• Tag Archives Heating
  • SUBMISSION FOR NON-PROVISIONAL (UTILITY) PATENT PROTECTION

    BoilersOnDemand.com via its Principal, Paul D, Mercier, Sr., has filed for Non-Provisional Intelligent Property Protection (Utility Patent) in the United States of America and Canada on the: ENHANCED CONVECTION, DIFFERENTIAL TEMPERATURE MANAGED, HYDRONIC HEATING APPLIANCE.

    We deem this to be the first, truly integrated, free-standing, simple, durable Hydronic (FHW) Heating Appliance in the Market. Enabled by recent advances in Delta-T ECM Hydronic Distribution, the major elements of energy generation and distribution augmented by our optimization of natural convection (Gravity Heating) comprise the highest efficiency product available ….. bar none!

    A true “appliance”, merely coupling it to site utilities and radiation effects a completed hydronic (FHW) heating installation. Dramatic reductions in materials, labor & skill content, floor-space and maintenance have been realized. A truly “Value Engineered” product.

    Further detail will be made available on our web site www.BoilersOnDemand.com as we finalize our patenting process.


  • DELTA-T ECM HYDRONICS – Redefining “The Plumber’s Playground”

    Hydronic heating comprises warming water as a medium, moving and expending its energy to warm an environment. Thus we have boilers as heat generators and radiation to convert heated water into warmth. Between these we must distribute our medium via pipes, pumps, valves and controls to meet heating demands.

    Basic hydronic system design rules of course must apply, but by and large the final product interpretation has been left to the tradesman/installer. This individualization provides a very attractive latitude of self-expression. Like an artist painting on a new canvas individual skills, styling and practice all comprise the final “picture”, with the author’s “signature” applied. Based upon our field observations we have come to refer to hydronic distribution in particular as “The Plumber’s Playground”, and with no apologies offered.

    Unfortunately the Laws of Physics apply equally to hydronic system installations as to any other enterprise. Therefore that maze of pipes, valves, circulators, controls and wiring evidenced in a “plumbers playground”, no matter how pretty, daunting or impressive is unnecessarily complex, costly and under-performs. In fact any system installed within the past three years or more not employing Delta-T ECM Hydronic Distribution Technology specifically is woefully under-performing!

    The Heating Game has changed, led by the Taco® Delta-T ECM VT2218 Hydronic Circulator and its supporting Taco® Zone Sentry Valves. We refer to it as “The Hydronic Revolution”, as it truly is! These two (2) devices, properly applied, can and do dramatically simplify the complexity and content of a conventional hydronic heating system. Again, properly applied and supported by contemporary control systems provided by an “Intelligent” System Aquastat with idealized piping (plumbing) can further enhance performance, as our work has evidenced. Our development efforts and observations are reflected within the remainder of this presentation.

    The Delta-T ECM Variable Speed, Intelligent, Multi-Temperature-Sensing Circulator is a marvel of applied technology. Its ability to sense, measure and maintain a preset temperature differential in a hydronic circuit virtually optimizes heat transfer efficiency in a single, automatic step. Further being able to accommodate varying demands from multiple zones (circuits) virtually seamlessly as we have evidenced places it as the heart of any hydronic system. Using an automotive analogy we slogan that we are putting an ‘Automatic Transmission’ on a Boiler, but doing it hydronically.

    Now pair this Taco® Delta-T ECM Circulator with a compliment of their Zone Sentry® Zone Valves and you dramatically reduce energy consumption while gaining some further fuel efficiency. As Taco® promotes we are seeing distribution power consumption drops to 11-13 watts and in another instance to 8 watts during normal operation! Compare these with 80 watts for a single Taco® 007 and 21 watts each  for a Heat Motor Zone Valve. (The Zone Sentry® uses 11 watts, and then only in a brief actuator “charging cycle”.) Hydronic heating system power consumption is virtually never considered in design, but it should and furthermore must be!

    Piping is the pride of any plumber (ourselves included) yet in so being can become a detriment to system performance. To this point we offer that hydronic convection (the natural attribute of heated water to rise, and cooler fall) is not considered as a positive contribution to system performance, but an attribute to be controlled. As we have witnessed in our design effort however, natural convection is a measurable asset, particularly when configuring piping and placement to maximize its effect. Near-boiler piping, to employ the trade term, is crucial to maximizing hydronic performance. Compacted packaging of correct pipe sizing and layout close to the boiler displays great natural (non-powered) circulation that may not only supplement but also heat at reduced levels. We had an early Delta-T Circulator failure on one of our “beta” installations that was not discovered for an estimated 2-3 days! How’s that for convection — like “paddling your canoe with the current”.

