Universal Plumbing-Heating & Air Conditioning Inc.
The Diamond Head Apartment complex in Kingsford, Mich., consists of four buildings, each with eight apartments. The buildings’ deteriorating hydronic heating system was installed when the complex was built in 1989.

High-efficiency boiler retrofit for apartment complex

Nov. 15, 2017
This Upper Peninsula plumbing and heating contractor helps its customers save on energy costs.

Situated on four acres of woods in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the Diamond Head Apartment complex in Kingsford, Mich., consists of four buildings, each with eight apartments. The buildings’ deteriorating hydronic heating system was installed when the complex was built in 1989.

“Residents of the building were contacting us occasionally about cool conditions or uneven heat from room to room,” said Anne Young, area director for PK Housing & Management, the firm that manages the complex. “We were servicing the boilers at least three to four times every winter to maintain the proper heating conditions, but it was becoming difficult to keep up.”

Young turned to Mark Spencer, president and owner of Kingsford-based Universal Plumbing-Heating & Air Conditioning Inc. and a 30-year veteran in the plumbing and heating industry, for a solution. “Upon inspection, circulating pumps and zone valves were failing, temperature control was limited, and the boilers were very old,” Spencer explained.

The aging units had copper piping and fin-tube baseboard, he adds, and were piped as a hot loop system on outdoor reset and would run continuously to maintain 180°F water temperatures 24 hours per day.

“The units only shut off during the summer months when temperatures reached 75° or higher,” Spencer said. “It was time to replace the boilers with a more efficient system that would have the added benefit of reducing fuel expenses.”

He recommended the installation of four Weil-McLain Eco 155,000 Btuh wall-mounted boilers, which feature a durable stainless-steel fire-tube heat exchanger and a 95 percent AFUE efficiency rating.

Coordinated installation

Spencer opened Universal Plumbing-Heating & Air Conditioning Inc. in 1991. With seven employees and six trucks, the company’s business is 50/50 residential and commercial, 60 percent plumbing and 40 percent heating, which is split 50/50 between HVAC and hydronic/radiant heating. He notes that hydronic and radiant heating systems are popular in the 100-mile area around Kingsford and Iron Mountain that the company serves.

The installation of the high-efficiency boilers at the Diamond Head Apartment complex required complete re-piping and removal of the old boiler systems. Instead of connecting the new units with zone valves, Spencer configured the units with a more reliable pump design.

The first boiler system was installed three years ago and the last boiler was installed this past spring. Three technicians from Universal installed the boiler systems in the four buildings — one Eco unit, set up to run on modulation with outdoor reset, for each building, with every unit configured with its own thermostats and pumps for each apartment and common area.

The new units were installed one at a time during milder weather conditions, and Universal Plumbing-Heating & Air Conditioning provided space heaters for tenants as needed.

“The installation progressed smoothly with limited interruption to building occupants,” Young said. “With all four boilers installed, we haven’t had any maintenance issues and no loss of heat thus far.”

Young also appreciates the smaller footprint of the Eco units. “I was surprised at the small size of the boilers compared to the older systems that took up a lot of space,” said Young.

A major benefit of the new, higher efficiency boiler installation is the energy savings realized. Fuel costs for the complex have been reduced by more than 40 percent from just two years earlier — providing significant savings for the building’s owner. “We have more consistent heat and more comfortable conditions for residents,” Young noted. “All around, it’s a wonderful system.”

PK Housing & Management manages low-income apartment buildings in 65 Texas and Michigan communities. Young had two additional Weil-McLain boilers installed in another nearby apartment building and intends to install them in other buildings, too.

“Homeowners and businesses can save an average of 30 to 40 percent on their energy costs when switching to more energy-efficient equipment,” Spencer said. “No other equipment or appliances purchased today can save you that much. High-efficiency heating systems are more reliable, require less energy to operate, and offer more comfort and better control for occupants.”

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