Heat loss calculation on every residential boiler replacement?

 
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ROB_1-278x300Do you do a heat loss calculation on every replacement job? Should you? Everyone will say you absolutely, positively a must! At the risk of being excommunicated from the Hydronic Brethren, I’ll say not always, and, depending on the type of work you do, maybe never. How can that be possible?

I live and work on that lengthy, narrow atoll that Dan Holohan refers to as the Isle of Long, aka Long Island. It’s full of subdivisions built mostly between 1950-1980; these developments are invariably comprised of a very few models of homes. Ranches, capes and colonials primarily with a smattering of variations on that theme, splanches, high ranches and split levels. Probably 90% of the homes will fit one of these categories.

Back in the early ’80s I  was told a Manual J was the proper way to size boilers and I decided  that I would do it that way. The Manual J  is very aptly named because it entails a lot of manual labor to gather the data and then do the calculation the old school way on worksheets. After slightly more than four hours into it, I arrived at a number that was approximately one third that of the existing boiler? Impossible! I did the math again with the same result. I thought my scientific approach would impress the prospective client and win me the job, not quite! I presented my proposal to the homeowner along with the heat loss worksheet showing a boiler size of 59,000 BTU/hr. It wasn’t received very well. After he stopped laughing and regained his composure, he showed me the three other quotes he had gotten. The existing boiler was 160K, the quotes were from 160-225K — all from reputable local companies, who at that point in time had been in business a lot longer than me. Long story short, he went with the company proposing the 225K boiler. “That way it doesn’t have to work as hard”

That turned me off heat loss calculations for quite awhile, until I got my first computer, an IBM XT. Some very expensive heat loss software and I was back in the game, only now with very official looking reports printed with my daisy wheel printer! I had a little bit better luck this time around, and while not everyone was buying this method of boiler sizing, enough were. I’d be lying if I wasn’t nervous when the first stretch of design temp weather set in but amazingly enough, no complaints! I started doing quite a few with the new computer but after awhile I noticed something: the numbers were almost all the same. No sense spending time measuring another ranch when you’ve already done  10 of them and they are all within 5% of each other!

There was and still is a very substantial proportion of oil heated homes on Long Island, and unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of choices size wise in oil boilers. Even today, 65K is about the smallest and many manufacturers smallest are in the 85K range. Doesn’t make a lot of sense measuring a house you know from doing many heat loss calcs on similar homes is less than 50K when the smallest boiler available is 85K!

Yeah, but what about the oddball home? The mid-’80s contemporaries or the circa homes? I have an answer to those as well and no measuring required!  You need some information; the heating degree days over a known period of time; I’d recommend a year and the fuel consumption over that same time period. Degree days can be found at http://www.weatherdatadepot.com/
Step 1.  Add up all the BTUs of the fuel you used and multiply by the AFUE rating of your heating appliance. A gallon of oil has 139,000 BTUs/gallon, a therm of natural gas has 100,000 BTUs/therm, and gallon of propane contains 91,000BTUs/gallon. Some gas utilities measure their consumption in CCF, which is 100 cubic feet, which is 102,000 BTUs

Step 2. Divide the total number of BTUs by the number of  heating degree days. The result is a measure of how many BTUs your home lost per Heating-Degree-Day. Now divide that result by 24 to obtain the number of BTUs your home loses per heating-degree-hour. Lastly, multiply the result by the difference between 70°F and the design temp. For example, if the design temp is  0°F, then the difference you multiply your heating-degree-hours by is 70°F.

An example:

Home using 1000 therms/year in a 80% boiler in a 6000 Degree day climate per year

1000 x 100,000 ( BTU per therm)  = 100,000,000 BTU’s

100,000,000 x .80 (AFUE)    = 80,000,000

80,000,000 ÷  6000( Degree Days) = 13,333.33

13,333.33 ÷  24 (hours per day)  =  555.555

555.555 x 70 ( desired indoor delta T) = 38,888 BTU/Hr

38,888 = heat loss of home

A couple of big advantages to this system, it gives you an actual heat loss on an actual home, not a calculation based on factors that may or may not be correct. How do you know the infiltration or do anything other than guess at an R value? No tape measure required! There a few caveats, however; if they use supplemental heating, mini split heat pumps, pellet stoves, etc., the number will not be correct and depending on how much they supplemented may not even be close.

