9 minutes | Feb 2, 2020
Working With Your Spouse
Episode TranscriptErin Holohan Haskell: In this episode, Dan Holohan shares some advice on working with your spouse. He and his wife, The Lovely Marianne, have been married for 47 years and in business together for 31 years. These are the secrets to their success.Dan Holohan: Let me tell you how to work with your spouse and still stay happily married. I think I can speak about this having been married to The Lovely Marianne for almost 50 years and having been in business with her from 1989 to 2016 when we both retired, I feel pretty qualified to give you this advice on how to be in business with your spouse, and still stay happily married.First of all, define your goals. And I mean clearly. Don't just say, "To make money." Spend a lot of time thinking about each other and what's important to you as a couple. For instance, when we started our business the only goal was to put four daughters through really good colleges, and all at the same time (which happened in 2000). We focused all our efforts on that goal for years. Once we'd accomplished that, we had to redefine our goal. And we did. So, what's really important to you and your partner? Whatever it is, define it and then use your business as a tool to get there. Don't get caught up in just chasing money for its own sake. Work toward something that defines you both as individuals and as a couple. Do this and your life will be richer.Decide who does what. Separate all the business responsibilities and do it based on talent. Then get out of each other's way. And don't second-guess each other after one makes a decision. Recognize and revel in the other's talents. When we were first married, I did the checkbook. Why? Because my father did it in his house. But I'm horrible at math (and soon proved it). Marianne shines in this department, so she's the bookkeeping and finance wiz in our business. She leaves me alone to write stories and do marketing. It's a solid partnership, forged through past experiences and humility.Decide whether to grow or stay small. Staying small in a service business can create a lot of stress. There are only so many billable hours in a year, and the more time you spend working, the less time you'll have as a couple. Working around the clock is a wonderful way to get divorced. If you decide that your business should grow, you're going to need employees. If you manage them correctly and treat them right, they'll become your "products," and that will move you from a service business into a product business. The result is that you'll have more time for each other. Nice.Treat employees as you would be treated. I'm assuming one or both of you once worked for someone else, and probably got disgusted with the way you were treated by that old boss. This is how most couple-businesses get started. So when it comes time to hire people, don't forget what probably drove you into your own business in the first place. If some stinking boss treated you poorly, please don't do the same to your employees. Keep that door to the past open and never forget. Treat your employees as you wish your old boss had treated you. It's the best way I know of to keep good people, and you'll be well on your way into that "product" business.Don't be an idiot. If you're wrong, admit it and then shut up. It's OK to be wrong, but it often takes years to learn that. Learn humility and kindness. Never ridicule your partner in front of other people in an attempt to cover up your own failings. When you're wrong, say so. Then have a good laugh and move on.Compromise. When you learn to do this, you'll be on your way toward wisdom.Fight only in public. I don't think it's possible to be in business with a spouse without fighting. A good fight is like a pressure relief valve on a boiler, but if you're going to fight, do it in a public place. Marianne and I have our blowouts at a local restaurant that we love. Being there in public means we have to be civil to each other. Sounds crazy, but it works. And keep the focus of your "discussion" on business issues. Don't make it personal, and don't bring household issues into it. When you're done, make up. Never go to sleep without making up. And never involve the kids in your business fights (or fight in their presence). Children are too fragile to be used as bludgeons.Keep your customers out of your bedroom. Separate the business from your personal life. Those people have no business being in bed (psychologically speaking) with the two of you.Never worry about money. I'm serious about this. Time is the only true commodity and as long as you both have that the money will take care of itself. The best way I know to wreck a husband/wife business is for one or both of you to obsess over money. Try this. Instead of focusing on dollars, focus on your customers' problems. Within their problems you will find all the money you two will ever need. Trust me; it's true.Take the Lottery Test. If the two of you hit it big on the lottery, would you give up this business of yours? If the answer is a resounding "YES!" then the two of you should seriously consider giving up the business right now and find something else to do. I say this because your marriage is tied to that business, and if that business is making you so miserable that you long to win the lottery so that you can get out, then that business will eventually hurt your marriage. And your marriage is more important than that business. Right?Figure a way to get out. How will you retire? Are you building something that's saleable? If not, why not? Or do the two of you plan on working until the day after the funeral? If so, make sure that this business is a true labor of love and not a necessity. You're in it up to your ears now, but how will you get out? And when?Don't stress. Stress kills. Schedule daily exercise. Take mini-vacations. Go walk on the beach or sneak off to an early movie. Be a couple. Stay in love. Appreciate the yin and the yang of your business. There will always be good and bad days. Keep in mind that no one ever carved on a tombstone how many service calls that person made, or how much money they were worth, or how many phone calls that person took from nasty customers. Don't stress. Remember, you're just in the HVAC business. It's not like you're delivering plasma.Take vacations. It's nearly impossible for a couple in business to leave the business at home when away on vacation, but vacations are crucial to a good marriage, so take them at least once a year. And besides, if you love what you do, it's not such a bad idea to take the thing along with you. I've gotten some mighty fine business ideas while sitting on a porch in Cape May, NJ. It's OK to pack the business. Just leave the customers behind.Give to charity. Do it because it will help you both step away from your day-to-day problems and consider those who are less fortunate. Your good example will also have a tremendous impact on your kids, if you're lucky enough to have kids. And giving comes back to you. It really does.Hug your kids. Looking for a solid business goal? There's one for you. You've got to be with them to hug them, so don't work 24/7. Find the time to watch the soccer games, to go to the Scout meetings, the karate lessons, the school dances. Make your kids a part of your business by scheduling plenty of time for them, just as you do with customers. And just as you wouldn't do with your customers, never burden your kids with your business problems when they're young. Please let them be kids. And find time for them. Every day.Erin Holohan Haskell: Thanks to Dan Holohan for his thoughtful advice and thank you for listening. Visit us in our discussion forum at HeatingHelp.com to share your advice on working with family.
8 minutes | Jan 15, 2020
How to Size a Hot-Water Boiler
Episode TranscriptErin Holohan Haskell: In this episode, Dan Holohan shares tips on how to properly size a hot-water boiler, as well as some things you should avoid so you don’t end up in hot water.Dan Holohan: I’m going to tell you a story about why I think you should never size a hot-water boiler by measuring the radiators. Now the house that we’ve lived in for all these years was built in 1950 on the Isle of Long in New York and it used to have a radiant heating system.In 1970, the previous owner noticed wet spots on his kitchen floor, and since they didn’t have a dog, he knew that the family budget was about to take a nosedive. There's not much you can do when the copper in the concrete starts springing leaks, especially the stuff that they put in in the 1940s and 50s.So the guy before me called a local plumber who came in and pronounced the radiant system dead. The plumber gave the guy a price to convert to baseboard hot water heat and then he ran copper fin-tube baseboard everywhere there was a wall. The only places he missed were the front and back doors, and that's only because they don't make baseboard with hinges. And he used element every single foot of the way, of course he did. And this stuff puts out more heat than an eighteen-year-old aerobics instructor, and on most winter days we sit and pant like old dogs.The guy that put the heating zone on our second floor did about the same so I figure they must have been related. Through their combined efforts, we now have 200 linear feet of 3/4" baseboard - all of it live element. If you ever run out of that stuff, give me a call.You know what got me thinking about my overabundance of radiation? The other day, a contractor I know told me how he does a heat loss calculation. "I go around and measure the radiators," he said."You mean when it's a steam heating system?” I asked."Well, yeah, but not just steam," he said. "I do it on every system. You gotta support the radiation.""I agree with you in the case of steam," I said. "With steam, you have to match the boiler to the connected load because steam is a gas that wants to condense. If you have more piping and radiation than you have steam to heat it, the steam won't make it to the end of the run. You'll wind up with a cold house that costs a lot to heat, and inadequately at that, but I think you're making a mistake if you size a replacement hot water boiler that way."He shook his head. "That's the way I do it. I've been doing it that way for years.""But you're probably going to oversize the boiler if you measure the radiation on a hot water job," I told him.He just kept shaking his head. "Works for me.""You have to do a heat loss calculation when it comes to hot water heat," I said. "That's all that matters. The heat loss."He kept shaking. "Takes too long to do a heat loss," he said. "It's much easier to measure the radiation."So I invited him over to my house for a visit."What's the heat loss of this place?" I asked."You're gonna make me work?" he chuckled."Yep," I said. "Show me how you'd size a boiler for this place."He went out to his truck and came back a few minutes later with a tape measure, a pad and pencil and a calculator. He laid the tape around the perimeter, both upstairs and down, and recorded the numbers. Then he added it all up."You have 200 feet of 3/4" baseboard here," he said."I know.""Each foot of three-quarter puts out about five hundred-eighty Btuh when the average water temperature is one hundred-seventy degrees," he said."I know.""So two hundred times five hundred-eighty is one hundred-sixteen thousand. That's the heat loss for your house.""That's what you'd quote me on? If I called you for a price on a replacement boiler, I mean.""Well," he said, "I have to add something for the domestic hot water load. You have an indirect heater, so we'd have to add quite a bit for that.""Come with me," I said. We walked toward my office."You're gonna show me I'm wrong now, right? You're gonna whip out some book or something and show me how what I've been doing all these years is wrong, right?" He laughed and shook his head.I didn't say anything. I just sat down at the computer and called up the heat loss calculation software. Ten minutes later, I'd sized the whole house for the heat loss on a 15-degree day."The heat loss is forty thousand Btuh." I showed him where it said so, right there on the computer screen."That can't be," he said, shaking his head with conviction. "Not with all that radiation you have." He shook some more. "It can't be. You'd never support the radiation with such a small boiler.""So in other words, you'd put in a boiler that's, what, about four times bigger than what the house actually needs?"He waved his hand at the computer screen, dismissing it. "I don't need any of that," he said. "All I gotta do is match the radiation. That's all. I gotta support the radiation. I've been doing it that way for years.""But radiation isn't heat loss," I said, trying my best to convince him. "Your price is going to be out of line if you base your boiler size on the radiation."He just kept shaking his head. "Been doing it this way for years," he said. "I'm not about to change now. I'm not gonna put in something that's too small. I don't need headaches."I wasn't able to convince him. He just couldn't get past his habit of oversizing boilers. Old habits are hard to break.But here's something to consider. Most hot-water-heated homes are over-radiated. You can make this work in your favor. Whenever there's more radiation than the job needs you can take advantage of that by running the boiler at a lower temperature, or better yet, on an outdoor-reset control that will follow the weather and maximize the savings.Here's an example of what I'm talking about. Let's say you have a room with a heat loss of 5,800 Btuh. If you put in 10 feet of 3/4" baseboard and supplies it with 180-degree water, you’ll match the heat loss on the design day because 3/4" baseboard puts out 580 Btuh when there's 170-degree average water temperature water flowing through it.But suppose someone before you installed 15 feet of 3/4" baseboard instead of 10 feet? He just ran the stuff from corner to corner. With the same temperature water flowing through it, 15 feet of 3/4" baseboard will put about 8,700 Btuh into the room. That's too much. The burner will cycle too often and the combustion efficiency will suffer.But since this extra baseboard is already there, you can take advantage of it. Try running 150-degree water through it. At 150-degrees, each foot of 3/4" baseboard will put out 380 Btuh. Since there's 15 linear feet, it will put 5,700 Btuh into the room. That's just about right for the coldest day of the year. It costs less to operate the system at 150 degrees than it does to operate at 180 degrees. To protect the boiler from low-temperature return water, all you’ll need will be an inexpensive Thermic valve or a bypass, and you’re all set.Combine lower-temperature water with a properly sized boiler and the homeowner wins every time. And so do you.Erin Holohan Haskell: Thanks to Dan Holohan for joining us and thank you for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, then you’ll love Dan Holohan's book Classic Hydronics: How to Get the Most From Those Older Hot-Water Heating Systems. You can find it in our store at HeatingHelp.com.
