What is a Steam Trap?

Steam based heating systems are similar to hot water heating, but they’re not quite the same. In a hot water system, liquid water enters, circulates, and returns to the furnace. This is not the case for a steam system. In steam, hot steam leaves the furnace, and water returns. This may seem like a minor difference, but it has massive implications to system efficiency. The Science of States When steam cools down, it becomes liquid water and falls down to the bottom of the heating system. On the one hand, this means less plumbing needed to capture and reheat the water. On the other hand, it means we have mixed-temperature fluids in the same space. The condensed water will absorb  heat and hinder the operation of the heating system. It’ll cool down the radiators and the steam itself. The big problem is that water takes a lot of energy to move from being liquid to being steam. It’s not a linear graph. When you heat the water, it’ll eventually rise to the boiling point, about 100 C at sea level, and then the temperature won’t actually increase. The molecules in the water will start to absorb the energy until it’s enough to breaks the hydrogen bonds between them and form steam. As you can see in the chart, we continue to add energy into the system, and between states, the temperature rises, then we hit a limit. When its time […]

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How We Measure Boiler Efficiency

Air conditioners are rated with a SEER number that indicates how efficient they are. Higher numbers means better performance. We have a related system for furnaces, though it’s a little different. Heaters use the AFUE, Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency. Fuel to Useful Heat In any combustion system, there’s just about guaranteed waste. In a car, there’s wasted heat and wasted work, where we don’t use all the energy generated by combustion. In furnaces, we concern ourselves with wasted fuel. Depending on the design of the burner, the ignition system, and the fuel type, some amount of fuel will be exhausted without having been burnt. Determining the fuel lost for this efficiency is generally done in lab tests when the furnace is being designed. The manufacturers measure how much fuel goes in, capture the exhaust, and use lab equipment to detect how much fuel is in the exhaust. This fuel is lost because it just never got the chance to burn in the combustion chamber. Some fuel sources burn slower, sometimes a spark or flame doesn’t propagate through all the fuel that’s injected into the combustion chamber. It may still burn in the exhaust, but by then it’s too late. Whatever the case may be, this lost fuel never heats your facility. The AFUE scale is therefore a percentage scale. We use a range of 30%-100%. Anything under 30 is basically useless. You’re just spraying a geyser of gas in the […]

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Let the Heat Out

As important as insulation is, there’s also a need for some things to not be so thoroughly insulated, like heating vents. As we get into the cooler weather, it’s important to inspect whatever your heating system uses, whether that’s base boards or air ducts to ensure they’re not obstructed.   The Major Problem Essentially every heating system relies on either being able to blow heated air into a room or having some heated surface that the air is going to flow over. This is a simple enough need to meet, until you consider that your facility might have a maintenance staff of just five people and the remaining three hundred know nothing about heating, cooling, or fire safety. Things get a little worse when you start to count up how many hot air vents or miles of radiator are keeping your facility comfy. No one’s checking to make sure they’re actually keeping your facility warm and comfy. Obstructions can come from all manner of things. One of the bigger ones we’ve harped about and will continued to scream about is clogged filters. Debris fills the filter up and it turns into a gigantic piece of gross, moldy, slimy, stinky blockage. It’s not just the filters you have to worry about. Anything can cause a blockage. If your facility has animals, pet fur is amazingly good at getting stuck to the front of a vent. If there are any small fibers […]

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Why is There a Belt in the Furnace?

Is it weird that we use belt drives in furnaces? Belts aren’t necessarily known as the most durable or flame-resistant thing in the world. Why would we put a belt next to a roaring inferno? It’s 2018, why don’t we just bolt the motor straight to the fan, blower, or whatever it is we’re driving?   Gear Reduction Spinning blowers, fans, and other equipment requires a lot of mechanical power. At the same time, it can take more power to overcome the friction on a resting object, especially for heavier parts or equipment that’s not perfectly supported. There can be additional friction by such offset loads. Providing enough force to move this equipment requires bigger and bigger motors. Or does it? Physics is full of tricks. We can use a concept called Gear Reduction so that a smaller motor can get the job done. Instead of outputting a lot of power at once, we output less power, but more revolutions of the motor. For every 2 rotations of the motor, the blower might only spin once. This reduction requires the motor to spin faster to achieve the same result as a bigger motor, but it won’t need as much torque to do that work. The easiest way to see this concept in action is to look at a multi-speed bike. Your gears are different sizes to allow for different speeds. In low gear, it is incredibly easy to spin the […]

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To Do: Preventative Furnace Maintenance

As with all things, an ounce of prevention is worth a couple tons of cure. After a long spring and summer of sitting little or even unused altogether, your furnace needs some attention before the long winter comes. This can vary from model to model, but in general, you can expect your HVAC Professional to do a lot of cleaning and even some replacing.   The Big Cleanout Nearly every fuel-burning heating system is going to produce some sort of soot or ash from running. Modern heating systems are incredibly efficient, but they’ll still produce a bit of waste material. This waste can be combustion byproducts, contaminants left behind in the fuel, or in some cases even microscopic particles of other components of the furnace itself, such as particles from a spark rod. This build up will cause a number of issues over time: Inefficiency, the soot will absorb heat, requiring more fuel than normal to reach the same temperature changes. Dirty emissions, by exhausting the soot out into the open air, a potential health and legal hazard. System failure, by clogging up the burner or otherwise preventing the furnace itself from running. The general process of cleaning up the furnace is straight forward. Your contractor will remove some parts of the case to get into the combustion chamber and use a vacuum to collect the soot. Depending on how much soot there is, it may be necessary to replace […]

