By Dave Yates, Special to CONTRACTOR
A visit to ISH in Frankfurt, Germany, must be seen, felt and heard to understand the visceral experience that had me on sensory overload within 15 minutes of my first day’s visit. In all, I would be taking in the sights, sounds and smells for five days, but I found myself needing to take a deep breath and reset my mindset — kind of like rebooting a hard-drive that’s locked up!
ISH is as much theatrical as it is a trade show and the awesome displays are well lighted; products positioned for optimum visual impact; booths expansive in square footage; and most of the 55,600 exhibitors have some form of liquid refreshment as well as a snack or full-blown sit-down restaurant — in several cases with impeccably dressed wait-staff. Think of it as a cocktail party for 2.3 million visitors that’s held in 10 buildings covering 5,123,664 sq. ft.!
At ISH, manufacturers traditionally roll out new products. Unlike American trade shows, ISH is geared towards selling products and negotiating two-year contracts for purchases. Monday through Friday, ISH is restricted to contractors who visit various manufacturers to be wooed, wined and dined as they negotiate their best deal. By week’s end, it is quite common to see contractors disappearing into small cubicles with a manufacturers representative to ink the two-year deal. For smaller items, such as a combustion analyzer, you’ll see intense negotiations taking place for single units.
Traveling in mid-March with the National Association of Oil Heating Service Managers was a delight as the other members of the group represented some of the brightest minds in the oil-heating industry. As a result, we were invited to meetings where newly developing variable-speed oil-fired condensing boiler technology was freely discussed. The give and take between manufacturers and the brain trust that was in the NAOHSM group was electrifying. European nations are cleaning up their oil and reducing its sulphur content.
After seeing so many innovative and unrelated products, I thought a fun way to provide a broad overview might be the format used on the old TV show “The Outer Limits.” It started with the TV screen fading to squiggly lines as an announcer exclaimed that we weren’t to attempt adjusting the screen, because we were at the outer limits. Following the show, the same squiggly lines would reappear and the announcer would
declare that control of our set has been returned to our control. All the things included in this “Outer Limits” are either already available or about to be. In coming articles, we’ll delve more deeply into individual components with their technical aspects.
In the home
Imagine you awoke to the sound of rain drumming on the roof. You also detect the sound of a shower running in the kid’s wing and inwardly chuckle at the thought of how your rainwater recovery system is probably taking in as much as is heading off to the shower. Not only are you saving on costs for municipal water, which runs .008 cents per gal. where you live, but the hot water being used had been heated via vacuum-tube solar panels. Water was circulated from panel to storage tank by a solar-powered pump. Your net metering system and photo-voltaic array have been meeting more than 30% of your home’s electricity needs and offsetting an additional 20% of your utility bills by feeding any excess power generated into the grid.
Stepping into the bathroom, warm floors meet your bare feet from the embedded PEX tubing through which circulates hydronic water that was warmed by yesterday’s sun. Sensors detected your presence and turned on the low-wattage lights. A gentle touch beneath the lavatory bowl raises it back from the height for which your youngest child had set it when brushing his teeth last night.
A quick glance reveals the water closet was also lowered for a child’s use — a touch of the sensor-pad starts it on its way to the preset height programmed for “Dad.” The lav faucet’s water glows red from the aerator’s internal temperature-sensitive light (which requires no power to operate and varies in hue from red to blue by sensing the water’s temperature) as you rinse off your razor. An infrared sensor permits hands-free operation.
Guilt-free showering, as you like to call it, because the water disappearing down the drain is being directed to a gray-water recycling unit for flushing water closets, washing clothes and watering the lawn. The shower-tower immerses you in luxurious sheets of cascading water or invigorating body spray — your choice — and all 10 heads are easily adjusted to suit your frame. A sensor pad allows for infinite adjustment of temperature, volume and pressure.
The gray-water system includes discharge from the bathroom sinks too. In spite of soaps, shampoo and toothpaste going along for the ride, the water cascading during a closet flush is crystal clear, bacteria- and odor-free. The exhaust fan is automatic and senses humidity levels. A warm towel awaits you as you retrieve one from the wall-mounted hydronic panel.
The water closet’s seat is gently warmed as sensors detect your approach. Body waste is tested and a report flashes on the wall-mounted screen to report on your health. Save, delete or send (with a predesignated link) the data as desired via touch-screen pad. Warm water and air for cleansing are available and a bidet feature is built in too.
In the kitchen, the condensing oil-fired boiler located under the counter-top is ramping up to meet the high domestic hot-water demand. Its variable-speed oil burner, which can range from 30,000 to 150,000 Btu, is virtually inaudible and you need to be as quiet as a church mouse to detect if it’s running. The pennies per gallon additional cost for low-sulphur fuel oil were well spent and, after two years of running, the combustion primary and secondary heat exchangers remain clean as a whistle.