16 minutes | Nov 13, 2019
Episode TranscriptErin Holohan Haskell: Today I’m speaking with Dan Foley, president and owner of Foley Mechanical based in Lorton, Virginia. Foley Mechanical specializes in radiant, hydronic, and steam systems, as well as mechanical systems for large custom homes. Dan often shares photos of Team Foley Mechanical’s work on The Wall at HeatingHelp.com and wows us every time. Today he’s going to tell us all about snowmelt systems.Thanks for taking time out of your busy heating season to join us on the podcast, Dan.Dan Foley: Not a problem.Erin: First off, let’s talk about the term “snowmelt.” When people hear this, they may think that these systems will melt three feet of snow after it falls on their driveway. But these systems are more about snow prevention, right? Can you give us a basic overview of how these systems work?Dan: Certainly. So keep in mind I’m in the DC metro area. We’re not in the snowbelt, but we get a fair amount of snow and a lot of times we get ice. And every once in awhile we’ll get a 2-ft blizzard that does kind of cripple the city. So what we’re trying to do is keep driveways and walkways free of snow and ice so that they can be safely traversed.Erin Holohan Haskell: Dan, we’re both located in the Washington, DC area, and while we get some winter storms, we don’t get nearly as much snow as they do in other areas of the US. What are some of the reasons why your clients choose snowmelt systems?Dan: There are several different angles. The first, I’ll say, is safety and ease of access. For example, one of my projects was for a doctor and he needed to be able to access his driveway and his garage 24/7/365. No matter what, he needed to be able to get out. So it was important to him to have a clear driveway. And he actually had a very steep concrete driveway and when it was covered with snow and ice, he just couldn’t get out.Another client had a medical condition and his doctor ordered him not to shovel snow because of the exertion and he had a heart condition. So that particular client had snowmelt for medical reasons.Another reason we install snowmelt for a fair amount of clients, is aesthetic reasons. Not everybody has just a flat concrete driveway. A lot of times they will have cobblestones, pavers, bricks, and even stamped concrete. And all of those surfaces are difficult to shovel or would even be damaged if you tried to plow them. Those particular clients wanted their driveways free of ice and snow, but weren’t able to shovel or plow them, so they went with snowmelt. So that would be a particular small niche of a client that could afford it and have the luxury to pay for it.And the last one, I’ll say, really doesn’t fall into any of those categories, and it’s a small minority of the jobs, but we’ve done several of them - and that’s commercial businesses. So that might be walkways, steps, loading ramps, loading docks. Those they just need access to be able to conduct business and they can’t afford to have the business shut down because the walkway and the driveway is iced over. And that’s more of a utilitarian situation, but we’ve done a fair number of those jobs. It’s a small segment of what we do.Erin: How do you size your snowmelt systems?Dan: Very few people have any idea what these systems cost, so I don’t want to spend hours upon hours doing an accurate design and submit a proposal, and then they say, “Gee, I had no idea this system was going to cost me $80,000.” Or “I had no idea it was going to be $5,000.” Well, that’s wasting everyone’s time. So what I do is I use rules of thumb for budgeting, but I do an accurate design for every job we do. And that’s a must. You cannot guess at these. You don’t get a chance to do them twice. You get one chance. So I do an accurate design. I use software, mostly a software product called BootCAD that’s available online. You can download it. And it’s inexpensive and it’s easy to use.If you’re a contractor who doesn’t do snowmelt jobs on a regular basis and maybe doesn’t want to invest in a software for one or two odd jobs, all of the tubing manufacturers will do the design work for you. Every once in awhile, I’ll have an architect who specifies that the design must be done by the manufacturer, so even though I have the capability, I’ll call up my manufacturer and partner to do the design. And they’ll do a quick turnaround in a matter of days. I’ll work with Jan over at Mr. PEX and he’ll turn my designs around in 2-3 days (all but the most complex ones). And they would do that for their other customers as well. If you didn’t want to do the design or purchase the software or maybe the learning curve is too steep to do it for one job, the manufacturers will do it for you.Erin: Do you have a preferred type of tubing and are there limits to loop lengths similar to the lengths used in floor heating?Dan: Yeah very similar, but just a little bit different and that goes hand-in-hand with the design. So it’s all part of an accurate design. And the design software I use has a spreadsheet where you can play “What If?” What if I go to 5 loops instead of 4? What if I go 300 ft instead of 250 ft? I can see what that does with the calculations to kind of massage the output to what you actually want. But just some rough guidelines - We’re pumping glycol (anywhere from 30-40% propylene glycol) not water and it starts out ice cold. It’s whatever the ambient temperature is. And that’s hard to pump. So your loop lengths will definitely be shorter. And keep in mind these are just rules of thumb. An accurate design must (and I emphasize the word must) be done. But for budgeting purposes, for example, a typical residential snowmelt system I’ll use ¾ inch PEX tubing. I’ll put it 9-inches on center if it’s going to be in bare concrete. And I’ll keep the loop lengths at 300 ft or less. And that’s a good number because you can order ¾ inch PEX in 300 ft loops, so you’ll have very little waste. Nothing’s worse than seeing a dumpster full of tails that you can’t use. So I’ll order in 300 ft lengths and I’ll design in 300 ft lengths. And that’s give or take 5 or 10 ft as you lay it down.Some jobs may be tight - for example a walkway or a sidewalk. You can’t get bend ¾ inch PEX tight enough to get it in there, so I may go to ⅝ inch PEX or I’ll drop my loop length down to 250 ft. I rarely use ½ inch pipe just because it’s too hard to pump cold glycol through ½ inch pipe. The exception may be steps and we’ll get into detail on steps a little later, but that’s about the only time I’ll use ½ inch PEX and keep the loop lengths at 200 ft or shorter.Erin: What type of boiler do you prefer for these jobs?Dan: Well, when I first started doing snowmelt, you didn’t have a choice. It was cast iron 80% and that raised an issue because you’re bringing back ice cold glycol. Sometimes it’s 30 degrees or lower, 20 degrees, and you had to have protection for the cast iron boiler to prevent thermal shock and flue gas condensation, so you had to have some special valves and controls. That was 25-30 years ago when I first started doing snowmelt.Nowadays, for the last 15+ years, we’ve had condensing boiler technology available to us. And I will typically use a stainless-steel modulating condensing boiler. And those boilers love, absolutely love, cold water. You can’t come back cold enough. The colder the water temperature, the higher the efficiency. And we’ve measured efficiencies of 99%+ when the boiler first fires with cold glycol coming back. And the reason is that almost all of the heat from the flue gases is absorbed by the cold glycol. So, to answer your question, if I have my choice - a condensing stainless-steel modulating gas boiler would be my first choice.Erin: What do you think is the best way to control a snowmelt system?Dan: It all depends on the project, the job, and the budget. I’ll go to two extremes (and we’ve done them both ways). One extreme would be that the client might just want a walkway clear so he can go get his mail. He doesn’t even want his driveway done. And we’ve done that before. So we might only have 2-3 loops down a sidewalk. And, in that situation, the control package could be more than the entire project. That just doesn’t make sense. On those we use a simple on/off switch with a timer. Now I put emphasis on the timer because if you just use a light switch, you’ll forget you turned it on. The sidewalk is not getting hot. It’s just getting above freezing. So you have no idea it’s on and all you’re doing is wasting fuel. So we’ll put it on a 12-hr spring-wound timer. It’s a simple $15 timer switch and you set it at, whatever, 8 hours and after that timeframe it shuts off automatically, whether you remember or not. And that prevents it from running on and on and on and you getting a gas bill from Washington Gas for $2,000 just because you forgot you left it on. So that’s a simple $15 timer switch. That’s one extreme.Another extreme might be a client who has a long driveway, travels a lot, and they want it to come on automatically. They don’t want to have to be there to turn the system on when it’s going to snow. And for those we’ll use an automatic control. And we’ve used all of them. We’ve used tekmar, Caleffi, ETI, HBX, and some others with varying degrees of success. But what that does is it has a sensor in the driveway and it’s measuring two things. It’s measuring for moisture and it’s measuring for temperature. So both of those things have to be present. It’s got to be below freezing and it’s got to have moisture. That way it doesn’t just come on when it’s cold out and there’s no snow. And when don’t want it to come on if it’s just cold rain. If it’s 38 degrees and rainy I don’t want the system to come on. I want it to be below freezing. So it measures both of those things. And then we can program the control to operate at various temperatures, at various run times, slab temperature, boiler temperature. It’s a full-featured control where you can control the entire system. But it does come at a certain price point and the cost to the client may be anywhere from $3-5,000 installed. So you can see why that might be a system you’re going to use on a simple sidewalk, but on an elaborate long driveway with a parking pad and walks and steps that might be something you’d want to go with.And one other twist on that, one manufacturer that we’ve used and others might have this as well, but I know that tekmar has one with Wi-Fi control. And that’s great because the client can turn it on or off