Wanna get the most-read industry news?

We will send you emails only several times per month. Isn't that cool?

Subscribe!

We will not spam you or sell your email to anyone.

Blockbuster and the 5 Things Heating Gone Away

Goodbye

Blockbuster and the 5 Things Heating Gone Away

Blockbuster Video is dead. We heard the news last week that the movie rental company, which is owned Dish Network, is closing its remaining 300 stores. The reason, as you might suspect, is that almost no one wants to go out and physically pick up DVD anymore when they can download or stream a film at home. Even Redbox® rentals are more convenient giving the renter the choice in returning it to any Redbox® nationwide.

Some may say that going to choose a movie was half the fun, others will complain of there never being a new release in stock but all of us will say that with progress comes the need to say goodbye. This got me thinking about things we’ve said goodbye to in the heating business; particularly the boiler systems. I’ve put together a list of five things that were once common but now have gone the way of Blockbuster.

The list is totally random, hardly complete and will likely cause my friends on the East Coast to scratch their head or curse me but, this is my list. I made it so if you have something to add or replace please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear your opinion!

#1 Mechanical Room Walls Lined w/ Circulators.

This randomly thought of item is a good starting point for my list. Although the “zone-by-pump” systems will never completely go away, there seem to be less and less of them. This in my opinion is a good thing for a couple reasons. Look I want pump companies to sell as many pumps as they can but I also think that designing and installing a truly efficient hydronic system should include the consideration of lower electricity consumption. Namely, putting to work the ultra-low energy consumption zone valves instead of a wall of 80+ Watt pumps all winter long. With the control functions built-in to now mainstream circs there are better ways to zone a system.

#2 Electric Resistance Baseboard Heating                                            

This one may not even be on the radar for many of you, especially those of you on the East and West Coast but, here in Minnesota we still see these systems in use often. You see, back in the ‘60’s & ‘70’s there was a huge boom here in the upper Midwest in the residential construction business. Natural gas was being trenched in everywhere, oil tanks were being tossed out and the electric companies were caught in the middle so to speak as they tried to figure out how they were going to keep existing customers from going to gas.

Enter the electric baseboard….then line the walls with it and give each owner the opportunity to zone room-by-room at a lifetime locked-in rate of 50% off the going Kw/hr charge. This was a great deal at the time and proved to be very successful. There’s just one problem, the rate guarantee went away after a decade or two once the house was sold to a new buyer. That’s when the electric companies really raked it in and at the same time the homeowners started looking into complete retrofits to replace these costly energy bills that seem to linger on for 6-8 months a year.

#3 Cast Iron Boilers.  

Yeah, I said cast iron boilers. Here’s why. I live in an area where air systems are most common; in-floor radiant is at least half of the hydronic market and all commissioned systems have recently gone through a “Federal Tax Credit” promotional period where most of the good old beasts were replaced with more “efficient” wall-hung models.

I’m not on the fence about this. I think replacing a cast iron boiler with a Mod/Con appliance takes a lot of consideration and though. Doing the math and really considering the benefits of one technology over the other for the exact job is what should be done to make the best decision.

I personally think that the majority of contractors do not take the time to consider much or any of the aforementioned process and therefore we have begun to see a major shift in the other direction of what is a perfectly good appliance for the right application.

#4 CSST

Corrugated Stainless Steel Tubing (CSST) installed for the distribution of natural or propane gas inside the building has, I think, seen its glory days and is on the way out.

With high profile lawsuits publicized online and in every trade pub we contractors have learned a lot about the potential dangers of gas piping systems. Dangers most contractors never even considered before but, with our business and livelihood on the line many contractors have gone the other direction when spec’ing and buying gas piping materials for the job. CSST will likely never go away fully; newly engineered systems built to withstand electrical infiltration address and claim to solve the problem the original tubing systems were susceptible to.  For me, I’ll stick with iron pipe and copper for now.