You’ve been data-logging the boiler’s performance on your home computer and have seen its efficiency vary from 94% to 99% depending on outdoor ambient temperatures and internal demands. The condensate is neutralized and it, too, drains to the gray-water system for reuse. Water running from the sink faucet’s spout is internally illuminated, but here the light is more intense and white to help offset shadows and see the dish, pot or pan being rinsed more clearly. A third position on this stainless steel faucet’s handle dispenses conditioned or reverse osmosis water from a nearly invisible tube slightly protruding from the aerator.
On the job
On the way to work, your cell phone alerts you to a problem in a customer’s home. Given that you’re only a few minutes from the office, you route the call to your office computer. Upon arrival, the alert has brought your customer’s entire mechanical system, in animated form, on screen. (The animated forms themselves are a snap to set up for new installations with drag and drop components and intuitive piping layouts.)
A flashing cursor indicates the problem is the system circulator. Clicking on it brings up the past 24 hours of data-logging for this component. A drop-down list allows you to reset the data logged in for a week, month or year to observe past performance and see — firsthand — when the circulator began to experience a decline in its
Included are the make, model and serial numbers. Backing up and clicking on the system tab allows you to view overall performance and efficiency over the same time frames. If this customer paid for system monitoring, automatic data-logging events would have been recorded and stored in the customer’s file.
By now, 30 minutes have elapsed and your customer is being alerted via e-mail, fax, phone or any other means of communication he’s chosen for receiving alerts regarding his home’s mechanical systems. The delay is one you’ve programmed into the monitoring software so that you’ll be up to speed with diagnostics when he calls. You dispatch a technician with needed parts in hand and your customer can deactivate the home’s alarm, unlock the door and, if necessary, secure Fido in another area of the house — all from a remote location.
The technician arrives in the mechanical room and can now communicate directly with the system via cell, laptop or palm device. Communication can be wireless, digital daisy-chain-linked or hard-wired, dependent upon preference and component compatibility. The new circulator utilizes just 7 watts and can be programmed to operate at any given delta-T or delta-P. When the repair is finished, the technician can complete the transaction using a credit card function built into his cell phone or the sale can be turned over to the office for processing.
With all your customers’ homes now being rated for their energy usage and consumption, your system designs become an integral part of their overall rating, which drives customers to your door if you’ve taken the time to design for low-energy usage. Although their home’s insulation, doors and windows play a role, the largest use of energy centers on their heating, cooling and domestic hot water needs.
Mechanical systems are monitored for emissions of pollutants and must meet minimum standards for their ongoing use. Potential homebuyers now have the ability to judge homes of similar construction and square footage for comparison of energy efficiency before buying! The day when a hack could install an oversized high-efficiency boiler or furnace without a moment’s thought to parasitic mechanical-energy system losses caused by dozens of pumps, incorrectly sized pumps and/or tubing — and get away with it — are gone.
Back home again
Arriving home from work, you’re greeted warmly at the door and informed that company is coming for dinner. Your wife asks you to put on the good faucets in the guest bathroom. As you gently unwrap the gleaming and highly polished lavatory faucets, you’re joined in the effort by your youngest son who gleefully turns on the existing faucet — full blast. No worries though. You’d already loosened the set-screw, so you simply lift the faucet to separate it from its base and an internal set of check valves automatically stops the flow of water. A quick snap and the decorative faucets are in place and working. All told, the swap-out took less than a minute!
“Can I have that one in my bathroom?” Junior asks, and you agree to swap with his, as all the home’s faucets are interchangeable. Your customers love the ease with which they can bring a faucet needing care to your shop in the morning and pick it up at day’s end while shaving off much of the labor costs they would have incurred had you had to respond for an in-home repair.
In your home, rooms are heated and cooled individually instead of wasting the energy to condition entire floors or multiple floors of unused space. Although this initially took some getting used to, the relatively short time period when rooms are either cooler or warmer than desired was less of an issue than you thought it would be and even your most demanding customers have become adjusted to this “new” way of conserving energy.
Gone too are the wood stoves and gas fireplaces of old that were functional but not very efficient. Today’s wood stoves and gas fireplaces are much more efficient and must pass rigid government efficiency standards. Yours has a full glass front for viewing the single log needed to heat your living room. Staring at its lazy flame has a mystical way of dissolving the day’s tensions. Heat with ambiance!
Your own home’s energy efficiency rating qualifies for energy tax credits. The newly mandated government energy rating had arrived earlier in the week and, as a mechanical contractor, you felt great knowing all your hard work has paid off. Yours was the only home in the neighborhood to receive a coveted “A” rating.
Dave Yates owns F.W. Behler Inc., a contracting firm in York, Pa. He can be reached by phone at 717/843-4920 or by e-mail at [email protected].