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  • THE HYDRONIC REVOLUTION – The Intelligent Delta-T ECM Circulator FHW System

    We have witnessed many technological breakthroughs in the past fifty (50) years or so. My engineering career began manufacturing the first transistors, through integrated circuits, personal computers, parallel-processing supercomputers and their logical applications. Now witness the plethora of personal, mind-bending “high-tech” devices available to almost everyone. Similarly there are advances in energy, transportation, communications, etc. that will derive our future.

    OK. So what’s this Hydronic Revolution? Hydronics is the use of water as a medium in heating (or cooling) systems. Thus a Forced Hot Water (FHW) System is more correctly a hydronic system. As simple as they seem, Hydronic Systems need to be carefully designed to maximize their performance, both heating-wise AND electrically! Unfortunately most applications are incorrect hydronically and virtually all electrically, nor can they be using dated components and methods in particular.

    Heated water generated by a boiler must be pumped through “radiation” (baseboard, radiators, heaters, etc.) at an idealized rate to suit the heating demand. Pump it too slow and you have a wide temperature variation and “lazy” performance. Pump it too fast and you waste power and can create hydronic circulation noise. In both cases you waste energy, particularly electrical. The pump (circulator) either runs too long, or too hard.

    Enter the Variable Speed “Delta-T” Circulator some years ago. It measures the input and output temperatures of radiation piping and adjusts its pumping rate (speed) to maintain a “Delta-T” (temperature differential), usually set to 15-20°F with further adjustment to suit varying applications. It was a great advance from Taco® Comfort Systems, the premium American Hydronics Manufacturer with variants produced by others (U.S. & Foreign). It has never really “taken off” though, finding a niche in process control, radiant heating and other problem solving but little else to date ….. until now.

    Taco® has again “upped the ante”, and really upped it this time! Their newest offering, the Taco® VT2218 00e Series Delta-T ECM (Electronically Commutated Motor) Circulator is a marvel of Applications Engineering. An “Intelligent Circulator” is now an apt, if not a modest description. Kudos to our fellow engineers!

    Referring to the Taco® VT2218 00e Series Circulator Specification Sheet you can appreciate the sophistication of this device, and its flexibility to suit varied applications. It can do so much in fact that we must limit our discussion to its application as a simple Delta-T system circulator, its predominant application and the objective of this blog.

    Of equal or greater importance is what is not explicitly referenced in the Taco® specifications, how it attains its intelligence. Simply stated, the circulator logic “learns” its application pattern over a period of time, placing it in memory and executing it in the successive period. While executing, it continuously “observes” the pattern variations and adjusts its memory accordingly. Thus your programmable thermostat(s) cycles and heating load variations can be patterned and thenceforth satisfied efficiently.

    Similarly, observing pattern changes such as the length of a heating demand allows the Taco® VT2218 to empirically determine the relative outside temperature, emulating an Outdoor Temperature Sensor Option function. Being a passive measure, it would lag the correction time of an outdoor sensor, but to what overall effect?

    Utilizing a single system and/or distribution circulator such as the VT2218 Delta-T ECM vs. multiple fixed-speed circulators does require controlling individual thermostat demands via Zone Valves. Here again Taco has met the challenge. Again a little background is helpful.

    Taco® is the undisputed giant of the residential hydronic zone valve market. Their “Heat Motor” Zone Valve has dominated for decades and is available in most hardware and “box” stores as is their Model 007 Circulator. The combination of these power and control most residential hydronic systems, however poorly executed they may be. Referencing our Blog Library on this site (and on the internet in general) will evidence how much print is given to addressing hydronic distribution issues!

    The new Taco® Zone Sentry® Series Zone Valves are the “next generation” product to replace the old “Heat Motor” (energy hog) valves and be the ultimate companion to the VT2218 Delta-T ECM Circulator. They are both energy-efficient and intelligent by design as well. Whereas the old “Heat Motor” and “007” dominated and created their renowned application difficulties, the new Taco® Duo of Zone Sentry and VT2218 are their long awaited and performing successors (pictured).

    VT2218+ZV

    We among many other heating bloggers have derided simple “Zone Valves+Circulator Systems” as being an arguably cost-effective alternative to individual circulator zoned systems, and with justification. We in fact chide that zone valves+circulator systems “do nothing well”. True for the old, but not for the new generation!

    Thus, the titled “Intelligent Delta-T Circulator FHW System” consists of a Taco® VT2218 Circulator and Taco Zone Sentry® Valves coupled to a high-efficiency hydronic boiler for maximum performance. We have now and for over a generation specified and used Weil-McLain® Boilers in our applications with absolutely no regrets. Weil-McLain® is recognized as the premium All-American Manufacturer, with a growing market share. Their Warranties are fabled.

