic heating system cools and contracts, pressure readings should gradually make their way down to a more acceptable level.
Overpressurizing a boiler and then continuing to use it greatly increases the likelihood of other problems developing. High pressure can wear important components out, contribute to the early failure of pressure release systems, and damage the filling loop. High pressure levels can even cause failure at the system’s copper joints.
At Top Notch Heating & Plumbing, we’ve been proudly providing heating, cooling, and plumbing services for quite some time. We also offer boiler installation, maintenance, and repair services. If your boiler has too much or too little pressure, we can find out why and solve the problem. Call us today to schedule an appointment.