Caveat number two: they kept the house colder than they would have liked due to fuel cost; this one is pretty common in oil and propane heated homes and will skew the number lower because of the abnormally low fuel consumption. Ask these questions upfront and when you get the final number, ask yourself if it makes sense. The average number around here is 20 BTU/sq ft. If I am much off that in either direction, I look for a reason why. As a last resort you can always break out the tape measure!

Robert C. OBrien is the owner of Technical Heating Co. LLC in Mt. Sinai, NY. Robert serves as the Vice President of the national OESP chapter. See more from Robert in his blog “Boiler Sizing & Indirect Water Heaters“ & “Converting from Oil to Natural Gas“.

18 thoughts on “Heat loss calculation on every residential boiler replacement?

  1. Great article, thank you Bob. Unforunately our building inspectors require a heat loss on each replacement, and many won’t even recognize a connected load on steam. I wish they would accept and acknowledge your wisdom.

    1. Bob, great article! I especially like how you point out that we never know the infiltration rate nor the r values in buried walls and ceilings. Too many what ifs..I have an older friend who insists that Manual J is the only way to determine equipment sizing, i will forward this to him.

      Some of the inspectors are requiring heat loss calcs now around here (mass). thing is, most of these inspectors are former framers and vinyl siders who know NOTHING about hvac, but want these to cover their butts, not for the consumers best interest. If the customer isn’t happy, they call us not the inspector.

      Another thing is on mod/con boilers and furnaces, they are virtually impossible to oversize to anyone with experience in this business. like you pointed out most average homes calcs come out within 5-10% of each other, these units usually come in sizes that increase 25% as they go up in size.

  2. A heat loss is required in Maine and it must be available to the state inspector upon request. When would they request it? Only if the homeowner makes an official complaint with their office.

    1. Ken, the local utility requires a heat gain for high efficiency CAC rebates. I couldn’t figure out how guys were still putting 5 ton units in 2.5 ton houses? They put the numbers in that yield the results they want and no one calls them on it

  3. Excellent article Bob,

    Your method is empirical and has great value for that reason. Especially in an existing building in a specific location. The existing heating system with a history of fuel use can be used as an instrument by which one can estimate the necessary design capacity. This can yield measured results rather than textbook estimating.

    If I might add, there are several caveats to account for, especially the efficiency of the existing system, and the efficiency of the house. As houses become more efficient, solar and internal gains make up for larger fractions of the heat loss, effectively lowering the outside air temperature at which a building might “call for heat”. Because heating degree days are measured at base 65, it is necessary to de-rate the deg day totals for very efficient buildings especially super efficient buildings.
    Thanks for a good article.

  4. Jim,that makes no sense on steam whatsoever, the heat loss is irrelevant! As far as the calculated heat loss, how many times has the calculated number turned out to be too large? I figured that out the first design day when run time was only 11 hours in a 24 hour period!

  5. Bob, you know where I am coming from and I completely agree with you. I do enough heat loss calculations but also triangulate using HDD data vs. fuel consumed, same as you do, plus a take-off of radiation as a “whoa! Stop!” metric that tells me there is no point in installing a boiler with an output greater than the radiation it serves. Yes, understood that radiation is not heat loss or rarely is, but it is the governor on the larger engine of options.

    Another facet is modulating boilers- they become the boiler you need, when you need them.
    In the end, yes, I will calculate at least a block heat loss as a check, habit and best practice, but the answers are routinely in the same range for similar homes.

  6. Robert Have you compared the results to an actual heat loss on the same home? What I see is a total BTU consumption for a home. This does not take into consideration BTU’s that were consumed for heating domestic water, cooking or clothes drying.
    I will say that it is close, however it seems to only represent the BTU’s that would satisfy the thermostat no? In homes with multiple zones = multiple thermostats we will have some rooms over working because they will loose heat to rooms under working. At least that is how I see it…
    Thoughts please?

