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Depends on how you look at it, but DIYers could either be killing the trade or providing contractors with more work, when these installs ultimately fail. But one thing is for sure: purchasing plumbing and heating equipment through back channels or online is not an advisable route to take. It usually ends up—in the long Read More

This tankless unit was purchased on eBay and installed by the homeowner. Because the unit—which was intended for outdoor use only—was installed and vented inside the basement, it was fortunate that no one was seriously hurt.

Depends on how you look at it, but DIYers could either be killing the trade or providing contractors with more work, when these installs ultimately fail. But one thing is for sure: purchasing plumbing and heating equipment through back channels or online is not an advisable route to take. It usually ends up—in the long run—turning into a disaster of some sort.

Case in point: Dan Foley, Foley Mechanical, recently texted an image which read, “Can you believe this?” Foley was called to a job to replace a tankless water heater, which was originally purchased on eBay, of all places. The homeowner bought the unit online, and being the weekend warrior he was, installed it himself.

Foley commented that because the flue products were vented indoors, in the basement, the homeowner was lucky that he wasn’t dead.

In reaction to the social media post, Jeremy Plasse, heating specialist, United Plumbing Supply, Springfield, Mass., said, “I hate to say this but this is what the Internet has spawned—between this and the YouTube people who think they can do everything. With most manufacturers, though, if you did buy it online you should have voided the warranty. Yet some manufacturers let it happen because that means more units sold.”

This pic was shared by Tim Duff, owner, Breezy Mechanical, Breezy Point, N.Y. Duff was called in to replace the heating unit—which had been running like this for a year The local maintenance man installed this on a side job. He tried to fix the boiler, took it all apart, and couldn’t fix it. Duff solved the problem by replacing it with a Navien combi unit.

“Unbelievable! Unit made for outdoors so no connection for exhaust. Internet or not, if a homeowner wants a unit, they’ll find one. The Internet just makes it easier,” says Steve “Wheels” Wieland, NTI.

Nevertheless, this isn’t to say there aren’t legit online resources such SupplyHouse.com, which acts as “virtual wholesaler.”

Yet, according the Ryan Devries, plumbing and heating technician at Schubert Plumbing and Heating in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada, speaking on the topic of bad installs of DIYers, “This kind of thing is unfortunate but it just supports why we do what we do.”

The social media post sparked other comments relating to the dangers of installing without the help of a licensed professional. One comment featured a comment from a contractor that was called to a home that had a unit venting into the garage, and the garage had a vent fan that blew into the house. The homeowner, his wife and kid had all been seeing a doctor about headache for close to a year. I believe I saved some lives with the change-out and proper venting.”

 

 

In late winter 2016, Dan Foley, Foley Mechanical Inc., was called in to look at a commercial boiler system in a 52-unit apartment building in Arlington, Va. One of the building’s board members was a current customer and thought Foley could help sort out some issues they were having with this building. When Foley surveyed Read More

In late winter 2016, Dan Foley, Foley Mechanical Inc., was called in to look at a commercial boiler system in a 52-unit apartment building in Arlington, Va. One of the building’s board members was a current customer and thought Foley could help sort out some issues they were having with this building.

When Foley surveyed the system in late March 2016, the weather was mild but the cast-iron forced draft boiler was firing away and the boiler room had to be close to 100ºF. Water was dripping from a cracked boiler section. Several cracked sections had been replaced over the past several years. The section now leaking had been replaced the previous December. It did not make it through one season.

Dan Foley stands beside two Peerless PureFire boilers. The heating system consumed 47,017 cubic feet of gas before the retrofit and 28,729 cubic feet of gas after the upgrade for a total savings of 40%.

The board was tired of paying repair costs and high gas bills, while dealing with “no heat” situations on a regular basis. The tenants were complaining of being uncomfortable with “too hot” being the biggest complaint. During his survey, Foley noted numerous open windows with temperatures close to 80ºF in the units. No wonder the gas bills were so high!

