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I will always preach that a successful cast iron water boiler installation begins with proper planning. I worked for an oil company for 20 long years, and nine years of that I was a service manager. During this time, I came across many problematic jobsites. I would evaluate the installation issues and try to figure Read more

I will always preach that a successful cast iron water boiler installation begins with proper planning. I worked for an oil company for 20 long years, and nine years of that I was a service manager. During this time, I came across many problematic jobsites. I would evaluate the installation issues and try to figure out where the problems had started. This knowledge has greatly helped me as a Training Manager for U.S. Boiler Company. Now, after 40 years in the heating business, I know how important proper boiler installation planning really is for reducing the number of problem jobs and expensive callbacks. In fact, planning is much easier than you may think …

  1. Proper boiler sizing. Complete a thorough heat loss calculation. Do not fall into the trap of oversizing the boiler because you sized it based on the old boiler size or you measured the connected radiation load, and never allow the customer to talk you into a larger boiler than needed. Today, with physically smaller boilers and less water volume, oversized boilers will short cycle more than ever. Increased short cycling means higher maintenance, higher fuel costs, and higher installation costs.
  2. Follow the boiler Installation & Operation (I&O) Manual. Be sure to follow one of the suggested near boiler piping options listed in the manual. The boiler tapping may not have to be the same size as the manifold piping. Use the flow charts for pipe size. You can pipe the boiler the same size as the tapping, or in some cases, use smaller piping dependent on the heat loss requirement. When the heat loss is known and the proper boiler size is chosen, you may be able to use smaller air separators, expansion tanks, and piping. You can use the following as a guide to size the boiler and system piping:
  • 3/4” pipe = 40,000 BTU’s @ 4 – 5 GPM (gallons per minute)
  • 1” pipe = 70,000 BTU’s @ 7 – 8 GPM
  • 1-1/4” pipe = 160,000 BTU’s @ 16 – 18 GPM
  1. Bypass piping. Bypass piping is discussed briefly in the I&O manual. We cannot continue to install modern cast iron boilers the same way we used to install boilers with larger water volumes. When needed, a bypass system should be installed to protect the boiler. There are primary/secondary piping and circulated bypass options, both of which we will discuss later in this article.

The bypass system discussed in the manual is called a “boiler bypass” and is always installed the same size as the supply and return headers. When adjusted, the water flow through the boiler is slowed so the water spends more time in the boiler. This allows the boiler temperature to increase faster and decreases the possibility of boiler condensation. This means that some of the system return water is bypassed around the boiler and enters the supply beyond the boiler. I know what you are about to say. “Well, that will cool off the supply water going to the homes heating system!” That is correct, but it is not a problem. This is what I call a “poor man’s outdoor reset.”

 

The system will run quieter and the system water temperature will increase slowly until the radiation outputs enough heat to satisfy the thermostat. The colder it gets outside, the hotter the system supply water temperature will be. When the valve placement is installed as shown in the manual, we can easily adjust the ΔT through the boiler. Simply put, leave the bypass valve open and adjust the flow through the boiler with either valve located on supply or return pipes below the bypass pipe to slow the flow and force more water through the bypass. Partially close one of these valves and check the ΔT through the boiler. You will need a minimum of a 20°F rise. If this is a large water volume system, like cast iron radiation, increase the ΔT through the boiler to 35 – 40°F ΔT.

Quick Tip: If the bypass is hotter than the return pipe, the flow is backwards and you have piped a system bypass as opposed to a boiler bypass. Follow the piping in the manual to verify correct installation. 

  1. Primary/secondary piping option. Primary/secondary piping utilizes hydraulic separation so that the water flow from system pumps do not affect boiler pump flow. This allows us to reduce the flow through the boiler to heat the water faster and heat the water to a higher temperature without affecting the flow in the system. In other words, we can have a higher flow in the system and a lower flow in the boiler. We still want a minimum of 20°F rise through the boiler, and for higher water volume systems we want a higher ΔT near 35°F – 40°F.
  1. Variable speed bypass pump option. To have the best boiler protection, install a variable speed bypass pump with a temperature sensor. This will change the speed of the pump to obtain the proper return water temperature. We offer a variable speed bypass kit with instructions for gas water boilers. This will protect the boiler in a high-water volume system or radiant in-floor radiation application.