  7. Bob this was a very interesting article. I have a couple of questions. First, if I am reading this correctly, is this final value is the average heat loss of the home? If so, then this doesn’t take into account design day boiler selection. So, I am wondering how to apply this information in terms of proper boiler selection?
    I am a boiler rep and I am always telling contractors to do a heat loss. Too many times they just replace whats in the basement. We all know the variety of ways the old guys used to use to oversize a boiler!

    1. This will give you the correct boiler size. It’s the total energy consumption over a known period of time and known temperatures. With a standard heat loss calc you are guessing at a lot factors that you aren’t sure about,who knows what the R factor is exactly? How do you know the insulation was installed properly and hasn’t settled or been wet or vermin infested? How do you know the infiltration factor without a blower door test? Do it both ways and compare the numbers,they will be pretty close and as you said both will be tremendously less than the existing boiler! We do a fair amount of oil boilers and the smallest are generally 75K,which makes a heat loss a moot point on any tract home under 3000 sq/ft, at least in my climate.

  8. I think this or a similar calculation should be done as a point of comparison, but I would caution using this as the only calculation/criteria for sizing the boiler. The annual heating therms are the result of variables, many that are not proportionate to degree days. Consider the difference between a sunny afternoon at 0F and at 5AM at 0F when the house is trying to recover from night setback. Those data points both went into the annual consumption and are “averaged” out with this calculation technique.

    Building load calcs. require a lot of educated guesses, but each estimated value is only part of your resulting load. And each value is estimated based on a worst case scenario as opposed to an average. i.e. you would not consider a house full of people on a sunny afternoon as your design conditions.

    I agree that many times heating systems are oversized and that for residential applications there are limited incremental choices of equipment capacities. I use the method described here, (or an expanded version using monthly data) but I know that it is likely too small. You should rely on your experience and understanding of the application as much as any calculation. And don’t forget you will want extra capacity to recover from night setback in a reasonable length of time.

    1. Every type of calculation has some guesswork in it, but since most don’t do any “math” at all in selecting a replacement boiler, it certainly beats that! I honestly believe it will get you in the ballpark quickly and easily, I’ve found it to be within 10% of a Manual J. Even at that, the number is usually smaller than the smallest boiler available! A lot more 35K houses out there than 125K houses,yet very few 35K boilers available while 125K boilers are everywhere! :)

  9. Your points are well taken. But it is not an excuse to never do a Manual ‘J’, which, unfortunately, is the industry standard. If you know how to do a heat load and have done them successfully in the past I would give you a pass. If I worked in Levittown I would not likely do many heat loads but would likely get into and argument with people who think you need more than 50 mbtuh condensing boiler to heat one.

    Which brings me to another pep peeve; the new excuse that all condensing boilers modulate so size doesn’t matter. I get the calls when boiler are twice over-sized and modulate to shutdown to the point that they won’t heat the house.

    The fact that we have to guess about air changes, insulation and other such, suggests that a WAG is sufficient, or even better! Not so. We use Wrightsoft for our Unico and hydronic work on a daily basis. We do these heating and cooling loads for our own local work and for many clients across the US and Canada. Most complain that they can’t get the local “professionals” to produce one and the bids they receive often vary in equipment size by as much as 100%.

    I have performed heat loads for concrete homes without insulation and Passive House designs. The numbers are always in question, which is why experience helps, but a proper heat load on a Queen Anne with two additions, basement remodel and new windows requires the use of CAD software if accuracy is the goal. I just did and extensive remodel of a 1960’s Prairie School with so much geometry I had to have a blower door test to determine the loads accurately. Since many upgrades to insulation and window were to be done, the basement floor torn up, insulated and PEX tubing installed for a new zone, CAD drawings and heat/cooling loads were a must.

    If you lose a job because you know more than your competitors you have to ask yourself if you really want customers that aren’t too bright or perhaps you should be reading more books on good sales techniques.

