The Long Hydronics Learning Curve

DURING MY visit in March to ISH in Germany as part of the National Association of Oil Heating Service Managers group, I had a number of intriguing opportunities to pick the brains of several manufacturers. Each revealed many facets of life for hydronic trades-folk that were both enlightening and offered much hope for the future of the hydronics industry. For instance, a visit with Testo in its factory

DURING MY visit in March to ISH in Germany as part of the National Association of Oil Heating Service Managers group, I had a number of intriguing opportunities to pick the brains of several manufacturers. Each revealed many facets of life for hydronic trades-folk that were both enlightening and offered much hope for the future of the hydronics industry.

For instance, a visit with Testo in its factory revealed that if you enter the hydronics trade in Germany, you’d be required to serve as an “Apprentice” for three years and attend trade school. Following your three-year stint and successful graduation from trade school, you’d be elevated to “Associate” status.

In 2003, the NAOHSM group visited the Viessmann School of Technology, and we spent the night in dorm rooms. My room was devoid of distractions, such as a telephone or TV, and had a desk, bed and bathroom. There was little doubt that students were expected to spend their evenings studying!

The hands-on labs were lavishly furnished with live-fire equipment and classrooms left no doubt that this was no ordinary trade school. As an Associate, you’d be required to work under the supervision of a “Master” for another five years. Times and standards are changing in Germany too, and it has become easier for an Associate to ascend to Master status for striking out on his own.

Testo’s speaker, Knut Hoyer, detailed Germany’s participation in the Kyoto Global Warming Agreement (the United States has opted out) and the agreed upon goal to lower greenhouse emissions by a whopping 21% by the year 2010. When you consider the fact that 40% of all energy usage in Germany is directly attributable to heating and hot water production, you begin to understand the huge impact this will have in the hydronics trade.

Knut detailed the energy use per household as follows: 54% for heating; 31%, cars; 7%, hot water; 3%, small appliances; 2%, cooling; 2%, cooking; and 1%, lighting. To meet its stated goals for reducing greenhouse emissions, Germany is instituting an entirely new inspection system for granting an “energy pass” if a home meets the criteria. This new designation will grant a potential homebuyer the ability to compare one property to another for overall energy efficiency, not unlike the yellow energy-use tags we see on appliances here in the States.

Studies for energy-efficiency upgrades revealed that potential decreases in energy consumption look like this: shell (insulation) -30%; door and window upgrades -10%; higher efficiency oil or gas heating equipment -40%; and regular testing/tune-up of heating equipment -10%. This from a country that is already testing and monitoring its heating equipment with strong emphasis on utilizing high-efficiency equipment!

It’s impossible not to ponder the dramatic fuel savings and pollutant reductions we would see in the United States if our own government were to participate in Kyoto. Imagine if our own homes were graded on their per-square-foot energy usage!

Now you’d think the Germans had done more than required to be responsible users of energy, but they’re taking things one rather large leap forward beyond their stated goals for emissions and energy conservation. They’re planning to institute maximum allowable design temperatures for their hydronic systems! While we debate the merits of saving energy while utilizing lower hydronic system temperatures, they’re instituting rules to limit those upper temperatures because they know that saves energy. The maximum temperature to achieve an “A-rating” will be 132.8°F (56°C)!

Following our presentation, we were given a tour of Testo’s factory and permitted to talk with everyone we met along the way. During the tour, Testo’s employees extended many courtesies while allowing us to interrupt their work. Areas outside the windows of the bordering buildings were blanketed in solar panels, which were busy generating electricity for lighting.

Emphasis here in the States is accelerating dramatically with respect to combustion analysis and testing to ensure performance while maintaining the proper mix of exhaust gases. As part of the NAOHSM group, we were offered a three-month trial use of Testo’s newest No. 330 combustion analyzer. One thing that quickly separates this new piece of equipment from our other combustion analyzers (we also have Bacharach and UEI combustion and CO analyzers) is the ability to install new pre-calibrated oxygen or carbon dioxide sensors, which are shipped to suppliers in sealed bags of inert gas. No down time!

A visit with Buderus revealed that condensing oil-fired boilers, some with variable-speed input, are fast becoming the accepted norm in Europe with efficiencies well into the 90+%-range. Sulphur content in oil is the major hindrance for this advance in technology, but Europe is preparing to embrace this by mandated reductions from an average of 1,500 parts per million to below 500 ppm before April 1, 2007.

In 2003 at ISH, we saw condensing, high-efficiency gas-fired boilers being all the rage and their introduction, as well as widespread acceptance, on our shores shortly thereafter. In 2005, condensing, oil-fired high-efficiency boilers were popping up in many of the ISH booths. Low-sulphur oil is already available (for a few pennies a gallon more) here in the United States. Can condensing, oil-fired high-efficiency boilers, which are so quiet you really can’t tell if they’re on or off, really be that far behind?

I don’t think so, and proper combustion analysis goes hand-in-hand with these ultra-high efficiency gas- and oil-fired appliances. From where I sit, our future as energy advisers to our clients looks very bright.

Dave Yates owns F.W. Behler Inc., a contracting firm in York, Pa. He can be reached by phone at 717/843-4920 or by e-mail at [email protected].

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