Don’t be a Goose!

Kevin Marois

I was working in the shop last Saturday and I heard them out the back door. Honking and raising a ruckus. There was a large Vee of Canadian Geese heading south. If you are Canadian, you know what comes next.

It starts with S and there is a big NOOOO!!! in the middle. It happens every year. We should remember that but we are often unprepared.

So, is your plant ready for cold weather? This is your final warning. It is going to get cold soon; if you are not prepared you will freeze your pipes and spend a lot of money to get things running again. Or, you could plan ahead and be ready for the cold weather. Here are a few things you need to take care of.

Evaporative Cooler

Evaporative coolers (commonly known as ‘swamp coolers’) should be drained and the lines disconnected and drained. Unplug the pump and lift it out of the water.

While you are at it, inspect the belt on the fan and lubricate the bearings. When it gets really cold that motor struggles to turn the fan. A little grease will help. Some people even go so far as to block the duct with cardboard to keep the cold air out of the plant.

Boiler Room

Have you put an electric heater beside the feed pump yet? Have you plugged it in? (don’t ask). Buy one with a thermostat. That way you can leave it turned on all the time, but it will only heat when the temperature actually drops.

Check for drafts of cold air coming from cracks or leaky ducts. We don’t normally have a problem with the boiler itself freezing – it is usually the pump and pipes that freeze. The boiler has enough mass that it will stay warmer longer. If the boiler itself freezes, you will probably have to get the boiler inspector involved before you put it back into service.

A small electric heater could be the difference between a normal Monday and a two-day nightmare. Make sure the heater is facing in a safe direction so you don’t cause a fire.

Air vent, MUST be uncovered while boiler is operating!

Combustion Air

When your boiler is operating, it sucks air out of the boiler room to burn the gas. That air/exhaust is blown up the chimney and out of the boiler room. You need some way to replace that air. There will be an air intake that should be sized to bring in enough air for the boiler, hot water heater and furnace.

The air intake may be a grill or a duct that goes to the floor. It must be open when the boiler is running. Most people will cover or close that grill at night to prevent cold air from freezing the pipes.

Air vent covered at night, to keep out the cold and prevent pipes freezing.

It can be dangerous if you don’t have sufficient air flow. Every winter we hear about people getting carbon monoxide poisoning.

Two signs that you should watch for are: a strong smell that burns your nose, or doors that slam or seem to ‘suck’ closed. If those are happening, you may have negative air pressure in your building. You may even suck the exhaust from your water heater back into the building.

This would be a good time to review safe start-up and shut-down procedures with your staff. We had one plant that froze their pipes three times one winter because the staff couldn’t follow instructions.


You should also check that your furnace still works properly. Try turning it on before the weather gets cold to see that it does still work properly.

If you are not certain, get a professional to check it and replace the filters.

Visit your plant

When the weather gets cold, and especially if there is a strong wind blowing, you should check your plant on the weekends. Running the boiler for an hour might cost $10. It will cost a lot more than that if I come for a visit! We often see problems after long weekends or the Christmas/New Year’s break.

When you check the plant, take your coat off. We’ve had people check their plant and think that everything was fine because they didn’t take their coats off to see how cold it was.

This sounds like work but it is a lot cheaper than doing nothing. The only other choice would be to pack up and fly south like those other Canadians….

Kevin Marois founded Calgary-based Integrity Mechanical in 2003 to service plants in western Canada. He writes on issues related to equipment, its purchase, maintenance and use. You can reach Kevin at or via his website

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