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Looking for a Fast Payback by Installing a Dedicated Domestic Hot Water System? You May Want to Look Elsewhere

Installing a dedicated domestic hot water (DHW) plant is a common energy conservation measure (ECM) in the New York City multifamily market. According to Local Law 87 data, approximately 80% of the audited multifamily floor area uses steam heating boilers to produce domestic hot water.[1] A recent SWA analysis of data from steam buildings with tankless coils that implemented this ECM suggests that auditors may want to think twice about recommending this measure widely.

Two unsupported arguments are typically made in favor of installing a dedicated DHW system.

  1. A new condensing boiler or water heater (we will just say “water heater” here for simplicity and to distinguish the dedicated system from the heating boiler) will operate at a very high efficiency.
  2. Scotch marine steam boilers are inherently inefficient and are plagued with high standby losses. Large Scotch marine boilers fire to meet small DHW loads, and correctly sizing a new dedicated water heater will eliminate short cycling.

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Linkageless Burner Retrofits for Steam Boilers

Going Beyond Carburetor Technology in the NYS Market

Fun Fact #1: Space heating and domestic hot water generation represent two of the greatest energy end uses in New York State.

Fun Fact #2: More than 70 percent of all New York City buildings utilize steam for space heating.

Background

The clear majority of the distribution systems in these NYC buildings are supplied by high mass steam boiler plants. Digging down a bit further, it is important to note that the most common air:fuel control for these boilers is a mechanical linkage that connects a single servo motor to both the combustion air damper and the fuel control valve(s). We know that adjusting one part of the linkage’s movement affects fuel and air rates elsewhere in the range, making accurate adjustment difficult. We also know that modern linkageless controls use separate servo motors to operate the fuel control valves, combustion air damper, and (in some cases) the flue damper, allowing for finer control.

mechanical linkage system and linkageless system

In fact, SWA recently completed a demonstration study (partially funded through NYSERDA’s Advanced Building Program) to evaluate linkageless burner retrofits on two buildings with respect to energy savings and carbon reductions, as well as qualitative or non-energy benefits. The retrofit materials were funded by Preferred Utilities Manufacturing Corp. of Danbury, CT, who also provided manufacturer’s technical support. The study also focused on quantifying the seasonal efficiency of intermediate-sized, high mass steam boiler plants, which had not previously been studied. The demonstration addresses this gap in the industry’s knowledge.

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Over Pressure (Part Two)

Welcome back! In Part One we talked about how steam pressure gets too much attention. Controlling pressure for its own sake should never be the end goal—steam pressure is just a means to an end. In this post we’ll discuss one way that controlling steam pressure can be useful—where it can help you balance the system, control the temperature, and yes, save energy.

Two-pipe Steam

The biggest issue plaguing two-pipe steam heating systems are steam traps. Steam traps are supposed to do just that—trap steam—keeping the pressurized steam on the supply side of the system and allowing air and water (i.e., condensate) to pass through into the returns. Keeping the supplies and returns separate is critical, but steam traps are too failure prone to accomplish this reliably.

Radiator steam “trap” failed open

Radiator steam “trap” failed open

At the start of any heating cycle, the system is full of air, which must be removed for steam to enter the heaters. In most two-pipe systems, the steam pushes the air out of the heaters, through the traps, and into the return piping where it eventually exits the system through a vent in a vacuum or condensate tank. That’s what happens when the traps are working. But a failed open trap is no trap at all. It lets the steam flow into the return piping and, with pressure on both the supply and return sides, air is trapped in the system. This affects those farthest from the boiler—the heaters near the ends of the mains and on the top floors—the most.  (And with air trapped inside keeping the metal cold, are they even heaters?)

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Over Pressure (Part One)

Steam pressure gets a disproportionate amount of attention. That’s partially due to the common, but not necessarily true idea that higher pressure equals more fuel use. Remember, it’s not the steam’s pressure that heats the building; it’s the steam’s heat energy. In fact, you can heat a building with 0 psig steam. You can even heat a building with a boiler that’s too small and never builds positive pressure. You can’t do it well, but you can do it.

System Operation

Thanks to the law of conservation of energy, we know that energy cannot be created or destroyed — it can only be altered from one form to another. In a steam heating system, the flow of energy goes like this:

  1. The boiler transfers Btus from the fuel to the steam (energy input).
  2. The steam transfers those Btus to the rooms.
  3. The rooms transfer those Btus to the outdoors (heat loss, aka the load).
image of radiator

Too much heat at any pressure

It’s important to keep this energy flow in mind because they are linked and self-equalizing. If the energy input exceeds the heat loss, the building temperature will increase, which, in turn, increases the heat loss. And, a building’s heat loss depends on the temperature difference between inside and outside and the amount of air transfer occurring. So, the best way to keep the heat loss down is to keep the indoor temperatures as low as possible, and keep the windows closed. Furthermore, in an apartment building, the coldest room drives the load in any steam-heated building and the Super needs to send enough heat around to satisfy the hardest-to-heat apartment.

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The Value of Commissioning

Written by Jenny Powell, Energy Engineer

What is Commissioning?

Many energy and sustainability programs, standards, and codes require commissioning, including LEED, ASHRAE 90.1, NGBS, IECC, IGCC, the PSEG and NYSERDA’s commercial performance-based incentive programs (see glossary below). As states embrace these codes and enforce commissioning requirements you may ask yourself: what is commissioning and why is it beneficial?

Commissioning agents provide third-party quality assurance throughout the construction process. They review design drawings and submittals, periodically inspect construction progress, witness functional performance testing of mechanical equipment, and ensure that the building staff is trained and ready to operate the equipment after it’s turned over. Commissioning agents work on behalf of the owner to ensure that the owner’s project requirements are met. Most importantly, commissioning improves construction quality and reduces maintenance and energy costs.

The benefits of commissioning are never more apparent than during a retro-commissioning project. While commissioning involves a third-party review of operation during the construction process, retro-commissioning is a third-party review of operations well after construction is complete. Some difficult retro-commissioning projects have shown us how valuable it is to resolve issues when the design intent is still clear (or clearer) – and while the construction team is still onsite!

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