    When you fully integrate the “intelligent” Delta-T ECM Circulator, Zone Valves and Aquastat with idealized convection you come to the conclusion that hydronic system installation is no longer a process, but functionally becomes an Appliance. Our resultant “package” is contained within its boiler footprint plus minimal rear piping space. A designer need only define system capacity, number of zones, fuel type and exhausting to define the “appliance”. Further, the application lends itself to modularization, and thus to versatility by default. Not only do we significantly reduce the material content of a system, but its labor content and installation time as well.

    Now there is both a trade and consumer option, a virtual Hydronic Heating Appliance with a fixed cost and defined, superlative performance. Our work to date has been developing a “Package Delta-T ECM Hydronic (Oil) Heating System” that achieves its higher performance by incorporating Delta-T ECM Hydronic Distribution Technology with a high-mass, lower operating temperature boiler for optimized performance. But also recognize that Delta-T ECM Circulation will work on any fueled hydronic application, putting an “automatic transmission” on ANY boiler. This obviously reduces the size, content and complexity of the “Plumber’s Playground”, but to a net performance advantage in doing so.

    To summarize, a “Hydronic Heating Appliance” is in our near future, defined by technology and necessitated by the market, like it or not. Its Performance Specification will virtually determine system performance, unlike the potpourri of present practice. Our publicized contributions are documented on our website www.BoilersOnDemand.com.  Please note that our current and following product offerings are under Intelligent Property Protection (Patent Pending). We look forward to “Boilers On Demand” in the new “Plumber’s Playground”.


  • “DELTA-T (ΔT) ECM HYDRONIC HEATING 101” PRESENTATION AVAILABLE

    We have formulated and make available a Power Point Presentation entitled “DELTA-T (ΔT) ECM HYDRONIC HEATING 101”.

    It details our development and application of the Taco® VT2218 Circulator as a Dedicated System Circulator creating a “Packaged Delta-T ECM Hydronic (FHW) Heating System” (Patent Pending).

    Contact us for additional details and arrangements.

    603-588-2333 or info@boilersondemand.com

     


  • Oil & Natural Gas as Heating Fuels Equate @ $45/bbl

    By our calculation #2 Heating Oil and Natural Gas equate at an approximate Crude Oil Price per Barrel of $45 in our locale (Northern New England). There are obviously many factors that contribute and must be individually qualified.

    Refer to our prior posting on “The Heating Blog” entitled “Oil Again The Cheap Heat ………….. “ for procedural detail. Note that it was published with Oil @ $30/bbl this past January.

    Of particular note is to always delineate between a “Delivered” vs. a “Distributed” Fuel. Whereas you purchase a quantity of fuel upon delivery (Oil, Propane, Wood, Coal, etc.), Natural Gas & Electricity are piped/wired to your location and you necessarily pay “service charges” for their facilities usage, maintenance, profit, etc. Factoring your “distributed fuel” bill is simple. Extract the actual cost for “fuel” and divide it into your total bill. The resulting “factor” of 1.XX must be used to multiply any stated “distributed fuel” cost for an actual one. Note that this “factor” is always changing and is particularly dramatic when comparing mid-summer and mid winter fuel costs.

    You will note that the only two viable heating fuels at present are Natural Gas and #2 Heating Oil. Even our regional “Fuels of Opportunity” as we refer, Cord Wood & Wood Pellets, as purchased are far less economic than generally perceived. Even “free” (self sourced and provided) Cord Wood is arguably uneconomic in use, particularly in our experience when purchasing and servicing Exterior Wood Boilers, a regional fad.

    To achieve an “apples to apples” heating fuel comparison you must use a contemporary appliance cost and performance for the fuels being considered. We use a 95% AFUE average value for Natural Gas & LP (Propane) Appliances and an 87% AFUE for Heating Oil. The Oil vs. Gas Heating Appliance Cost must also  always be considered in calculation, the Gas Appliances being pricier than their Oil equivalents.

    The further unwritten and unstated longevity of Gas vs. Oil Installed Systems must be quantified. You are not going to obtain system life expectancy from your “salesman”, who at best quotes Warranties (if you insist) nor provides maintenance histories. These come from the “old sergeants in the trenches” ….. independent service personnel who daily deal with prior work. Unfortunately they are too few, their voices are seldom heard nor are generally known, overshadowed by the self-anointed trade professionals and marketeers. We talk to the Sergeants …..

    Please avail yourselves of our extensive “The Heating Blog” Library on our website for further detail to your particular situation.


  • THE DELTA-T ECM CIRCULATOR — The “Automatic Transmission” for Boilers

    After speaking on-site  with a local customer about his system, he inquired as to what else we were doing. A mistake on his part.

