Steam system efficiency

Steam is used in thousands of applications across a range of businesses in a variety of industries, including use as a heat source and for cleaning and sterilisation. There are often simple and low cost improvements that can be used to optimise a steam system – saving businesses water, energy, and importantly, money.

Greater Western Water’s award-winning steam system efficiency program identified steam system performance tips to improve steam system efficiency. 

Steam system performance tips 

These 9 tips to improve your steam system efficiency were common items identified as part of steam system audits undertaken by Greater Western Water with its customers. Businesses contemplating implementing any of these measures should consult a qualified boiler professional before acting. 

  1. Check pipes and connections regularly for steam trap failure and steam leaks.
    Steam trap failure and leaks in pipes and connections can cause large losses of energy. A regular steam trap management program can help identify problems early and prevent large energy losses. Use steam trap leak detection equipment for self-monitoring.
  2. Ensure steam delivery pipes and valves are adequately insulated to conserve heat.
    Better insulation will not only conserve heat but also prevent burns and increase awareness for occupational health and safety.
  3. Keep flue gas temperature low and minimise excess air and combustibles.
    Install a boiler and burner management system to maximise fuel efficiency and optimise boiler performance.
  4. Automate blowdown and minimise flash steam.
    Use automated blowdown controls that are based on conductivity or total dissolved solids (TDS) rather than those based on time to ensure blowdown is only performed when required.
  5. Recover heat from flash steam created during blowdown.
    Install either a flash vessel or heat exchanger to recover waste heat. Waste heat can be used for heating boiler make-up water and other low-pressure steam applications.
  6. Optimise boiler start up and shut down procedures.
    Simple procedural and behavioural changes can often lead to improvements with significant savings and needing little or no capital investment. An example is isolating the main steam lines from the boiler during shut down to maintain boiler pressure and temperatures. This can minimise your gas usage, start-up time and ultimately reduce energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions.
  7. Eliminate (where possible) direct steam applications.
    Condensate that is collected after a direct steam process is contaminated. Install a heat exchanger, jacket or a secondary heating loop to prevent contamination and maximise condensate return to the boiler.
  8. Improve water treatment and consider boiler water pre-conditioning.
    The quality of boiler feedwater can affect blowdown requirements, heat transfer and contaminant carryover into steam. Invest in low energy and cost-effective treatment systems to improve feedwater quality to increase overall boiler efficiency.
  9. Maximise the return of condensate to the boiler.
    Collect condensate from steam traps and return it back to the boiler. This will eliminate the need to re-heat and treat make-up water, saving energy and saving on use of water treatment chemicals.

Video resources

To give you an idea of what’s possible, we’ve produced 2 videos to show you:

  • how one business made a simple alteration to their boiler start up and shut down procedures to save on energy and production costs.
  • simple, cost effective tips to improve your steam efficiency


Steam efficiency - wool processors

View Transcript

Image on screen: City West Water logo. Text on screen: Boiler and steam efficiency at Victoria Wool Processors

    "Victoria Wool Processors is one of Australia's largest wool processors, based in Laverton North in Melbourne's west."

    "We are what's called and early stage wool processor, so we take the wool off the farms."

    "A bail of wool when it arrives here is about 52% wool,and 48% is things that we have to remove and take away from the wool."

    "And that really is our job, to clean that up and send out 100% wool. This is done by washing it in water and detergent, a process known as "scouring", and then"

    "using sulphuric acid, friction & heat to remove the vegetable matter. Wash bowls, rinse bowls and acidising bowls are used in this process."

    "We put the wool through six wash bowls, the first three are heated to about 65 degrees, detergent"

    "is added before it is rinsed in the last three and then dried. Wool washing accounts for the majority of drinking water used onsite, although the steam generated by boilers also requires a great deal of water."

    "Victoria Wool Processors participated in City West Water's steam system efficiency program,"

    "which provided an audit focusing on how their business could optimise the efficiency of boiler room equipment and condensate return systems."

    "There were three recommended from the audit. The first one was a change in procedure"

    "on the shutdown of our boiler, which we implemented almost straight away. As soon as we read it,"

    "we realised this was very simple. We were amazed at how much it saved on startups."

    "The audit revealed that it takes Victoria Wool Processors at least four hours to warm"

    "up the boiler in order for it to generate steam for its wool scouring processes, depending on the season."

    "This presented an opportunity to reduce boiler start up times by isolating the main steam lines from the boiler to maintain boiler pressure."

    "This small change in operation keeps the boiler warm and improves water, energy and production efficiency."

    "Victoria Wool has since implemented the audit's recommendations for boiler start up. It was really just going out for a"

    "five minute discussion with our fitters to"

    "explain the change in procedure. There was no capital cost involved at all."

    "By reducing the boiler start up time by up to two hours, Victoria Wool Processors has"

    "noticed a 5% reduction on gas usage since the change was made. This is equivalent to"

    "over 1000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year and also reduces their gas bill."

    "David: The savings have been about $3000 per start up, and we probably have around 40 start ups per year,"

    "so it's potentially about $120,000 worth of savings for that 5 minute conversation with a fitter and the advice"

    "from the City West Water auditor."

    "This is just one of the efficiency improvements that Victoria Wool Processors has put in place."

    "They are currently working with City West Water to implement other recommendations identified"

    "in the steam audit report, which includes improvements in boiler equipment and their condensate return system."

    "David: I guess one of the advantages with this is that we are wool scourers, we don't"

    "really understand the boiler operations, you don't get the advice from your boiler water"

    "treatment people or your boiler service people. This was completely outside, thinking about"

    "things that you don't normally consider. So some of them were really easy to implement solutions that we hadn't even thought of."

    "Having invested in steam system efficiency, Victoria Wool Processors will continue to save precious water, energy and money for many years to come."

    "cutting to vision of the scouring and carbonising"

cutting to vision of the scouring and carbonising

Bails of wool

Image on screen: City West Water Logo. Text on screen: For more information visit

End of transcript.

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