Work in rural, suburban and urban communities all present a different set of challenges for the heating and cooling contractor. Most states have areas where all three exist within an hour’s drive, and depending on the service company’s territory, technicians may visit each in a single day. Lancaster, Pa., is one such place.
For High Efficiency Solutions, a three-man operation in the city, this is their reality. The nearby agricultural areas—dotted with Amish farms and century-old homes—is separated from the city by new housing developments and upscale neighborhoods.
“Despite the fact that work in the city and in the countryside often include old structures, they’re very different,” explained Dustin Ebersole, who founded High Efficiency Solutions in 2011. At 32 years old, he’s the oldest in the company. Ebersole joined the trade in 2003, providing him the years of experience needed to run an HVAC firm, while still having a fresh outlook and appreciation for cutting-edge equipment and techniques. Their top three priorities are safety, quality, and client satisfaction. When selecting product and designing systems, they try to deliver those three attributes.
The farmhouses and city row homes in the company’s territory can both be more than 100 years old, but the environments in which they’re found are very different. Codes aren’t always the same, and in Lancaster City, many of the antiquated buildings were built in tight quarters and can fall within historical districts. In those cases, outdoor equipment and vent piping must be hidden from street view.
“Our bigger challenge is installing high-efficiency products in older structures while meeting code and maintaining the aesthetics of the building. That goes for condensing equipment as well as heat pumps and mini-splits.”
In the suburbs, High Efficiency Solutions works on a lot of homes built in the 1990s. The equipment in these areas– often gas furnaces, air conditioning systems, and heat pumps – is at or nearing its lifecycle, resulting in plenty of replacement work.
“These retrofits are usually pretty simple,” said Ebersole. The biggest challenge might come when there’s a finished basement and larger refrigerant lines or ductwork need to be run. Multi-stage T-stats require additional wires, too, so that can be fun.”
“In the country, where hydronic systems are a little more prevalent, natural gas is rarely available,” Ebersole continued. “So if we install condensing equipment, we need to schedule an LP tank and regulator installation. Adding air conditioning to homes with horsehair plaster is always messy, and sometimes new breaker panels are needed to accommodate new equipment.”
But no matter where the job is or what he’s installing, Ebersole says the best way to navigate challenges is to carefully study the job on the front end, and select equipment accordingly. So when it comes time to change gears for maintenance or service work, the same rules apply.
A few years ago, Ebersole installed a new condensing boiler in a 100-year-old home in nearby Columbia, Pa. The old oil boiler was pulled out, new CPVC venting was terminated through the stone foundation, and the old cast-iron radiation was flushed and reused. Along with the 95 percent AFUE Burnham Alpine boiler, all new near-boiler piping was installed.
“I serviced the system late this past summer and found that one of the three-speed circulators was vibrating,” said Ebersole. “What’s neat is that our commitment to keeping up with technology trends offered the perfect solution. We like to use ECM circulators as often as we can, but until recently, we’ve avoided using them in systems with cast iron radiation. The powerful magnets used in ECM pumps makes them prone to collecting black iron oxide sludge around the impeller.”
Ebersole learned of Taco’s new 0015e3 three-setting circs from Conestoga Supply earlier in the year, and decided to put one in the truck to try later. What interested him initially was the pump’s BioBarrier feature, which keeps metallic particles from gathering inside the impeller housing.
“We do a lot of what I like to call “cast to condensing” hydronic retrofits,” said Ebersole. “Just because we remove a cast iron or steel boiler doesn’t mean all the sludge is out of the system, even though we flush the entire system thoroughly. This is obviously an even bigger consideration in homes with big cast radiators.”
“We settled on the Burnham Alpine as our go-to condensing boiler a few years ago,” Ebersole continued. “They just work, plain and simple. So it’ll be nice to have a high efficiency circulator to pair with the boiler on job where I’d have avoided an ECM pump before.”
The home in Columbia served as the perfect test. The noisy, three-speed pump on the supply line was quickly replaced with the 0015e3 before Ebersole serviced the 105 MBH condensing boiler. Upon start-up, the pump momentarily purged itself of air before resuming normal operation.
“The indicator light on the front of the pump lets you know if there’s power to the motor, and it flashes white while in the self-purging SureStart mode,” said Ebersole. “But the biggest advantage to us, especially in old homes with cast iron radiators, is that there’s no concern about premature pump failure.”
True to their name, High Efficiency Solutions strives to bring the most cost-effective heating and cooling options to all their customers. They’ve found that staying ahead of the technology curve makes that goal more attainable.