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 […]

Read More →

What Is Dry Steam?

Despite being a centuries old technology, steam is still an essential part of the industrial world. There are a ton of special uses cases for steam in manufacturing, chemical processing, and elsewhere in heavy industry. We use steam for precise temperature control in specialized vacuum systems, for heating oil and fluids over long distances, for electrical turbines, to push fluids through piping such as in distillation towers, to improve burner efficiency, and for drying things. You Do WHAT?! It turns out that steam is actually incredibly useful for drying things, typically clothe things, but it’s been used on paints and other parts of product drying. You mean for WRINKLES in clothes and pants, right? NOPE. Alright, let’s break out the physics. This is actually something weird and incredibly interesting. Starting with the basics. Matter has essentially three states that you’re going to actually experience in day to day life: Solid, Liquid, and Gas. We all know what these look like, right? Solid water is ice. Liquid water is… well tap water, ocean water, lake water, rain. Gas-water is steam, a big, white, puffy, and usually burn-inducing cloud rising up from those noodles I boiled last night (and got the burn on my hand for). It turns out, we’re not entirely right about how we think of steam. That white, puffy cloud steam makes? It’s not a gas. It’s a liquid. If you physically see steam, the thing you’re seeing isn’t […]

Read More →

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 […]

Read More →

Adding Some Insulation

We’ve covered how weather proofing is a necessary step to protect your facility through harsh winters. A good chill will cause pipes to burst everywhere, as the Russian Navy now knows so well. Preventing disaster isn’t the only reason to start weather proofing: it saves you money too.   The Laws of Thermodynamics We have one big problem when it comes to comfort: the air and everything touches it wants to reach an equal temperature. We mean that heat will flow from places of high concentration to low concentration (things cool down) and consequently coolness will flow from places of high concentration to low concentration (things heat up). This is something self evident of course, it’s something we experience every day. What’s not so apparent is that every hot object that cools down costs you money. We’ve just put heat into water, which has heated the pipe. The pipe cools down, the water cools down, and slowly we have these losses. Every time we send hot water through those pipes, the water cools down until it’s heated the pipe to the same temperature. The pipe is cooled by the air, and we get this slow, parasitic loss of heat. Every bit of heat we lose is more fuel we burn to heat more water. At scale, such as in a warehouse, school, or hotel, this is going to add up to a lot of money. Let’s imagine it costs you […]

Read More →

How Hot is Too Hot?

Mother Nature is not yet done roasting us with the summer sun. We’ve had a good week or two of cool weather but now Philly is roasting hot. Factoring in humidity, it feels a little over 100 Degrees Fahrenheit outside. Put another way, if we cracked an egg on the hood of lead salesman Scott’s Jeep, it’d probably turn to dust in about a minute. The US National Weather Service has issued heat advisories and warnings to stay inside. Where do we put that boundary, between mere comfort and necessity to live?   Beyond Uncomfortable When we start to see these excessive temperatures proper cooling becomes not a matter of comfort, but of health, life, and death. When the Heat Index breaks past 100 degrees, we start to have issues cooling ourselves. The core of your body wants to be at about 98 degrees. If the air outside of you is above 98 degrees, it can be physically impossible to remain cool. In these situations, any movement or activity outside can make you hotter. The hotter you are, the more you sweat. The more you sweat, the more dehydrated you are. At the same time, excessive humidity will make sweating less and less effective at cooling your body. At some point, it just becomes impossible to remain healthy. You’ll either become too dehydrated or start to suffer heat-stroke and exhaustion from your body becoming too hot. These situations are more […]

