Church turns to ‘neighbors’ to solve heating woes

BOYERTOWN, PA. — When Good Shepherd UCC Church here needed to replace its obsolete 1960s-era heating system, it wasn’t unusual for the congregation to reach out for help locally.

BOYERTOWN, PA. — When Good Shepherd UCC Church here needed to replace its obsolete 1960s-era heating system, it wasn’t unusual for the congregation to reach out for help locally.

After all, what might one expect from members of a church founded 200 years ago, even before its hometown received its own name? With two highly inefficient and decades old boilers firing at nearly 2 million Btuh, the church sought help from Bally, Pa.-based Longacre Co. The congregation hoped the company could find an economical solution for replacing a heating system that was costing thousands of dollars each time it needed repairs. “The efficiency was absolutely horrible. Their gas bills were astronomical,” said Steve Longacre, the company’s vice president. “The steam boiler was 55-years-old, and the other was from the 1970s. They were falling apart. It was time.”

Church members and the community raised more than $500,000 for structural and operational improvements through the church’s “Renew, Revive, Rejoice!” campaign. Dozens of companies throughout southeastern Pennsylvania and else- where submitted bids for the contract, but Longacre said his company won the $300,000 overhaul project despite being the second-lowest bidder.

The company has been in business since 1922 and does mechanical and electrical contracting for both commercial and residential projects. Longacre,
along with his brother, is the third generation to run the company. In researching solutions for the Good Shepherd project, Longacre began talking with engineer Neal Fisher, of N.E. Fisher and Associates, who’s also an area resident. The two tried to determine the type of boiler package that would work best for a three-story church with a total of nearly 28,000 sq. ft. The church’s steam boiler heated the structure’s older section, while a hot water boiler supplied heat to an addition built in the 1970s.

The new system needed to supply enough heat to the main church, which holds 1,400 people, and a large sanctuary that can seat 500. The structure also has a fellowship hall, several smaller classrooms and another small chapel. A local supplier recommended boilers from Hydrotherm, a company with a manufacturing plant only three blocks from the church, Longacre said. The company was able to cast the units’ iron boiler sections and assemble and test-fire the boilers at its foundry here. This meant that Longacre could quickly
and efficiently complete the installation of the boilers before winter hit. But before Longacre could put in the new heating system, he needed to have asbestos removed from the church’s old boilers and piping. After subbing out
the asbestos removal and demolition, Longacre was able to begin installing
the two new direct-vent Hydrotherm KN-10 boilers. “We went in there and started the piping, running the 4-in. mains and branching it off,” he said. “It really went together slick once we got rolling.”

The natural gas-fired cast iron boilers operate at up to 99% efficiency with a
modulating input of up to 1 million Btuh, according to Longacre. “These boilers are just magnificent,” he said. “It’s unbelievable how well they work.” Overall, it took Longacre and his team three months to complete the project, which started at the beginning of August. The system has been up and running since the end of October.

Longacre said church officials were “looking for some serious savings” after
previously budgeting $20,000 per year for heat alone. So far, the repairs have helped to cut the church’s November bill for heat in half, he said. “We don’t know what they’re going to get for the next year,” Longacre said. “It’s been kind of weird weather we’ve been having. I’m looking at at least a 35% to 40% savings on their gas bills. At least.” A Honeywell direct digital control
also regulates the new heating units.

The computer-activated and monitored system easily and accurately controls the church’s heating system in a cost-effective manner, according to Longacre. The system replaced the electromechanical controls that previously existed at the church. “I was out there the other day, just showing how (the boilers) work,” Longacre said. “The sexton of the church (said), ‘I used to watch the gas meter out here. That thing used to make 74 revolutions per hour. It barely makes one in an hour now’.”