Quick Note: My concern, and the reason for the above discussion of boiler protection from condensation, is excessive water flow through the boiler and slower temperature increase. I have experienced multiple boiler installations where the ΔT through the boiler is less than 20°F. In fact, I have witnessed some as low as 8°F. Lower ΔT’s are a result of excessive flow, possibly caused by the number or circulator sizes installed on the system. So, what is the minimum flow rate on cast iron water boilers? Look in the I&O manual under specifications and find the DOE heating capacity (MBH) of the boiler. For instance, the Series 3 model 304B has an input of 105k MBH and a DOE heating capacity of 88k MBH. Divide the DOE output by 10,000 to discover the maximum flow required by the boiler. If your flow exceeds that number, the ΔT will be less than 20°F. You can use this hydraulic formula to determine flow rate through the boiler.

  1. Avoid short cycling. Short cycling is caused by lower water flow, or higher ΔT. Higher ΔT may mean that the circulator is to small, the boiler is oversized, or the valves not adjusted properly. Generally, the minimum boiler flow should be half (but not limited to) of the maximum boiler flow.

Boiler Flow Formula:

Q/(500*ΔT) = Flow

Q = DOE Heating Capacity

Let’s put some numbers to that formula.  Let’s assume that a boiler has a ΔT of 15°F. The Series 3 model 304 (referenced above) has a DOE heating capacity of 88,000.

88,000/10,000 = 8 GPM. This is the maximum flow required by the boiler. Divide this in half to get the minimum boiler flow. In this case, it would be 4 GPM.

Now, back to the formula.

Q=88,000

ΔT = 15°F

88,000/(500 * 15) = Flow

88,000/7500 = 11.7 GPM

The flow is almost 4 GPM higher than the maximum flow the boiler should have. This tells us we need to achieve a 20°F ΔT, which means less flow through the boiler. Why do we have to much flow? There are oversized pumps or to many pumps. Using a bypass or primary/secondary strategy above, we can easily correct the flow through the boiler.

  1. Vent the boiler properly. If the boiler is chimney vented, the local and federal codes apply. A chimney liner may be required. If the unit is direct or power vented, the manufacturer dictates the venting according to the certifications obtained during testing. Since this article applies to cast iron water boilers, a sidewall vented boiler requires AL29-4C vent pipe. No plastic! 
  1. Outdoor air. I like to use outdoor air as much as possible to verify enough combustion air. Plus, there is less chance of contaminated air.
  1. Gas pressure. Check the incoming gas pressure and the manifold (outlet) pressure with other gas appliances running. Check all safeties. Finally, always complete a combustion check.

Ron Beck is Outside Technical Advisor and Manager of Training for U.S. Boiler Company, where he’s been since 1998.  Ron’s 34 years of experience in the heating industry include climbing the ranks of a HVAC company, from apprentice to service manager.  Currently, he’s the go-to solution guy for contractors in the field. 

Ron can be reached at RBeck@usboiler.net

https://youtu.be/0Z8GTUKi5Kw Webstone is known for creating valves and fittings that make installing plumbing, gas and boiler systems easier. In this video we see a few new innovative plumbing and gas fittings that address issues with Iron Pipe Press (MegaPress) and copper fin tube baseboard radiator piping from Webstone. Copper press technology has been around for Read more

Webstone is known for creating valves and fittings that make installing plumbing, gas and boiler systems easier.

In this video we see a few new innovative plumbing and gas fittings that address issues with Iron Pipe Press (MegaPress) and copper fin tube baseboard radiator piping from Webstone.

Copper press technology has been around for decades now, iron pipe press is newer of course but proven as well. Have you or has your company adopted press as a main form of pipe joining? Questions and comments are welcome below!

A quick jobsite visit to the western suburbs of Chicago found hydronics guru Alan Carlson (Instagram @alan_carlson) swapping out leaking boilers at an 80-unit apartment complex. Carlson, a plumbing and heating industry veteran has been repping the trades for the past 19 years. He entered the plumbing trade back in 2001, and for the past Read more

A quick jobsite visit to the western suburbs of Chicago found hydronics guru Alan Carlson (Instagram @alan_carlson) swapping out leaking boilers at an 80-unit apartment complex.

