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checkEvaluate steam traps for repair or replacement.

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Inspect and repair steam traps to maintain efficient steam system operation. Evaluate existing steam trap methodologies, and identify opportunities for replacing equipment with current technologies.

  • Project Talking Points

    • Steam traps are automatic valves used in every steam system to facilitate steam distribution. For more information, see the Federal Energy Management Program's Steam Trap Performance Assessment.
    • Steam traps in closed-loop steam systems regulate the flow of steam and prevent live steam from passing into the condensate return system. When traps fail, live steam migrates into the condensate system, overheating condensate piping and allowing steam to be lost through atmospheric vents. Overheated condensate piping can be a safety hazard, and lost steam wastes energy and water.
    • Steam traps can fail over time, so assessment and repair are regular maintenance tasks.
    • According to a U.S. Department of Energy Federal Technology Alert on steam trap performance, leaks in steam traps cause the loss of up to 20 percent of the steam generated by a typical boiler. Losses can vary widely.
    • Preventing steam leaks will enhance both water and energy efficiency, improve heating system reliability, and increase life expectancy of equipment.
    • Malfunctioning steam traps can cause safety hazards.
    • Occupant thermal comfort is safeguarded when a stable boiler operating pressure is maintained.
  • Triple Bottom Line Benefits

    • Cost benefits: Reduced water, sewer, and energy costs due to reduced potable water consumption and reduced water heating associated with leaks. (See case studies for specific examples.)
    • Environmental benefits: Reducing energy use and associated emissions (connected to treating, supplying, and heating potable water) always has an environmental benefit. Further, reductions in the amount of water withdrawn from natural water bodies protect the natural water cycle and decrease strain on the municipal water supply.
    • Health and safety benefits: Improvements in safety and thermal management enhance patient and staff experience. Steam equipment operates more efficiently and requires fewer urgent maintenance calls when traps are proactively maintained. Money saved as a result can be applied to the health care mission of the hospital.
  • Commissioning Connections

    While retro commissioning is a path to identify trap leaks, commissioning is not necessary to this measure. If retro commissioning, steam trap leaks should be addressed. The ASHE Health Facility Commissioning Guidelines and accompanying Health Facility Commissioning Handbook are good sources of information for undertaking this performance improvement measure.

     Additional commissioning resources include:

  • Purchasing Considerations

    If you have suggestions for purchasing considerations, or suggested sample contract language for purchasing steam trap related products or for contracted service, please participate in the discussion below.

  • How-To

    1. Determine who’s on the team: Commissioning agent (if applicable), building engineer, and HVAC maintenance personnel.
    2. Identify any changes in steam trap technology, and evaluate upgrade opportunities.
    3. Perform a walk-through of the facility to document the location and type of all steam traps. Use a log to record the information gathered, including the following for each trap:
        • Location, noting ease of access for maintenance
        • Type of trap (mechanical, thermostatic, thermodynamic) 
        • Whether assessment equipment has been permanently installed to monitor performance
        • Condition of steam trap. Inspect for corrosion, steam and other leaks.
    4. Conduct a performance assessment using one of the following methods, as outlined in the U.S. Department of Energy document Federal Technology Alert: Steam Trap Performance Assessment:
        • Sight method: Observe the fluid downstream of the trap after a discharge. “Flash” steam (a “lazy, billowy plume”) will indicate the steam trap is functioning properly. “Live” steam (a “sharper, higher velocity plume”) will indicate a trap failure.
          • Inspect condensate tank and “flash tank” vent discharges for steam plumes.
        • Sound method (most reliable): Use a listening device to differentiate between the sound of normal operation and a trap failure.
        • Temperature method (least reliable): If the trap is significantly cooler than the temperature of the steam released by the boiler, it is likely flooded with condensate If the temperature downstream of the trap is consistent with the temperature of the trap, this may indicate a steam leak as well.
        • Conductivity method: A sensing chamber integrated into the steam trap, or just upstream of it, measures the difference between normal steam conductivity and conductivity in leak or blowout conditions.
    5. If the trap has failed, identify whether it has failed in the open or closed position.
      1. Typical steam trap failure modes:
        • Float and thermostatic: Closed
        • Inverted bucket: Open or Closed
        • Bimetal thermostatic: Open
        • Impulse: Open
        • Thermodynamic disc: Open
    6. Clean and repair all malfunctioning parts.
    7. Document all steam trap maintenance activities in the steam trap log, and coordinate with Performance Improvement Measure Practice preventive maintenance of major HVAC equipment.
    8. Consider using steam trap alternatives available on the market. These may provide the same steam-saving results as a steam trap but more efficiently and with less required maintenance.
  • Tools

    If you have an ROI tool, calculator, or similar resources to share, please contact us or participate in the discussion below.

  • Case Studies

    Nazareth Hospital (Philadelphia, Pa.)

    • Key Points
      • Conducted a comprehensive steam trap audit. Repaired or replaced faulty steam traps and sealed system leaks.
      • At this ENERGY STAR-labeled facility retrofits and operations and maintenance upgrades resulted in a 29-point improvement in the facility’s ENERGY STAR score from baseline to labeling.

