Everything is Everything

March 22, 2021
“Fax me a quote” became a popular request back in the '80s and '90s.

There’s a new trend in HVAC sales. I’ve seen plenty of trends in my decades long career. Some of you might remember the trend when FAX machines started to become popular back in the ‘80s or ‘90s, before the Kid was born. You remember the Kid. The youngster training to be me after I retire.

“Fax me a quote” became a popular request. As it became easier and quicker to send quotes over the wire instead of with the US Post Office, the information provided to generate the quote became less and less.

Way back when, a customer would call from his office phone to my office phone to request a quote. If I was out of the office, the receptionist would fill out a form to put in my mail slot. When we finally talked, I could find out if he had enough info to quote. Site visits, usually scheduled around lunch, would clear up any questions I might have. It was a much slower process.

Today’s trend is the text of the tag for the boiler the contractor wants to replace. New technology allows the contractor to take a picture with his cell phone and immediately send it off to my cell phone. Boom. Drop the microphone. What could be easier? No phone calls, no conversation about application or sizing, just off to the next job.

The tag shown is what I was recently texted. The contractor that sent it followed up with a phone call. We have worked together on many projects, so he knows I like more than a text. He told me that the boiler is in a church that I might know, since it is very popular on the summer church festival circuit in Cincinnati.

Cincinnati church festivals involve a lot of food, beer and gambling. It is an unbeatable combo. At this church, the big draw is the Greek food, since all the other festivals have German or Italian food. The ladies of the parish make Baklava by the ton.

I happen to know a little bit about this church because it is near where I grew up and have driven past it plenty of times. That 3,250,000 BTU input rating on the tag seemed larger than I would have expected. Most church buildings have a heat loss of less than 500,000 BTUs. Through the years, this church has added a gym, offices and an education wing with the money the festivals brought in. You know, the house/church always wins.

With all the additions, the boiler still seemed too large. The contractor wanted to do a site visit to see if he could quote high efficiency boiler(s), so we could clear up the sizing question then. I have been fixated on proper boiler sizing since the beginning of my career. Before we had high efficiency boilers, the only way to improve efficiency was to properly size equipment, then split it into a multiple boiler system to stage demand. This was all before modulating fire on package gas boilers.

When we met at the site, the church trustee showing us to the boiler room seemed to know a lot about the complex.  I like to ask what part of the building is heated by the boiler, especially when there are additions. I have found in the past that when a church was built, the boiler selected would be larger than needed for the initial building. That way, when an addition is built, it can be hooked up as a zone to the oversized boiler.

The church trustee let us know that the only part of the building still hooked up to the boiler is the church and a few hallways. He told us that all the additions have rooftop units to provide both heating and air conditioning. I asked if he had the mechanical plans from the construction back in the ‘70s. Not only did he have the plans, they were all converted to digital files. We could look at them on his desktop computer after the boiler room visit.

The giant boiler looked smallish in the cavernous boiler room. When they built this place, somebody was counting on it getting a whole lot bigger and using this boiler and boiler room as Grand Central. Currently, the only other equipment was a pair of base mounted pumps feeding hot water to another equipment room with an air handler serving the church.

Not finding three million BTUs of radiation in the basement, we went to the church office. The original plans showed the existing air handler and a second air handler to serve the original office and multi-purpose room. The trustee told us that the second air handler was removed years ago and replaced with a rooftop unit.

What he didn’t know was that the original boiler was supposed to be used to heat any future expansions, which are now past expansions. What happened was exactly the opposite. When they added on to the building, they took away radiation rather than add radiation to it.

Other contractors that were bidding on the job also weren’t aware. Two contacted the Kid asking for quotes based on the boiler tag. We eventually got everybody on the same page so the trustee could see similar quotes. He decided on the contractor I visited the job with, using two 400,000 BTU high efficiency boilers.

He recognized the advantage to having redundancy, since one of those boilers will be able to heat the church by itself most of the heating season. With the boilers we sell, those two boilers will operate with  built-in controls to even out run time, reset the water temperature, and maintain temperature even if one of the units has a lock out.

The title of this column comes from the background chatter of Marvin Gaye’s 1971 hit What’s Going On?.  It was a common slang expression back in the early ‘70s meaning all is well, depending on how it was spoken. The everything in this case is the information needed to quote a job right. I think my contractor got the job because he had the right quote from the start.

Patrick Linhardt is a thirty-five-year veteran of the wholesale side of the hydronic industry who has been designing and troubleshooting steam and hot water heating systems, pumps and controls on an almost daily basis. An educator and author, he is currently Hydronic Manager at the Corken Steel Products Co.

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