Why Do We Use Belts?

It’s getting hot out, you turn on your AC, and everything works great for about an hour or two. Outside, your condenser reaches saturation, it’s cooling fan doesn’t budge, and soon the house is back to the sweltering mess it had been before. It’s unbearable, but there you are. Welcome to Summer, right? The Belt Drive There are a ton of applications where we need something to spin, whether it’s a fan, blower, or even the drum in a washing machine. We often use a belt to connect the blower and anything else back to a single motor. Eventually that belt gives out and needs to be replaced. This could be from simple wear and tear, rot, or even accidental damage, like running over a rope with a tractor, jamming up the mower deck blades, and then burning up the belt with friction. Belts offer a number of advantages though. They’re cheap to manufacturer, flexible, and can reduce the total number of parts a given machine needs. A belt can power multiple output devices, synchronize those output devices, and it frees up the designers to create different designs with fewer parts or more compact layouts than could otherwise be achieved. But WHY?! You could put the blower right on the motor! Belts also serve two other majorly attractive purposes in cutting down costs. A belt allows us to do gear reduction and it allows us to use some cheaper (but […]

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Upgrade Season

It is almost comfortable outside. Mother Nature hasn’t yet committed to the warm 70s, but we have a good few days of 50s and 60s ahead. We’re going to have about two months where our HVAC systems can sit nearly idle, untouched and unneeded. This is your ideal corridor for major maintenance and installing new systems altogether. Depending on the scale of your facility, you may well need it. Perfect Weather From a comfort-perspective, the very beginning of Spring is an ideal time. We’re well acclimated to cool weather and the slow move into the low sixties and seventies means we can be comfortable without any HVAC equipment. We can open the windows for a few days and no one is going to be inconvenienced by it. We can shut down the building’s plumbing and install temporary accommodations outdoors and it won’t be painful or disruptive to your employees for a few days. This rare window is different from the fall. Being cold is inherently uncomfortable and harder to compensate for than being too warm going from winter into spring. In the fall, if you get a very cold day, there’s little you can do to heat the building without buying every space heater in the city. In the spring if you get a warm day, tell your employees it’s Casual Friday all week, shorts and t-shirts approved. Open a window or leave the front doors open. The shifting weather […]

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Spring HVAC Prep

The weather is finally warming up. For the first time in months I left the office and didn’t have to worry about getting frostbite on my spleen. We hit 74 degrees last Friday here in Philly, I took a bike ride and came back looking like a drowned rat, but it was warm. It’s only 36 Fahrenheit today, but Spring is on the way. The coming warmth means we should start talking about your maintenance schedules. Do Your Chores It’s vital to inspect, clean, and maintain your HVAC equipment. It’s going to cost you if you don’t. You should inspect your entire HVAC System at least twice a year: once before spring, and again before fall/winter. These little maintenance checks will keep you, your employees, your customers, and any other guests comfortable year round. As the weather warms up, you will begin to dial back your reliance on your building’s heating system. This is an ideal time to find a warm day, shut it down, and have your contractor do some cleaning and inspections. Most burners will leave some measure of dirt/soot in the combustion chamber for you to clean up. Leaving this there will reduce your system’s efficiency and may eventually clog up the heat exchanger altogether. From a maintenance perspective, this is an ideal time to check that the ignition system is in good shape and doesn’t require any adjustment or replacement. Things like the spark rod in […]

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Clean Your Coils

Most people think that it’s only the filters that get dirty. That’s almost right. Almost. Your filters are going to be the first thing you notice being incredibly gross, but the entire HVAC system is exposed to the same types of dirt, pollen, and mold. These can sometimes get past the filter, but that’s not where the biggest problems lay. Efficiency The key parts to your HVAC system are often radiators of some sort (depending on the type of system). If you have hot water heat, you probably have baseboards, which are essentially radiators. Your air conditioner has two radiators, a condenser and an evaporator (these usually called Coils). The job of these devices is to move heat from one place to another. In some places we take heat from the air and put it into a refrigerant. in other cases we take it from the refrigerant and put it in the air. When these things are designed, engineers use materials that are known to have incredible thermal conduction capabilities. We know that paper is an awful thermal conductor and that metals tend to be amazing conductors. Beyond that, we know that specific metals are better conductors than others, conduct into the air better, and we know the number of fins and distance between them necessary to get amazing performance. Under ideal circumstances, especially when these products are fresh and new, they will work flawlessly. When the coils are all […]

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Heat By Design

Most facilities have a dedicated heating system. There’s usually a massive furnace, boiler, or even an array of them. It costs a lot of money to heat a whole facility. The bigger a facility is, the bigger the heating bill. There’s just no getting around it. Or is there? Use What You Have There are other ways to heat a facility that are gentler on your wallet. Consider that every piece of equipment, fixture, and person is a source of heat. The laws of thermodynamics state that energy moves from higher to lower concentration, it tries to equalize. If you put one person into a confined, but cool space, their body heat will eventually warm the space up. If you get under freezing blankets, the blankets keep the heat in and increase the temperature. This heating effect extends beyond people. It applies to equipment. Almost every light is going to generate heat (LEDs don’t generate as much heat, they’re very efficient). If your facility has a lot of heat generating equipment, that can be used to heat the air around it and raise the net temperature of the facility. In these set ups, it’s also possible to take advantage of solar heating, without installing any significant equipment. If you want to heat water with the sun, you need equipment to store and heat the water. Air on the other hand, isn’t anywhere near as hard to heat. Install some skylights […]

