DIY (DO-IT-YOURSELF) HEATING SYSTEM UPGRADES

This Blog entry could alternately be entitled “Keeping the Plumber out of your House”. You may also benefit from our prior blogs related to specifics in this topic.

Times are tough, both in maintaining what you have as well as ascertaining ways to reduce your expenses. We can certainly affirm this contention from our own activities. You can’t just wait for the phone to ring and forward quotes for work at your leisure. The work that should be or must be done is still out there, but you must approach it very differently indeed.

As a consumer you must know what DIY (Do-It-Yourself) options are available, and in particular when you have access to and can contribute complimentary resources to the task. Specifically relating to Zoning Regulations, Licensing Requirements, Energy Standards and Permits, in particular there is no substitute for doing your homework. What can you as a Homeowner do vs. that required by Licensing, etc.? Specific to Heating Systems, if you are “Replacing in Kind” (Upgrading) it can be as simple as calling in your rural Fire Chief to inspect your work after installation is completed to following a multi-stepped Permit and Inspection Process in larger jurisdictions. So firstly, ascertain exactly what the “ground rules” are.

Next, determine the scope of your task. What are your motives and exactly what do want to accomplish? Is it a short vs. a long term improvement? A capital improvement has to be weighed not only from your interest as owner and potential seller, but that of the future buyer when applicable. Heating efficiency has become a primary factor in housing sales and can ultimately “swing the deal”, particularly on older “affordable” properties. Generally:

  1. Select your heating fuel objectively, i.e. by cost/efficiency/availability. (Refer to our blogs on fuel selection, pricing and cost calculators.)
  2. Combine your total (heat) energy requirements and look at it again. You may want to go with two fuels, particularly for cooking and possibly DHW (Domestic Hot Water) — but don’t allow secondary usage drive your primary fuel decision. Run the numbers!
  3. Do a Heat Loss Calculation to determine system sizing. (See Blogs) Size it based on where you are going to be at the time of installation. We can guarantee you that if you have already made energy improvements to your facility your current boiler is now too large as a result. Standby Losses (the unusable energy between heat cycling) going up the chimney and boilers kept heated solely for seasonal DHW demands are very wasteful. Note: Factor in a poor chimney that needs upgrading into the equation. Bypass it by design or lower your flue temperatures very significantly to accommodate it.
  4. Look at your lifestyle in relationship to your energy usage. This will aid in heating appliance selection and configuration.
  5. Evaluate your heat distribution issues. Hot or cold rooms, heat usage patterns that may suggest re-zoning to save energy, etc. List and sketch them onto a floor-plan, however crudely.

Now you have the information necessary to configure a system.

Here we must interject our relevant and unabashed observations on heating system practices at the risk of being rash but hopefully not rude.

‘Plumbing & Heating’ are somewhat complimentary but not necessarily convergent trade disciplines. Virtually always coupled on service vehicles and advertising, they are increasing becoming more divergent due to the sophistication of both heating components and control systems. The heating programming, controls, wiring and “smart” components are increasingly becoming more difficult and daunting to the plumber. In fact we can quickly identify a ‘plumber’s boiler’ by its characteristics:

  1. Poor hydronic (heating water) manifolding and distribution, characterized by:
    • Improper proportioning of supply (out) and return piping sizing to distribution.
    • Too many fittings, choices of materials and excess piping for the task.
    • Poor planning, layout and execution. Subsequent hydronic efficiency losses result.
  2. Indirect Water Heater supply piping from a boiler is both logistically poor and subsequently less efficient, energy-wise.
  3. Presence of “add-on” relays for additional expansion zones and not correctly wired electrically to the system operating aquastat.
  4. Similarly, very basic controls, components, diagnostic or function displays, etc.
  5. Improper component selection, sizing and placement.
  6. Resultant poor serviceability. Component locations impede efficient service and subsequently costs.

The preceding observations provide us and potentially you the customer with an opportunity.

The necessary elements of a hydronic heating system design and installation are:

  1. A Heat Loss Calculation and Distribution Plan.
  2. Heating Fuel and System Type Selection.
  3. Boiler Hydronic Manifolding and Distribution Configuration.
  4. Controls Installation, Wiring & Testing.
  5. Utilities Hookups (Exhausting, Fuel Pipe-in, Water Service, Distribution Piping, Electric Service, Thermostat Wiring).

The first two (2) elements are preparatory, defined by designer or consumer — or they should be. The remaining are usually executed by tradesmen, on-site — but not necessarily so.

The system elements referred to above can present opportunities however.

  1. Heat Loss Calculation and Distribution Plan provided by consumer and/or resource using Web Tools.
  2. Heating Fuel and System Type Selection by consumer.
  3. Procure a Pre-Built and off-site tested boiler assembly.
  4. Transfer to customer site.
  5. Utilities Hookups executed selectively on-site by customer/resources and licensed tradesmen, per local requirements.

The benefits of reallocating these task elements are:

  1. A low to no cost project definition by consumer to do a proper RFQ (Request for Quotation) from source(s).
  2. Skilled Tradesman Labor and Materials Costs moved to an off-site Specialty Provider.
  3. Simple installation tasks are left to customer/resources.

Now for our sales pitch. (Refer also to our prior Blogs)

Mercier Engineering pre-builds Weil-McLain Ultra Series Oil and Gas (LNG/LPG) Boiler Systems ONLY. These two (2) particular “state-of-the-art” appliances are 87% Oil and 95% Gas AFUE, respectively. They lend themselves uniquely to pre-building by their attributes. We have learned to also maximize their field performance not only by employing our own “tricks” but those solicited of Weil-McLain Design Engineering. Engineers talking to Engineers. (Click on our Home Page Links for Weil-McLain Ultra details.)

A Heating Proposal will typically run about 50% Materials, 50% Labor. Ours run about 65% to 75% Materials, 25 to 35% Labor, depending upon fuel type — gas is materially higher. Pre-building skews the materials/labor ratio positively. Functionally you get more materials for your money, despite our using a higher cost appliance and accessories to attain this performance. Ultimately you buy a heating system performance package. This is what pays you back, not labor. (All of our customers to date are relating 40% minimum fuel savings on all fuels — but don’t quote us on it. We like surprises.)

We are hesitant to describe or detail our “tricks” (like the “Iron Cross Manifold” TM) due to piracy. Protecting intellectual property is a challenge in itself. Suffice to say that we use the correct part(s) in the correct configuration(s), in the correct relationship(s) to maximize performance, minimize service and operating costs, packaged to efficiently transfer and assemble on site.

In conclusion, look over your requirements, ascertain your local restrictions, summon your local resources (cash in your “rain checks”?) and then give us a call.

Last Edit: 10/10/2012 pdm