The boiler was from a reputable manufacturer. It was unlikely defective castings that were the cause of the cracked sections. This was proven out as Foley dug into the control strategy. The boiler was turned on in the fall with the burner controlled by the high limit. T-T was jumped out and boiler hovered around 180ºF. The system pumps were controlled by an outdoor thermostat set to 60ºF. When the ambient temperature dropped below 60ºF, the pumps kicked on circulating hot water to the radiators.

The boiler room includes two Peerless PureFire condensing gas boilers, which provide heat and domestic hot water (DHW) to the building.

Not only was this control setup extremely wasteful and inefficient, it was murder on the cast iron. When the pumps first kicked on, the flow of cold water hitting the 180ºF cast iron caused them to eventually crack and fail.

Domestic hot water was provided by a 20+-year-old copper fin tube boiler tied to a storage tank. This system was piped and controlled properly but was old and in need of constant repair. It was also suffering from regular breakdowns leaving 52 units with no hot water.

Foley’s goal was to present a solution that was comfortable, reliable and efficient, in that order, and he solicited the help of his local Peerless rep, Jeff Riley of COREDRON LLC. Together they came up with a solution which Foley presented to the board. One board member was recalcitrant and wasn’t buying into Foley’s solution, “We do not have the capital budget to replace all of this equipment at this time. We need a lower cost solution.”

Natural gas usage: The payback is in the numbers. (Click on image to view.)

To which Foley responded, “You are paying for this whether you want to or not. You are paying for repairs and emergency service. You are paying high gas bills. And you are paying through tenant dissatisfaction with the no heat and no hot water situations. Why not direct this capital towards a permanent solution?”

After some conjecture, the board approved Foley’s proposal in the summer of 2016 and his crew got to work in late September. Foley demo’d the cast iron boiler as heat was not yet needed. They also removed the near boiler piping, pumps and controls. They left the domestic hot water (DHW) system connected, as they needed two weeks to pipe the boiler room.

Foley selected two Peerless PureFire stainless steel modulating condensing gas boilers. After performing a load calculation, Foley was able to reduce the boiler capacity by over 20%. The existing boiler was grossly over-sized. Foley chose two boilers to provide redundancy, as well as to provide low load capacity without short cycling. The PureFires have a cascade control built in eliminating the need for an external staging control.

All line voltage wiring and switches, which serve the boiler system, were upgraded.

Venting the boilers was a challenge, as Foley could not sidewall vent the boilers due to the proximity of windows above the boiler room. Riley connected Foley with the Peerless engineering department to come up with a solution. They enlisted help from Centrotherm to devise a custom vent design utilizing the existing 40’ tall chimney as a chase. A twin 4” flexible polypropylene (PPS) liner connected to a custom designed chimney cap solved the problem. Fresh air was piped in from the sidewall while combustion products were vented safely through the PPs vent pipes up the chimney chase to the roof.

The near boiler piping was replaced along with the boiler and system pumps. A hydro-separator was utilized to balance boiler and system flow. The new boilers provide the building’s domestic hot water through a commercial reverse indirect tank. Foley also replaced a broken domestic recirc. pump. All of the exposed piping was insulated with fiberglass pipe insulation and identified with pipe markers.

Recently completed project; before piping was insulated.

Foley was ready to fire up this system in late October 2016. This was perfect timing as the Indian summer gave way to colder autumn weather. Foley enlisted the help of Rich Michael, Peerless Commercial Specialist, to help with the start-up. Foley programmed the controls to turn on the heat when the outdoor temperature dropped below 58ºF. An integral reset control adjusts the supply water temperature to match the building heat loss, ensuring tenant comfort. The PureFire control system will modulate and stage the boilers as necessary to maintain the comfort level in the building, as well as to rotate the lead boiler for even wear.

The boiler control will also handle the DHW priority load and direct the hot water to indirect tank. When the indirect tank calls, the boilers ramp up to high fire and run up to 180ºF supply water temperature to quickly handle the load.

Rich worked with Foley’s lead tech, Brian Golden, to adjust the combustion parameters and get the burners dialed in. This was a great help as these boilers were new to Foley. Rich was also helpful by phone as we fine-tuned some of the control parameter settings as the weather turned colder.

The 1950s apartment building in Arlington, Va. gets a mechanical upgrade.

After the initial tuning, the system worked flawlessly to provide even heat and endless domestic hot water. The board decided to have us install the identical system in an adjacent building the following month. Both buildings have been operational since November 2016.

Neither building has suffered a no heat or no hot water since the systems were installed. Comfort level has been optimized through the reset control eliminating the open window solution to over-heating. Foley knew they would decrease fuel usage but he could only guess at the savings.

 

One of the board members compiled and tabulated fuel usage for two years before and after the upgrade. In summary, the heating system consumed 47,017 cubic feet of gas with the previous system and 28,729 cubic feet of gas after the upgrade for a total savings of 40%. At this rate, it won’t take long for the board to recoup their investment.

We have since replicated this system in another adjacent building with one more scheduled for spring 2019.

Dan Foley is president and owner of Foley Mechanical, Inc. based in Lorton, Va. (www.foleymechanical.com) FMI specializes in radiant, hydronic and steam systems, as well as mechanical systems for large custom homes. He can be reached at 703-339-8030 or at dfoley50@verizon.net.

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“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” — Charles Darwin. Toilets that flush on command through Amazon’s Alexa. Sump pumps that send out instant notifications to your phone the second there is problem. Toilets, sump pumps—do we really need technological advancements Read More

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” — Charles Darwin.

Toilets that flush on command through Amazon’s Alexa. Sump pumps that send out instant notifications to your phone the second there is problem. Toilets, sump pumps—do we really need technological advancements for such items that we have been relying on for decades? If it ain’t broke … Is there such a thing as too much technology in our industry?

“There is no such thing as too much technology in the trades. If it helps with productivity, that’s a good thing,” says Jon Block, job superintendent and chief estimator LH Block Electric Co. Inc., Bartlett, Ill.

For example, Block uses his smartphone for ordering materials and pricing out jobs. The supplier has an iPhone app, says Block, which tells me pricing, availability and cut sheets on most parts. It also allows me to place orders until 10pm, to be delivered the next morning. “That sure beats the heck out of calling the supply house, waiting for the counter guy to walk back and check stock, calculate my pricing. I can price out a complete job in my truck in the parking lot of the project. The old saying still holds true, ‘Time is Money!’ I was able to get rid of 200 lbs. of old paper catalogs off my desk.”

Dave Yates, F.W. Behler, Inc., York, Pa., agrees that the more advanced, the better. “One thing is for sure, we’re not going back to standing pilots and thermocouples!” says Yates. “I like the way technology is evolving with WiFi, sending us alerts if something is amiss. If you ask me, we still have a long way to go, but it keeps getting better.”

But not everyone is totally sold. “Everyone wants the technological dreams to come true, but customers don’t really care. More often than not, it’s ‘just fix it,’” says Stuart Klein, master plumber at Langan’s Plumbing & Heating, LLC. “The pricing continues to get out of hand, and the customers fail to see the value in our services,” says Klein.

Yet one of the issues with ever-changing technology is going to be finding parts, says Jeremy Plasse, heating specialist sales, United Plumbing Supply, Springfield, Mass. “You can find a thermocouple for a 40-year-old boiler, but good luck finding some electronic parts from controls 15+ years old. The manufacturer only produces them for a number of years after they discontinue them. Try telling your customer, ‘sorry, cant get that part but here is a quote for 3k for a control upgrade,’” says Plasse.

Others are a bit skeptical still. Planned obsolescence is the term Matthew Kyle, master tech and sales advisor, Pronto Heating & Air Conditioning, Inc., Edina, Minn., uses. “Manufacturers have told me they design systems to meet the warranty life. Controls boards and ECM motors priced out to the customer at $1000+? A lot of new machines are going to be thrown into the scrap dumpster soon,” says Kyle.

Overall, technology has to be a good thing, right? It helps contractors be more efficient. “Technology can be the best solution to the labor shortage,” says Robert O’Brien, owner, Technical Heating Co., Mt. Sinai, New York. For example, says O’Brien, “A boiler with a fault code, the tech can connect to boiler with either Bluetooth or WiFi. At that point a flow chart should appear outlining the fault as well as the troubleshooting procedure to follow. There should be clickable links to video showing how to perform these functions. A less experienced tech can be functional with this type of support.”

“We must encourage physicians to partner with architects and engineers to optimize indoor air management for the benefit of out most basic asset–our health.” — Dr. Stephanie Taylor M.D., M. Arch. Throughout my travels coast to coast and abroad, the common denominator that always comes to the fore, when discussing energy efficiency, is occupant comfort Read More

“We must encourage physicians to partner with architects and engineers to optimize indoor air management for the benefit of out most basic asset–our health.” — Dr. Stephanie Taylor M.D., M. Arch.

Throughout my travels coast to coast and abroad, the common denominator that always comes to the fore, when discussing energy efficiency, is occupant comfort. It’s not surprising, as the vocabulary of “comfort” is far more accessible to society than the vocabulary of energy efficiency.

This thought was certainly backed by Robert Bean, R.E.T, P.L (Eng.), president, Indoor Climate Consultants, who in addressing attendees of Uponor’s 2018 Engineering Summit, recited Taylor’s message in his presentation, “What Should Be Driving the Sustainability Message— IEQ or Energy?” The latter, he echoed, should not compromise comfort. “If we design for people, good buildings will follow,” said Bean.

He suggested the industry should apply the principle of “salutogenesis”—a practice which focuses on factors that support human health and wellbeing, rather than the factors that cause disease or pathogenesis. In expounding on indoor environmental quality, he noted conventional energy efficiency programs ignore the fact that energy consumed in buildings is intended to create better conditions for people, as most, he said, seem to be focused exclusively on envelopes and equipment, and only superficial IEQ aspects. But if it is the former, and not the latter, “One would then think that all design ought to begin with the physiological and psychological needs of the occupants,” said Bean.

Critical factors that contribute to the success of thermal comfort quality—such as mean radiant temperature, relative humidity, metabolic rate and floor temperature, to name a few.

Next to acoustical issues, thermal discomfort is the second-leading occupant complaint. The culprits, according to Bean, are poor building codes and enclosure designs, followed by poor HVAC solutions. “Heat loss and heat gain calculations are not thermal comfort calculations; HVAC design by itself is not thermal comfort design,” said Bean.

Because building occupants are an integral component of the comfort system(s), the hope from the summit was to learn how to integrate the human sciences of thermal comfort, air and lighting quality, with envelope and HVAC design.

What is definitive, is that there are a number of factors that contribute to thermal comfort; humidity control is one of them–in particular, controlling relative humidity between 35%-55% to manage hydrolysis—VOC emissions—to better control microbials, which in turn, enable comfort in mucous membranes—humidity influences perceptions of thermal comfort and IAQ, and controlling it prevents condensation in and on building materials.

Although not feeling 100%, Bean (r) made it through the seminar with flying colors, with the help of some honey.

Quoting Dr. Charlie Weschler, Bean emphasized, “We can design zero-energy buildings, but we can’t design zero-emitting occupants”

Citing sources from the Rocky Mountain Institute and Autodesk, respectively, Bean said that the traditional air temperature-centric approach in buildings is ineffective, inefficient and expensive, as mean radiant temperature is the single most important parameter in human thermal comfort.

The hope is that the assembled systems will deliver the desired indoor climate with the modeled energy. Bean restated from Adams and Kidd, “Energy efficiency should not be the exclusive goal but rather the outcome from achieving the desired indoor climate.”

That’s the problem: “We have an entire industry pushing energy efficiency down everyone’s throat,” said Bean. Yet, as the population grows, industrial grade temperatures from combustion for non-industrial architectural purposes grows. Stop using combustion, and seek more sustainable practices,” argued Bean, adding conservation of energy “quantity” does not equal conservation of energy “quality.”

As Bean points out, let’s not forget the No. 1 cost in any building operation is people. Occupant comfort, therefore, must be an integral component of the design process. Thermal comfort, solved first through better envelope design, paired with sustainable low-eXergy sources, and optimized HVAC systems will translates into a global solution that addresses all issues, not just energy.