remotely. Maybe they’re at the airport flying in and they know it snowed. They can turn their system on remotely.The other thing I’ll do is when we know with 100% certainty that we’re going to get snow, I’ll pre-heat the driveway. So I’ve go maybe a half a dozen accounts where I have access to their system. And I’ll go in the night before when I know it’s going to snow the next morning, I’ll kick it on to pre-heat it to make sure there’s no accumulation in snow or ice on the driveway.If you wait for the first flake to hit the sensor to kick the system on, then you’re playing catch up. It’s going to have to heat up all of those turns of concrete before it’s going to start melting the snow and you get behind the 8 ball. And once snow covers a driveway, and I’ll use a rule of thumb in this area, of about 1-inch per hour. So let’s just say we’ve got 12 inches of snow and you didn’t turn the system on or you didn’t have an automatic system. Once you turn it on, expect 12 hours before that snow is gone - 1 inch per hour. And again, that’s a rule of thumb. Different densities of snow, different dryness, outdoor temperature, all of those things have an effect, so you’ve got to understand the limitations of rules of thumb, but that’s a good one that clients can remember pretty easily.Erin: Do you have any tips for installing snowmelt on steps?Dan: Erin, that’s always a challenge. And the reason is, if you think about the front inch of the step, it’s hard to get the tubing out near that edge. So that stays the coldest and there’s always a strip of ice near that step before it melts. And so the key is to get the tubing as closely as possible to the edge without getting to the point where it can crack or break the concrete. And we’ve tried various different ways of doing that, but it’s always a challenge.Typically we’ll use ⅝ PEX if they are commercial steps or wide steps. For smaller ones, we’ll have to use ½ inch PEX and just keep the loop lengths pretty close, but if you can imagine it snaking back and forth, it’s just a challenge to get it down.My good friend John Abularrage out of NY has innovated a solution where he’s using aluminum PEX, multi-core pipe, that’s stiff and he’ll pre-form the step contour into that and lay it down. I thought that was brilliant because it does make it a lot more simple and easy and quick to put it down. I’ve tried it before and it works well. I did not innovate that. John Abularrage gets all credit for that.Erin: It sounds like snowmelt has come a long way with advanced in technology as well.Dan: It absolutely has. I’m just surprised that in my market, which is not the snowbelt, we’ve got maybe 40-50+ systems installed now, over the 20 years I’ve been in business. And I’ve got a couple already lined up for this year. Relatively modest at about 1,200 square feet residential driveways. Both of them are using a cobblestone set in mortar, so those are always a challenge because of the mess, but we’ve done a fair amount of these systems and they have come a long way.Erin: You’ve been installing snowmelt systems for decades. Has anything surprised you along the way?Dan: Only that it better work because here we only get 2-3 snowstorms a year, so if you’ve paid all that money and if the first time it snows it doesn’t work, then you’d better be prepared to get there immediately - not tomorrow, not the next day, and you’d better leave now. And, as one client told me, “Grab your snow shovel.”A couple more tips that I’ve learned the hard way: If you have a snow sensor in the driveway, make a quick sketch with measurements on where it’s located and stick it in the boiler room because you will forget where you put it. And it’s no fun sifting through 6 inches of snow with your bare hands, trying to find where you think the sensor is and missing about a dozen times. By the time you finish, your fingers are blue and you’re frozen solid. So that’s one tip.The second tip I want to make you aware of is that if it’s at all possible, put the boiler and equipment in an indoor location, even if it’s in a mechanical shed or a mechanical spot in the basement. Outdoor boilers are fine and clients love them because they don’t take up space, but it’s no fun working outside in a blizzard trying to figure out why the boiler didn’t fire. It’s much more fun sitting on a bucket in a warm basement going through the wiring diagram and schematic to try and figure out why it doesn’t work. Again, two lessons I’ve learned the hard way.Erin: Thanks again to Dan Foley of Foley Mechanical for sharing his knowledge with us and thank you for listening. You can learn more about Dan and his team’s amazing work at foleymechanical.com. And if you have any questions about snowmelt systems, you can ask them on The Wall at HeatingHelp.com.
6 minutes | Oct 7, 2019
Fixing a Heating Problem With A Paperclip and An Old Book
Episode TranscriptErin Holohan Haskell: In this episode, Dan Holohan tells us about the time he channeled MacGyver and fixed a heating problem with just a paperclip and an old book. This is the story of Dr. Bob’s radiator.Dan Holohan: Our family dentist, Doctor Bob, bought a retirement home out on the east end of Long Island a few years back and he’d tell me about it while he had his hands in my mouth. “It’s got steam heat,” he’d say. “I was thinking of you when we bought it.”“Ath nyth,” I’d answer, through his fingers.“There’s just one problem, though. The radiator in the living room doesn’t heat well.”“Ahh uhh,” I responded.“Any idea what might be wrong with it?”“Obale a ad aar ent.” I explained.“Probably a bad air vent, eh? I see,” he said.“Can I get those at The Home Depot?”“Abee, abee ot.” I choked.“I see,” he said.“Well, do you want to come and visit?”And since it’s my policy to never say no to Doctor Bob while he has metal instruments in my mouth, I took a nice drive out to the end of Long Island.Doctor Bob’s house is just a block from the center of this tiny town that Norman Rockwell could have painted. The house has a one-pipe-steam system and an enormous cast-iron radiator in the living room. Doctor Bob was looking at me and I was looking at that huge hunk of iron in total appreciation for the lost art that is steam heating.“How do you repaint something like this?” he said.“Do you want to take the old paint off first?”“Yes,” he said.“Hire someone to remove it and take it to a sandblaster,” I said.“When they’re done, have it powder coated. It will be gorgeous.”“Sounds good,” he said.“Bring money,” I added.“Will do,” he said.“And expect your dental prophylaxis bill to increase significantly in the coming months.”He looked at the side of the radiator. “I don’t see an air vent,” he said. “That’s what’s confusing me. You said it might be a bad air vent but this radiator isn’t like the others. This one has no vent.”I looked a little closer and he was right, but that didn’t make sense because you can’t have a one-pipe-steam radiator without an air vent. Well, that’s not exactly true; you can have a one-pipe steam radiator without an air vent. It just won’t work. I looked closer, and then I saw it. It was there under what must have been 20 coats of paint. I could just barely make it out, but it was there for sure. In-Air-Rid. I smiled.There was a time in heating history when there was this huge company called American Radiator. They built a black skyscraper at 40 West 40th Street in midtown Manhattan (now a landmarked building). The building’s roof is crenulated and painted with gold leaf, made to look like the glowing embers in a coal-fired boiler. It’s lovely. American Radiator made just about everything that had to do with heating, and they published these little red handbooks every year or so, which they called, The Ideal Fitter. I have a stack of them on my office shelf; the oldest dates back to 1900. These are wonderful books to have because they show so much detail about the products that the American Radiator Company made back then. They describe the purpose and the inner workings of all those oddball gizmos that we find in steam-heated buildings. There are cutaway drawings of the products, and when you know what you’re looking at, well; it just gets easier.Doctor Bob’s In-Air-Rid air vent didn’t look like an air vent. It looked like a hexed plug, and it screwed into the last section of the radiator, right there at the top. From the outside, you’d never know this thing was an air vent. But look in The Ideal Fitter and you’ll see how this wonderful device worked. All the inner workings of a normal air vent are there, but they’re inside the radiator rather than outside the radiator. Behind the vent’s float there’s a spring-loaded, metal seat that pushes against the upper push nipple between the last- and the next-to-last radiator sections.In a one-pipe-steam radiator, the steam enters from the bottom and displaces the air by rising above it (steam is lighter than air). The steam heads across the top of the radiator, moving through all the push nipple ports until it reaches the last section. If the air vent is at the high point of the radiator it will shut before most of the air has had a chance to escape from the radiator. That can lead to uneven heating, and it’s the reason why the Dead Men installed their one-pipe radiator vents about halfway down those last radiator sections.American Radiator got around this by fitting the In-Air-Rid with that spring-loaded seat. By sealing that internal opening, the seat forces the steam to work its way down that penultimate radiator section into the bottom of the last section. From there, it rises to the vent and all the air leaves the radiator. It is ingenious in its simplicity.“Got a paperclip?” I asked. Doctor Bob looked around and found one.“What are you going to do?” he asked.“Watch this,” I said, and then I straightened the paperclip and poked the thin wire directly at the dot on the letter “i” in the word “Air” in In-Air-Rid. The paperclip went right through the paint and into the radiator. “That’s the vent hole,” I said as we listened to the air escaping. “Beware of painters.”“Amazing!” Doctor Bob said. “All you did was poke.”“Yes,” I said, “but it’s not the poking; it’s knowing where to poke that matters.”Dentists understand that.Erin Holohan Haskell: Thanks to Dan Holohan for joining us and thank you for listening. If you liked this story, then you’ll love Dan Holohan's book Greening Steam: How to Bring 19th-Century Heating Systems into the 21st Century (and save lots of green!). You can find it at HeatingHelp.com.
