Advice For Boiler Buyers!

Antique traction boiler

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This letter is not being written to start a debate over the pros and cons of boiler inspection requirements.

My job as a jurisdictional (state) boiler inspector, is the enforcement of my state's boiler rules, the A.S.M.E. Codes, and the National Board Inspection Code. The purpose of this letter is to inform steam enthusiasts who are thinking about purchasing a boiler, and bringing it into the state where they plan on operating the boiler, to check that state's boiler regulations prior to buying the boiler. A majority of states have boiler laws that cover the operation and repair of boilers. The sad part is most of these laws are different from state to state. Make sure you check with the jurisdictions where you plan to operate the boiler for their requirements.

In the past year, there have been seven boilers brought into the state where I work. Five have been considered antique traction boilers, and two were considered non-standard boilers. Most states require new boilers to be built to the A.S.M.E. Codes and most also require registration of the boiler with the National Board. Antique and exhibition boilers usually have their own set of regulations due to their age and use.

I would like to use an example at this time to demonstrate the problems an owner may be faced with when bringing a boiler into a state for the first time. A person reads an ad or hears about a boiler that is 'For Sale' in state 'A', he purchases the traction engine (boiler) for $15,000 and brings it into state 'B'.

The engine has sat in a field or barn for 20 years, but he is told there is 'no problem' with the boiler. He has not checked with the requirements of state 'B' concerning their boiler laws. Now he finds out he needs a current operating certificate given by that state to operate his 'new' boiler. An operating certificate is usually required by each state where the boiler is to be operated. This is where an Authorized Inspector gets involved. A vast majority of the antique boilers do not have insurance on them where an insurance company inspector, holding a working commission from that state, would make the inspection. Most antique and non-standard boilers are inspected by an inspector employed by the state. The first question that will probably be asked is for any paper work on the boiler, i.e., previous documentation, certificates, manufacturers literature, material specifications, etc. The owner has no paper work. Calculations will have to be made to determine the allowable working pressure for this boiler based on the existing thickness, boiler dimensions, pitch of stay bolts, type of construction, etc.

Inspection reveals three-fourths of the front flue sheet has been replaced and a patch welded in the bottom of the barrel. Guess what? No documentation on the welding. This could have been welded last year or ten years ago, and who did the welding is not known. The state where I work requires any welding to be done by a repair company having a National Board Repair Certificate of Authorization. All repairs and alterations to boilers shall be approved by a commissioned Authorized Inspector and performed under his guidance. All welding MUST be documented.

Safety valve seals are missing. A safety valve has to be replaced with an A.S.M.E. approved safety valve set at, or below, the allowable working pressure with proper relieving capacity and lead seals intact, or, an A.S.M.E. valve on the boiler can be removed and sent to an authorized safety valve repair facility for calibration and sealed.

Other problems were found sometimes that will require spending more money for repairs.

In closing, I would like to stress the importance of contacting the jurisdictions prior to purchasing a boiler to see if the boiler will meet requirements before you spend a lot of money. I feel sorry for a buyer who has spent $15-$20,000 on a boiler and I have to tell him it does not meet our requirements, and that it cannot be operated around the public.

Editor's Note:Because the above article was submitted by its intention of informing and assisting our subscribers, we have respected his wish to remain anonymous