Carlson, a plumbing and heating industry veteran has been repping the trades for the past 19 years. He entered the plumbing trade back in 2001, and for the past few years now, he has moved over to the hydronics side of the job with Ambrust Plumbing & Heating Solutions, Carol Stream, Ill., to where—back in 2014—he took his plumbing skills. Since 1918, Armbrust has provided DuPage County residents exceptional residential/commercial plumbing and heating services.

hub on the road Alan Carlson, Alan Carlson, Armbrust Plumbing & Heating Services, plumbing, Hydronics, HVAC, heating

Carlson is testament to hard work and dedication to his craft. “I knew I wasn’t cut out for college and the trades has afforded me the opportunity to make a good living and provide for my family,” says Carlson.

Alan takes great pride in his work and it shows with the finished product. “I am a hard-working, goal-oriented person who specializes in problem solving, job quality and customer satisfaction.”

hub on the road Alan Carlson, Alan Carlson, Armbrust Plumbing & Heating Services, plumbing, Hydronics, HVAC, heatingAnd don’t take his word for it, read what customers are saying about Alan and his professionalism. According to an online review, “This is the second time I have had Alan C. over to check on our plumbing. He is always friendly and very knowledgeable. He has a considerable level of experience and he has been able to answer all of my questions. When presented with options for needed services, he is honest in giving feedback with absolutely no pressure. Armbrust is a great plumbing company.”

Carlson was introduced to the trades at a very early age because his great grandfather, C.J. Erickson, started one of the oldest, and still one of the most successful, plumbing businesses in Chicago. In 1906, Carl Joseph “Joe” Erickson immigrated to America from Sweden, settling in Chicago. Joe, an accomplished plumber, signed with Plumbers Local 130 and set out to live the American dream, opening his own shop.

hub on the road Alan Carlson, Alan Carlson, Armbrust Plumbing & Heating Services, plumbing, Hydronics, HVAC, heating

Although Carlson never worked at his great grandfather’s shop in the city, he got a taste early in his youth of what working in the trades would be like. “I didn’t know what career I wanted after high school. I tried the local junior college without any direction, hoping I would magically find something. I didn’t even finish a year. I decided that if my family can run a successful plumbing company in Chicago for four generations, and if my neighbor who owns his own company can make a good living, I would try plumbing,” says Carlson.

hub on the road Alan Carlson, Alan Carlson, Armbrust Plumbing & Heating Services, plumbing, Hydronics, HVAC, heating

The trades have enriched Carlson’s life because he now possesses important and highly desired skills. “I also have a better understanding and much higher respect for those who work physically hard to earn their wage,” says Carlson.

Carlson stresses that there never should be a negative stereotype attached to being in the trades. “Having a career in the trades does not mean that you’re dumb or dirty or should be looked down upon. A trade is a highly skilled and highly needed job. If you want to have a career where you will always be needed, regardless of the economy, become a plumber. And if you do decide to get into it, work hard, never stop learning and never stop asking questions; be the first one there and the last one to leave,” says Carlson.

Get the air out! Air Vents and How They Work in Hydronic and Plumbing Systems Thursday, March 19, 2020 12 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. CDT Maintaining the health of water circulating within hydronic and plumbing systems is vitally important for optimal performance.  The ideal fluid within these systems would have no impurities, air bubbles or Read more

Get the air out! Air Vents and How They Work in Hydronic and Plumbing Systems
Thursday, March 19, 2020
12 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. CDT

Maintaining the health of water circulating within hydronic and plumbing systems is vitally important for optimal performance.  The ideal fluid within these systems would have no impurities, air bubbles or dissolved gasses.  But have you experienced such symptoms as insufficient flow, pump air lock, low temperature, noise, low heat transfer or corrosion?  These are telltale signs of excessive air contained in a system. Bob “Hot Rod” Rohr, Caleffi training and education manager, will discuss how air enters a system, common air related symptoms and discuss venting solutions for successful air removal.

You’ll learn:

→ The system is closed, how does air even get inside?
→ What are the most common symptoms of air inside a system?
→ What devices are used for air removal? How are they designed?
→ Can another system component mask an air problem?

