July 2016

What to Look for in Boiler Gasket Material

Gaskets are part of every boiler and steam or hot water system. They’re used around the many handholes and manholes provided for access and inspection, to prevent leaks in exhaust ducting, and wherever pipes are joined. If a boiler gasket fails the consequences are usually serious. Hot water, steam, or exhaust gas leaks are dangerous and reduced efficiency increases operating costs. That’s why safety experts recommend boiler gaskets be inspected regularly and replaced every year.

Boiler Basics

Every boiler consists of a burner or heating element and some form of heat exchanger. Water, often chemically treated to prevent corrosion, enters the heat exchanger and is heated to a target temperature. In a steam-producing boiler temperatures and pressures can exceed 380°F and 180PSI.

Exhaust gases go up a flue and steam or hot water enter the piping system. In steam systems the vapor condenses as it cools and the condensate returns to the boiler to be reused. Condensing boilers tend to produce a corrosive condensate, (actually carbonic acid,) in the exhaust stack.

Boiler Maintenance

Shutting down a boiler is expensive and disruptive, so it’s always better done as part of scheduled maintenance rather than in response to a leak. Most boilers benefit from an annual inspection and clean. Removing accumulated soot and scale improves efficiency and components should be checked for correct operation. As that involves opening handholes and manholes, it’s also a good opportunity to replace gaskets, even if they show no sign of leaks. (And never reuse a gasket as that could lead to an unplanned shutdown!)

Boiler Gasket Materials

On the fire side of the boiler gasketing is usually done with fiberglass rope or tape. This can handle temperatures of more than 1,000°F. Another option is graphite foil, often formed into a spiral wound gasket for sealing flanges.

On the water side the primary consideration is tolerance to steam. Secondary requirements are good tensile strength, (to resist the internal pressures,) and resistance to corrosive acids and water treatment chemicals. Heat and oxygen tend to oxidize many elastomeric gasket materials, and this should also be considered when selecting boiler gaskets.

All-in-all, the water side environment usually leads to EPDM gaskets. They have a wide temperature range, good compressibility, and the excellent steam resistance that’s needed.

Boiler Gasket Selection

Downtime is expensive, so it’s important to ensure the new gaskets will provide at least 12 months of trouble-free service. Boiler gaskets should be selected based first on performance and secondly, on ease of installation and replacement. A well-made gasket will fit comfortably, providing good coverage of the mating surfaces. Contact a Hennig specialist today to ask what’s recommended for your boiler.

Understanding EPDM Gasket Material

When buying elastomeric material to seal a joint many people go straight for neoprene gaskets. Neoprene works well in many applications, but there are cases where other materials will perform better. One such material that should be considered for outdoor use, or situations where abrasive wear is possible, is EPDM.

EPDM is rubber-like in appearance and properties, so good compressibility and recovery is a hallmark of EPDM gasket material. Like all gasket materials though, it has strengths and weaknesses. This overview should help prospective buyers decide whether to consider EPDM gaskets.

Chemistry and properties

EPDM is an acronym for ethylene-propylene diene monomer. Ethylene and propylene are hydrocarbons and gases at room temperature, yet combine to make solid polymers like polyethylene and polypropylene. By adjusting the proportions and controlling the polymerization process it’s possible to create long molecular chains with more rubbery properties. That’s EPDM.

Sometimes referred to just as EPM, EPDM is a very stable material that resists heat, oxidation, and the aging effects of ultraviolet light. Unlike many other elastomers it’s flexible at low temperatures, and depending on how it’s formulated, works over a range of -60°F to 300°F.

EPDM has good mechanical properties too. Tensile strength is in the range of 7 to 21 Mpa, which is higher than other elastomers like silicone (5 – 10 MPa), nitrile (12 – 15 MPa) and neoprene (5 – 8 MPa). It’s also resistant to abrasive wear, which can’t be said for silicone.

In terms of chemical resistance, EPDM holds up well to acids and alkalies and is a good choice when dealing with both brake fluids and ketones. It also has good resistance to steam. Where it fares less well is against hydrocarbon oils and petroleum products as these produce swelling.

EPDM gasket applications

Relatively immune to sunlight, water and low temperatures, EPDM is often a smart choice for gaskets that will be outside. Good compression set resistance means it recovers well in applications where a joint may open up from time to time, and high electrical resistance means EPDM gaskets may be appropriate for some electrical installations.

A silicone competitor

In the gasket world silicone is known as a high performance material with a wide temperature range and good flexibility. In many applications though, an EPDM gasket could be a more cost-effective choice. Its temperature range is almost as wide and it’s a stronger, more durable material.

Consult the materials specialists

EPDM is available in a wide range of formulations with properties that vary considerably. To get a better understanding of EPDM gasket material options for your application a discussion with the specialists at Hennig Gasket & Seals Inc. is recommended.  Contact us today.