Cleaver-Brooks | Reference Center | Boiler Basics | Number of Boilers

Number of Boilers

Number of Boilers

Backup Boilers

When selecting the boiler(s), consideration should be given to backup equipment to accommodate future expansion, emergency repairs, and maintenance. There are a number of considerations for a backup boiler.

Type of Load

Heating systems and non-critical loads that do not result in a sudden loss of production may have little or no backup. This is not recommended. These types of applications rely on the ability to make repairs quickly to reduce downtime. The risk involved in having no backup is a total loss of heat when the boiler is not in service. In educational or institutional applications, this may result in closure of the building(s) and possible damage if freezing occurs.

When process or heating loads use multiple boilers during peak times, and one boiler during most other times, the availability of an additional boiler to provide full backup during maximum demand should be considered.

In applications with critical steam or hot water requirements, laws or codes may dictate a backup. Even if laws or codes do not dictate a backup, there are many cases where the operation cannot tolerate downtime. For example, a hotel uses hot water 24 hours a day, seven days a week. During periods of maintenance or in an emergency, a backup boiler is required.


Another way to determine whether a backup boiler is a wise decision is to compute the cost of downtime to the owner or the user, as shown in the following three examples:

  • A chemical company manufactures dry cell battery compound in a batch process. The process temperature must be maintained within 2 degrees. The boiler shuts down on a flame failure. They have 20 minutes to recover steam, or the batch is scrap. The value of the product is $250,000.
  • A Midwestern insurance company building has comfort heating supplied by one boiler. There are more than 2,000 workers in the building. The boiler shuts down due to a failed gas valve. Outside, it's 11°F. Inside, the temperature continues to drop, and at 1:30 in the afternoon, all 2,000 workers are sent home.
  • A meat processing company makes its entire packaged ham line in a Southern plant. It operates 24 hours a day, every day. A single boiler provides heat for curing, sterilizing, and cleaning. The boiler goes down due to a lack of feedwater. Each hour of steam loss results in four hours of lost production.

Boiler Turndown

Boiler turndown is the ratio between full boiler output and the boiler output when operating at low fire. Typical boiler turndown is 4:1. For example, a 400-horsepower boiler with a 4:1 turndown burner will modulate down to 100 horsepower before cycling off. The same boiler with a 10:1 turndown burner will modulate down to 40 horsepower. The ability of the burner to turn down reduces frequent on-and-off cycling. Fully modulating burners are typically designed to operate down to 25% of rated capacity. At a load that is 20% of the rated capacity, the boiler will turn off and cycle frequently.

A boiler operating at low load conditions can cycle as frequently as 12 times per hour, or 288 times per day. With each cycle, pre- and post-purge air flow removes heat from the boiler and sends it out the stack. Every time the boiler cycles off, it must go through a specific start-up sequence for safety assurance. It requires about one to two minutes to place the boiler back on line. And, if there's a sudden load demand, the start-up sequence cannot be accelerated. The energy loss can be eliminated by keeping the boiler on at low firing rates. Keeping the boiler on line assures the quickest response to load changes. Frequent cycling also accelerates wear of boiler components. Maintenance increases, and more importantly, the chance of component failure increases.

Boiler capacity requirement is determined by many different types of load variations in the system. Boiler over-sizing occurs when future expansion and safety factors are added to assure that the boiler is large enough for the application. If the boiler is oversized, the ability of the boiler to handle minimum loads without cycling is reduced. Therefore, capacity and turndown should be considered together for proper boiler selection to meet overall system load requirements. Oftentimes, when upgrading a system or installing a new one, a variety of different types of boilers may be appropriate. Creating a hybrid system like this can allow you to turn down a larger boiler when your load needs fluctuate and let a smaller, more efficient boiler fill the need.

Modular and Hybrid Solutions

As the demand for more efficient and sustainable steam and hot water systems increases, differing combinations of boilers are required to deliver the best solution. Modular boiler systems that divide system load among boilers of similar size and type allow for more flexibility, because only the boilers you need to meet system demand will be operating at any given time.

With a hybrid approach, you can combine different types of boilers of differing sizes to provide hybrid systems for additional flexibility. For example, a large firetube may supplement a string of condensing boilers to increase load capacity during a period of high need. The condensing units will allow increased efficiency during off-peak heating loads, while having a lower installed cost by not using stainless steel boilers for the entire heating load.