• Tag Archives U.S. Patented
  • WHAT IS A GRAVITY HEATING SYSTEM? – Gravity Convection Heating Revisited

    The three (3) basic elements of hydronic heating are heat generation (boiler), distribution of energy (pumps) and conversion to area warmth (radiation). Of these hydronic distribution is typically the least understood, generally misapplied and desperately needs revisiting!

    What is a Gravity Heating System? A century ago all water-based hydronic heating (hot water and steam) employed the natural gravity attributes of heated water and water vapor (steam) to distribute energy. NO DISTRIBUTION ENERGY WAS REQUIRED! These were effectively single-zone systems that could only be modulated by varying the energy input of the boiler and the radiation outputs using register dampers or steam radiator vents, respectively. Natural (gravity) convection of heated water underlies all hydronic distribution, yet is never considered in contemporary practice. So, check-valving is installed to negate its less desired effects.

    The introduction of electric circulation pumps in the 1920’s enabled forced hot water heating (FHW) and changed hydronics forever. Gone was the large, pitched piping and radiators, replaced with zoned heating and finned radiation. The heating market never looked back, and justifiably so. Lost however was “free” natural gravity convection effect that now had to be also controlled by using check-valving within the system.

    Early electric circulation pumps (circulators) were large, power consumptive and constructed of discrete components, i.e. motor to coupling to pump. We “old-timers” have vivid memories of failed couplings of varied types, seized and leaking pumps and smoked motors. The advent of wet-rotor circulators was like manna from heaven, reducing circulator issues with greater longevity and reduced power consumption benefits.

    Now the evolution and introduction of particularly Delta-T (differential temperature sensing) ECM Circulators projects hydronic distribution management to an entirely new level. The inherent integral instrumentation features and operational data display of delta-t circulators also provide us with finite attribute identification and application control.

    The focus of our work has been to optimize the innate, but hidden contribution of natural gravity convection as both a distribution energy saver and a selective fail-mode feature in hydronic heating. As such the Delta-T ECM Circulator has been the crucial tool in the development of our “Neo-Gravity Delta-T ECM Hydronic (FHW) Heating Appliance™” (U.S. Patent 10,690,356, Canada to follow). We claim optimization of natural gravity convection within our boiler, near-boiler distribution piping with distribution energy requirements using a single, dedicated Delta-T ECM Appliance Circulator. Citing an automotive analogy, we refer to it as “putting an Automatic Transmission on a Boiler™”. This intelligent, variable speed circulator is effectively a hydronic CVT (Continuously Variable-Speed Transmission) in practice.

    Let’s go back again to that old gravity hot water heating system of a century ago. By comparison, contemporary hydronic heating systems have smaller piping with multiple zones for heating flexibility. The old “gravities” employed high-mass cast-iron boilers with larger piping to modulate heating supply, otherwise control was particularly difficult when using solid fuel firing such as with wood or coal. Generous boiler sizing, distribution piping sizes and radiation elements gravity convection worked fairly well, and again with NO distribution power requirements!

    Properly piping a contemporary FHW system using a dedicated “Delta-T Mode” system circulator with complimentary low-energy ball-type zone valves vs. flow-checks yield great results! Transpose this configuration onto the old gravity system layout and you functionally emulate its performance as depicted in the following figures.

    The advantage is in applying natural gravity circulation to the contemporary upgrade. We have seemingly lost all trade skills in managing or enhancing gravity convection. No consideration is ever given to pitching, compacting and minimizing distribution piping in particular. Additional gains are available in radiation layout by using properly sized and configured perimeter series and/or split radiation loops. The 45° elbow fitting as an example saves 30% of piping and reduces head pressure significantly over a 90° elbow run. All this increased pipe volume and head pressure reduces the natural gravitational convection effect, not to mention increasing materials, labor and lifetime operating costs of the system.

    Our Delta-T Mode Circulator measures this head effect well via its wattage indicator. All of our single, dedicated system circulator Beta Site installs to date exhibit an 8 to 13 watt distribution power consumption with typical 4 GPM flow upon a 20° delta-t (adjustable) differential attainment. Compare this to 80 watts typical for each 16 gpm fixed-speed circulator or even 20 to 25 watts each for the new delta-p installs. With delta-t stabilization you can then witness circulation wattage steadily decay to half or less as natural convection contributes. We refer to this effect akin to “paddling your canoe with the current”. Takes a lot less effort ….. and power!

    A secondary effect of gravity convection seems to be radiation heating profile modification, smoothing demand amplitude variation and increasing comfort. Some of the extended fuel savings we observe and the delta-t manufacturer claims seem to be due largely to this radiation profiling effect. Another contributor is the lowered system operating temperature effect of using a very high mass cast-iron boiler vs. contemporary low-mass units. Burner operation cycles are also significantly less frequent than the systems they replace, increasing component lives and lowering maintenance costs.

    A personal cast-iron boiler observation: This author has never replaced a “cold shot” cracked or magnetite impaired cast-iron boiler in over sixty-five years of hydronic and steam installations! Perhaps a discussion for another day, but have we also “thrown the baby (cast-iron boiler) out with the bath water” to cite the old adage? Commentary in the recent 2019 Annual Boiler Report would seem to support our contention. Read our “reading between the lines” blog on this report.