→ What goes on inside an automatic air vent?
→ What is the effect of hydrostatic head? Of pump placement and orientation? → What’s unique about DHW recirculation applications?
→ What causes air vents to be changed out needlessly?

This paper refers to legal professional cannabis growers complying with state/provincial laws. Professional cannabis growers are well aware that environmental conditions play a critical role in plant quality and overall yield. Most can recite the ideal temperature and humidity for their crops without missing a beat. But ask most growers which type of pipe is Read more

This paper refers to legal professional cannabis growers complying with state/provincial laws.

Professional cannabis growers are well aware that environmental conditions play a critical role in plant quality and overall yield. Most can recite the ideal temperature and humidity for their crops without missing a beat. But ask most growers which type of pipe is best and they’ll likely to refer you to the closest head shop. The fact is professional growers (of cannabis or otherwise) are generally unaware of the piping options they have or the extent to which these options impact structural costs, energy efficiency and overall sustainability.  When these matters are given proper consideration, polypropylene emerges as a great choice for this burgeoning industry.

Aquatherm, Polypropylene Piping, PP, PPE, Cannibas Growing Facility, plumbing, HVAC, plumbing & heating

Cannabis growing facilities use a lot of energy and generate a lot of heat, making a reli- able cooling system essential.

Polypropylene pipe has been widely used for plumbing and hydronic heating in Europe since the 1970s. However, it was not introduced to North America until 2005.  Since then, it has become increasingly popular for a wide range of applications, from radiant heating of sports fields to process applications in craft breweries. It is a lightweight yet highly durable thermoplastic pipe with pressure and temperature tolerances that make it suitable for hydronic heating and cooling, potable water, and industrial and food-grade applications.

Aquatherm, Polypropylene Piping, PP, PPE, Cannibas Growing Facility, plumbing, HVAC, plumbing & heating

Depending on size and wall thickness, polypropylene pipe can weigh up to 70% less than carbon steel pipe.

Unlike metal pipe, the installation of polypropylene pipe does not involve traditional torch welding. Instead it relies on a flameless heat-fusion method that’s easy to learn and highly reliable at creating virtually leak-free connections.  When contractors become adept at heat fusion, they can typically install polypropylene piping much faster than welding copper, carbon steel and stainless-steel pipe.

An appealing characteristic of polypropylene is its chemical purity and inertness. It does not rust, scale or leach any impurities into to the fluids it transports, nor does it react with most chemicals. This not only improves its longevity over other piping materials, it also makes it suitable for a wide range of applications.  Furthermore, unlike PVC or CPVC piping, polypropylene pipe does not become brittle or susceptible to cracking when exposed to cold temperatures. A full list of the physical/performance characteristics of polypropylene and associated benefits is shown in Table 1.

Aquatherm, Polypropylene Piping, PP, PPE, Cannibas Growing Facility, plumbing, HVAC, plumbing & heatingWhere does polypropylene fit into the day-to-day operation of a grow facility? The answer is pretty much any application that requires the transport of fluids. But to truly understand the potential roles that polypropylene can play in the growing cannabis industry, one must first look at the special needs, challenges and values of the industry.

An Energy Intensive Industry

The electrical demand of cannabis grow facilities is staggering. According to the 2018 Cannabis Energy Report, legal cannabis cultivation in the U.S. consumes an estimated 1.1 terawatt-hours of electricity a year, enough to power all of Newark, New Jersey or Anaheim, California.[1] In indoor grow facilities — very often repurposed warehouses or other types of vacant buildings —this massive energy consumption is caused by the artificial light required to grow cannabis. Heat from these lights imposes another energy burden: cooling. Year-round cooling loads are unavoidable in indoor facilities since carefully controlled space temperatures are essential for growers to achieve maximum yields. Greenhouse facilities may avoid most of the need for artificial light, but still need heating, cooling and dehumidification. In either case, large facilities benefit from the long-term efficiency of centralized hydronic heating and/or cooling systems, which are typically about 15 percent to 20 percent more efficient than other HVAC options.[2]  These systems utilize piping to transport the heating water to and from a central boiler system and to transport cooling water to and from a chiller and/or evaporative cooling equipment.

