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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Why The Thermostat’s Wrong

Thermostats are a great technology in principal. They automate a simple issue: if cold, turn on the heater. Before thermostats, someone would have to either stoke a fire or open a valve for hot water to flow. By comparison, any automation should seam brilliant, but there is a slight flaw.   Single Point of Reference In most homes and even small businesses, there’s a single thermostat, and it measures the temperature in a single place. Even in a smaller home, this can lead to drastically different temperatures across the building. Typically a thermostat’s in the center of the building to get the best ‘average’ temperature. This average however, is almost never correct. In the case of my own home, we can actually measure the temperature difference between rooms. My room is the second on the heating loop, and consequently has some of the hottest water delivered to it, the most available energy. By the time this water has reached the kitchen and living room at the end of the loop, the water’s significantly cooled, resulting in a potentially 10 degree temperature difference. These differences can be exacerbated by design flaws. The bedrooms in this house, for example, have base boards that are about half the circumference of the rooms. This allows for a ton of heat to be left in these rooms. The living areas of this house however, have a much, much lower ratio. Those baseboards are only able […]

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Does a Water Softener Prevent Pipe Bursts?

The Procure Inc. office is a place of weird, exciting, and unexpected debates. Today we’re writing about our most recent thought-experiment: do water softeners prevent icing inside pipes? Let’s lay down some background about chemistry and water.   What Does Hard Water Do? Water straight from the ground is not pure. There’s going to be all sorts of things mixed in with water coming straight out of a well. Ground water contains a whole range of contaminants no matter where you live. There can be bacteria, metals, even run off and toxins in ground water. It all depends on the location. You get hard water when there’s a high mineral content. These minerals are harmless to most people. The World Health Organization has found no adverse health effects. Some researchers believe hard water may even be healthier than regular, purified water. Unfortunately, our plumbing is not so neutral. The mineral content in hard water will often start to build up inside the pipes. Eventually, the mineral build up starts to become more and more like a clogged artery. There will be a point of complete blockage. Blocked plumbing is not good. Blockages can cause damage to valves, pumps, heating equipment, and chillers. The narrowed flow of water increases the pressure and strain on equipment. For furnaces, these blockages are especially problematic. The various coils and heat exchangers used in how water heat often rely on narrow channels to maximize their […]

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Measuring the Heat

Have you ever wondered how your heating system knows to turn on? Or to turn off? You could say “the furnace controller tells it to” and “the thermostat tells it to,” but that’s not the whole picture, is it? We need a way to measure the temperature inside the furnace and inside our homes. It has to be durable, reliable, and affordable. It doesn’t have to be precise, but it must be right every time it’s measured.   A Complex Web of Technology There are a staggering number of ways to control a furnace through temperature input. A brief and nowhere near all-inclusive list of techniques include: Gas Expansion Tubes, Bi-Metal Switches, Bi-Metal Coils, Thermocouples Driven by a Pilot-Light, Thermistors, and of course modern IR Temperature Sensors found in your enthusiast-chef’s kitchen. These devices are all in some way sensitive to the heat. Bi-Metal systems expand as temperatures change. Measuring the expansion reads the approximate temperature. Gas Expansion Tubes have an internal change in pressure as temperature changes. The pressure can be used to calculate temperature. Thermocouples generate an electrical current when they’re heated. Measuring the current allows you to determine the temperature. Inside a furnace, they’re often heated directly by the pilot light or burner to read flame temperatures. Infrared Thermometers measure “Blackbody (Wikipedia Link)” radiation, but aren’t all that effective around metals or the air. And lastly, we have the humble Thermistor, which varies it’s resistance based on […]

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Can Cold Weather Damage my AC?

Winter is slowly coming. Here on the East Coast, we’re starting to see a gradual cool down as Summer turns to Fall. We’re probably near our last week of 80 degree weather if we’re not seeing it already. That means we need to talk about shutting down the AC. In most cases, you can’t run the air conditioning through a North Eastern winter. Cold weather can, and will destroy your central air, split system, rooftop and window units.   The Water Problem The air conditioners we have today have a dangerous relationship with water. Back in the early 1900s, air conditioners started out as enormous, expensive dehumidifiers. The fact that these machines cooled the air was just a side effect until people started to like the idea of comfortable work places. This means that air conditioners collect water. Water vapor in the atmosphere will condense on anything cold, such as the evaporator coil in the home or the tubing connecting indoor and outdoor components together. This isn’t normally much of an issue. In fact, during the summer it’s a good thing. The water collecting on the system helps it to better conduct heat and ultimately operates more efficiently. During the winter however, things become more problematic. Between the cold air and the cold AC, all that condensed water is going to freeze somewhere along the line. It becomes an issue of keeping the air conditioner warm with the air from […]

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