    Both of us having differing technical backgrounds I launched into an inspired dissertation of our application of Delta-T ECM Circulation to Residential FHW Heating Systems. Obviously very interested, a running Q & A exchange of increasing technical depth ensued to the point of my noting he was developing that “deer in the headlights” look of incomplete understanding.

    We engineering types have a terrible habit of technically overloading our audiences, not as an “ego-trip”, but to inform as effectively as possible — we think!

    Needing to salvage the situation I paused, desperately searching for that inspired “bolt of lightening” to strike and clarify the atmosphere. By seeming grace, it came immediately! “I’m putting Automatic Transmissions on Boilers.” Yeah”, he responded, “that makes complete sense. Good idea!” Our further conversation became an analogy of FHW Heating Systems to Automobiles, surprisingly clearing our technical disparages. To expound …..

    After all, hot water boilers and automobile engines are both truly “heat engines”. An automobile engine must convert as much fuel combustion energy into mechanical propulsion power as possible via pistons, crankshafts, etc. Less than 60% becomes useful power, the remainder is dissipated as waste heat. The hot water boiler on the other hand necessarily converts its fuel combustion energy directly into useful heat at up to 97% efficiency!

    The automobile uses a transmission to adapt its mechanical power to control vehicle propulsion. A variety of gears, pumps, valves, etc. are used to accomplish this. The hot water boiler conversely needs only to move heated water (via a pump) exactingly to ideally acclimate our heated areas and (optionally) our domestic hot water (DHW).

    The Delta-T ECM (Differential Temperature) Variable Speed Circulator (Pump) is that ideal “boiler transmission” that delivers heated water most efficiently to maintain our comfort. So efficiently does it do so as to reduce system fuel consumption by up to 15% and electrical consumption by up to 85% as documented by Taco, Inc. Published Testing Results.

    No longer is heating system efficiency measured solely (and inaccurately) by the Boiler AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency) Rating, but the aggregate of Boiler, Distribution and Radiation Efficiencies. There are THREE (3) Elements in a hydronic heating system! Just as in Sulky Racing, it’s the combination of the horse, the jockey and the buggy that wins races.

    Even more exciting  is the opportunity provided by the Delta-T ECM Circulator to most efficiently configure a FHW Heating System, which we have done very effectively. Refer to our other, recently published Delta-T Blogs on this site that detail our development, field testing and observations of our systems.

    Our “Packaged Delta-T ECM Hydronic Heating Appliance™” (Patents Pending) exhibits the following attributes in direct comparison to the typical “conventionally installed” system:

    1. Has a higher Combined Boiler AFUE and Delta-T ECM Distribution (System) Efficiency than achievable with any “conventional” system configuration.
    2. Consumes less fuel and electrical power than any equivalently sized system.
    3. Our Integrated Boiler/Indirect Water Heater System occupies 1/3 to 1/2 the floor-space of others.
    4. Our proprietary Fully-Iron & Cast near-boiler piping maximizes durability and distribution performance using fewer materials.
    5. Further combining a High-Mass Boiler with an All-Stainless Indirect Water Heater assures a dramatically projected economic life (30 years or more?).
    6. A truly universal, multi-fuelable Appliance. Just change the burner and not the system!
    7. Provides, Simple, Durable, Efficient and Cost-Effective FHW Heating.

    So yes, we do put “Automatic Transmissions” on Boilers!

    Author’s Note: Updated 07/23/2018


  • BEYOND AFUE’S – TOWARD REAL HYDRONIC (FHW) HEATING EFFICIENCY!

    For the past year Mercier Engineering has been immersed in developing and preparing for market it’s Packaged Delta-T Hydronic (FHW) Heating System™, based on our past heating experience projected into the new world of “Delta-T Circulation”. You may have noted our preoccupation with this technology in “The Heating Blog” on our www.boilersondemand.com  website. Time to “put our money where our mouth is”, so to speak. The results of our efforts we deem noteworthy and are initially reflected in this writing.

    As the titling of this blog purposely implies, we must get beyond weighing hydronic heating system efficiencies solely upon the boiler’s Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) Rating.  It is only one of multiple elements in an operational formulation that is seldom if ever approached, even more poorly understood, and we allege almost universally misapplied. Strong words which must be tempered by the reality that there has been little market incentive to change our approach to serving the residential FHW heating market in particular; but we ultimately must adapt and change it for the consumer’s benefit.

