Implementing an Effective Steam Trap Maintenance Program

A functional steam trap in a properly designed steam tracing or drip leg application generally discharges about 30 to 50 lbs of condensate per hour, under normal operating condition during winter season. On the contrary, a leaky or failed open steam trap can lose 50 to 100 lbs of steam, depending on the trap type, trap flow capacity, trap failure mode, inlet pressure, etc. Even at a steam loss of 50 lbs per hour, with an estimated steam cost of $10.00 per 1,000 lbs, each failed tracing or drip trap can easily cost about $12.00 a day. Failed high-pressure utility traps or high-capacity process application traps can lose 10 to 20 times this amount of steam.

Without careful planning, a plant can easily see trap failure rates of 30-40%. However, with an organized steam trap maintenance program, these failure rates can be brought within 6-10% after 3 years of implementation. For a mid-size refinery or large chemical complex with ~5,000 steam traps, this difference translates into an unnecessary steam energy loss of ~$360,000.00 a month (Assuming 20% additional failures: 1,000 traps x $12.00/day steam cost x 30 days/month). Even if a plant only operates those tracer lines from mid October to mid April, it is still losing close to two million dollars each year.

A steam trap maintenance program doesn't have to be complicated or costly. All that's initially needed is a team of two or four well-trained personnel with a few basic trap testing instruments, such as an ultrasonic tester or temperature probes. More sophisticated trap testing probes and computer software can make the program easier to manage, but are not critical. A trained two-man team can test about 100 traps on an eight-hour shift, so a 5,000 trap plant needs about 1,000 man-hours annually. At $50.00/hr labor plus overhead rate, a plant should budget ~$50,000 in labor cost to perform an annual steam trap survey. Include some program administration expenses, and it will still be under $60,000 a year, or about $12 per trap annually. A new tracing or drip trap costs about $100 to $150 each, or about $200 to replace including labor.

Here's a cost analysis of a maintenance program for a 5,000 trap plant:

Year   Trap Failure Rate
Start of the year
Annual Survey
Labor/Adm. Cost
Trap Replacement
Total Program
1 30% $60,000 $300,000 $360,000
2 20% $60,000 $200,000 $260,000
3 15% $60,000 $150,000 $210,000
4 10% $60,000 $100,000 $160,000
  Four Year Total Cost:  $990,000

Given the $360K in unnecessary steam leakage per month, the total cost of a four-year trap maintenance program can be recovered in just three months. If your plant operates these traps year-round, or has a number of high pressure/high capacity steam traps, the energy savings could be substantially higher.

Process Technology of Pa., Inc. is dedicated to assisting your energy saving effort by providing high-quality, energy-saving thermostatic steam traps and ambient temperature sensing valves for automatic steam supply header control. We can assist you in the implementation of your trap maintenance program, train your steam team personnel, or provide a turn-key steam trap survey and maintenance program. For more information on our products or services, please call us at 215-628-2222.


25 Tennis Avenue, Ambler, Pennsylvania 19002
Tel: 215-628-2222, Fax: 215-628-8772, E-mail: