In today’s modern hydronic systems it seems that almost every component has been marketed and designed to save the installing and service contractor time and headaches. From the recently popular “smart pumps” to the ever increasingly complicated built-in boiler control and everything in between, most promise to solve every problem imaginable but, the one thing not even one of these modern components will do for the contractor is think.
Let’s turn back the clock to 1875-1885 when our Canadian friends started importing the first hydronic systems into the United States. These early hydronic systems operated on gravity, to clarify: they did not have circulators. In fact, there was no such thing as a circulator but that wasn’t an issue. These gravity systems were built-onsite-monstrosities fueled by giant heating plants with little or no controls built in, over-sized cast iron radiators and large diameter iron piping. As simple as these steam replacing systems were, by all accounts they required a high level of hydronic system knowledge. The only moving part is the water itself but to get that water to go where it was needed required the plumber/fitter to combine his mechanical aptitude along with a small amount of wizardry. If he did his job well, the system worked beautifully. If he didn’t, just like today, these systems became a balancing nightmare.
Fast forward: Long gone are the large diameter piping systems operating off of gravity alone. For decades we have been installing, misapplying and replacing circulators in a variety of systems designs. Copper fin tube or cast iron baseboard has replaced millions of pounds of the early gigantic radiators for decades. Radiant ceilings, walls and floors have been around for 60-70 years and the relatively recent popularity of under-floor or in-floor radiant systems has perpetuated the installation of small diameter tubing requiring an even deeper knowledge of pumping and controls. The modern system demands the installer or technician to think more than ever before, regardless of what the salesperson sells you on at the will-call desk.
“Do the math!” -As said by every technical trainer in the HVAC and Hydronics industry, is the foundation for understanding how these systems operate, the components needed to make it happen and the ability to diagnose a problem within a system and solve it. A “smart pump” may help the overall comfort and efficiency of a system but first the piping, emitters, heat plant and controls must be installed properly in order for it to perform it’s promised magic.
I’ve installed dozens of boilers and worked on hundreds of hydronic systems and it seems each boiler room I walk into presents a new challenge, each requiring some amount of research and almost always math. In other words, I haven’t yet found a part or piece to a system that will do the thinking for me. Thanks and, good luck!