    AFUE is a regulatory, laboratory testing procedure intended to establish an efficiency value for a hydronic (hot water generating) boiler under a defined operating sequence and conditions. It can be presumed that it executes this comparison very effectively, under its terms. However, what it does not measure from our observations is in practice very significant. Specifically these Non-AFUE Test Attributes are:

    1. There are no provisions for qualifying or measuring between-cycle “stand-by” or “idle-time” losses. This is the time between burner firing cycles when the boiler is prone to radiated energy and convective exhaust (flue) losses, presumed to be non-productive.
    2. Similarly, the testing is “steady-state” in execution, providing no qualification or quantification of individual boiler attributes that may contribute to site application efficiency.

    These test attribute observations have been borne out in field applications, where system performances have not correlated well, boiler-to-boiler or system-to-system. To further complicate this is the variability of physicals to each application, however subtle. The forums and blog sites are rife with these seemingly “apples-to-oranges” commentaries. Our developmental efforts may be able to provide some explanations.

    From our observations there are necessarily five (5) elements contributing to total system energy efficiency:

    1. The boiler (heat engine) energy conversion efficiency or AFUE.
    2. The physical attributes of the specific boiler complimentary to system operation.
    3. The energy required to move heated water through the distribution system (radiation).
    4. The effective matching of radiation elements to heating demand.
    5. The control algorithm(s) to match energy creation with varying system demands.

    Our initial efforts have been with oil-fired hydronic systems and is the focus of this document, with gas-fired and solid-fuel applications to follow as resources permit. However, much of this effort is applicable as the basis of other heating systems.

    Varying the output (energy creation rate) of any heating resource is paramount. This has been readily achieved in gas-fired boilers by “modulating” combustion with sophisticated valving and controls. Typically they adjust from 20 to 100% of capacity, from “idle” to “full speed” to use the automotive analogy. However, direct modulation of oil-fired systems is not feasible using current technologies. A fixed (capacity) firing rate via pressurized, nozzle induced fuel atomization is the norm. Therefore, the only option is to adjust the operating temperature of an oil-fired hydronic boiler via controls to compliment heating demand. This is reasonably well-managed with modern “cold-start” aquastats, external temperature sensors, etc.

    The prior unaddressed penalty to particularly residential hydronic systems has been the toll on equipment and electrical energy requirements of circulating heating water with fixed-speed circulators. They are notoriously and arguably universally misapplied and inefficient in practice. Reducing water temperatures merely aggravates the situation by prolonging circulator cycling.

    Fortunately technology has come to the rescue in the form of the “Delta-T” Circulator, now becoming very applicable and affordable to the residential/light commercial markets. The undisputed pioneer and flag-bearer in this market is the Taco Viridian VT2218 found at this link: http://flopro.taco-hvac.com/media/Viridian_VT2218_100-114.pdf  To use the quote “This changes everything” is not an exaggeration! The Viridian is in fact the second generation, replacing the entry product Taco “BumbleBee” found at this link: http://www.taco-hvac.com/uploads/FileLibrary/100-101.pdf We mention the “BumbleBee” only because it has rapidly become a “cult product” in the HVAC Community, somewhat akin to the “Trekkies”. It was our initial “new tool” in developing and thence refining our product(s). Like our brothers, we hate to see it go as we move to the refined and more sophisticated “Viridian”.

    Referring back to our five (5) elements to total system efficiency, Delta-T Circulation is number three (3) on the list but is deservedly and necessarily the foundation of any hydronic system improvement. Taco reports system Delta-T Circulator-only swaps yielding 15% fuel usage reductions. It is the keystone of our Packaged Delta-T Hydronic (FHW) Heating System™, and should be the first improvement to any system! We caution however that this will require substantial near-boiler system re-piping and your installer must be knowledgeable. It is discouraging to note how few of our fellow tradesmen are cognizant of Delta-T or have used it beyond a radiant heat loop. We “Old Dogs must learn new tricks”, and we have!

    The second element of import is the necessity to employ “Cold-Start” Boiler/Aquastat Hydronic Technology, which overlaps Nos. 2 and 5 in our list. We are unabashed in our praise of the Hydrolevel 3250-Plus “Fuel Smart” Aquastat, found at this link: http://www.hydrolevel.com/new/images/literature/sales_sheets/fuel_smart_hydrostat_sales_sheet.pdf   It is now standard equipment on all our Weil-McLain Ultra Oil Boilers, and none too soon! The inter-action of the 3250-Plus with the VT2218 Circulator’s operational software is paramount to total system performance, as we have learned.

    Note: “Cold-Start” Technology applies to “heat-only” boilers. DHW (Domestic Hot Water) must be effected by an external Indirect Water Heater or another dedicated appliance. We combine the Indirect Water Heater in our design for optimized Heat and DHW Generation.