    So, to quote the old adage, “How do we get there from here?” From our perspective it’s all about education, particularly within the residential and light commercial market sector. You, the now hopefully more informed consumer, DIY (Do-It-Yourself-er), contractor, “week-end warrior”, tradesman, property manager or developer must drive this point forward in your interest.

    System specification is now relatively simple:

    1. Your total heating demand as determined by a heat loss calculation.
    2. A boiler selection by size and fuel type to suit.
    3. An intelligent Delta-T ECM Circulator(s) sized to your total heating demand.
    4. Energy-efficient Ball Zone Valves for your systems distribution controls.

    Notes:

    1. If your boiler selection has a “system loop circulator” you will employ the Delta-T System in series with it, per the manufacturer’s specification. (High-mass boilers typically don’t require a system loop.)
    2. If you wish to generate DHW (Domestic Hot Water) with your system, an Indirect Water Heater will be required. We exclusively specify and install the HTP® SuperStor Ultra Max, all-stainless and Lifetime Warranted.
    3. The new generation Zone Valves typically have built-in diagnostics and indicator lamp(s). Therefore you don’t need a Zone Valve Controller, as long as you can see the individual lamps. Significant redundant cost avoidance.

    Quoting Cesar Chavez 1927-1993 (American Activist and Labor Organizer): “We have seen the future, and the future is ours!”

    Mercier Engineering has seen its future as well. We have and are developing a series of “Intelligent Delta-T Circulator FHW Systems” PRODUCTS built upon Weil-McLain® Boilers, Taco® VT2218 Circulator and Taco® Zone Sentry® Valves that will provide the user with a very significant cost-performance advantage to built-on-site alternatives. They are a pre-built, assembled hydronic boiler package, ready for expedient on-site installation, with proven performance.

    Our dedicated website www.BoilersOnDemand.com is currently under complete re-construction to incorporate the latest technological innovations. It will be a significant resource to this end. Meanwhile please excuse us while we work by also taking advantage of our site’s extensive Heating Blog Library.

    Hopefully we have made you aware of hydronic FHW Heating progress and how it will definitely affect our immediate futures.

    Author’s Note: This Blog updated 12/23/2020 to reflect the HTP MSSU SuperStor Ultra Max, replacing all prior.


  • THE DELTA-T ECM CIRCULATOR POWERED HYDRONIC HEATING SYSTEM

    You have undoubtedly noted the creep of computer technology into most everyday home appliances. Everything has digital displays, clocks, menus, etc. that allow varied cycling options. These purportedly provide finite control over the appliance function (and yet another clock to blink 12:00 forever or to be reset after every power failure).

    The exception is your heating system. Home appliances are typically “closed-loop” systems, i.e. they execute a task in a contained environment.  However, if there is a digital display on a boiler, it is of temperature, operation status and failure modes as applicable. Furthermore these appear predominantly on gas-fired vs. oil-fired boilers. Why? They indicate boiler control system conditions only, not the performance of the total system, and they can’t.

    Hydronic (hot water) heating systems are comprised of three elements, a hot water generator (boiler) delivering through a distribution network to radiation (baseboards, radiators, heaters, etc.) that may exhibit infinite characteristics and combinations under varying climatic conditions and demands. Try to specify a boiler for any existing distribution network as a replacement item and you quickly realize that it is virtually impossible to “get it all right”. Reviewing our other blogs you will note the amount of effort given to remedying distribution network issues, particularly on existing installations. Headaches!

    Each zone (task) in a hydronic system must be supplied with the correct flow rate (gpm) of heated water for best performance. Currently this can only be done only with a properly selected circulator for each zone. The multi-zoned circulator distribution system is therefore the contemporary, preferred option.

    But what can be done with single-circulator, multiple zone valve systems? The short answer is that they by design can do nothing well. Their attraction has been initial cost offset by energy, performance and maintenance costs over system life. In fairness though, on smaller two (2) to three (3) zone systems they can perform respectably, if not perfectly. Hidden is the innate penalty of energy operating costs.

    Ironically, the direction to an efficient, reliable and cost-effective hydronic heating can be the single-circulator, multiple zone valve systems we just scorned — but with a very different circulator and very different zone valves!

    First and foremost a hydronic (hot water) boiler must be sized (capacity) to match and at worst case nominally exceed the heating demands of the total structure. (Refer to our blogs again.) This value must be determined through measurement and with the use of a Heat Loss Calculator. This value and this value only can determine the properly-sized hydronic boiler for your application. (Note: We specify and use Weil-McLain Ultra Series products exclusively, but we are terribly biased!)