8 minutes | Jul 14, 2019
Life's Painful Lessons
Episode Transcript Erin Holohan Haskell: Remember to wear a hat with a brim. Walk slowly. Look up, as well as down. And sideways. Oh and watch out for that chicken. In this episode, Dan Holohan shares some lessons learned (the hard way). Dan Holohan: The most-immovable object I ever merrily walked into in the moist darkness of an old building's basement was the downturned, fully extended stem of a large OS&Y steam valve. It hit me right between the eyes, broke my eyeglasses, and bent me at the waist as I rubbed the knot and mumbled every curse word I have ever learned. The guy I was with couldn't stop laughing. I had been tracking the condensate return with my flashlight and talking about the probable cause of the heating problem when that stem smacked me. I forgot to look up. Or forward. I was a focused man. "You should wear a hat when you're on a job," the guy said once he managed to catch his breath. "Something with a brim." Then he went back to laughing. "You okay?" More laughing. I tried to think of more curse words for him. Did the best I could. You would have done the same. Life's lesson learned. Wear a hat with a brim. Walk slowly. Look up as well as down. And sideways. Got it. The whole family was in Cape May on vacation last July. The Lovely Marianne and I had rented a big house by the beach for a week and we invited the four daughters with their husbands and the five grandkids to join us. They all accepted because they know a good deal when they see it. Colleen and Adam and two-year-old grandgirl, Quinn, came down from Boston, so they decided to leave on Friday instead of Saturday and spend Friday night in Atlantic City to break up the long drive. They suggested we join them and they even paid for our hotel room. Good deal. The Lovely Marianne and I got there first and since it was too early to check in at the hotel she suggested we go to the outlet mall that's filled with lots of stores but not many people. Atlantic City is no longer a Boardwalk Empire. We walked around for a while and T.L.M. suggested that I get a new pair of flip-flops. I was wearing Teva sandals, which I had broken in the previous summer and I liked them just fine. They used to have orange pull-tabs on the back straps, but T.L.M. didn't like the way those tabs looked, so she suggested I cut them off last summer. I did this mainly because saying yes is less expensive than divorce. She took me into the Crocs store and picked out a pair of black plastic flip-flops that supposedly made me look less like an old guy. "These will look nice on the beach," she said, so that's what I got. When we got to the car she had me put on the new Crocs and stuff the old Tevas into the dark part of the car's trunk with the rest of the old stuff. I now looked like a much younger man, or so she said. So Colleen, Adam and Quinn arrive and we set out to walk the Atlantic City boardwalk in search of a bushel-basket of chili nachos and cold beers. We walk quite a ways because Quinn needs the exercise after being locked into the car seat for all those hours. I begin to notice that the Crocs are digging small bloody trenches into the tops of both my second toes. I walk a bit slower, trying to slide back away from the plastic but it just gets worse. "Why so slow?" T.L.M. asks. I show her my feet. "That looks painful," she says. "Don't worry; you'll break them in." Women don't easily quit on new shoes, and I wasn't about to take them off and go barefoot because the Atlantic City boardwalk is made of rusty nails and venomous splinters. And so began my week of pain. By the time we got to Cape May the next morning, I was back in my old-guy sandals and in full-bleed mode. I smeared some ointment on the cuts and sucked it up. What can you do? The grandkids wanted to walk on the beach and I followed them because they're adorable and I love them, but I forgot that sand in an open cut only makes things worse. "Why are you walking that way, Poppy?" "Poppy's funny!" We got to the house and I washed out the cuts and applied more ointment. Four-year-old Dempsey climbed onto my lap. She hugged me and told me she loved me and she filled me with warmth. She hugged me again and I was in Grandpa Heaven. She spotted a toy on the floor a moment later and slid from my lap like a slalom skier. The razor sharp side of her leather sandal scraped like a snowplow down my shin bone and across the top of my bare left foot. The scab that had been trying to form on my miserable toe gave up. "DAD!" her mother said. "What does that word mean, Poppy?" Dempsey asked. I just sobbed and applied more ointment. The feet were better the next day and I was having a sandwich at the big dining-room table. I had my sore feet tucked outside the legs of my chair to keep them beyond stomping range. The heavy Victorian chair to my right was unoccupied and pushed back a ways. Son-in-law, Adam, noticed this as he was walking by. "The kids are liable to bump into this," he said. "It's so heavy. They could get hurt." He lifted the chair and clomped it into place, which, unfortunately, was directly on top of my sorry toe. "DAD!" "Oh, sorry," Adam said. More ointment for Poppy. Two days later, we take two of the grandkids to Beach Plum Farm, a small jewel of a place with pretty plants, a minor gift shop and chickens to feed. It's perfect for the little ones. We walk amongst the parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme and head for the chickens. A rooster crows and I explain to little Bridget how the rooster makes the sun come up every morning. She's not sure whether to believe me or not and I'm okay with that because there will be plenty more lies to follow as we grow old together. She'll get to pick and choose. I put quarters into the chicken feed machine and twist the knob. I hand the small, paper cone to Bridget and she has her first experience feeding fowl. She's adorable and the chickens are hungry. A hen follows the cracked corn pellets and comes very close to us. Bridget is delighted, as is Quinn in her stroller. A red hen walks over to me and does that thing that chickens do with their heads when they're looking around. And down. I'm standing there watching, a silly idiot at peace with nature. The chicken notices the red spot on my injured left toe. I'm watching this but not quite registering the chicken's interest or intent with my old-guy brain. Her head is bobbing up and down and my beloved grandgirls and I still think this is delightful. That's when the hungry pullet turns into the viscous equivalent of a thick OS&Y valve stem. She hammers her pointy beak dead-center into my open wound. Not once, but twice, and chicken-quick. Cluck, cluck! I do the dance of pain. Bridget asks her mommy what that word means. Once I get my breath back and manage to stand still, Bridget kneels down and says to the chicken, "That's not corn. That's Poppy's toe. You're silly!" And then she sticks her fingernail into the bloody pulp that is my sorry toe. "Poppy's silly, Mommy. Look at him dance." Anyway, I survive and with a fine story for you. We all go out to a nice lunch. I order chicken, of course. Some days you feed the chicken. Some days the chicken feeds you. Erin Holohan Haskell: Thanks to Dan Holohan for reminding us to wear hats and closed-toe shoes. And thank you for listening. If you liked this story, you’ll love the ones we have on our blog at HeatingHelp.com. Stop by and say hello.