    Element 3: Our development indicates individual boiler attributes are significant. Specifically,

    1. Boiler supply and return tap placements are crucial to system “packaging”, i.e. the ability to compactly (efficiently) structure near-boiler piping. (We can pipe into a space as close as 11″ from the chimney, with all piping and controls behind the boiler, yet readily accessible.)
    2. A very high boiler mass (weight) for its capacity, i.e. for both thermal damping and storage.
    3. Favorable exchanger flue passage routing and exhausting.
    4. Burner type to compliment its attributes.

    The noted attributes lead us to our “Boiler-of-Choice”, the Weil-McLain Ultra Oil Series with the Beckett NX Burner. Refer to this link for detail: http://www.weil-mclain.com/en/assets/pdf/Ultra%20Oil%20Brochure_8%20Pg_web1.pdf   We have had “conventional” system design and installation experience with this boiler for over ten years now, with only one “no heat” service call, a failed aquastat. Weil-McLain has since upgraded it to the Hydrolevel 3250-Plus, thank God!

    The Beckett NX Burner has been likewise flawless in operation. Literally a “plug and play”. Its dual vent typing capability (direct & chimney) has proven beneficial to problematic venting applications, especially when encountering “cold chimneys” in our northern climate. Fully exposed exterior chimneys are sure to give a rough startup without utilizing its pre-purging and pressure firing features.

    The key attribute to system performance outside of Delta-T Distribution has proven to be Thermal Mass (Storage) provided by the sheer robustness (weight) of the Weil-McLain UO Series High-Mass, Triple-Pass Boilers. They are “The Heavyweight Champions” by far and as a result exhibit lower mean boiler operating temperatures and very less frequent burner cycling.

    As a matter of policy we do not cite or criticize our competitors, but we must make a single attribute comparison to emphasize our point. The approximate block weights of the top hydronic (approx. 100KBTUH, 87% AFUE) oil boilers are:

    Manufacturer/ModelApprox. Ship Wt.
    less Tare (lbs.)
    % of HighestComments
    Buderus G115/G21537560%Adjusted for 100KBTUH
    Burnham MPO-IQ11545072%
    Weil-McLain UO-3625100%

    Author Note: Very noteworthy, the Weil-McLain is also disproportionately the lowest cost per pound (by nearly half) of the three. Just what is the consumer paying for, we wonder?

    Radiation (Element 4) efficiency is the remaining, but least controllable variable in a heating system. It is substantially outside the scope of our system application, yet there are some performance elements we can address.

    Existing hydronic radiation:

    1. Removal of unnecessary valving in zone supplies and returns. All zone control functions are integrated into our system package.
    2. Zone interconnections can be optimized by correct pipe sizing and routing. It confounds us as to why some plumbers use virtually no 45° fittings! You can use 3-4 of them vs. a 90° elbow for the same flow resistance, and you use only 70% of the pipe required for a 90° elbow routing.

    New hydronic radiation:

    The contemporary approach to radiation varies widely, from simple radiation loop(s) for zoned heated areas to individually heated rooms throughout. The more finite the control, the more piping, fittings and control valving, and the more hydronic distribution energy is required.

    Ironically, the same Delta-T Circulator Technology we employ to maximize our system performance has preceded us and become the darling in particularly radiant system applications. We have also employed them in these and they perform admirably. They reduce the energy requirements significantly but yet still camouflage the basic issue.

    If your concern is total energy consumption of a system, we would invite you to consider using less sophisticated radiation distribution schemes. A properly designed, installed and balanced series or split piping loop exudes simplicity and will likely be a lower installed cost. The KISS Principle applies — keep it simple ….. (Refer to our Heating Blog Library for additional detail.)

    To Summarize:

    1. Additional Boiler Attributes are important, beyond the AFUE Rating. In particular heat exchanger thermal mass (weight) will lengthen service life while minimizing repair costs. Burner attributes related to exhausting and tuning must also be considered.
    2. Delta-T Hydronic Distribution Technology is the key to improving any system’s energy performance, both for heating fuel and electrical power consumption.
    3. Inter-related “intelligent” controls determine system operational performance. They are currently the Hydrolevel 3250-Plus Boiler Aquastat and the Taco VT2218 Delta-T Circulator Logic.
    4. Near-boiler plumbing in particular affects system performance. This is maximized in our system piping configuration to include fail-safe “gravity convection”.
    5. Interconnection between our system zone access points and the existing must be executed with the goal of minimizing flow anomalies.
    6. Existing and/or new radiation installations must likewise be executed by idealizing flow conditions inasmuch as possible.

    References:
    We strongly recommend referring to Taco’s website: http://flopro.taco-hvac.com/deltat_resources.html and refer to the various Delta-T resources therein. There’s a volume of resources here that will properly inform you of this new technology and its place in your Hydronic (FHW) Heating System.