    Three U.S. Veterans Administration (VA) medical centers

    • Key Points
      • A steam trap assessment was part of an integrated facility energy audit.
      • The assessment calculated both the steam trap performance level and the value of the lost steam. Malfunctioning traps were either repaired or replaced. Maintenance personnel were trained to perform ongoing monitoring and maintenance.
      • The retrofit was estimated to reduce steam losses by 50–75 percent.
  • Regulations, Codes and Standards, Policies

    There are no regulatory requirements that require steam trap maintenance. If you have suggestions for related codes or regulatory compliance issues, please participate in the discussion below.

    Codes and standards related to steam trap maintenance are generally covered by commissioning and HVAC standards, including the following:

  • Cross References: LEED

    • LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations + Maintenance
      • Energy & Atmosphere Prerequisite 1: Energy Efficiency Best Management Practices—Planning, Documentation, & Opportunity Assessment
      • Energy & Atmosphere Prerequisite 2: Minimum Energy Performance
      • Energy & Atmosphere Credit 1: Optimize Energy Efficiency Performance
      • Energy & Atmosphere Credit 2.1: Existing Building Commissioning—Investigation & Analysis
      • Energy & Atmosphere Credit 2.1: Existing Building Commissioning—Implementation
      • Energy & Atmosphere Credit 3.1: Performance Measurement—Building Automation System
      • Energy & Atmosphere Credit 5: Measurement & Verification
    • LEED for Healthcare: New Construction and Major Renovations
      • Energy & Atmosphere Prerequisite 1: Fundamental Commissioning of Building Energy Systems
      • Energy & Atmosphere Prerequisite 2: Minimum Energy Efficiency Performance
      • Energy & Atmosphere Credit 1: Optimize Energy Efficiency Performance
      • Energy & Atmosphere Credit 3: Enhanced Commissioning
      • Energy & Atmosphere Credit 5: Measurement and Verification
  • Cross References: GGHC

    • Green Guide for Health Care: Operations Section
      • Facilities Management Prerequisite 1: Energy Efficiency Best Management Practices—Planning, Documentation, & Opportunity Assessment
      • Facilities Management Prerequisite 2: Minimum Energy Efficiency Performance
      • Facilities Management Credit 1: Optimize Energy Efficiency Performance
      • Facilities Management Credit 3.1: Existing Building Commissioning—Investigation & Analysis
      • Facilities Management Credit 3.2: Existing Building Commissioning—Implementation
      • Facilities Management Credit 3.3: Existing Building Commissioning—Ongoing Commissioning
      • Facilities Management Credit 4.3: Building Operations & Maintenance: Building Systems Monitoring
  • PIM Synergies

  • Education Resources

    Energy University Courses

    The American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE) has approved this course for continuing education units (CEUs). ASHE issues credits in quarter-hour increments, and a total of 10 contact hours equals 1 CEU.

    Steam Systems I: Advantages and Basics of Steam
    Steam has come a long way from its traditional associations with locomotives and the Industrial Revolution. Today, it serves as an integral and essential part of modern technology. This course will introduce the benefits of utilizing steam in numerous processes and discuss selecting the appropriate pressures for each process.
    ASHE has approved this course for .50 CEU (5 contact hours).

    Steam Systems II: Impact of Boiler Sizing, Pressure, and Velocity
    This course will introduce a measure of boiler efficiency and discuss the impact of correct boiler sizing and how working pressure affects efficiency. We will also look at choosing the correct steam velocity for a specific system. Finally, we will talk about how air and non-condensable gases can impact a steam system.
    ASHE has approved this course for .50 CEU (5 contact hours).

    Steam Systems IV: Condensate Removal—Prevent Your Energy from Going Down the Drain
    In previous courses, we saw that steam condenses in the distribution pipes, and has to be removed to avoid water hammer. This course will explore why condensate is far too valuable to merely discard to the ground or a drain. It will help you  calculate the value of the condensate, and explain the different types of steam traps available for separating.
    ASHE has approved this course for .75 CEU (7.5 contact hours).

    Steam Systems V: Condensate Removal - Maximizing Your Recovery
    In Steam Systems I, we discussed the overall advantages and basics of steam as a source of energy. In Steam Systems II, we looked at the impact of boiler sizing, pressure and velocity on overall system efficiency. Steam Systems III, we reviewed the distribution, control and regulation of steam, and in Steam Systems IV we learned how to prevent energy from going down the drain by implementing proper condensate removal strategies. In this course, we will more fully explore condensate removal, including how to maximize recovery with considerations for choosing traps, proper testing and sizing of traps, and options lifting condensate. Further, to ensure your steam system has a long life cycle, we'll summarize a preventive maintenance program. And, finally, we will discuss the downfalls of bypasses and the impact of water-logging.
    ASHE has approved this course for .75 CEU (7.5 contact hours).

  • More Resources

  • PIM Descriptors

    Energy, Water

    Level: Beginner

    Category List:

    • HVAC
    • Water

    PIM Attributes:

    • Optimize Operations
    • Repair or Optimize Existing Systems (fix what you have)

    Improvement Type:

    • Maintenance


    • Engineering/Facilities Management
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