8 minutes | Jul 2, 2019
Solving an Indirect Heating Mystery
Episode Transcript Erin Holohan Haskell: In this episode, heating expert Dan Holohan keeps us on the edge of our seats with a who-dunnit mystery involving a sprawling mansion and its indirect heating system. Take it away, Dan. Dan Holohan: Not long after The Lovely Marianne and I started this little business of ours in 1989, a caretaker called and asked if I would be willing to consult on a problem hot-water-heating system in “the biggest house you will ever see.” Who could say no to that? The house, I soon learned, was the mansion at Duke Farms in Hillsborough, New Jersey, and the only resident of that house was Miss Doris Duke, only child of James Buchannan Duke, and heir to the American Tobacco Company fortune, as well as some other opulent things. And as large as it is, the house shrinks into place on the 2,700 acres of manicured gardens that surround it. How’s that for a lawn? This is the family that endowed Duke University, which also has a very nice lawn. J.B. Duke knew how to put up significant buildings, designed to laugh at bad weather and hard times, and Doris Duke carried the torch he passed to her very well. When I arrived at the house, and after I managed to get my slack jaw to close, I met the in-house plumber, who also doubled as the heating guy. He explained that Miss Duke was at her place in Hawaii because the heating in the mansion wasn’t heating, and also because, well, she could. I nodded in understanding and continued to gape. I asked if anyone else lived there and he said, “Just the staff.” I nodded. “There are a hundred and five of us,” he said. I nodded again – slowly. “Miss Duke employs a full-time professional in every trade you can imagine,” he continued. “That must be something,” I said. “I mean working here.” He sighed. “Well, it’s a very good job and I enjoy it, but do you have any idea what your life would be like if your entire focus from day to day involved pleasing one grand old lady and being at her beck and call?” I thought of The Lovely Marianne and nodded again. “Yes, I can.” “Let’s go inside,” he said. The main room contained everything but the Great Gatsby, but what drew me were the bronze floor grates. Each was about two-feet square and each puffed lukewarm air. I checked the temperature of the air with an electronic thermometer. Not good. The plumber chattered on about how the air coming from the grates was much hotter last year, but this is the best he could get from them now. “And nothing has changed,” he said. “I don’t understand. I have the boilers running up to 200 degrees but this is all I can get out of the grates.” Nothing changed. Don’t you love it when they say that? We went to the basement, which could have hosted a bowling league. They had several boilers, all running with big circulators. I could tell by the size of the pipes that the system had once operated on gravity alone, which would have been normal for the time. The big pipes reached out and entered large sheet-metal ducts. I smiled because I’m a fan of indirect heating. It’s how the rich got their fresh air back in the day. Fuel bills were not a concern. I opened a sliding metal door on one of the ducts and saw the big, cast-iron indirect heaters looming in there. This architects who served the rich back in the day didn’t want to burden them with radiators. Radiators were for the servants’ quarters. The rest of the house drew its warmth from the hot air that wafted over these huge indirect heaters and rose upward through those bronze floor grates. There was no return-air ductwork in most indirect systems. The air just leaked out of the house through loose windows. Fuel bills? Meh. I noticed that someone had placed an oscillating fan inside the ductwork, just before the indirect heater. “What’s this for?” I asked the plumber. “I’m trying to blow the heat upstairs,” he said. “It doesn’t seem to be working, though, and that’s what’s got me stumped. Heat rises.” “Actually, it doesn’t,” I said. “Hot air rises.” “Well, same thing, right?” “Not exactly,” I said. Hot air will rise, but only if cold air can take its place. “I don’t get it.” “Come here; I’ll show you.” I followed the large sheet-metal duct back to where it met the foundation wall. “Where does this go?” I asked. “Outside,” he said. “Where outside?” “I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t do outside. I do inside.” So we went outside and looked for a grate that would allow in the outside air. That’s how these systems worked. They brought in 100 percent outside air that grabbed the heat from those huge hunks of cast iron inside the ductwork. Keep the wealthy healthy with lots of fresh air. We looked here and there but we couldn’t find that grate, so we went back to the basement and measured in from the corner of the foundation to the spot where the sheet-metal duct met the wall. Then we went back outside and measured in from that same corner. Where there should have been a grate there was only pachysandra, which was doing just fine in the cold weather because they have great gardeners at Duke Farms. You’d expect that since this place is three times the size of New York City’s Central Park. “Was this groundcover here last winter?” I asked the plumber. “I don’t know,” he said. “You don’t do outside, right?” “Right.” So I waded into the greenery and stomped around on it for a while. “The gardeners aren’t going to like that,” the plumber said. “It’s okay,” I said. “I do outside.” And that’s when my stomping made a hollow sound. I smiled. “Got a shovel?” He went to get one and I waited, and while I waited, I thought like air. How would I get into the house?He came back in a few minutes and handed me the shovel, I dug down about six inches and hit clear plastic. I moved some more of the dirt out of the way and saw the metal bars of the grate. “Time to get the gardener,” I said. When the gardener showed up, I explained what we were doing and how the air wouldn’t move across the red-hot indirect heaters because there was no fresh air coming into the house. He understood but then explained how ugly those ground-level grates were and how they had decided to cover them all with sheets of clear plastic, topsoil and pachysandra. “That’s why the house is cold,” I said. The gardener pointed to the plumber. “It’s his job to keep it warm. It’s my job to keep it green.” “The problem’s outside,” I said. “He doesn’t do outside. You do.” And we went around like that for a while until the gardener reluctantly agreed to remove one of the plastic sheets, just to prove me wrong. He scraped and grumbled while we waited, and then he lifted the edge of the plastic and I watched dead leaves get sucked past the grate and into the hole. Nice. We went back inside and took the temperature of the now-hot air that was rising like a phoenix into the gorgeous rooms. Even nicer. Lesson reinforced: Air won’t move unless there’s other air to take its place. Lesson learned: Sometimes the butler didn’t do it. Sometimes, it’s the gardener. Erin Holohan Haskell: Thanks to Dan Holohan for keeping us laughing while we learn and thank you for listening. Visit us at HeatingHelp.com for even more stories and tips.
12 minutes | Jun 16, 2019
Water Quality in Hydronic Systems
Erin: Today I’m talking about water quality in hydronic systems with Bob “Hot Rod” Rohr of Caleffi Hydronic Solutions. Thanks for joining us, Hot Rod. Hot Rod: Yeah, thanks. Erin: Hot Rod, you seem to have a burr under your saddle in regards to hydronic water quality, let's talk about that. Hot Rod: Yeah, I’ve been on this mission for probably, oh I’d say the last four or five years. Working with Caleffi we have a lot of interest in water quality. It’s the one part of our business that affects really everybody, whether you’re a manufacturer, an installer, the owner of the building, the homeowner, the troubleshooter that works on the system. It just seems to be something that we haven’t paid enough attention to and it’s a simple thing to deal with, so that’s kinda been my mission. And what’s unique in my business is that I get to see a lot of different people in the industry. I go to the wholesalers. I go to the contractors. I go to the engineers. I go to the reps and stuff. So I see all avenues of the business and I see water quality being a big issue. So that’s my mission these days: to learn and to share. Erin: Well, thank you. And I appreciate you sharing with us. A couple of episodes ago, I spoke with Ray Wohlfarth who works on commercial systems and he had mentioned that poor water quality was one of the issues that can kill a boiler. I’m happy that we can talk about this now and learn a bit more about how we can prevent something like that. Hot Rod: I’m certainly not an expert, but I’ve learned a lot specific to our industry and I’d be glad to share that with whoever is listening today. And yeah, you say boilers, but it could be a steam boiler, it could be a hot water boiler, a solar thermal system, a geothermal system. It’s not just hydronics boilers and water. It could be glycol mixed and methanol mixed too. Erin: That’s so true. Now I, like most homeowners, may assume the water coming from my faucet, provided by my city, is just fine for hydronics, am I hallucinating? Hot Rod: Well you might be. I guess we’ve all been to a point in our lives where there’s a little hallucination. Basically what the public water departments want to do is make sure that the water is safe to drink, to consume, to cook with, and stuff like that. They are not really concerned or thinking about boiler water quality as far as the different disinfectants they might be adding in there and the different chemicals they put in there at different times of the year. In the springtime you may have turbidity in there. And turbidity is the optical clarity of water. If you fill a glass with water and it’s a little cloudy and a little brown in color, that’s probably not bad for you. It’s probably just some silica and sand from the runoff in spring. But people don’t want that in their bathtub or their sink or anything, so the city will put different chemicals in there to try and deal with that. And those chemicals might react with some of the things that you’re putting in your boiler, so don’t assume that the city is sending you water that is ideal for your boiler. They’re not checking for hardness specifically or the TDS (the total dissolved solids). They just want to make sure that the bacteria or anything that could make you sick or has a taste to it is out of the water. So there’s a couple of things you want to check to make sure you still have quality water for your hydronic systems. Erin: So given that, what knowledge do I need to get a thumbs up or down for the water I intend to use? Hot Rod: Well, great question. And, interestingly enough, it’s not hard to get a handle on water quality. There are a couple of things you want to check for and it doesn’t take expensive equipment to do it. You want to check for the hardness of the water. That will tell you the scaling minerals that are in the water. You can buy a little test kit online for about $35. It’s a little dropper test. You just count the drops and it will tell you how many grains of hardness in your water. Now the other thing that you want to be checking for is the TDS. That stands for Total Dissolved Solids. And that goes a little bit further than a hardness test kit because a hardness test kit is testing for the scaling minerals - the calcium, the magnesium, anything that will turn to scale in your system. The TDS takes it a little bit further than that. It checks for both the positive and the negative ions - the cations and adions. So it gives you a better picture of what’s going on there. It’s a fairly simple meter in the way it works. It’s almost like an O meter, for those that are listening that work with electricity and understand what an O meter does (it measures resistance). Well, you stick this meter in the water and it too