DO YOU FEEL lucky? Well, do ya, punk? And, of course, as you know, the bank robber wasn't lucky. What in the world does Dirty Harry have to do with this column, you and Christmas? More than might meet the eye.
I had the privilege of spending several hours with Soren Markussen and Bill Boss who both work with Danfoss. Soren was visiting the United States from Denmark to research how we heat and cool our homes. Bill works with Danfoss-USA. Danfoss is fascinated with our Northeast, where hydronic installations are more concentrated. The conversation was lively as we dissected the many types of hydronic systems we service and newer high-efficiency hybrid radiant systems.
The restaurant where we ate lunch is nestled into the historic district of York, Pa., where steam systems from the early 1900s are the norm. The restaurant owner stopped by to greet us and welcomed Soren to the United States. Their conversation turned immediately to heating and air conditioning for the owner's intended move to the two upper floors above his restaurant.
He wants to invest in the highest efficiency equipment available. I felt like we should have taken a quick detour to the basement where the old steam boiler resides - encased in gobs of thick asbestos. "Feeling lucky, punk?" we might have asked the beast!
Fossil fuels are too cheap in the United States. We live in Never-Never Land when it comes to waking up to the reality that most of the rest of the world faces. Where we pay less than $3 a gal. for gasoline, Soren pays more than $5 a gal. Because of the higher costs for gas, their cars get much better mileage rates: Soren's car gets slightly more than 50 mpg! He was quick to point out that his 1.1-litre engine and car are much smaller than the vehicles we drive in the United States.
Where our homes belch Btu to the atmosphere, homes in Denmark are now rated for their energy efficiency the whole house, not just the heating, air conditioning and domestic hot water. Higher ratings enhance a home's resale value, and Soren noted there's been a definite increase in business for trades-people who install anything related to increasing a home's efficiency.
Locally, we pay 9.2 cents a kWh Soren pays 35 cents a kWh! Their homes use district heating hot water for heating (all hydronic radiant heating) and indirect water heaters.
"Why district heating?" I had to ask. It's because it's a natural byproduct of generating electricity. In my mind's eye, I was seeing the cooling towers at Three Mile Island where our electricity is generated and where great plumes of water vapor full of heat-energy rise into the atmosphere while cooling the nuclear-fried water!
"Feeling lucky, punk?" Not really; more like we're all staring down the barrel of that 44-caliber fossil-fuel-energy reserve trying to decide if it was five or six shots. We too had district heating at one time. Ours, however, was distributed as live steam via iron piping that was installed inside hollowed-out tree trunks, which served as insulation. The condensate was discharged to the sanitary sewer line and metered so that the electric plant could charge for steam used in that home or business. Our district steam was turned off in the early 1970s, which made for a booming business installing steam boilers!
Where Soren lives, energy-efficient homes are approaching the point where it may no longer be economically feasible to incorporate district heating into a home's design. As much as the Danes love radiant heating, newer homes are approaching an energy-usage-threshold where the heat loss is so low that even radiant heating may become obsolete!
They're contemplating a radical change in how they must approach designs for economy and comfort. Where they're tossing out double-pane windows for quadruple-pane windows, tenants in my area continue to use single-pane, double-hung zone valves for balancing older steam systems.
We can choose to be proactive. While our fossil-fuel costs don't yet mimic Soren's, there's much we can do. While moderation in all things is often touted as prudent behavior, modulation in all things heating and cooling is the right thing for us to promote and install. If we're going to utilize true modulation, then air-based heating comfort is much more limited than hydronics — especially radiant hydronics.
Water heaters that modulate their output to match flow conditions are here to stay. High-efficiency condensing models
are either currently available or under development. Tank-style models with 99% efficiencies have been available for years. Modulating condensing boilers with similar 93% to 99% efficiencies have been widely available for most of the last five years. And now comes a revolution in heat pump and air conditioning systems where current inverter technology grants true modulation that gently sips only the energy required to meet any given moment's load demand.
Although we're not dealing with Dirty Harry's bank robber, we are dealing with efficiency robbers that deplete customers' bank accounts. Let's make their day by promoting and installing equipment that will give them the gift of fuel conservation.
Dave Yates owns F.W. Behler, a contracting company in York. He can be reached by phone at 717/843-4920 or by e-mail at [email protected].
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