    Author’s Note: Hyperlinks updated 08/22/2017


  • WHAT IS A DELTA-T SYSTEM?

    A Forced Hot Water (FHW) Heating System is designed to efficiently provide energy distribution to heated areas. This is accomplished by combusting fuel in a boiler and moving the heated water through radiation to warm the desired environment.

    However, to accomplish this most efficiently requires:

    1. A high-efficiency appropriately sized and fired boiler.
    2. Properly proportioned and positioned radiation for each heated area.
    3. Idealized, simultaneous energy delivery of heated water to all radiation, irrespective of heating demand patterns.

    Practically however, none of these elements are absolutely correct, nor can they be. Boilers and radiation are almost never idealized for efficiency, but the third (energy distribution) is typically the most poorly executed of all. You must deliver heated water at an ideal rate for maximum heating transfer efficiency.

    Common distribution systems typically consist of:

    1. Dedicated circulators for each zone, or
    2. A common circulator with a zone valve for each zone.

    These configurations do not perform efficiently in practice, and in particular zone valves.

    “Delta-T” is a technical connotation. “Delta” (from the Greek letter ∆) is difference, or differential. “T” designates temperature. Thus Delta-T (∆T) is “differential temperature”.

    The Delta-T Continuously Variable Speed Circulator  employs temperature sensors attached to the boiler supply and returns points. It measures and maintains the ideal temperature differential by infinitely adjusting its water delivery rate (pump speed) to suit. Coupling with the new Low Energy, High Flow Zone Valves this technology maximizes the efficiency of any hydronic system with dramatically reduced electrical power consumption.

    VT2218+ZV

    Additionally, this system also smooths the performance of your existing radiation by typically eliminating hydronic whistle from over-sped, heating lag and imbalance from under-sped zones.

    No costly control system is necessary! The innate intelligence of the Delta-T Circulator teamed with the self-diagnostic capability of this new generation “Green” Zone Valve simplifies wiring, installation and diagnosis.

    It’s a Terrible System. Terribly Simple – Terribly Efficient!


  • COAL, THAT POLITICALLY INCORRECT, OTHER HEATING FUEL

    Coal is our most plentiful yet most maligned source of energy. Generating the majority of our electrical power and fueling heavy industry, it has projected the United States from an agricultural to the predominant industrial society in less than a century. But with the EPA’s focus and regulatory squeeze, it has become the convenient “dog to kick”.

    However, the dog and the coal industry are not beaten yet. Witness the shift to exporting our coal to Eastern Europe, the Far East and resurgence of coal “parlor heaters’ supported by bagged fuel. This is not all, however. Economics Rule!

    We have recently through a series of coincidences come to acquaint a fellow tradesman whose specialty is automatic coal-fired hydronic (FHW) systems. His niche is larger, energy-intensive applications such as greenhouses, up-scale housing and “expansion mansions”. (The latter is a regional term denoting seasonal homes that are inordinately expanded and upgraded.) Greenhouses are typically gas, oil or wood heated at significant expense in an effort to survive economically. Upscale housing and “expansion” owners are motivated by pure economics in substituting or augmenting their heating system requirements. Again the latter is where we cross paths.

    Our market effort is providing a Premium, Optimized, and Packaged American Gas or Oil Hydronic Boiler System, ready to “plug & play”. We can also supply our systems pre-piped to interface with a coal/wood boiler as a fully integrated system. There is therefore in our view a very complimentary pairing of coal and wood boilers with gas or oil powered hydronic distribution systems.

    As a solid fuel system a coal fire must be maintained continuously while being modulated (adjusted) to suit heating demands. You don’t just turn a coal fire on and off with a switch, as with gas or oil powered burners. Thus you must utilize or dissipate the minimum fire energy, or let it extinguish. This relegates automatic stoker-fed coal systems to being effectively a heating-season-only appliance.

    The complimentary match is an integrated gas or oil burner boiler to provide the minimal heat and domestic hot water (DHW) requirements off the coal cycle. Thus is our affiliation with our coal systems guy. Whether it’s integrating an existing powered system with coal as previous or providing an overall solution, coal (or wood) systems can be very complimentary indeed.

    The surprise has been the economics of coal as a residential heating fuel, if you work around its physical attributes and distribution challenges. Idealizing its use can make coal more economical than even a sophisticated natural gas system. We have ‘run the numbers’ to our amazement! Let us elaborate.

    First, coal pricing is not necessarily a distribution determined commodity. You would not recognize this as a parlor stove, bagged coal user, but as a central heating system fuel you enter the bulk product market. Now you have options, similar in some regards to the cordwood vs. wood pellets scenario, with one notable exception ….. energy density.