is measuring the resistance of the water. So the more stuff, scale and minerals, that are in your water, it will change the reading on the meter and tell you what’s in there. The other third one that I have in my kit is a PH meter. Some people buy strips, but I like the meter. I like to see a number instead of just trying to match up a color. So those are really the three instruments that I would suggest people own and learn how to use and see how it affects what you’re putting in your systems. Erin: Those are great tips. Now if my water is below the standards that the manufacturers list in the installation manual, now what? What do I do? Hot Rod: Yeah, so that’s the good news that the industry is stepping up. And, by industry, I’m talking about the manufacturers of boilers and pumps and stuff like that. They’re starting to put water quality standards in their installation manuals. It seems like years ago there used to be a sentence in there, you know, “Maintain good water quality,” or something fairly vague. But now they’re starting to put some numbers in there. Say the hardness needs to be below, oh let’s say 7 grains of hardness. And they’ll have the TDS number in there. They might have a chloride number in there. They’ll have some PH numbers. They’re giving us a lot more information than they did in years past, so basically you’ll test your water and look at what they recommend. And here’s what will happen. If you put water in there that doesn’t meet the spec or if it’s way out of the spec of the required suggestion, then you don’t have a warranty on that piece of equipment. So if a boiler fails within two years of the date you put it in...maybe you go back there and it’s got a pinhole in it or something like that and it’s percolating and making noise through it. You or the manufacturer determine that it’s full of scale. You’ve got a lot of minerals in there that are just coating up the heat exchanger. And there’s your problem. So that’s not going to be a warranty issue. That probably didn’t leave the factory like that and it’s really not something that they want to give you a new boiler for because you didn’t deal with or treat the water. So we can take most things out of the water. We can take the water down to almost 99% pure H2O. And there are a couple of different ways that we can do that. We can reverse osmosis. And that’s basically squeezing the water through a semi-permeable membrane. You’ve probably seen those under some people’s kitchen sinks. They take taste and different things out of the water. So that’s probably one of the most common ones. Erin: Are there any other ways to “fix” the water? Hot Rod: Yeah. We can reverse osmosis it. We can de-ionize and de-mineralize the water. And that’s just as the name implies. We’re taking all of the minerals out of the water. And what’s different about that than a reverse osmosis is that it’s a resin bed that the water flows through, so it’s a little more portable. You can take it with you to job sites. And actually, Caleffi offers one of those that you just hook up your city water, or well water, whatever you have on the jobsite to. And it runs through this device that kinda looks like a little droid, like an R2D2, and the water goes in the bottom. And by the time it comes out the top it goes through that resin bed and it pulls all of the minerals (all of the positive and negative ions) out and you end up with pretty much H2O, pure water. And that’s what you want to put in there. Now that being said, that water could be aggressive. It’ll probably have a PH down in maybe the low 6s/high 5s so you might want to put a conditioner or an additive in with that to bump your PH up. And there are certainly plenty of those out there. So yeah, we can fix it, we can treat it. We can do that on the jobsite. We can haul water to the jobsite with us if we don’t have water on the jobsite that we can deal with. You can buy water from some of the wholesalers and take it with you. Erin: That’s great. Now suppose I embrace other hydronic fluids, like glycol or methanol for example. Hot Rod: Yeah, people do. And that’s a good point. If you’re going to mix glycol on a jobsite. Say you’re going to buy straight glycol or a strong mix of glycol and you want to thin it down or dilute it a little on the jobsite, you really should be using pure water to do that. You want to use de-ionized water because what will happen is, if you use water that has a lot of scaling minerals in it and the PH is out of whack, you’re pretty much ruining that glycol that you’re blending by using bad water with it. When you buy pre-blended glycol from the manufacturer, they blend it with the ionized water to ensure they’re not ruining some of the inhibitors. Some of the chemicals that they put in there to protect your system will get abused or broken down by using bad water to mix it with. And some of the geo guys I know who are still using different alcohols like methanol or ethanol - that too should be blended with good water. So, yeah, whatever you put in there, you need to start out with good quality water. Erin: Now I suppose there are pros out there that can lead me down the righteous path? Hot Rod: Yeah, certainly. There are experts out there. There are people who have degrees in water quality and water treatment. And I’ve worked with a couple of them. Luckily I have one in Springfield, Missouri near where I live. It’s Rhomar Chemical and they’ll do analysis for you. I mean, there are certain things that you can check right on the jobsite with just those three meters that I described. You might want to send it in for a more thorough analysis. And the reason why I’d want to do that would be if I’m working on a job and there’s some liability involved, like maybe a big expensive steam system in maybe a hospital building or something like that where you absolutely can’t have issues with that failing or prematurely going bad. So I might send a sample off to Rhomar. Fernox is another brand that’s out there that will do water samples. And they’ll send back a list of things that are in your water. They’ll break down dozens of different components in the water and then they’ll tell you what needs to be adjusted in the water. So at some point you might want to call in the pros if you’re having a problem and are going over and over with a system that you can’t get a hand on. There are certainly people out there that specialize in this type of analysis and treatment. Erin: Well, that’s fantastic information. Thank you so much, Hot Rod, for joining us on the podcast. Hot Rod: Yeah, this was fun. And hopefully everybody gets a little something out of it. And I’d be glad to help anybody if they want to contact me at Caleffi. I can certainly share what I know and help a brother or a sister out. Erin: And that’s it for today’s episode of the Heating Help podcast. To learn more about water quality in hydronic systems, download issue 18 of Caleffi’s technical journal idronics at www.caleffi.com. Like many people in the Heating Help community, I’m a huge fan of this resource. Each issue of idronics covers a different industry-related topic with easy-to-understand explanations and diagrams. And, if you’d like to meet Hot Rod and other industry experts, join us on August 24 at Wetstock in New York City. This event brings together some of the sharpest people in the hydronic heating community for an afternoon of roundtable discussions, sharing, and all-around fun. The only way you won’t get something out of Wetstock is if you stay home. Learn more at www.heatinghelp.com/wetstock. We hope to see you there!
17 minutes | Jun 2, 2019
Stopping Water Hammer in Steam Heating Systems
**Episode Transcript ** Dan Holohan says: Let me talk to you about what causes water hammer in a steam-heating system and what you can do to stop it. I’ll give you a list of reasons and then tell you what to look for once you get there. Reason 1: The pipes don't have the right pitch. In any steam system, the condensate is supposed to drain by gravity back to the boiler or the condensate receiver. If water lays in the pipes between firing cycles, steam will pick it up and drive it into the first available fitting. Water hammer from bad pipe pitch usually happens when the system first starts. Steam will also rapidly condense over a puddle of water causing the water to snap violently up into the partial vacuum left by the condensed steam. The proper pitch for parallel flow steam mains is one inch in 20 feet. For counterflow mains, it's one inch in ten feet. Check the pitch with a line level. Reason 2: The near-boiler piping doesn't meet the manufacturer's specs. Nowadays, boiler manufacturers consider the near-boiler piping to be a part of the boiler. They use it to help dry the steam before it heads out toward the system. If the near-boiler piping doesn't meet the manufacturer's specs, you could be throwing water up into the piping, and this will cause water hammer. Get the boiler manufacturer's installation-and-operating manual and check the piping on the job against their drawings in their booklet. Reason 3: The steam quality is bad. The quality of the steam greatly affects water hammer. It's not just faulty near-boiler piping that can throw water up into the system. Dirty water, or water that has a too-high pH high can do it as well. This type of water hammer usually happens during the middle of the firing cycle. Look closely at the boiler's gauge glass. If the steam is dry, the part of the gauge glass above the water line should be dry as well. Try raising the water line to within an inch of the top of the gauge glass. If the water in the boiler is clean, it will not surge over the top of the gauge glass. Check the pH of the water with pH paper. A good pH for a steam system ranges between seven and nine. If the pH gets to 11, the water will start to prime and foam and carry over into the system, causing water hammer. Dead Men often added vinegar to steam heating systems to lower the pH and lessen the priming and surging. Make sure the piping is right, and that the water is clean. Reason 4: The boiler is overfired. If you overfire a boiler, the water will surge violently and some water will carry over into the pipes. This type of water hammer usually happens during the middle of the firing cycle. You should fire to the connected load of the boiler (piping and radiation). This is the boiler's D.O.E. Heating Capacity load. Don't oversize replacement boilers. Always check the firing rate against the connected load. Reason 5: The steam pipes aren't insulated at all. You're supposed to insulate the supply pipes in a steam system so the steam doesn't condense on its way to the radiators. Bare pipes lose five times as much heat as insulated pipes. Without insulation, the piping's ability to condense steam may exceed the boiler's ability to produce steam. You'll often wind up with radiators at the ends of the main that won't heat well. But worse than that, you'll wind up with water hammer when the system first starts. The cold, uninsulated pipes create more condensate than they can handle. When the steam hits all that water, you get water hammer. Insulate the steam lines. Reason 6: The boiler's water line is priming or surging. Dirt is usually the culprit here. When you see droplets of water in the part of the gauge glass above the water line, it's time to clean the boiler. If the boiler is priming and surging, it's also probably throwing water up into the piping, and that can cause water hammer. Try raising the water line to within an inch of the top of the gauge glass. If the water in the boiler is clean, it will not surge over the top of the gauge glass. If it does, clean the boiler and the system piping. Reason 7: There's a long nipple on the Hartford Loop. There should be either a close nipple or a wye fitting at the point where the equalizer and the wet return join to form the Hartford Loop. If you use a long nipple between the boiler's equalizer and the wet return, the