Boiler Fault Finder

Maximising boiler condensation operation

There is now a requirement in the Domestic Building Services Compliance Guide that states that where condensing boilers are installed, the system should be designed to operate at lower temperatures to give a return water temperature less than 55 degrees C to maximise condensing operation.


When natural gas burns, it produces considerable quantities of water and this is vaporised in the combustion process (converted to steam).

This process absorbs quite a lot of energy (heat), in fact, approximately 14% of the heat produced by burning the gas is required to boil off the water – this heat is commonly known as latent heat, as it causes a change of state – from liquid to gas (steam).


So why do we need to get the return water temperature less than 55 degrees C in order to maximise condensing operation?


  • The design of a condensing boiler enables a lot of this latent heat to be recovered by condensing the steam in the flue gases back to water (condensate), but this can only be achieved by getting the return water temperature down to 54 degrees C – the dew point of gases.
  • At this temperature, the water vapour in the flue gases will start to condense onto the heat exchanger and give up its latent heat. This heat, plus the sensible heat recovered through cooling the flue gases, can amount to around 12% of the heat that would have otherwise been lost.
  • Reducing the return water temperature still further will recover even more latent heat.

Whilst commissioning your boiler replacement, you may have heard the boiler condensing through the plastic pipe leading to the drain within only minutes of operation, as the return water temperature is well below 55 degrees C on start-up from cold.

As the flow temperature gradually increases and approaches the boiler thermostat set point – approximately 82 degrees C, the burner will commence modulating down to low flame as it begins to match the heat load upon it, which may also switch off if a light heat load is put upon it.

At this point, the return water temperature is likely to be approximately 70 degrees C and possibly higher.

Limiting the return water temperature to around 55 degrees C means we must limit the flow water temperature to approximately 66 degrees C.

With underfloor heating, where lower flow water temperatures can be used at the manifolds, weather compensation controller settings can be changed so that the maximum water temperature is 66 degrees C when the outside temperature is say – 2 degrees C.

Changes in the external temperature alter the temperature of the flow, lowering it if the outside temperature rises and increases it if it drops.

The constant monitoring of the external climate means the boiler is able to operate efficiently at the minimum required temperature and condense for longer.

With outside weather compensation controls, there is always a provision for running at maximum boiler flow temperature for domestic hot water heating, and this should be on a priority basis.

The optimum efficiency level that many newly installed condensing boilers can achieve is not being fully recognised.

Domestic heating accounts for around 14% of the UK`s CO2 emissions, the installation of intelligent weather compensation controls could help to reduce it by almost a quarter.

When installing radiators within new or refurbished properties which are insulated to current high standards, you can do exactly the same thing, but you need to oversize the radiators so that they will give the required heat output.

Identify the difference between room temperature required and the mean radiator water temperature, which determines the rate at which heat from the water can be transferred to the room.

This determines the value of the Delta T factor which is used to adjust the rated output of the radiator from the manufacturer’s catalogue rating.

Once calculated, multiply the manufacturers stated radiator output by the corresponding Delta T factor to show the actual performance of the radiator in those specific conditions.

Delta T factors for radiator- to- room temperature differences (figures may vary slightly depending on manufacturer):

Temperature difference (degrees C) Delta T factor
30 0.423
35 0.512
40 0.605
45 0.700
50 0.798
55 0.898
60 1.000
65 1.104
70 1.211
75 1.319


Heat emission required: 2000 Watts (2 KW)
Room air temperature required: 20 degrees C
Mean water temperature in radiator: 60 degrees C

  1. Temperature difference =
    60 – 20 = 40 degrees C
  2. From delta T factor table 40 degrees C =
  3. Divide the required heat emission by factor =
    2000 watts (2KW) required divided by 0.605 = 3305 watts (3.3KW)
  4. From the manufacturer’s selection table, choose the radiator rated at 3305 watts (or slightly more).