    In other words, if you know what your doing, you don’t need to be told. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you need an excuse. This article is a good as any.

  10. Thanks, Audetat. Doing repetitive heat loads and always coming up with a number smaller than the smallest boilers available led me to give this some thought. That and seeing boilers that were sized real close to the calculated heat loss run at best 60% of the time on design days. I’ve found this method to be within 10% of a Manual J and if one says 48K and the other 43K, what difference does it really make?

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The Italian word, “Avanti” means “forward.” In the sense of motion, it’s a fitting description of young business owner Anthony Tosco and his three-man company, Avanti Plumbing and Heating, Inc., just west of Philadelphia. Currently, the company offers plumbing, heating, hydronics and air conditioning to customers all over eastern Pennsylvania. Most work consists of residential … Continue reading Avanti Plumbing and Heating, Inc. moves ‘forward’ with hot water recirculation

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California wastewater agency wins with radiant technology

When most people think of radiant heat or hydronic snow melt, the usual applications come to mind: warm floors, heated sidewalks and snow-free driveways. The Big Bear Area Regional Wastewater Agency (BBARWA) in Big Bear, Calif., contacted Viega Radiant Design Services with a project that needed an innovative solution. A byproduct of the water treatment … Continue reading California wastewater agency wins with radiant technology

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White House recognizes Bosch Thermotechnology for commitment to energy saving solutions

Londonderry, New Hampshire – Bosch Thermotechnology has been recognized by President Obama for its ongoing efforts to provide innovative low-cost energy solutions across the building spectrum, to include use of renewable technology solutions like geothermal heat pumps. The Bosch recognition by the President comes as part an executive order in conjunction with the EPA’s Clean … Continue reading White House recognizes Bosch Thermotechnology for commitment to energy saving solutions

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BOSCH THERMOTECHNOLOGY INTRODUCES FLOOR STANDING MODEL

BOSCH THERMOTECHNOLOGY INTRODUCES FLOOR STANDING MODEL WITH AFUE 95% RATED EFFICIENCY Bosch Thermotechnology’s Greenstar gas condensing boiler for residential applications is now available in a floor standing (FS) version for all eight regular (heat) and combi (heat+hot water) models. With its sleek appliance-like design and small footprint, Greenstar FS models are ideal for use in … Continue reading BOSCH THERMOTECHNOLOGY INTRODUCES FLOOR STANDING MODEL

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Navien named APR’s Innovation Partner of the Year

Lebanon, Pa.  — At their annual awards dinner in Hershey, PA, APR Supply Co. named Navien their Innovation Partner of the Year. Jeff MacDowell, VP of Marketing and Emerging Markets presented the award to Gary Eklof, president of Harry Eklof & Associates, Navien’s area representative.   In his presentation, MacDowell noted that “Navien distinguished themselves … Continue reading Navien named APR’s Innovation Partner of the Year

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Bell & Gossett releases Q3 Little Red Schoolhouse schedule

Bell & Gossett announces its 2015 third quarter Little Red Schoolhouse seminar schedule for in-person training. The training center’s seminars provide systems design training to engineers, wholesalers and contractors in the plumbing and hydronic heating and cooling industries. Little Red Schoolhouse Opened in 1954, the Little Red Schoolhouse offers seminars covering a wide range of … Continue reading Bell & Gossett releases Q3 Little Red Schoolhouse schedule

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Coffee with Caleffi™: August Webinar Explores BIM in Hydronic System Design

A new speaker to our Coffee with Caleffi™ webinar series, Jim Meseke, Director of BIM Content at ENGworks, will share his 21 years’ of AEC expertise on Thursday, Aug. 20 at 12 noon CDT discussing How to Utilize BIM in Hydronic System Design. Meseke will walk the audience through what BIM is and its capabilities, … Continue reading Coffee with Caleffi™: August Webinar Explores BIM in Hydronic System Design

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Weil-McLain Evergreen™ High-Efficiency Condensing Boiler