Aquatherm, Polypropylene Piping, PP, PPE, Cannibas Growing Facility, plumbing, HVAC, plumbing & heating

Polypropylene piping is ideal for these applications for reasons that directly impact the efficiency and longevity of a grow facility. First, the inner walls of polypropylene pipe are uniquely smooth, resulting in reduced friction losses, reducing pump energy consumption. The friction losses of polypropylene start out low and remain low for the life of the system because the pipe is not susceptible to rust or scale. Steel, copper and other metals do rust and corrode over time, increasing friction losses and the pump energy required to overcome those losses.

Aquatherm, Polypropylene Piping, PP, PPE, Cannibas Growing Facility, plumbing, HVAC, plumbing & heating

Socket fusion (shown here) is one method of heat-fusing polypropylene pipe and fittings.

Polypropylene pipe also can be used in conjunction with geothermal heat pump systems which are frequently applied in agriculture. Geothermal systems rely on the earth or a body of water as a heatsink and/or heat source for highly efficient transfer of heat to and from the growing spaces for space conditioning and agricultural processes.  In these applications, polypropylene pipe transports the heating and/or cooling fluid from the central energy source to forced-air equipment or a radiant distribution loop. The pipe can be buried in the ground and/or concrete floors without the need for any protective sleeves or wrap.

Another strategy that grow facilities often use to reduce their energy consumption is heat reclaim. In these applications, polypropylene pipe can be used to transfer energy to or from process water, wastewater, or any other source that can be used to pre-heat or pre-cool water for other heating, cooling or process needs. This gives growers the opportunity to fully optimize whatever resources are available to them – whether it be the sun, a nearby lake, or even a nearby wastewater treatment plant. It’s all been done with polypropylene.

Specialized Growing Strategies

Not all commercial cannabis is grown in soil. Some is grown hydroponically with plant roots submerged in a nutrient-rich solution of water and fertilizers while others are grown aeroponically with roots suspended in air, drawing nutrients from a sprayed mist.  These grow strategies very often rely on high purity water (typically reverse osmosis or deionized water) when existing water sources are determined unsuitable.

Aquatherm, Polypropylene Piping, PP, PPE, Cannibas Growing Facility, plumbing, HVAC, plumbing & heating

Versatile fusion tools allow polypropylene pipe to be heat- fused in spaces in which welding metal pipe would be difficult or impossible.

High purity water automatically limits piping options. Copper should never be used with deionized water because if the fluid’s pH levels fall below 6.5, corrosion may occur and copper molecules can leach into the supply. Although stainless steel piping is an option for these applications, it is often cost-prohibitive and it, too, will leach over time if the water should become too acidic or too alkaline. Polypropylene is ideal for these applications because it does not leach, and its installation never requires the use of any potential contaminants such as solder, flux or glue. It can even be used for potable water and food processing since it is available in formulations that meet both NSF 51 and NSF 61.

Facilitating Construction and Expansion

Growers and owners are typically under a lot of pressure to quickly get grow facilities operational so they can begin the journey from seed to profit as soon as possible. Construction schedules are always a challenge, particularly when it comes to mechanical components like piping. Installing metal pipe requires licensed welders (expensive and increasingly scarce) as well as special permitting for the use of open flames on a jobsite.  In addition, maneuvering heavy sections of metal pipe into existing structures and then supporting it so it can be welded into place is both logistically and physically challenging. Under these circumstances, a seemingly trivial error like a miscalculation in metal pipe length can put a project several days (if not weeks) behind schedule.

Aquatherm, Polypropylene Piping, PP, PPE, Cannibas Growing Facility, plumbing, HVAC, plumbing & heating

Polypropylene pipe is hydrophobic and will never scale and corrode the way metal pipe does.

Opting for polypropylene pipe keeps these jobsite nightmares at bay for the following reasons:

  • Polypropylene is lightweight – especially helpful in greenhouses where structural support is limited
  • Polypropylene fittings can be prefabricated offsite in controlled areas so that jobsite fabrications are minimized – some manufacturers even offer fabrication services
  • Improper lengths can usually be amended at the jobsite with little disruption to work schedules
  • The pipe’s maneuverability compared to metal means it can be better negotiated in tight spaces

If an owner has hopes to expand the facility in the future (as many do), polypropylene piping systems are much easier to build out than metal pipe. Strategically located shut-off valves make it easy to isolate flow and cut into existing pipe to create new connections with minimal disruption to current operations. Fusion outlets allow for easy and relatively inexpensive expansions and one manufacturer offers a hot tap solution. Again, no flames or permits are required.