returning water will surge forward violently as steam bubbles condense in the equalizer. A close nipple or wye fitting will lessen the distance the returning condensate has to travel and cure the water hammer. This type of water hammer usually happens near the end of the firing cycle. Check this critical point in your gravity-return systems, and make sure it has either a close nipple or a wye fitting. Reason 8: The Hartford Loop's close nipple or wye fitting is too close to the boiler's water line. Check to see if the water level in the boiler can drop to a point where steam gains access to the wet return through the boiler's equalizer. If it can, the steam will quickly push down into the wet return and create water hammer. This usually happens toward the end of the cycle. Check the boiler manufacturer's specifications on the proper level for the close nipple or wye fitting. If it's too high, lower it to the proper level. Reason 9: The system was flooded. Steam pipes are supposed to carry air, steam and a little bit of water. If someone left a feed valve open and the pipes filled with water, there's a good chance all the pipes have sagged on their hangers. This is a sure cause of water hammer. You'll hear it when the system first starts. Flooding also causes sludge to wash down from the radiators. This sludge can lodge in the horizontal runouts to the risers and cause water hammer in the middle of the cycle. It will also make it difficult to deliver steam to the upper radiators. There's a telltale sign that there's sludge in the riser: The radiator vents will "pant." Remove the vent and hold a lit match next to the hole. Watch the flame. As the radiator "pants," the flame will tilt toward and away from the hole. This happens because steam is quickly condensing in a pocket of trapped water near the base of the riser. You may have to disconnect the riser and flush the lines to cure this one. Also, make sure you check the pitch of the mains with a line level. Reason 10: The mains aren't properly dripped. If enough water hangs around in the mains too long it's bound to run into steam and that's when the water hammer begins. To get rid of the water, you have to drip the mains. In mains where the steam and condensate travel in the same direction, there should be a drip line every 150 feet. If the steam and the condensate flow in opposite directions you need a drip every 50 feet. If you have a one-pipe steam riser that feeds up more than one floor you should ideally drip it into a wet return or into a dry return through a loop seal or a steam trap. Dripping two-pipe steam risers isn't as critical because the condensate returns through a separate line. Just keep in mind that any steam pipe will be more efficient if you drip it. To avoid water hammer, always keep the steam and the condensate as far away from each other as you can. Look around for places where water can gather and drip it. Reason 11: The gravity-return line is clogged. It's going to happen eventually because a steam heating system is open to the atmosphere. The pipes corrode, and sludge, rust and sediment washes down into the gravity wet-return line where the condensate moves very slowly. As the return line clogs, the condensate has a tough time flowing out of the main and into the wet return. If water lays in the main, it will meet steam, and that's when the hammering begins. This usually happens at the far ends of the mains and almost always in the middle of the firing cycle. Water will also squirt from your end-of-main vents. You can usually flush the returns to get rid of the sludge, but there will be times when it will be easier to replace those returns. Do one or the other. Reason 12: The system has motorized valves. If it's a gravity-return system, and there are motorized valves on the supply lines, water will back out of the boiler when a valve closes against steam pressure. Adding a check valve to the return doesn't help much. Sure, it will keep the water from backing out of the boiler, but the steam pressure in the boiler will quickly overcome the lack of steam pressure downstream of the closed motorized valve. Condensate won't drain from the mains, and water hammer will follow. Motorized valves really have no business being on a gravity-return system. You may have to add a boiler-feed pump and steam traps to cure this one. Always avoid using motorized valves on gravity-return systems. Reason 13: The radiators aren't pitched properly. A one-pipe steam radiator has to pitch back toward its supply valve so the condensate can flow out of the radiator. If you let the condensate build up inside the radiator, you'll have water hammer and squirting radiator air vents. Use a bubble level to check the pitch. When you're dealing with a large radiator, check the pitch from section to section. Big radiators often sag in the middle, and a long level might not pick this up. Don't go by eye because your eyes can play tricks on you. Use small blocks of wood or plastic checkers to prop the end of the radiator up. Notice, too, how an old radiator will dig a trench into a wooden floor. That comes from years of expansion and contraction. Don't go by eye when you're checking the pitch. Always use a level. Reason 14: It's one-pipe steam, and the supply valves aren't fully opened. If they're not, you'll get water hammer as steam and condensate try to pass each other in that tight space. The valve on a one-pipe-steam radiator is a service valve. It has to be either fully opened or fully closed. Anything between will cause water hammer problems. If you think the valve is fully opened and you're still getting water hammer, check to make sure parts of the valve haven't fallen off and lodged in the valve's seat. If the valve is new, check its internal size. Steam supply valves of the old days had more space inside than their modern replacements. You may have to use a bigger size. Reason 15: The steam traps aren't working. A two-pipe-steam system is like a ladder. Each radiator is a rung on that ladder, and at the end of each rung you'll find a steam trap. Part of the trap's job is to keep steam from entering the no-pressure side of the "ladder." If even one trap fails in the open position, steam will jump across and hammer into the water that's trying to drain from the other radiators. This water hammer will damage the working steam traps, and that will make the problem even worse. At the ends of mains and at the base of risers, float & thermostatic and bucket traps serve the same purpose as radiator traps. If they fail in the open position, or, with bucket traps, if they lose their prime water, steam will move into the dry return lines and cause water hammer. Trap maintenance is essential. Don't neglect it. Reason 16: The radiator air vents are too quick. Quick vents let the air race out of a radiator, but they also let the steam race in. When you quickly heat a large radiator, you're going to get a lot of condensate. That heavy load of condensate can't drain easily against the steam that's rushing through the supply valve. The result is water hammer and a squirting air vent. If you suspect this is your problem, try an air vent with a slower venting rate. This simple trick often works wonders when it comes to water hammer. Not every radiator needs a quick vent. Reason 17: In replacing the boiler, someone tuned a wet return into a dry return. If you have a gravity-return system the lowest, horizontal, steam-carrying pipe has to be a minimum distance above the boiler. In one-pipe steam, that distance is 28 inches. In two-pipe, gravity-return steam, you need a minimum of 30 inches for every pound of pressure in the boiler. So, for instance, if you operate the boiler at two psi, you need 60 inches. If you operate the boiler at three psi, you need 90 inches. The Dead Men knew this, and they piped their wet and dry returns accordingly. A new boiler with a low water line just might turn a wet return into a dry return. If it does, you'll have some very memorable water hammer in the middle of the firing cycle. Measure the distance between the boiler's water line and the lowest steam-carrying pipe. And take your time looking around the basement because that pipe could be anywhere. Reason 18: There's a concentric reducer in the steam main. A concentric reducer will allow condensate to collect if the condensate flows from a large pipe to a small pipe. That causes water hammer at the start of the cycle. Use an eccentric reducer, or drip the main just before it enters the concentric reducer. Reason 19: There's not enough vertical space between the boiler water line and the end of the main. We commonly call this space the "A" Dimension. You need 28 inches of "A" Dimension on a gravity-return, one-pipe steam system. Returning condensate stacks in that space and builds pressure. That pressure combines with the "leftover" steam pressure at the end of the main to put the condensate back into the boiler. If the job doesn't have enough "A" Dimension, water will back into the main and cause water hammer in the middle of the cycle. This often happens when an installer removes a boiler from a pit and replaces it with a new boiler that's not in the pit. The higher water line of new boiler shortens the "A" Dimension and causes the water hammer. Either lower the boiler, or use a condensate- or boiler-feed pump. Reason 20: The Hartford Loop isn't piped properly. Make sure the connection between the return and the equalizer is far enough below the boiler's water line. If steam can work it's way down the equalizer and into the wet return it will hammer, and usually at the end of the cycle. See if there's a long nipple on the Hartford Loop. Long nipples create water hammer as the condensate returns. Replace the long nipple with either a close nipple or a wye fitting. Reason 21: The condensate- or boiler-feed pump discharges into a Hartford Loop. The Hartford Loop does a good job of protecting the boiler in a gravity-return system. Should a return line spring a leak, water can flow from the wet returns, but because of the Loop, it can't flow from the boiler. On a gravity-return system, the wet return connects to the boiler's equalizer at a point about two inches below the lowest operating point. This varies from manufacturer to manufacturer so you should always check their installation instructions. When you have a condensate pump, you no longer have a gravity-return system. Should a return spring a leak, the boiler water can't back out of the boiler because of the condensate pump's check valve. Should the check valve fail, boiler water will back into the condensate pump. The pump will turn on and pump the water back into the boiler. Should the check valve and condensate pump fail simultaneously, water will back into the pump's receiver and rise up the vent piping. Since this piping is usually several feet higher than the boiler's water level, the water still can't get out. If there's an overflow pipe in the vent line, however, the condensate can back out of the boiler, should both the pump and check valve fail. In this case, a Hartford Loop would help on a pumped return system. But other than that, the Loop may cause problems. Water under pressure from the pump can splash up into the boiler header and create water hammer. If this is your problem, relocate the pump's discharge line to the bottom of the boiler's equalizer. And those are the most common things I can think of that cause water hammer in both one- and two-pipe steam heating systems. So take them one at a time, check them out, don’t miss anything. And I guarantee you’re going to find the answer to your problem. Erin Holohan Haskell says: And that’s it for today’s episode of the HeatingHelp.com podcast. Thanks to Dan Holohan for sharing his knowledge with us and thank you for listening. If you haven’t already, please hit subscribe wherever you get your podcasts so you’ll be alerted about new episodes. And check out www.HeatingHelp.com for even more resources.