    Link http://www.weil-mclain.com/en/assets/pdf/UltraSeriesBrochure.pdf

    It should be readily apparent that the objective is to supply the ideal amount of heated water to each zone, appliance or storage tank according to its current demand. This can now be accomplished by delivering the varying demand of heated water through an “intelligent” circulation system.

    There are two (2) variations of these, employing different principles:

    1. The Delta-P Method (Δ-P) where P = Pressure: Employs a full-demand capable conventional circulator pump configured within a by-pass loop containing a mechanically variable Pressure By-Pass Valve. Operationally the pump operates continuously and at full capacity providing a preset pressure delivery while returning the excess delivery to the boiler. We recently installed one of these systems. Works well so far, but additional pipe-fitting and valve required with continuous, fully powered circulator operation.
    2. The Delta-T Method (Δ-T) where T = Temperature: Employs an “Intelligent” Circulator on the output of the boiler that infinitely regulates delivery by maintaining a preset temperature differential between the supply and the return sides of the distribution system. Two (2) Temperature Sensors strapped to the supply and return lines near the boiler control the circulator speed (delivery rate). Taco Delta-T ECM Circulator found at this link: http://www.taco-hvac.com/uploads/FileLibrary/100-68.pdf

    Note: We strongly favor the Delta-T Method and thus the impetus for this blog.

    The other half of the Intelligent Hydronic Heating System is the Zone Valving that should be mounted beyond the System Circulator, after the air eliminator/air scoop at the end of the supply manifold. We strongly recommend and use only the new Taco Zone Sentry® Zone Valve Series found at this link: http://www.taco-hvac.com/uploads/FileLibrary/100-82.pdf. They feature:

    1. Well ported ball valving to minimize flow resistance.
    2. Quicker actuation.
    3. LED status indicator lamp.
    4. Very low energy consumption.
    5. Manual over-ride capability.
    6. High reliability.
    7. Low cost.

    Let’s define the specifics of the common system scenarios:

    1. New System Installation – Configure exactly per our prior discussion and details.
    2. Full Existing System Upgrade
      • Resize and replace boiler with a correctly sized and configured unit.
      • Replace all existing circulators with an intelligent “Delta-T” Technology Circulator.
      • Replace any zone valves with the specified “Zone Sentry” Valves.
    3. Partial Existing Zone Valve System Upgrade
      • Resize and replace boiler with a correctly sized and configured unit.
      • Replace individual zone circulators and valves as viable.

    System Design Notes:

    1. Intelligent Boiler Systems necessarily use “Cold Start” Hot Water Only Boilers. Immersion-style DHW Coils cannot be accommodated and therefore Indirect Water Heaters are typically used for domestic water generation efficiency.
    2. System Circulators employed by design in Condensing Gas and Multiple Boiler Systems must be retained! The Intelligent Circulator must be added to the distribution supply line outside of the “Boiler Loop” that maintains through-boiler circulation. READ AND FOLLOW YOUR BOILER MANUAL SPECIFICATIONS!
    3. Delta-T ECM Circulator selection is crucial not only for thermal flow capacity to match the boiler output, but for head (effective resistance) of the total system. Larger, multi-level systems need particular attention in this regard. Nominally over-sizing a Delta-T ECM Circulator will incur little penalty due to its innate efficiency and flexibility. However, under-sizing it will quickly exhibit a performance penalty.

    The Delta-T ECM System by design provides controlled, heated water within a preset, adjustable range to all distribution elements of a hydronic system. Moreover it does this irrespective of the number, size, duration and function of the distribution elements and their infinitely variable demand patterns. In so doing it becomes in effect a “self-balancing” system, eliminating hydronic noise (whistle) from over-driven zones while minimizing heating lag resulting from under-driven (lazy) zones.

    Note: The Delta-T ECM Circulator with its built-in controls is about three times that of a conventional one, but you need only one.

    The value of a Delta-T ECM System as a diagnostic tool, particularly as a replacement system upgrade should not be under-emphasized. If it doesn’t fix or improve existing distribution issues, it surely will point out any other deficiencies and isolate them for correction. As a radiation assessment tool in particular you can now properly balance rooms using the radiation dampers, and if not identify and supplement radiation as necessary.

    To summarize, it’s a terrible system:

    1. Terribly simple
    2. Terribly efficient
    3. Terribly inexpensive

    We encourage you to view our Packaged Delta-T ECM Hydronic (FHW) Heating System (Patent Pending) on this site for additional detail.

    Ed. Note: Updated 03/27/2017