This installation was clearly a case of mismanagement. The mechanical system, after years of neglect and shoddy "band aid" treatments, was a tangled mess. And there were lethal issues to deal with.
By the time Dave Yates, president of York, PA-based mechanical contracting firm, F. W. Behler, Inc. and Contractor magazine columnist completed his sleuth work, he was wishing for a 12-part series on forensic hydronics.
On the day of his first visit there, Yates learned that the York County Council of Churches (YCCoC) facility had recently been evacuated because of alarmingly high carbon monoxide levels. They also had extraordinarily high fuel bills.
But before he visited the mechanical room in this sprawling church complex, he wanted to get a feel for how the occupants felt about overall comfort. He soon found that the director's office was sweat-box. Several areas were cooler than staff liked, and the Pastor's office complex was hotter than Hades.
It was in the basement mechanical room that Yates encountered the heart of this mechanical nightmare.
According to Yates, the water boiler's supply riser ran to the ceiling where it wrapped around the mechanical room and dropped into a "nest of circulators" and what appeared to be an attempt at outdoor reset with a modulating three-way mix valve. He also noticed that, at the valve, there were disconnected wires and a shaft locked into a fixed position. The boiler's primary loop had no circulator of its own.
"A hydro-air unit had piping that ran back to a very large steam boiler," he said. "A modulating zone valve regulating flow was perched in its supply line. I also encountered a vintage 1953 gas-fired water heater with its burner door lying on the floor."
Soot-spewing boiler jacket
Next to the hydro-air unit was a condensate feed-water tank with a twisted piping arrangement that incorporated a condensate pump-tank (missing its pump) and on the floor sat a centrifugal pump wired to the steam boiler's low-water-cut-off.
"The overflow pipe terminated at a floor drain and it was wet," added Yates. "The feed-water tank was riddled with holes; condensate seeped from it at several points. It wasn't long before I noticed soot streaks at every opening in the steam boiler's jacket, pointing to the likelihood of the CO leak."
Yates' Hydronic Elixir
Yates' firm was chosen to do the work, and within a few days they began the weeks-long business of providing a solution. These were the key ingredients of Yates' hydronics elixir for YCCoC:
- The main challenge for Yates was to solve YCCoC's circulation woes. He and his crew were faced with the evidence of many failed attempts at fixing the system. "We weren't there to patch it up," he said. "Our job was to make wholesale change, beginning with demolition and ending with a new, intelligent, energy-efficient system that would operate reliably for decades."
- "Our first choice was for a Hydronex multi-zone control panel by Watts Radiant," said Yates. "This job screamed for a clean, modular, off-the-shelf solution, elegant in its simplicity. We needed the panel rather quickly, and had it pretty much off the shelf from Watts in less than 10 days. It was exactly what we needed to solve one of the building's key problems."
- Install a new steam boiler properly sized to match the connected load.
- Replacement of all system circulators.
- Test combustion using a digital certified analyzer to bench-mark and verify operating efficiency.
- Replace the feed-water tank and remote condensate pump.
- Install a high-efficiency modulating condensing boiler with outdoor reset to automatically adjust its output to match the building's heat loss.
- Install a Watts Hydronex pump panel.
According to Yates, the YCCoC-type job is rare in that it had so many opportunities to pick "low-hanging fruit," and with so many options to enhance overall system performance and efficiency.
"In the end, we provided a sensible solution with greatly enhanced comfort," he added. "They've also seen a significant reduction in energy use."