    Finally, the combination of higher boiler thermal mass with enhanced gravity convection extends selective fail-mode heating continuity substantially. Recently and four years prior our Beta Site #3 experienced a fail-safe circulator interruption. The latter an over-current condition from a voltage surge “fail-safed” its operation. In both instances the condition was not discovered for an estimated 2 to 3 days, despite significant heating demand. Neither living area heating nor indirect DHW generation were affected. Second level heating reduction was eventually noted, as it was prior. The customer called and we reset the power switch over the phone to resolve. It is also noteworthy that we have had no system related service calls in over thirty aggregated operating years on our multiple Appliance Beta Sites!

    In closing, the contemporary excesses and misapplication of hydronic distribution are troubling to this author. If tradesmen are promoting their prolific  system distribution piping efforts as efficiency measures they are most sorely misdirected and possibly even deceitful. Witnessing customers proudly showcasing excessively installed systems or trade supplier contests for the “prettiest system” installation pics are also particularly disconcerting. Trade practices and hence consumer perceptions need challenging. Are we selling parts and labor ….. or performance?

    Perhaps it is time for our engineered “appliance” approach to rein in “The Plumber’s Playground©”.

    Updated 11/28/2020 P.D.M., Sr.


  • “THE HANDY HEADER™” – Building Block to Hydronic Distribution Efficiency

    Boilers On Demand LLC announces “The Handy Header™”, entitled “THE COMPACT STEEL HYDRONIC HEADER” within our Patent Submission. It is the first of several proprietary devices that contribute to the documented performance of our first, true Delta-T ECM Hydronic (Forced Hot Water) Heating Appliance (U.S. Patent 10,690,356 – Canada to follow).

    The “Compact Steel Hydronic Header” is a redefinition of the common welded steel-piped boiler header, optimized for hydronic performance and utilitarian value. Design compaction reduces the size and material content of current headers by approximately 40 percent while increasing hydronic distribution (flow) efficiency proportionally at minimum.

    Designed specifically to minimally space and orient Taco® “Zone Sentry” Valves, it supersedes the need for a Valve or Circulator Relay Panel on our Delta-T ECM Circulator-based systems. It has similar value on “conventional” heating system installations, however we are initially offering The Handy Header™ System only on our proprietary “Neo-Gravity Hydronic Heating Appliance” products.

    The “Compact Steel Hydronic Header” is the “building block” for a series of logical derivatives as follow:

    1. The Compact Header – The Base

    2. Zone Valve Assembly (Pre-Built)

    3. Hydronic Distributor (Pre-Built)

    4. Miscellaneous Applications

    The Compact Steel Header System is utilized on both our Modular Supply and Return Assemblies, configured to the Client Application.

    The Delta-T ECM Hydronic Distributor (our naming) is uniquely applicable within our larger, Multi-Boiler Systems. A series of these can be branched off the System Supply Log to suit extended installation requirements.

    Additional device announcements will follow upon prior qualification.

    Refer to our website BoilersOnDemand.com for additional details.

    Updated: 07/01/2020 P.D.M., Sr.


  • OUR UNPOWERED FORCED HOT WATER (FHW) GRAVITY HEATING SYSTEM

    Yes, we have an oil-wood (or coal) central heating system in our home that can fully function without ANY electrical power through outages and uses less power in normal operation as well. How? Gravity induced convection heating. It was initially installed in 1975 and been incrementally improved to date.

    We are unabashedly Weil-McLain Heating System Designers and Installers. This does not mean however that we kowtow to the heating fuel suppliers and pay-as-we-go! Living in rural, frosty New Hampshire our economic fuel options are limited to oil and wood only. (Propane is a substantial premium and Natural Gas is not available.) So it is not surprising that many of us use wood or a mix of fuels to survive economically. Therefore, wood, wood pellet, coal stoves and wood boilers.

    Particular evidence of this heating trend is the recent popularity of external wood boilers (Metal Storage Sheds with a smokestack sticking up out of them) that occupy many rural yards, next to a large woodpile. (Not to mention the well worn path from the house to the wood boiler!) As a facet of our enterprise we mention interfacing our Weil-McLain FHW Boilers and converting our Steam Boilers to accommodate them. Not surprisingly we get inquiries by sometimes frustrated users to assist in making the wood boiler work well with their central heating boiler. The stories can be a bit humorous, in fact.

    Let us first describe our subject system with the intent to provide you with the principles and applications we employed and from which you may benefit in your application(s).
    We have two (2) single-fuel boilers, centrally located in the basement level of a large split entry home that we built in 1970:

    1. A Weil-McLain Model 568 Oil-Fired Boiler, installed in 1995 and subsequently “tweaked” for performance.
    2. A 1935 Vintage National Heating Co. Economy No. 64 Wood Burner. Found, reconditioned and installed in 1975. A museum-piece that still runs very well.
    3. A 40 gallon “Hot Roc” Stone-lined Storage Tank coupled to the Old National that prevents a boil-off if it is overcharged with wood or used (carefully) for extra hot water (heating) storage.