13 minutes | May 16, 2019
Lessons Learned with Ray Wohlfarth
Episode Transcript Erin: Today I’m talking with Ray Wohlfarth, commercial-heating expert and industry author. Ray’s Lessons Learned book series offers a common-sense approach to everything from servicing and installing commercial boilers to brewing with steam. You can find them in our store at HeatingHelp.com. And you can learn more about Ray’s seminars at boilerlessons.com. Thanks for joining us on the podcast today, Ray. Ray: Hi Erin. I’m so excited. This is great. Erin: We’re thrilled to have you. I’d love to hear more about how you got your start in the heating industry. Ray: Well, I was planning on going to school to be a lawyer in high school. And right after high school, my dad was in a really bad auto wreck and could not work any more. So I had to go to work to earn money. My relative was in a trade union (the steamfitters) and said that this is a great opportunity because people are always going to need heat. So I said ok. I got involved and I loved it. I just love technical things. So I got to learn all about systems and specialized in the boiler end of it. Erin: That’s great. Do you have any advice for new technicians who are just starting out? Ray: What I would suggest is to learn how systems operate. Anybody can look at components, but there’s no better feeling than to go onto a job when there’s been three or four people there and you understand systems and are able to get the heat or air conditioning going. And it’s rare to find someone in the industry that really does know how the entire system works. Erin: That’s an excellent point. And speaking of lessons, I’ve heard you say that when you’re replacing a commercial boiler, you should always assume that the existing boiler is installed incorrectly. Can you explain what you mean by that? Ray: Well, I got kind of burned on a couple of different jobs. What I found out is that there’s an unwritten rule in our industry that if you replace the boiler, you own the entire system. So what I’ve found is that we were replacing some boilers and the rest of the system was not working at all. Well, after we replaced the boiler, we were getting all of these calls about things that had nothing to do with my boilers, but the people didn’t know who to call. And it was that whole adage that you hear: “The thing worked fine before you put that new boiler of yours in there!” So what I understood is that most of the systems, not through fault of the installers, but maybe through maintenance over the years when people have changed things around and then they don’t work the way they were supposed to work or the way they were designed. I’ve gotten burned so many times that I am really hesitant when I go onto a boiler replacement project now. Erin: That makes sense. Do you have any other tips for commercial-boiler replacement jobs? Ray: What I like to do is talk to the building owner. A lot of times we get a call and we’re dealing with a mechanical engineer, but I also like to talk with the person who is maintaining the boiler, whether it’s a custodian or a maintenance person. I like to ask them a lot of questions and again, where I assume there are issues with the boiler, I’ll ask them what areas are the most problematic for them. And, sure enough, they’re going to say, “Oh, we can never get heat in this office” or “This office is always roasting hot and we have to keep the windows open.” So if you’re talking with those people that deal with this on a regular basis, they’re going to kind of give you some heads up and places to look where you can find the problems and hopefully resolve them with your new boiler system. Erin: Now in your book, Brewing with Steam, you mention that a commercial steam boiler is designed to last 20-30 years, but you’ve seen boilers destroyed in less than a year, which is astonishing. What can kill a boiler like that? Ray: Well, if it’s a steam boiler, most of it is water treatment. The first thing, the water is really not as good as it used to be. On that particular job I was talking about in my book, the boiler was there just over one heating season and the tubes started to leak. The Director of Maintenance was a very good friend of mine and he was put into a bind because the President of the University and the CFO were upset because they just bought this boiler and it was leaking already. They blamed him and they blamed me. We got one of the boiler tubes replaced and we sent it out to be evaluated. We found out it was chlorine that had done it. And do you remember a couple of years ago in West Virginia when they had that chemical spill into their domestic water and everybody was sick? There were counties that had to be evacuated because of this chemical that got in there. And what they did was add large doses of chlorine into the water to kill whatever was leftover and the residue. And this chlorine just killed this boiler. I paid out of my own pocket to have this test done. It vindicated us and the owner, but what we see is that steam boilers are just not being maintained and there are water-treatment issues. Another time an installer friend of mine called me for help. There was a boiler that they had put in just a year ago and within a year the low-water cutoff had filled with mud and the boiler dry fired. And they destroyed a boiler within a year because they didn’t do maintenance. So between the maintenance and the water treatment, I think that’s what really puts the dagger into the life of a steam boiler. Erin: Those are really good points, Ray. Never a dull moment in this industry, right? Ray: Haha! No, I love it. Erin: One of the many reasons why I love reading your monthly newsletter is because you share some great on-the-job stories, like you just did right now. And to our listeners, if you’re interested in receiving Ray’s newsletter, you can sign up at boilerlessons.com. One of the stories you told last month, Ray, was about the haunted thermostat. I loved it. Can you share that one with our listeners? Ray: Sure. We put steam boilers into an old, old school that became a rehabilitation hospital. And, right after the boilers were in there, I got a call from the customer saying the boilers were going off at night, around 11 o’clock every night and then at 6 o’clock in the morning they were coming back on. And we went crazy. We went through that whole building trying to figure out what it was. We thought, well perhaps they were on a light with an outdoor timer. And the maintenance person, every time we’d come he’d say, “Oh, this place is haunted. This place is haunted!” And when we couldn’t figure out what was going on, he’d say, “Oh it’s that ghost again.” And we’d say, “There’s no such thing as a ghost.” And he’d say, “Oh yes, Ray. There’s a ghost.” So I put a data logger on there that monitors temperatures every 15 minutes. And, sure enough, after a week at 11 o’clock the temperatures would just start to come down and at 6 o’clock it would come up. And we thought, “What the heck is going on?” Well, it was a locking thermostat cover, so we changed it to a new one and the problems went away. As it turned out, one of the people in the hospital for rehab was a heating and air-conditioning technician and he had a key for the thermostat. And he liked to sleep with the temperature cool at night so he’d turned it down to 60 degrees at night and, before anybody woke up, he’d turn it back up to 72. And we could not figure it out until we changed that locking box cover. Erin: Now when you changed the cover, did he say, “Oh, that was me. Can I have a new key?” Ray: Well, on his way out the door. He confessed and said, “That was me that was turning it down the whole time. When I’m in rehab I can’t sleep when it’s warm.” So I laugh a lot about it now, but it caused me a lot of headaches and gray hairs back then. Erin: So he could sleep, but you couldn’t! Ray: Right. Exactly. Erin: Ray, you wrote a book called Lessons Learned: Selling HVAC Service. In it, you say “Don’t spill your candy in the lobby.” What does that mean? Ray: Well, when I first got into the trade, I was a steamfitter and I worked for a control company and then I was involved in a really bad auto accident on the way home from work and I couldn’t do the work any more. So a friend of mine who was a contractor hired me on as a salesperson. Well, one of the jobs I went to, I was talking with the building owner and I said to him, “I think I can solve your problem.” And he said, “Well how exactly would you do that?” And I told him and he said, “Would you mind showing me a little bit of a drawing so I can show it to my boss? And we’ll get your company to do the work.” So I thought, great, I’m able to solve his problem. And I went back to the office and told my boss, “Well, we’re going to get this job. I know it.” About three days later, I get a request for bid to do exactly what I had put on this drawing that I’d made for this guy. He cropped my name off the paper and made it like it was his own. And we bid on the job and we did not get it. Then the person had the nerve to call me and say, “That didn’t work. You need to come back here and figure out what’s going on.” And, needless to say, I was furious. I went back and told my boss and he handed me a cup of coffee and he said, “Well, you spilled your coffee in the lobby.” And I said, “What the heck does that mean?” And he said, “That means that you gave away all of your tricks before you got paid for them. What you have to do is assure the people you can fix it, but don’t tell them how you’re going to do it until they agree to your terms.” So that was a lesson learned and I got burned a little bit, but it never happened to me again. Erin: So no more spilling candy? Ray: No. Erin: Well that’s excellent advice. Thanks for chatting with me today, Ray. We really appreciate it. Ray: I enjoyed it and I love what you’re doing with the website. Erin: Thank you. And if our listeners are interested in reading Ray Wohlfarth’s books, you can find them in our store at HeatingHelp.com. Ray also teaches seminars and you can find more information about them at boilerlessons.com. Thanks for listening! Stay tuned for our next episode about putting an end to water hammer once and for all.
9 minutes | Apr 10, 2019
Never As Smart
Thanks for joining us for the first episode of the Heating Help podcast! We started this podcast to bring you great stories and tips of the trade. We hope you’ll have some laughs with us and we’ll all learn a thing or two along the way. This first story takes us back to the 1980s. Everybody’s workin’ for the weekend, including Dan Holohan. Dan was in his 30s at the time. He was working long days and going to school at night. Oh and he also had a wife and four young kids at home. So in the words of Queen and Bowie, he was under pressure. And then one day Dan’s boss called him into his office and said, “Dan, you’ll never be as smart as me.” And here’s why Dan says that those cruel words were the greatest gift his boss would ever give him.