    Coal has a moderately high energy density in comparison to wood for instance, being a necessarily granulated product for automatic stoker-fed coal FHW boiler systems. You can easily handle and pack a lot of it into a storage space. So the key is to ultimately source and deliver the product from its source location in bulk.

    There are two (2) means available, truck or train, or a combination of both. Your strategy is therefore predicated by your point-of-use transport and/or transfer site availabilities. Ultimately your option(s) will be driven by the nearest raw material source. In our case (North Central New England) we have no railhead or ‘coal shed’ facilities (truck under coal hopper car drop site). So we source typically from N.E. Pennsylvania. The ‘coal shed’ is likely the most efficient transit-transfer method, dictated by capacities:

    1. A coal train hopper car has a capacity of well over 100 tons.
    2. A tractor-trailer can legally haul about 22 tons maximum.
    3. A dump truck (for local drop) will vary depending upon its GVW.

    Now you must do the math, based upon your specific annual requirements, individual handling and available storage. Obviously you must work upwards from your system active hopper charge size, considering your refill frequency, etc. to optimize your pattern.

    Your opportunity is to move your fuel from the mine(?) yard at about $100+/- a ton to yours with minimum transit & handling cost. The local scenario is employing an independent Pennsylvania Semi-Trucker who delivers his 22-ton load here, and then back-hauls a bulk load home. This can be wood by-products, aggregates, scrap metal or whatever from this area. Obviously planning and scheduling are in order, and the resultant is a $250 per ton or less delivered cost.

    At $250 a ton or less coal trumps even natural gas (available or not) heating costs utilizing a 95% efficient Condensing Gas Boiler! This is in contrast to a $350+/- per ton cost of buying bagged coal from the local stove shop as a convenience (and handling it).

    The advantage as we see it of an integrated coal-oil or coal-LP (Propane) system is having your energy storage all on-site, and with a generator backup being totally unaffected by both electric outages and heating energy cost fluctuations.

    We must necessarily defer to the coal guy for technical and operational details. Our interest is solely to inform the consumer of all his options while noting our potential technical contribution to heating system integration and performance.

    Well, almost the only reason. Permit me a reflection.

    As a child at the end of WWII I vividly recollect our home being steam-heated with 11 cords of wood annually, and being cold in the process. Not to mention taking away cord wood from a whistling, open saw inches away from your hands and stacking it, seemingly forever. My Dad and a one-armed Uncle operated his saw, the same one that had taken his arm several years earlier. My Dad had had enough.

    We converted to an automatic coal stoker system with a large bin. Recall several nights being shaken out of sleep in a cold house to help my father fix the boiler. My task was to hurriedly dig to the bottom of the coal bin with my hands and remove a piece of chunk coal mixed into the bin that had stuck and sheared the auger feed pin. Meanwhile my Dad built a new fire and replaced the shear pin after my dislodging the chunk. Washing off all that coal dust with Lifebuoy Soap in cold water was the climax, and then hopping back into bed in a hurry.

    Otherwise we always had a nice warm house with radiators hissing that we could back up against, warm ourselves and dry our clothes. Loved that old coal stoker!

    Old, pleasant memories become more vivid as we age, don’t they?


  • THE PERFECT GIFT FOR THAT HOME HEATING “CONTROL FREAK”

    We recently upgraded an oil boiler for a single, elderly WWII Veteran and self-admitted perfectionist. He built his home in 1956 with a brother and friends from sawing the lumber to literally driving every nail in the place, and it is beautiful! It would be a candidate for the Better Homes & Gardens Showcase of its time.

    Thus it was no greater surprise to discover an American Standard Arcoliner, a premium vintage boiler in absolutely fantastic condition for its age. Along with it, our client’s dissertation on its history, maintenance, observed firing patterns, etc. (Every replaced nozzle was lined up on a shelf on his workbench!)

    Our customer had read the manuals, tech sheets et al related to our Weil-McLain Gold Boiler before start-up. Upon seeing the system come to life, he immediately focused on the Hydrolevel 3250 Master Aquastat that was brightly displaying boiler water temperature along with a series of red, yellow and green status lights. As the system warmed we monitored and explained all of the readings and light display changes and then its normal operating characteristics. Since then he has given us boiler temp and firing patterns that we will use to adjust his system.

    It is obvious that our customer will be fixated on his new “baby” forward. Not only is it a new area of interest, but will positively occupy him to a predictable economic benefit in the future. (We are awaiting a deep cold cycle to possibly adjust his boiler firing rate to suit.) These observations have led us to suggest that this FHW (Forced Hot Water) System Upgrade may be just the gift to not only occupy an inveterate “twiddler”, but also provide an economic benefit in the process. It’s “the gift that keeps on giving”, as the adage goes.

