Koegel Plumbing & Heating brings passion and know-how to church overhaul

Feb. 5, 2015
Kurt Koegel of Koegel Plumbing and Heating Solutions was brought on board this project for a variety of reasons:  He shows total passion for what he does. He is a true “wethead.”  He spent time planning the job and prefabbing what parts and pieces he could in his shop.

ALEXANDRIA, MINN. — The heating system at the Calvary Lutheran Church was (to put it mildly) in bad shape. The building began as a residence in the 1950s, and over the decades had been remodeled and expanded. To continue serving the structure the heating system had seen a series of expansions, adaptations, and (to be honest) incoherent improvisations.

Kurt Koegel is a true “wethead.”

By the time Kurt Koegel of Koegel Plumbing and Heating Solutions was brought in things had reached a crisis point. “Some sections had windows open,” Koegel said, “in others they had electric heaters… Air was getting pulled into the system and it would collect in the main sanctuary. They had, I think, 30 wall radiators in there and every Sunday, before mass, they’d have to go in and bleed all the radiators to try and get the loop going.”

So it came down to one poor gentleman with a screwdriver bleeding radiators and adding water to the boiler at 5:00 a.m. just to keep the system running. How did things ever get so bad?

Good intentions

“It was basically poor design, and poor execution,” said Koegel. “Everybody kept trying to be the nice guy, save the church some money with a band-aid fix, but in the long run it just cost them. And that’s the point where I came in.”

Koegel has been in the plumbing and heating trades for 28 years, but only just hung out his shingle in Miltonia, Minnesota, two-and-a-half years ago.

“I have a two-car garage I’m working out of now,” Koegel said, “and I have a truck with a trailer for moving everything around… I mainly do service work, but my real passion is hydronics… anything with an old boiler, especially troubleshooting. I’m trying to position myself as the go-to guy for troubled hydronic systems.”

Pumps and pipes post demo.

Koegel is pretty much a one-man organization (although he did bring in is brother to help on the demo portion of the job). Which begs the question, why did the congregation go with Koegel? After interviewing and taking bids from 15 different contractors, why decide to go with the one man, one truck outfit with less than three years operating as his own company?

A passion for hydronics

Actually, Koegel wondered the same thing himself. “Here I am,” he said, “the new guy, not a lot of track record, and I asked, ‘Why did you pick me?’ And their response was, ‘You came in and showed total passion for what you do.’”

Koegel describes himself as a true “wethead.” He spent an entire day tracing out the system, finding out what could be saved, what had to go, and then gave the congregation a full, descriptive quote on everything he was going to do, followed by a personal guarantee on how the final system would perform.

Once he had the job, Koegel spent plenty of time planning the job and prefabbing what parts and pieces he could in his shop so he could hit the ground running. With only about two weeks to finish the work — during which the church would continue with services, with daycare, with men’s and women’s clubs meetings and more — Koegel would need every advantage he could make for himself.

Nuts and bolts

After an asbestos abatement company had come in and prepped for the demolition, Koegel went in, disconnected all the pumps, piled them up, then got a few sawzalls with plenty of blades and went to work. “We cut all the piping back to the walls of the boiler room and pretty much started fresh,” Koegel said.

For the system to function correctly, it was necessary to hydraulically separate the new high efficiency boilers from the six zones. “I used a Caleffi hydro separator, the Hydro-Cal… that was really the magic part. It helped separate the old system and the new condensing boilers… so the boilers could work at peak efficiency and the heating zones can get all the proper flow they needed.”

A series of Magna 3 circulators.

Since the zone piping was buried in plaster walls and ceilings, it was almost impossible to determine the exact pipe lengths. Koegel solved that problem using the Magna 3 circulators from Grundfos.

“They have an auto-adapt feature,” said Koegel. “When it runs it can sense the head pressure and how much resistance and measure the flow. You can let it run and just figure the system out or you can program it to run at a certain pressure.”

Five of the zones worked perfectly on the auto-adapt, with the last one needing a constant pressure setting. Quite a change from the old system that had in some places used pumps that were 2 HP! “I figured using [the new circulators] alone would get us about 500% savings on the system’s electric usage,” Koegel said.

A bladder air expansion tank and a Caleffi ¾” Autofill and backflow preventer allowed for quick air purging of the large system. Koegel used Caleffi QuickSetter balancing valves on all the returns, so he could adjust the flow to certain zones if he needed to. “The nice thing about that product is that it’s basically a flowmeter,” Koegel said.

Attraction, achievement

For a challenging job that he had only two weeks to finish, with the famously harsh Minnesota winter not far off, Koegel still took time out to talk to his frequent visitors.

“The new boiler room became a tourist attraction to the parishioners,” Koegel said. “I would have visits from most everyone in the church, but the most interesting ones were the retired engineers, electricians and pipe fitters who would critique my work and ask questions.”

Koegel took it in all in stride. “Since they were members of the church,” Koegel said, “they were the ones footing the bill, and deserved to be well informed on how the church’s funds were being spent. I would explain what the different components were for and they would share stories from their careers. Lots of great conversations.”

The completed project has met or exceeded everyone’s expectations. The finished system has delivered quiet, efficient comfort with only a slight tweak to one zone.

And on top of all that it looks fantastic; all the parts and pieces as orderly as a diagram with gleaming copper tube. Koegel Plumbing and Heating Solutions recently won the most audience votes in a “Coffee with Caleffi” webinar and was awarded an iPad mini.

“This is my passion,” Kurt Koegel said. “I totally love hydronics and being that way I stayed up nights thinking over how I was going to run the system… It took a little more time, but the end result really shines. It makes me proud to be a true craftsman, and the church really appreciated a quality job.” 

About the Author

Steve Spaulding | Editor-inChief - CONTRACTOR

Steve Spaulding is Editor-in-Chief for CONTRACTOR Magazine. He has been with the magazine since 1996, and has contributed to Radiant Living, NATE Magazine, and other Endeavor Media properties.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Contractor, create an account today!

Sponsored Recommendations