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Understanding Steam Boilers: The Workhorses of the Hospital

Jan 07, 2021 07:00AM ● By Med Magazine

Most people who provide healthcare in a hospital setting have many things to contend with in the course of a day. They have to think about patient needs, following protocols, managing their time, interacting with other providers, and keeping everyone safe. One thing they should not have to think about are the boilers that provide the heat, hot water, and sterilization they depend on, says Al Grode, Heating Division Manager for G & R Controls, a division of HVAC Elements. 

As head of the company's hydronic heating division, Grode oversees the installation and maintenance of all types of boilers, including the large commercial steam boilers typically found on university campuses and in large healthcare facilities. Grode and his team not only help determine a new facility's boiler needs, but they also make sure these boilers function properly so that people who rely on them can continue to do so.

While many schools and other smaller commercial buildings use steam or hot water boilers to heat their facilities, places like hospitals, universities, and processing plants utilize high and low pressure steam for a variety of other functions as well. G & R Controls is the manufacturer's rep for numerous different boiler lines, including several models of steam boilers.

"Steam is critical in a healthcare setting," says Grode, an expert in steam boilers. "Steam is a very efficient way to reach the high temperature and pressure required to kill microbes."

That is why one of the most important uses for steam in the hospital is sterilization of surgical instruments and other tools. High pressure steam generated by the boilers runs directly to autoclaves in the surgical area through a steam pipe distribution system. But this isn't just any steam. The quality of the steam also matters.

"In a hospital, they want to have about 97 percent pure steam, with very little water content," says Grode. "The boiler also needs to produce steam at a specific temperature and pressure to effectively sterilize equipment. And, the steam has to be clean, without additional additives or chemicals."

High pressure steam at a temperature of 250-275°F kills microorganisms on stainless steel utensils as well as on items like gowns and gauzes. Steam also humidifies the air in operating rooms and patient rooms to keep them comfortable while keeping pathogens and static low. In addition, boilers provide the necessary heat needed for patient rooms, hot water for laundry areas, kitchens, and more. 

Given the importance of steam boilers in healthcare, it's fortunate that they can last for decades -- as long as they are properly maintained.

"Because they are in the bowels of the building, boilers can sometimes get forgotten about," says Grode. "Some facilities choose to invest resources into something more aesthetically pleasing than into maintenance or replacement of this vital equipment. However, this can be dangerous. You don’t want a steam boiler to fail when you have a person on the operating table. When an emergency happens, the last thing you need is another emergency."

The pressurized boiler itself, the water inside it, and the miles of piping that supply steam to all parts of the hospital all need to be checked and maintained regularly by trained personnel. The professionals at G & R Controls service all makes and models of boilers. For hospitals, they also clean and prepare the equipment for the required annual state or insurance inspection.

"If we find something that isn't right, we let staff know so there are no surprises," says Grode. "With proper care, you are talking about a vessel that can last 50 years or longer." 

HVAC Elements - 4909 North Lewis Ave Sioux Falls SD

HVAC Elements - 4909 North Lewis Ave, Sioux Falls, SD

HVAC Elements encompasses both the professionals you can count on, with the systems you can trust. HVAC Elements is the umbrella organization for O’Connor Company, G & R Controls and ... Read More »