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What does a Boiler Operator do?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A boiler operator runs, maintains, and repairs boilers and other systems that are used to heat or cool large buildings. He or she is responsible for ensuring that systems are kept in proper working order in hospitals, schools, commercial buildings, industrial factories, and other settings. Professionals usually work in comfortable rooms, managing systems remotely with the aid of computers. Repair jobs and maintenance checks, however, may require boiler operators to work under very hot, noisy, dangerous conditions.

A boiler is a type of stationary metal vessel that uses gas, coal, wood, or electricity to heat water and create pressurized steam. The steam can be used to provide heat for a large facility, such as a hospital. A boiler operator is in charge of monitoring the efficiency and safety of boilers and maintaining all of the component parts. An expert routinely checks systems, performs preventative maintenance such as lubricating parts, and troubleshoots malfunctioning boilers.

When a problem is discovered, a boiler operator usually shuts down the system to make repairs. He or she is often required to work quickly to restore heat to a building. Boiler rooms can be very dangerous, noisy, and dirty, and most operators wear protective clothing and earplugs. Safety is a major concern, as fuels and hot water under pressure can be quite volatile. Repair jobs may require a quick replacement of a small part, such as a gasket or ball bearing, or a large overhaul of an entire electrical system or combustion chamber.

To become a boiler operator, a person is usually required to hold a high school diploma, though many companies exclusively hire workers who have passed formal training programs at vocational schools. A new boiler operator typically works as an apprentice for about four years, gaining experience and learning about different tools and techniques from established professionals. Upon the completion of an apprenticeship, a new worker can take a licensing exam administered by his or her country or state. Licensing exams test an individual's understanding of basic operating procedures and safety measures.

As technology in heating and cooling systems advances, the nature of a boiler operator's job is changing. Many new workers spend much more time away from the actual machines, monitoring computers that provide immediate diagnostic information. Boiler operators frequently choose to become licensed to work on other types of modern systems, such as electrical power generators, centralized air units, and refrigeration systems. There is generally a steady demand for workers with specialized knowledge of complex heating and cooling systems in most industrial settings, government buildings, and hospitals.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By KaBoom — On May 03, 2012

Wow, an apprenticeship for a boiler operator takes four years? That sounds kind of long, but I guess it makes sense, considering all the things they have to learn. Computer stuff, hands on stuff, and of course, the all important safety procedures.

From what the article said, this sounds like it could be one of the more dangerous heavy equipment operator jobs. You're around fuel and water that's hot and under a lot of pressure. It seems like a lot of things could go wrong if you mess up!

By Monika — On May 03, 2012

@starrynight - Yeah, the job of a boiler operator is more complicated than you would think. That's why most states require boiler operator certification after boiler operators complete their apprenticeship.

I actually have a friend who does this job, and it pays pretty well. It even pays decently during the apprenticeship period!

Also, my friend did this job during a recession, and he says it's pretty much recession proof. Even if the economy isn't doing well, people still need their boilers serviced so they won't explode and cost them even more money!

By starrynight — On May 02, 2012

I had no idea that boiler operators did so much of their job via the computer! I supposed I shouldn't be surprised, because it seems like everything is getting more and more computerized these days. But when I picture equipment operator jobs like this, I definitely picture someone getting their hands dirty, so to speak.

I guess modern boiler operators do both! As the article said, they run things by computer, but then have to make repairs in person. I guess being a boiler operator is more complicated than I thought it was!

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