Saving Grace

BY STEVE SPAULDING Of CONTRACTORs staff HINSDALE, ILL. Two years ago the Grace Episcopal Church here was facing a problem common to owners of most institutional buildings: spiraling heating costs. But their problem was larger than just the rising price of natural gas. The churchs 1930s-era Kewanee boiler a 3.5 million Btuh firetube mammoth built when energy efficiency was not a high priority had begun

BY STEVE SPAULDING Of CONTRACTOR’s staff

HINSDALE, ILL. — Two years ago the Grace Episcopal Church here was facing a problem common to owners of most institutional buildings: spiraling heating costs. But their problem was larger than just the rising price of natural gas. The church’s 1930s-era Kewanee boiler — a 3.5 million Btuh firetube mammoth built when energy efficiency was not a high priority — had begun to break down on a recurring basis. Annual repairs to the unit were costing thousands of dollars, and it was getting more and more difficult to find parts.

Grace Church boasts a number of programs, including both men’s and women’s groups, two choirs and a preschool. Including services, the church is busy seven days a week. Combine a high degree of use and frequent boiler breakdowns with harsh Midwestern winters, and the situation soon became intolerable.

For help, the parish turned to Joe Hansen, president, founder and coowner (along with his wife) of Hansen Mechanical.

“I do a lot of work with churches,” Hansen explained, “and I know how difficult it can be for churches to get money... you have to show them how they can recoup their investment.” Hansen did his estimations and crunched the numbers and started a dialog that went on for several months. Finally the case was put to the parishioners.

“Sometimes,” he said, “you can do all that work and still not get a job out of it. But in this case there were some real good people there who were real appreciative of what I’d been doing.”

Hansen Mechanical has been in business for nine years. Joe Hansen started out as a pipefitter in Chicago and soon decided to specialize in hydronics. His goal when he started his own business out of his garage was to do nothing but hydronic work, although he still takes on the occasional air conditioning job.

“Right now I have four guys in the field and myself,” Hansen said. “I still split my time between the field and design and bidding work. So four-anda- half guys in the field and two girls in the office.”

Before Hansen Mechanical could put in the new system, the old system had to go. The old boiler was 18 ft. long, almost 9 ft. tall and 6 ft. wide. It had originally been set with a crane, then had the rest of the church built around it. After subbing out the asbestos removal, the demolition took four men four hard days of work, cutting up the boiler and hauling it out in pieces.

Next was pouring concrete pads and installing three Weil-McLain LGB7 boilers. The natural-gas fired sectional boilers were each built in place. There were eight sections to a boiler, each section weighing nearly 400 lb. Given that the doorway down to the boiler room was only 36-in. wide, the sectional units were an ideal solution.

“The three boilers come in at 1.7 million Btuh,” said Hansen. “We did some calculations on the building, new windows had been put in, and besides it was common for old boilers to be grossly over-sized.”

Amazingly, the three new boilers take up a smaller footprint than the single old boiler. “I think we opened up the aisle by about a foot-and-ahalf,” Hansen said.

The added room will make future maintenance that much easier.

Since the sanctuary of the church only operates on the weekends, and the school classrooms only during the week, it allowed Hansen to split the load almost in half, just by using a more efficient control set-up to split the heat to different areas of the building. The same controls lead-lag the boilers.

“There’s a Tekmar 264-4 control system that will alternate within 12 hours of boiler time, rotating which one will fire up,” said Hansen. About 60% of the season, only one boiler is needed. Two boilers can handle another 30% of the year, with the last only needing to come on when the temperature is into the single digits.

And of course, the redundancy is another improvement over the old system. Having three boilers means that one can break down and the building will still have heat.

To help squeeze even higher efficiencies out of the new system, Hansen added a few bells and whistles. One was a multiple speed fresh-air intake.

“Forcing enough fresh air in there for the full 1.7 million Btuh when you’re only firing one boiler can affect your Continued from page 1 efficiencies,” Hansen noted, “so as the different boilers would kick in, we’d have the next speed of fresh air come on.”

Another was installing a 4- in. Spirovent to take care of any air in the system.

“It’s an air-eliminator that’s put in-line with the supply- side piping,” Hansen explained. “The stainless-steel screen in there pulls out any micro-bubbles.”

The system move s the heated water via Bell & Gossett pumps. The classrooms and activity areas are heated with steel fin-tube. The main sanctuary (with its high ceilings and large stained-glass windows) has a 750,000 Btuh water coil with an air handler.

All told, it took three solid weeks of work for Hansen and his team. The parishioners of Grace Church are happy with both their comfort- level and their fuel bills. Savings for their first full year approached $12,000.

“I priced the job at about $70,000,” Hansen said. “Any time you can recover your money on an investment like that in 10 years – not to mention eliminating future maintenance – it’s just great.”