Beer There, Done That

If cannabis entrepreneurs need relevant examples of all that polypropylene can do, they need only look as far as the craft brewing industry. Craft brewers, an intensely collaborative group, have solidly embraced polypropylene for all that it has to offer, most notably its purity, sustainability, and fast and flexible installation – interests that closely parallel those of the cannabis industry.

“The word of mouth in the craft brewing industry is amazing, so we’ve had tremendous growth from breweries using it, not just for the glycol lines but in their heating and cooling applications, their geothermal applications, their domestic water supply, CO2, compressed air applications and beyond,” said Barry Campbell,  VP of Marketing at Aquatherm, a leading manufacturer of polypropylene pressure piping systems.

Aquatherm, Polypropylene Piping, PP, PPE, Cannibas Growing Facility, plumbing, HVAC, plumbing & heating

A properly executed heat-fusion on polypropylene pipe creates a single piece with no leak paths.

According to Campbell, the fact that polypropylene is among the most environmentally friendly piping systems available has helped Aquatherm gain favor among craft brewers. One polypropylene pipe manufacturer has also done the certification work to allow the product to contribute to LEED v4 credits in the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) program.

An interest in sustainability is just one of the many commonalities that exist between the cannabis and brewing industries.  Like so many newly incorporated cannabis growers, many craft brewers begin their entrepreneurial journey in the shell of a vacated building where existing infrastructure can challenge piping installations. The building or parking lot next door is “Phase II” of their venture.  Finally, owners are often the same people brewing the beer or growing the cannabis,  so they tend to be more hands-on in the selection of mechanical equipment. They do their own research and tend to look outside the box for ways to conserve energy.

Robert Millspaugh, operations supervisor at Flathead Lake Brewing Company in Bigfork, Montana, did extensive research on what piping to use for the process side of the brewery before ultimately choosing polypropylene. Flathead Lake, born from the ruins of an old bowling alley, installed several thousand feet of polypropylene to transport both heating water and glycol for heating, cooling, and process applications. Part of the system even uses clean effluent from a nearby water treatment plant to indirectly pre-temper process water for better efficiency.

Aquatherm, Polypropylene Piping, PP, PPE, Cannibas Growing Facility, plumbing, HVAC, plumbing & heating

“We were looking for products that would help us achieve a LEED certification and [polypropylene] had a lot to offer. I also came across an article on Epic [Brewing Company in Salt Lake City] and how they used [polypropylene] in a renovation and discussed the product with the brewer there,” said Millspaugh.

Polypropylene also has been used successfully in brewing applications that require piping for food-grade and potable water.

Avondale Brewing Co., in Birmingham, AL was the first North American brewery to use Aquatherm’s food-grade (NSF-51) polypropylene pipe to transport beer from vessels in the main brewery to its packaging building where it is kegged, canned and bottled. The piping, which also is NSF-listed for potable water, is cleaned and sanitized between uses. Of course, like all of the manufacturer’s polypropylene systems, the piping is guaranteed to be free of heavy metals and toxic chemicals.

Cleanliness is a high priority in breweries and is one of the main reasons Founders Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids, MI, decided to use polypropylene in a heat reclaim process that taps heat from the brewing process to pre-heat outdoor air before it enters the building’s HVAC system. The piping is wash-down rated, so the brewer can keep the brew facility sparkling clean.

Examples like these demonstrate the potential for polypropylene piping in the cannabis industry.

“The craft brewing industry and everything it has been able to do with our pipe has created an unexpected blueprint for cannabis growers and how they can use polypropylene to facilitate construction, save energy and be more sustainable,” said Campbell.

[1] New Frontier Data, 2018 Cannabis Energy Report. Scale Microgrid Solutions and Resource Innovation Institute, co-authors. https://newfrontierdata.com/product/2018-cannabis-energy-report/

[2] Surna, Sustainability for Your Indoor Garden (blog) https://surna.com/sustainability-for-your-indoor-garden/