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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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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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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Industrial Wet Steam

Let’s recap quick: wet steam is the steam you usually see around your house and basically everywhere not investing seven to eight figure checks in their steam system. This wet-steam carries water vapor, which is the actual white, puffy cloud you see. Dry steam is essentially invisible, hot as fire, and essential in industrial scale productions. That begs the question though, is there an industry for wet steam too? Surely the dry-stuff is better? Moisturizing the Product It turns out, there are a ton of applications where it’s essential to add moisture to a product without actually soaking it. Consider, if you use dry steam, you’re not going to make the product wet, but you will dry it out. Between the heat and zero-humidity air, anything that can evaporate from the product will do so. Dry products presents a wide range of problems. Dry things are often inflexible and brittle. Consider if you leave a shirt in your clothes drier for  hours upon hours (do not do this, you’ll probably start a fire), if it survives, it’ll be rough, stiff, and uncomfortable. Dry steam works well enough for a quick cleaning of clothes, but it’s not good for prolonged exposure. This same thing is true in other types of production, consider something like a paper pill or a printing press. If the paper becomes too dry, it might tear inside the machinery. Excessively dry paper is prone to cracking, tearing, […]

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Origins of Steam

Steam is one of the oldest power sources known to man. The ancient Greeks were perhaps the first civilization to have central heating, with archeaology suggesting they had a crude hot-air heating technology 4000 years ago. They were also the first civilization to create a steam-powered anything, 2000 years ago. Heron’s Aeolipile Around the first century AD, there was a mathematician in Alexandria named Heron. He would write numerous books on geometry and early mechanical technology. His work also includes the first steam engine and therefore as good of a place as any for us to begin the story of steam. The Aeolipile was a water tank placed over a fire, with two pipes coming from the top and running into a sphere. The pipes function as an axle and as a pathway for the flow of steam. There’s two bent pipes on the ball for the steam to come out. When the water boiled, it caused the steam to shoot out of the ball like thrusters, and spin the ball. This was the first mechanical use of steam and the last one for over a thousand years after Heron’s death. Vacuum Power The story of steam picks up again in the 1600s. Giovanni Battista della Porta theorized that the state change of water into steam and back again would alter the pressure of a closed vessel. That is, this would increase or decrease the pressure. This idea if the […]

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The Non-Mechanical Trap

There are a number of ways to exploit physics for our benefit. We take advantage of physics to make air conditioners, make friction-free braking electrical cars, and apparently make a valve without any mechanical actuation. That is, a valve we don’t actually open or close from the outside, it opens itself. In this case, it’s the valve component of a steam trap. The Mechanism Everything changes at least a bit with temperature. Water tends to expand when it’s frozen, leading to burst pipes in the winter. Metals tend to stretch when they’re heated. This is something famously demonstrated by the Air Force’s SR-71 Blackbird, the engines were a massive four foot, eight inches wide and nearly eighteen feet long on the ground, during operation they would expand by six inches from the heat. This type of expansion is commonly used in older, bi-metal thermostats. As the temperature changes, two pieces of metal change in size. This is something incredibly precise, allowing a basic thermostat to operate without any active components. It would always actuate based on temperature and nothing would change that. If it works in thermostats, why not use it in other places? If we know an element will expand or contract at a given temperature or range, then we can make use that to perform a mechanical job. We put one of these elements inside a steam trap, when it’s expanded, the condensate drain is sealed by our […]

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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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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 […]

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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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