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The OTHER Free Heat

Shy of installing a solar heating system, you’re always going to be paying for heat, right? There has to be some input of fuel or energy to get heat out on-demand. Or can it be done another way? Generating Heat We make heat using more than just a furnace or a boiler. Nearly everything in your facility generates some amount of heat. Some equipment will produce hundreds or thousands of BTUs of heat, and you actually pay to throw that heat away. This is equipment that generates heat as a side effect of running and will probably be damaged if it gets too hot. Consider for example, a large pump motor. This motor outputs enough torque to crush Sales Guy Scott’s jeep (don’t worry, we won’t be proving that Scott, even if it would look really cool). The thing is a gigantic space heater. There’s friction inside of it from the bearings heating up, there’s a massive amount of heat coming from the windings as we cram amps into them to make these monstrosity spin. The motor casing has fins on it to dissipate the heat. In some installations, it may be necessary to ensure the room has good air flow or even air conditioning to help manage the heat or risk the motor overheating. You’re paying to both generate and counteract that heat generation. This sort of waste happens everywhere. It happens in manufacturing, chemical processing, and especially in […]

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What About Free Heat?

We’ve covered heating systems where you supply SOMETHING to make it work, electricity or fuel. What about systems that don’t need that? Can we get everything for nothing and can it be done at industrial scale? The Power of the Sun The sun is a massive, nuclear fireball, bombarding the Earth with numerous forms of radiation day in and day out. Nearly all the warmth on the planet comes from the sun. Even in the middle of winter, there is a TON of heat being blasted down on us. Just look at Pluto, which gets essentially no sunlight. It would make the ice planet Hoth look like Miami. This difference means that there is an abundance of energy, it’s just not enough to make the whole area toasty and warm. Air currents and shorter days reduce the total heat delivered and cause an overall lower temperature, but there is still a ton of heat. Think about it. If we have a large window into a well insulated room, the sun will heat that room up, regardless of the season. That’s without using any engineering to make it an efficient process. It’s just the natural conversion of radiation into heat. Thermal Engineering The most important part of a solar hot water system is to squeeze as much energy out of the sun as possible. This comes down to the design of the pipes in the rooftop component, a Thermosiphon, what they’re […]

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Why Do We Use Heating Fuels?

There are a number of heating systems in the world. Typically these systems all need some sort of fuel to be pumped in and burned, whether that’s oil, natural gas, propane, or even a bucket dumping wood pellets. The question is though, why burn these fuels when it could be cheaper and more convenient to use electrical heat instead? An electric system needs no ducts, pipes, or fuel tanks, and it can be set up as a zone-system with individual heating units in each room. Old, Reliable Heat Heating technology is centuries old. Homes in the 18th and 19th century were largely heated with wood stoves and eventually early coal powered central heating systems. Electricity was still a new thing, either used for little magic tricks, lab experiments, or eventually available for lighting in cities. It’s easy to forget just how slowly electricity spread around the world. In the United States, electricity was a rarity until about the 1950s. In 1935, less than ten percent of homes had electricity. In 1951 the number finally reached 80%. Early heating systems had no choice but to use combustible fuels. These systems had to be fully mechanical to operate. Combustion systems were the default heating technology and as a result they were the most affordable and reliable way to heat anything. There had just been so many more advances in purely mechanical heating systems and the new entrant to the market, electricity, was […]

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Can Ice Damage Your Building?

Ice is a menace to our paved surfaces. It can destroy foundations, roads, concrete structures, pipes, and more. This is one of the key strengths of crystal structures. They can exert great force on their surroundings. Ice starts from liquid water, so it can move, invade, and then cause a massive obstruction or destruction with ease. What few people realize however, is just how much damage it can cause to the rest of a building. High Loads in Weak Places Ice will easily accumulate at the sides of a building, where water typically runs into the gutters. During cold weather events and cycles of melting and freezing, the gutters can become clogged. Water first freezes inside the gutters, then it flows over the edges and starts to freeze on the sides and down the bottom of the gutters. This will quickly grow into a major issue: ice is heavy. The exact weight of ice per-volume will vary with the temperature. For round numbers sake we’ll say a gallon of ice weighs eight pounds. Raingutters vary in capacity as well, a five-inch wide gutter holds just over a gallon and a six inch gutter holds two gallons, per foot. You can see this is going to get heavy very quickly. If your business has one side with rain gutters that is forty foot long, and those are six inch rain gutters, then those gutters alone would weigh 640 pounds once they’re […]

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More Than Pipes Freeze

The big fear we always have around cold weather and buildings is pipes freezing. If a pipe bursts, there’s going to be water damage and that can lead to millions of dollars in property and equipment issues. Imagine a pipe flooding a computer room or dousing a multimillion dollar MRI machine? It turns out however, other things can freeze too. Expand and Contract When materials are heated and cooled, they will change in size. This is from changes in their atomic structure as we put more and more energy into something. In the case of winter, it’s more of a contraction as we suck the energy out of things. These effects can be observed in a couple of places. On the extreme end of the spectrum, you have the SR-71 Black Bird, which gets longer in-flight due to heating from atmospheric friction. On the more common end of the spectrum, poor ice water in a glass bowl that’s just had boiling water in it. The bowl usually cracks, because the ice causes parts of it to cool down rapidly and contract, but the rest of the bowl is still hot. Glass has a rigid, crystaline structure and the force of contraction overpowers the rigid molecular bonds. It causes it to crack or even shatter (so don’t try this at home). These effects occur on essentially everything, with varying degrees of destruction involved. No matter what, nature is always going to […]

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