Weil-McLain® now offers its most advanced high-efficiency condensing boiler. The new 95% AFUE Evergreen™ boiler features cutting-edge technology with simple controls, flexible functionality for multiple applications and a durable design, and is easy to install, use and maintain. The unit is adaptable for most heating needs including light commercial or large residential applications and for … Continue reading Weil-McLain Evergreen™ High-Efficiency Condensing Boiler

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Botto Brothers Plumbing & Heating — Water/Steam Boiler Installation

Long Island’s rich hydronic heritage can be seen in the houses that cover the island, as well as the plumbing and heating shops that serve them. Common is the moderately sized, turn-of-the-century house that’s seen addition after addition, with as many changes to the heating system. The family-owned hydronic shops run by passionate “wet-heads” continue … Continue reading Botto Brothers Plumbing & Heating — Water/Steam Boiler Installation

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Caleffi Releases the 17th Edition of idronics™: Thermal Storage in Hydronic Systems

Because of the excellent heat storage characteristics of water, adding thermal storage to a hydronic system lends itself well to many benefits including buffering a heat source against short cycling, reducing the heat source size relative to peak load and optimizing the use of surplus heat production. The 17th edition of idronics™ explores these benefits … Continue reading Caleffi Releases the 17th Edition of idronics™: Thermal Storage in Hydronic Systems

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Condensing boilers provide hydronic comfort for sporting goods superstore

  Scheels All Sports is the newest addition to the Apache Mall in Rochester, Minn. The North Dakota-based, employee-owned retailer was founded in 1902 as a hardware & general merchandise store in Sabin, Minn. by German immigrant Frederick Scheel using earnings from his first potato harvest. Transitioning into a sporting goods retailer in 1954, Scheel’s … Continue reading Condensing boilers provide hydronic comfort for sporting goods superstore

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Uponor launches ProPEX® brass ball valves for radiant and hydronic piping applications

Uponor North America (Uponor) is now offering a new, more cost-effective ball valve option for radiant heating/cooling and hydronic piping applications. These code-listed, commercial-grade, PEX-to-PEX, full-port ball valves are available in ½” to 2″ sizes and are appropriate for non-potable PEX piping applications.   The valves are available on-demand in CAD and BIM design files … Continue reading Uponor launches ProPEX® brass ball valves for radiant and hydronic piping applications

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Got beer? Michigan brewery uses innovative piping solution for heat reclaim

To say that Michiganders take beer brewing seriously is an understatement. The state of Michigan has over 185 craft breweries and even has their own song entitled, “The Michigan State Beer Fight Song.” Many cities in the state offer their own version of pub-crawls and craft brewery tours to give tourists a taste of what … Continue reading Got beer? Michigan brewery uses innovative piping solution for heat reclaim

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Coffee with Caleffi: Siegenthaler returns for July webinar

John Siegenthaler, P.E., a seasoned industry expert with over 30 years’ experience designing modern hydronic heating systems, author and popular guest speaker for the Coffee with Caleffi™ webinar series, returns on Thursday, July 23 at 12 noon CDT discussing Utilizing Thermal Buffering in Hydronic Systems. There are many types of hydronic systems where the rate … Continue reading Coffee with Caleffi: Siegenthaler returns for July webinar

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Taco introduces Viridian 3452, ECM circulator for commercial systems

Taco’s now-expanded ECM, wet rotor Viridian line includes the VR3452 high efficiency wet rotor variable speed circulator for chilled and hot water applications, offering up to 34 feet of shut-off head and 52 gpm flow. All settings are accomplished with the user-friendly interface. The permanent magnet ECM motor saves up to 85% of the electrical … Continue reading Taco introduces Viridian 3452, ECM circulator for commercial systems

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ECR’s CEO to lead Hydronics Institute through 2017

Utica, N.Y. — ECR International, Inc. announced that president & CEO, Ron Passafaro, has been re-elected as Chairman of the Hydronics Institute through 2017. Re-election to the Chairmanship in consecutive terms is rare and likely due to the three significant issues which began during Passafaro’s first term: US DOE 2020 Minimum Efficiency regulations, US DOE … Continue reading ECR’s CEO to lead Hydronics Institute through 2017