    These boilers are commonly coupled to an overhead supply manifold and on-the-floor piping between return manifolds, physically separated by ten (10) feet. This layout provides for a simple, pure convection loop between them. NO CIRCULATOR IS REQUIRED!

    There are three (3) circulator driven heating zones off the Weil-McLain manifolds. These are FloChek Valved off the upper supply manifold with circulators on the return manifold.
    The two (2) upper (main) level Living and Bedroom Area Zones are of Split Loop Configuration (reference our recent subject blog for detail) and the lower level Office and Garage Loops are a Split Perimeter and Unit Heater configuration, respectively.

    Gravity Hot Water Central Heating has been around for over 150 years but was never too popular due to its restrictive design attributes. It is functionally a single zone, single level system where building characteristics allow. There is significant lag in response to a temperature change demand and if boiler control is not absolute, temperature control suffers as well. Nonetheless, where and when you can employ convective heating it can be beneficial from a distribution energy perspective (or a lack of it available).

    Our Split Loops are fed by 1” center tapped supplies and returns that feed conventional series 3/4” radiation loops on each halves. The loops are configured with conventional 1” FloChek, manually controllable seat, opening valves on the supply manifold taps. These FloChek Valves are always included in a hydronic (hot water) system to prevent natural continuous convective heating. If one fails you have continual heating in degree regardless of thermostat setting. Note: FloChek valves may also be incorporated within a supply side circulator.

    So we can use natural convective heating to our advantage. By employing a modest upward pitch to our Split Loop supply and return lines we augment gravity convection (hotter water rises, cooler water sinks) and opening the FloChek valves we have a “controllable” energy-free heating zone. The adjective “controllable” has to be qualified by trial and error settings over varying indoor and outdoor temperature demands.

    Let’s go through the four (4) Operational Modes available in our system:

    1. Powered, Oil-fired FHW “conventional” heating only.
    2. Powered, Oil and Wood-fired dual fuel heating.
    3. Powered Wood-fired heating only.
    4. Powerless Wood-fired heating.

    Powered, Oil-fired FHW “conventional” heating mode is conventional in all regards. There is an “open on rise” aquastat (adjustable) on the wood boiler that performs two (2) functions:

    1. Inhibits the oil burner boiler primary control when the wood boiler temperature setting is reached.
    2. Opens a motorized valve to enable the inter-boiler convection loop to operate.
      “Set it and forget it” applies.

    Powered, Oil and Wood-fired dual fuel heating is enabled when the wood boiler aquastat engages and disengages the oil burner and the convection loop valve as wood burning proceeds. There is a second aquastat on the wood boiler supply pipe that “closes on rise” as water temperature approaches the boiling point (set at 200F). It opens a zone valve that initiates a second close-coupled convective loop allowing room temperature (or above) water in the “Hot Roc” Tank to temper the boiler water temperature. So if you overfill the wood boiler and walk away there is no consequence. Works beautifully! This feature is referred to as a “Dumping Zone” – getting rid of the excess energy.

    Powered Wood-fired heating only operation is similar to the oil and wood mode excepting the oil burner is fully disabled by moving the wood boiler aquastat to its lowest setting nearing ambient room (and therefore water) temperature. We have another option on our particular oil burner primary control of a built-in switch-off feature. (A common switch could also be employed to open this wood boiler aquastat to primary control circuit.)

    Powerless Wood-fired heating is merely emulating the operation of the powered mode while adjusting FloChek Valves on your heating zones and maintaining your wood boiler temperature range. In fact you can strike a boiler charging pattern that can free you from full-time babysitting the “dragon”. Our Samson 5D (Expansion Slug Type) Boiler Controller will maintain a temperature setting reasonably well on the Old National excepting when you seriously overcharge the beast — then things start happening! When the pipes start banging you have to “expeditiously” open the “Dump Zone” Tank Valve manually to temper it down. You learn this lesson in a hurry!

    To summarize, we used the wood only mode (powered and powerless) continuously for nine (9) consecutive years, providing full-home corner to corner heating and providing our domestic hot water for our large family. (The summer season requires a little lifestyle scheduling.) Annual wood consumption was four (4) to four and a half (4-1/2) cords per year.

    Since that time our lifestyle changes have precluded wood-only operation, but it’s there if we need it. Evidencing a severe ice storm a couple years ago that crippled most of New England for over a week, it was a mere inconvenience to us.

    Unfortunately gravity convection heating has little applicability to the current external wood boiler rage. They require electrical power for operation. The internal wood boiler is another matter, such as is employed in our case. Hopefully some of our experience can be used in configuring your system or trimming a little operating cost from it.

    Author’s Update: 11/28/2020

    We have incorporated our gravity heating experience into what we believe to be the first, practical, efficient and affordable Pre-built “Delta-T ECM Hydronic (FHW) Heating APPLIANCE”. An extensive U.S. Patent 10,690,356 was issued to us on 06/23/2020 with all our Fourteen (14) Claims allowed. A Canadian Patent is to follow. Check it out at www.BoilersOnDemand.com.