Eastern Propane & Oil

Castle in the Clouds achieves sky-high efficiency

Aug. 15, 2017
One hundred and three years ago, shoe manufacturer Thomas Plant built a hilltop estate on several thousand acres in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Perched on an outcrop overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee, the 12,000-square-foot home was built to resemble a European castle.

One hundred and three years ago, shoe manufacturer Thomas Plant built a hilltop estate on several thousand acres in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.  Perched on an outcrop overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee, the 12,000-square-foot home was built to resemble a European castle. 

Today the property is called Castle in the Clouds, and is owned and operated by the non-profit Castle Preservation Society. It includes the historic house museum, carriage house, exhibit gallery, horseback riding, and offers an acclaimed restaurant and one of New England’s most stunning wedding venues.

Since acquiring the historic core of the property in 2006, the Society has invested about $3 million in building renovations.

“Over the past 1decade or so, we’ve been busy with urgent repairs,” said Charles Clark, executive director of the Castle Preservation Society. “We [also became] painfully aware that the two primary buildings use about 400 gallons of oil per week during the winter.”

The mechanical systems in both buildings were more than two decades old, but the fact that they still made heat meant they weren’t a high priority until recently. 

A nine-section, 1.7 MBTU boiler in the Castle served a cast iron radiation system, while an 800,000 BTU cast iron boiler in the Carriage House provided hot water to a mix of fan coils and fin-tube baseboard. Both were oversized by roughly 300 percent.

Enter Eastern Propane

Replacing the boilers became a priority earlier this year. 

“Chuck Clement, who owns [Rochester, NH-based] Eastern Propane & Oil, learned about the need from someone who sits on the board of directors at Castle in the Clouds,” said Terry Rickards, tech support and training specialist at Eastern; the firm was founded in 1932.

“After learning a lot more about the property, the organization and the heating systems, Chuck Clement decided to make an in-kind donation to retrofit the systems at both the Castle and the Carriage House,” said Rickards.

He toured the facilities last summer, and drew up a plan for both retrofits and submitted a proposal. The Castle Preservation Society eagerly accepted. 

“During the initial conversations, I was very impressed by the technical know-how of everyone at Eastern,” said Charles Clark, Castle director. “Their company culture of giving back to the community and being a strong partner came through early on.”

Castle is fortified

Last fall, prior to the retrofit, Eastern technicians installed two, 1,000-gallon underground propane tanks on the property. Nearby Ambrose Bros. Inc. donated the time and manpower to dig the holes for the two new tanks.  Ed Ambrose, owner of the excavating company, is a member of the board of directors at Castle in the Clouds. When it came time to retrofit the Castle’s mechanical room, everything was in place. 

“It was still early spring when we started on the main building, so we needed to leave the giant existing boiler in operation until the new units were up and running,” said Rickards.  “All of the new boiler piping was replaced, including pumps, system feeders, valves and air separation.”

Eastern pros chose two, 285 MBH Laars NeoTherm condensing boilers instead of one larger unit. This provided some redundancy and doubled the turndown ratio. 

“We’ve used the NeoTherms before on residential and commercial jobs without any trouble,” said Rickards. “Aside from that, one of the main reasons we selected them for this job is that I don’t need a third party control to stage the two units.  The onboard Laars control allows me to put them in a lead-lag configuration very easily.”

The 95 percent AFUE boilers are ground-mounted and piped primary/secondary. A new, Neptune system feeder was added for easy application of glycol and corrosion- inhibiting chemicals.

The size of old boiler made working in the room very difficult, but since uninterrupted heat was a requirement of the job, it had to stay in place. When that day came, the two-and-a-half-inch copper main was cut and drained.  A large Taco air scoop and four Watts isolation valves were installed, and the system was tied into the two-inch copper coming from the Laars boilers.

“The boiler room and wiring is simpler that you’d think because the entire building is heated by one giant zone of cast iron radiators,” said Rickards. “Just as soon as the system was purged and the new units were fired, we started tearing apart the existing boiler. The building went without heat for only half a day.”

Also attended to: the Carriage House

While one crew was working on the Castle, another was installing two, 210,000 BTU NeoTherm boilers in the Carriage House. In much the same way that Eastern technicians allowed the big boiler in the Castle to remain online, the oil boiler in the smaller building would too.  But this time, the existing unit would run for more than a few days. 

“The building has two, 330-gallon oil tanks that were nearly full when we started the project,” said Rickards. “So we installed the new system and left the tie-in and fire-up for next fall.  Luckily the Carriage House mechanical room is bigger and the oil boiler is smaller, so it wasn’t a continuous game of Twister like it was in the Castle.”

While the system in the carriage house is smaller, it was definitely more complex. The basement area is unconditioned, with half of it used for storage and half a crawl space for mechanicals. 

Above, the conditioned space is a mix of offices, restaurant seating in the former horse stalls, exhibit gallery and a large reception and meeting area.

There are two main zones coming off the boiler system.  One goes directly to two air handlers, each with a zone valve.  The other zone passes through an insulated chase, across the basement, and up to the office areas.  Here, the existing piping gets messy, with a number of zone valves scattered around, feeding tiny fin-tube baseboard zones. 

Because the zones are very different, and with the challenge of pipe running through unconditioned space, Rickards wanted a flexible pumping solution. 

“At some point, I hope to get rid of all the baseboard and straighten out the office piping, but for right now, it’s what we had to work with,” he explained.  “I put in two Taco VR3452 light commercial pumps because I can use the same circulator, in different settings, on both zones.”

To reduce the risk of freezing in the zone that runs below the old horse stalls, Rickards wants to set the circulator in constant circulation mode, only stopping during warm weather shutdown. 

On the loop that supplies water for two air handlers, he plans to set the circulator in proportionate pressure mode to ensure the right amount of supply water to both fan coils regardless of whether one or both are calling for heat. 

Part of Taco Comfort Solution’s 00e Series of high-efficiency circulators, the VR3452 has four modes of operation, allowing it to fit nearly any application in its performance range. 

An optional communication module provides Ethernet communication, Modbus RTU communication, and allows for simple twin-pump installation if redundancy is needed.

Improvements, at last

Rickards plans to return to the Castle in the Clouds even before the oil runs out in the Carriage House.  He plans to install a fan coil system in place of the messy baseboard installation in the office areas.  And there’s more work to be done in the Castle, too.

A few cast iron radiators should be replaced. A few others, Rickards says, can be sandblasted at Eastern’s shop, repainted, and put back into use. 

In the meanwhile, management at the estate can look forward to lower energy bills and a more sustainable future.

“These new systems are a capstone to the list of urgent projects we’ve been juggling over the past decade,” said Clark. “It brings us into a new phase of renovation work where we’ll be looking to minimize our carbon footprint and become the best stewards of this special place for generations to come.

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