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Neutra-Safe Expands, Improves Condensate Neutralizer Line

Neutrasafe Corp. has added new products to their line of high-quality condensate neutralizers to fit almost any hi-efficiency, gas fired application. Improvements have also been made to all tube-type and tank-type neutralizers, enhancing ease of maintenance and/or performance. Tube-type condensate neutralizers are now offered in four sizes from 220,000 to 2 million BTUH. Addition of … Continue reading Neutra-Safe Expands, Improves Condensate Neutralizer Line

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Success through teamwork for landmark California project

Centrally located in Orange County, California, the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center (ARTIC) provides transportation service for three million local residents as well as 40 million annual visitors. A LEED Platinum-certified building, the structure is 67,000 square feet with three levels. ARTIC’s unique architecture includes a large number of windows and a dome-shaped structure, which … Continue reading Success through teamwork for landmark California project

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Lochinvar expands CON•X•US remote connectivity platform

Lebanon, Tenn. — Since introducing the CON·X·US remote connectivity platform on the FTXL™ Fire Tube Boiler in 2014, Lochinvar, LLC has received significant industry support for the new capabilities offered by CON·X·US advanced technology. In response to this positive feedback from the field, Lochinvar is extending its exclusive remote connectivity option to the KNIGHT® Boiler … Continue reading Lochinvar expands CON•X•US remote connectivity platform

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Radiant slab heating and cooling system assists in Ontario high school’s LEED Certification

  REHAU was awarded with the Plastics Pipe Institute (PPI) Building & Construction Division’s Project of the Year earlier this month at the organization’s annual meeting. The award recognizes the company’s role in the École Secondaire Jeunes sans Frontiers (Secondary School for Youth Without Frontiers) project in Brampton, Ontario. The school, which has earned the … Continue reading Radiant slab heating and cooling system assists in Ontario high school’s LEED Certification

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Leaders celebrate Uponor groundbreaking ceremony

On May 21, Uponor North America (Uponor) held an official groundbreaking ceremony to commemorate the company’s seventh expansion in the greater Twin Cities area. The $18 million expansion project will add an additional 88,000 square feet for lean manufacturing, office space and additional manufacturing equipment for producing crosslinked polyethylene (PEX) pipe used in plumbing, radiant … Continue reading Leaders celebrate Uponor groundbreaking ceremony

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Caleffi DIRTMAG®

Ferrous impurities form when iron or steel oxidizes. Abrasive and often microscopic, the impurities can deposit onto heat exchanger surfaces and accumulate in pump cavities, causing reduced thermal efficiency and premature wear.   The new Caleffi flanged DIRTMAG® is a commercial dirt separator that is especially effective at removing ferrous impurities.  As fluid enters the separator, … Continue reading Caleffi DIRTMAG®

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Senator Sheehan visits Bosch Thermotechnology

Londonderry, NH – One day after attending a bill-signing ceremony at the White House with President Obama, the Granite State’s senior Senator paid a visit to Bosch Thermotechnology on Friday, May 1st in recognition of the company’s commitment to producing energy efficient heating and cooling systems.   Her bipartisan, co-sponsored bill, the Energy Efficiency Improvement … Continue reading Senator Sheehan visits Bosch Thermotechnology

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Siegenthaler presents course on hydronic-based biomass heating systems

For Residential & Light Commercial Buildings Heatspring Learning Institute, in partnership with the Biomass Thermal Energy Council and John Siegenthaler, will soon launch a new “lite” version of their 10-week online course: Hydronic-Based Biomass Heating Systems. The new course will focus specifically on residential and light commercial building systems that use high efficiency / low … Continue reading Siegenthaler presents course on hydronic-based biomass heating systems

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Get Ready to Geo

Geothermal heating and cooling is the most efficient, earth-friendly and economical comfort technology in the world. Watch this video to see how it works! Learn more at www.GeothermalDay.com