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Winter is Coming – Prepare Yourself

Today we start to change gears and prepare for the change of seasons. Summer is coming to a close. We’re already seeing temperatures drop around Philly, with our highs falling from the 90s into the 80s. It’ll be a cooler, more comfortable week this week, with temperatures well on their way to the chilly fall norms. Now is about the time to make sure your heating system is ready for a long, busy season.   Why Check the Heater? For most people in the northern most parts of the US and elsewhere in the world, our heating systems have been dormant all summer long. You could have old, gross filters still in the system or discover a mouse has eaten the thermostat wires. There’s also that always looming spectre of hardware failure, when an old part has finally gotten old enough to just give out. It’s warm now and your AC is still running, so you don’t need your heating system yet. Your contractor can have the system apart for a good few weeks, you can use cheaper, slower shipping, and suffer no ill effects for it. This is also a good time for simple, routine maintenance. You can take this opportunity to swap out your air filters, have your chimney cleaned, clean out the furnace, and so on. Different system designs accumulate differenent maintenance needs. Oil burners often need a good cleaning to remove soot, for example.   What […]

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Why Can’t We Crank the Heat AND the AC?

We’re entering the awful, awful season where mother nature will swing between very warm and very cold. Just last week we had a good four inches of snow, a high of forty degrees, and a low below freezing, only for a high of over fifty the very next day. This weather calls for both heating and cooling in some circumstances, but we can’t always give you both.   Fond, Freezing Memories The schools I went to growing up had a very annoying problem: they could heat or they could cool, but they could not do both. This was always problematic and stupid to kid-me sitting at his desk contemplating a textbook bonfire for warmth. Of course, it’s wasteful to run the heating and cooling at the same time, but surely we can just turn off the furnace and crank up the AC? We’ve done it in the car all the time, you just twist a knob and you go from freezing to roasting and vice versa. At small scales, climate control is pretty easy to accomodate. You use air ducts and mix hot and cold air to get the net desired temperature. Facilities with forced air heating and cooling can pretty readily fling themselves from one temperature to another like your car. Other facilities have completely separate systems for heating and cooling. There might be a little split AC unit in every room and a master hot water heating system. […]

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Blizzard Testing Your HVAC System

Can you tell it’s winter yet? Is it safe to come out yet? Here in the North East, Mother Nature has just finished her first major storm of the season. We can confirm that no one at Procure is interested in living in the far, Arctic North after experiencing days-straight of subzero temperatures. We were within spitting distance of water being able to freeze before it hits the ground. Along the way, we also got to push our heating systems to their edges and see where we really should’ve built things differently. Edge Case Testing During normal operation, it’s doubtful you’ll ever see something out of place in a well designed heating system. If you engineered a system for an average winter, then chances are you can turn your home or office any temperature you like during average weather. It can be ten degrees outside, but a sweltering 92 inside. When nature throws you a curve ball you get to see where the weaknesses are in your heating system. More extreme weather, is more stress on the system. More stress is going to show you what parts can’t keep up. This breaks down to a problem of numbers. The sum-total of heat you can put in the air is XX. Your building loses heat to the air at a rate of YY. Severe winds increase this rate by ZZ. In order to stay warm XX needs to be greater than […]

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The Story of my Furnace Failure

The most important thing for your HVAC System is preventative maintenance. We’ve advised you not to panic when things go wrong. Instead, the time to panic is when you notice something is off. If the furnace makes a really bad sound, treat it for the cancer that it is. When something’s not running, you can calmly poke it and see what happens. It’s not going to get any worse because you knocked on the fuel tank to see if it was really full. When there’s symptoms of trouble however, every day is going to make things worse. The First Symptoms It’s 2012. I’m living with my parents, about to set off for college. The furnace kicks on and immediately something isn’t right. I can hear the water trickling into the baseboards. On the surface, this might not seem bad. You hear water all the time. You should never hear water in a baseboard or a radiator. Your radiators should be filled to the brim with water. At the most, you might be able to hear a sort of hissing noise, the sound of water moving. I heard a dripping noise. If water can drip, there’s air in the line. If there’s air in the line, the heating system isn’t running under pressure, it isn’t sealed like it should be. The furnace and water tank are pretty much filled with just water. Water flows into the heat exchanger. Water flows out […]

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Why Won’t the Furnace Run?

It’s a bad sign if a furnace is starting and stopping too often (short cycling). It’s bad if it’s just running all the time. What could be a worse sign? Well, what’s it mean if the furnace won’t start in the first place? At least if your furnace short-cycles, you’ve got heat and you know it’s not a catastrophic failure. Things get scary when it won’t cycle at all.   The Easy Suspects Your furnace isn’t running. Don’t panic yet. If we were to round up every contractor in our books and ask about simple break downs, the stories would never end. Simple, cheap, and even silly things can bring on the chill. We think the most common ones are: Ran Out of Fuel Empty tank Clogged fuel line Gas main shut off Electrical Shut Off Someone bumped a shut off switch Breaker tripped during storm Failed switch or contactor stuck in the off position Thermostat Wire Cut Wires chewed by a mouse Wires damaged with nails or screws in the wall Chimney blocked With debris With a birds’ nest Minor Hardware Failure Bad Pilot light Bad ignitor Bad flame sensor   When we say these are common events, we really mean it. I’ve experienced at least three of these. My home furnace is a nice little oil burner, and we’ve run it dry during the winter. We’ve discovered our fuel pipe doesn’t dip to the bottom of the tank. […]

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