    Whether you the reader fit this profile, or a spouse, friend or whomever, the results should be the same. Installing this device on your applicable heating system will ultimately benefit the owner while keeping him out of mischief. You cannot blow anything up, but on the other hand your home and/or DHW (Domestic Hot Water) temperatures may be affected as low temperature adjustment limits are reached. The solution is obviously to readjust these, much as one (or more) plays with a thermostat. There is also a “factory default” feature that resets everything so that the twiddle cycle can commence again.

    So, check first that your particular system is applicable for upgrade to this truly modest cost and efficient device. Then decide whether your subject recipient is capable of installing it or have it done by a qualified tradesman. In any case you will hopefully benefit in more ways than just economically.

    Let the twiddling begin!


  • THE CASE FOR SEPARATING HEATING INSTALLATION FROM SERVICE

    Our singular observation in over 50 years of hydronic (FHW) heating systems installation and service is this: Given any similar application, no two heating systems are configured the same, nor do they consequently service the same. Need they be? We argue that they definitely should be alike for both operational and service efficiencies.

    The impairment to maximizing hydronic efficiency and service lies within the heating market itself. Manufacturers supply components and installers apply them to the customer application employing their accrued experience. The obvious result is the installation variations we observe – “the good, the bad and the ugly” to apply the popular quotation.

    The problem is that even the good is not good enough efficiency-wise, and the installers get little help from their component suppliers, representatives and technical services in this regard. Specific to hydronic boilers, the “building block” of all FHW Systems, the manufacturer provides a generic installation guide with plumbing diagrams and wiring schematics that cover all the bases. No effort is given to efficient component sizing, placement or utilization. Much like an artist that is given a clean canvas with an image theme, the installer creates his own picture as he sees it.

    Ironically, there is an innate need for plumbing and heating guys to paint their own canvas. The daily tedium of fixing “leaks and squeaks” gets old very quickly. The opportunity to become creative by building a heating system on-site and making it look seemingly neat and pretty is a strong draw, not to mention a great payday as well. LEGO’s for Big Kids! Problem is, the customer pays for it up front, and continues to pay over the lifetime of the system in fuel, maintenance and operational costs, knowingly or not.

    From an engineer’s perspective the solution is quite simple, a designed and configured PRODUCT built specifically for the application. The quandary however is: How can you possibly accommodate so many applications and individual variations? There is seemingly an endless possibility of pipes, circulators, controls and valves to idealize an application. This has been the traditional dilemma — until recently. Technology to the rescue!

    Hydronic systems are undergoing a true design revolution with the development of “smart” circulators and zone valves. The combining of these reduces virtually any common residential or light commercial hydronic application to a single circulator and compliment of zone valves to suit. The resultant is a very efficient, flexible and yet simple system. We strongly recommend viewing our companion blog THE HYDRONIC REVOLUTION – THE INTELLIGENT DELTA-T CIRCULATOR FHW SYSTEM for further descriptive and technical details.

    Now to define a typical residential or light commercial system you only need to:

    1. Calculate the total heat loss of the structure.
    2. Specify a hydronic boiler and fuel type with suitable capacity.
    3. Select either a natural draft or forced exhaust venting.
    4. Qualify the use of an indirect water heater, if applicable.
    5. Determine the number of heating zones and their respective supply and return points.

    Note: These comments apply only to a Hydronic Boiler Packaged Product. Heating distribution compliments and completes the system, either as a new or in a replacement application.

    There are currently, to the best of our knowledge, no pre-built, assembled FHW Boiler Package Products applying the latest technologies, assembly methods, materials and logistics to support this emerging market. We are defining the attributes of this market to be providing:

    1. Hydronically optimized boiler package providing exceptional performance.
    2. Intelligent, ideal energy delivery and control.
    3. Complimentary supply zone distribution.
    4. Complimentary zone returns with service enhancements.
    5. Quick, simple on-site preparation and fitting.
    6. Ideally, availability on-demand.
    7. Expedient delivery to site, as required.

    Given the attributes and performance of this product, it will lend itself to service ease by any reasonably skilled personnel. The challenge remains to break the customer from the current norm of “one-stop shopping” for heating installation and service, the intent of this writing. It is only by providing and displaying the performance of such a product will we break the status quo — for the benefit of the consumer, and as an asset to the installer as well!

    We (Mercier Engineering) have participated concurrently in both high-technology manufacturing and the heating trades for over fifty years. An opportunity is now provided to us to participate in developing and marketing this Hydronic Boiler Product. Our career skill-set strongly compliments this task and thus we will be introducing a series of products to develop this emerging market.

    Please follow us on our website: www.BoilersOnDemand.com

    Our “Mission Statement” therein defines us and our goals..