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Michigan State UniversityMichigan State UniversityInfrastructure Planning and Facilities

Routine maintenance boiler FAQ

June 29, 2017

Routine maintenance will be conducted on two of four boilers in the T.B. Simon Power Plant. The power plant provides steam, heat and electricity to MSU’s campus. The plant utilizes the steam produced from the boilers to generate electricity and also heat and cool buildings.

The maintenance will involve a chemical process that will remove iron and copper deposits that could harm the way each boiler operates.

When will this maintenance take place?

Estimated timeframe:

  • First boiler cleaning: First week of July through the third week of July
  • Second boiler cleaning: Last week of July through the third week of August

The process will be conducted during campus downtime when fewer people are on campus and minimal operations are needed.

Why is this being done?

Annual test results have determined that two boilers need to be cleaned this year. If left unmaintained, the boilers could fail and result in an outage. The remaining boilers are newer and do not need to be cleaned yet.

How often does boiler maintenance happen?

The Boiler Water Treatment (BWT) industry recommends that this process occur every 10-15 years. MSU has been able to maintain its boilers for double the amount of time (about 30 years) because of the clean water processes it uses that keep the systems running cleaner and more efficiently. Past annual inspections have also indicated that these boilers have been operating safely and efficiently.

How does MSU test its boilers?

MSU continuously monitors boiler levels to determine when the maintenance process might need to occur. To ensure that MSU is aligned with the BWT industry standards, the power plant conducts an annual boiler inspection called a deposit weight density test. The test procedure involves removing a piece of boiler piping from the furnace from the highest heat zones. This piece is sent to a laboratory to be analyzed.

MSU prides itself on operating a very clean boiler water system by using water that is free of contaminants. As a result, this has extended the amount of time the boilers have needed to be cleaned. While MSU has been able to stretch the cost of maintenance over time, recent tests results have now indicated that it is time to perform maintenance.

Who will this affect?

People may notice the smell of ammonia in the air. Boiler steam may also be noticeable from the smokestacks.

Is this process harmful to people and the environment?

The estimated amount of ammonia that will be released during this project will not be harmful to people or the environment. However, any time chemicals are involved in a maintenance process such as this, the potential exists for some risk. MSU’s Environmental Health and Safety office, along with the MSU Police Department, will be closely monitoring the onsite locations to ensure the process runs smoothly and any harmful exposures will be avoided.

MSU EHS has procedures in place to help mitigate any risk. For more information about MSU EHS go to

How much does something like this cost the university?

For certain maintenance projects, the university has a utilities reserve fund as part of the general budget to help pay for additional expenses such as this. A standard bidding process was conducted by MSU’s Infrastructure Planning and Facilities and the estimated cost for the project will be approximately $900,000.

View the IPF construction alert.