Related Story: Jury Unanimously Finds Omega Flex Tubing Was Not Defective

#5 Aluminum Heat Exchangers

Okay this may be a little bit of a personal item for the list but, as I am starting to see the complete failure of the numerous aluminum boilers that I installed in the past show their ugly behinds, I am glad to see the majority of our industry turn their backs on this design.

Now before one of you writes in the comment section below about how aluminum is a great heat transfer medium or how simple system fluid monitoring is all that is needed to enjoy the benefits of an otherwise wonderfully designed and controlled boiler, I would just like you to give me the keys and address to the giant warehouse where these failed exchangers are stored. I bet that’s a sight to be seen.

For my money and reputation amongst my community I have decided that stainless steel and cast iron are best suited in the long run for hydronic heating systems. I simply have not, even with little or no routine maintenance, seen a material failure rate even close to that of the aluminum boilers I have installed when comparing them to stainless or cast iron. Maybe what is most amazing is that the two companies I know of that use aluminum are well established boiler manufacturers with a cast iron product line that is second to very few yet casting seems to be their mode of manufacturing even though all competitors have gone the way of tube bending and robotic welding; with market shares that continue to grow (see #4 above).

Related Story: “Out with old, in with the new”

This entire list, however non-scientific, poorly researched and completely random is a list I came up with in reaction to the news of a completely unrelated business [Blockbuster] announced their final demise. I do not wish that upon any of the companies related to the list items I have in this article.

Like I said at the beginning, I’d like to hear from you about any or all of the 5 things gone the way of Blockbuster. Please leave a comment below!

3 Comments

  1. John Barba
    John Barba11-11-2013

    Interesting list, Eric…

    If you were to add an Item #6, I would include the hydronics industry as a whole. There are different thoughts as to how large the market share is nationwide, but no matter what, it’s not robust and it’s not growing. There are several lessons we can learn from the demise of Blockbuster and the video store in general. Maybe the biggest is if you keep doing what you’ve always been doing, someone or something is going to take your lunch money.

    As Jim Morrison once said – the future’s uncertain and the end is always near….

  2. Mike Crompton
    Mike Crompton11-11-2013

    I think for the most part you are spot on.
    #1 I don’t like to use more pumps than I have to and with todays Variable speed pumps you don’t have to worry about sizing per zone or pressure differential bypass setups. It’s a no brainer.
    #2 I’m on the west coast. my radar isn’t beeping over this.
    #3 Cast boilers will never completely go away.
    #4 CSST I use it. With the freakness of some of the problems I know that the manufacturers will come up with something. and some of the smaller problems (leaks) come down to 99% of the time to operator malfunction. It will not go away but evolve.
    #5 I sure as heck hope so! Part of my annual services that I do on every boiler is to check pH. Cast and SS boilers I’m not as worried about but the Aluminum I am so picky about levels. I have had to replace 2 HX on systems I could never get a hold of people on and one that was installed by a competitor. There are many out there still and I’m sure when they fail it will just be a new HX not a new boiler (at least the first replacement will be)

  3. Steve Wieland
    Steve Wieland11-11-2013

    CSST leaving us??? No way.

    I’d like to add #7, #2 Fuel Oil. Because of reason that Blockbuster went under, while the rest of the world was looking to gain efficiency, oil dealers continued to install oil boilers with domestic coils running at low efficiencies 24/7. It’s not the oil’s fault!!! It’s the oil industry that has taken oil down.

    Oh yea, and the other smart thing was to allow the transportation industry to remove SULFUR from our #2 in the 11th hour instead of heating oil. If we had removed the sulfur we could have condensing OIL boilers!! Way to spend our hard earned lobbying dollars!

    But, due to the demise of #2 we do see the RISE of LP and compressed Natural Gas!! Most SMART oil dealers know there is nothing to gain by fighting gas (like using the urban myth of lighting your water!!) are selling one of these type of energies! WHOOO HOOO! SS condensing boilers here we come!!!

Leave a Reply

    No Twitter Messages.