Read More →

How to Tame Your Cooling Costs

Air conditioning is expensive, but essential for most of the world except perhaps the arctic circle. It improves employee productivity and attracts customers on the hottest of days. Unfortunately,  it also makes an electric meter look more like a helicopter, buzzing along as we suck down ever more watts in search of comfort.   The Little Things Use light-colored windows blinds and curtains. Every place that light gets into your building is some place it’s going to raise the temperature. Light ultimately creates heat, the sun is giant, nuclear, laser ball. If we can make sure its light falls on reflective things, like lighter colors, curtains and blinds, we can reduce the amount of heat generated inside the room. It would be impractical to close off grand entry ways with curtains, but everywhere else is probably fair game. Even some window blinds in the office can reduce the heat coming in by half, while still keeping the room fairly bright for your staff. Dial back the temperature The greater the temperature difference, the harder the air conditioner has to work to maintain that difference. Remember that you need to only create apparent comfort. If it’s 100 degrees out, your employees and customers will probably be grateful for anything less than 85 degrees. You don’t need to make the office 60 degrees. Close the doors Ensure you’re not venting cool air wastefully. Keep the doors closed or install a closing mechanism […]

Read More →

Why is my Building Grounded to the Water?

In the US, we commonly have three prongs for our electrical devices. Two of these deliver the AC Current, being both positive and negative over time and a third which goes to Ground. This is a safety thing. Whenever there is an electrical short, a static build up,  or even a lightning strike, we want to divert that somewhere safe. The safest place for these excess charges is straight to the Earth, the ground below us. As big as the Earth is, it basically has an absurdly powerful negative charge. You can disperse power into the ground and it’ll dissipate safely. Getting to Ground It is essential for every electrical and metal component of a building to be grounded. This can be a real nightmare to actually implement. You need something that is going everywhere in the building. On the one hand, you could run additional conductors, miles and miles of additional conductors, or you use the one conductor that’s already there: the water pipes. That’s right, older buildings ran their electrical grounds straight to the plumbing. On the one hand, this does kind of work. The copper pipes in most buildings are excellent conductors. These pipes are going to make contact with the ground at some point. If there’s a well, the pipes are going deep underground. If there’s municpal water, they’re still going to be several feet below the surface before long. For the early days of electrified […]

Read More →

The Science Behind Insulation

Insulation is essential to a comfortable and efficient environment. The essential point of insulation is to isolate your indoor environment from the outdoor environment. We want to control the flow of heat, energy, into and out of our workspaces as much as possible. To pull this off, we need to find the worst conductors and most obstructive blockers in history. We need to make the opposite of a radiator, a blocker.   Blocking the Heat Insulation works against three basic ideas: Conduction Heat which is passed through a surface. Consider the copper pipes used to heat a home. The heat spreads through them. If you hold a torch to one end, the pipe will be hot even feet away from the heat source. It conducts the heat. Convection Heat which moves with the air. A typical gas or electric oven uses convection. The air is heated and circulated around the thing that is being heated. Radiation Put down the hazmat suit. We mean heat caused by intense light. This is the sort of heat used in laser cutters. This is the heat of the sun and all its powerful infrared and ultraviolet rays. This is the kind of heat that turns a sitting car into an oven. The most comment type of insulation is going to work against conductive heat flow. This is that fluffy material behind your walls. These insulations are rated with an R-Value, their Thermal Resistance to […]

Read More →

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 […]

Read More →

How Often Should a Furnace Run?

A furnace running too often is a problem. This is a condition known as Short Cycling. In order to avoid it, we need to actually know how long a system should be cycling. How do we know it’s been cycling too often? How often should a furnace actually run? Does it matter? The Big Variables The technical answer to this is always: “consult the manufacturer specifications.” The real answer is buried in a mess of factors we’ll need to weed out. The first big challenge in this problem is the variability of our environment. During the summer months, a furnace could be shutdown all day and that would be just fine. For those times, it’s just not needed. On the flip side of the coin however, during the peak of winter, the furnace needs to be able to keep up with the heating needs of the building without running itself into complete failure. In order to keep up with the demand for heat, a furnace needs to be the right size. Even then, we need to allow for times of extreme demand such as on the coldest day of the year. We can’t quite get away with saying “if it ever runs all day, that’s a problem.” We also need to account for just how hot the thermostat is set too. If someone from perhaps Mexico were to venture into the freezing environment of Toronto, Canada, they might well set […]

Read More →