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Help! need statistics to save a Steam system

Dear Nick,

With such a school board I wouldn't worry about the boilers, I would worry about the kids.

Steam is a perfectly good method of heating buildings, furthermore, it is the best suited system for heating schools, churches and factories, which are large, are not lived-in 24/7, and suffer from wild heat gain from occupants pouring in at any moment's notice. Steam is equally well suited for most other applications, and for such hard to follow occupancy patterns, hot water and hot air systems can do, but just not as effectively, and not without their control complications. Any step away from steam for your current old school building would be a step down. The Empire State Building is all steam heat and there is no plan to demolish it anytime soon -what's your school got that would make it so much more special?

With the new AC, I won't be surprised to see your school board run both the heat and the cooling full blast all at the same time. For schools, reducing utilities costs is never the same priority as cutting curricular programs, you see there is no blackmail value to exploit for tax raising rackets. The same way it is nearly always a tax-payer funded school board policy to not maintain anything so that you can keep yourself in the new junk buying business. Go look at what your local private and charter schools are doing -it's eye opening.

My local schools here are in a total freefall. Dayton public schools rank almost last in the state. A few years back, they whined for a boat load of money to demolish all their current buildings and rebuild all new ones, that way academic results would improve... you bet. Now they're whining that they have been on the dunce list of schools for so long, that that itself being an accomplishment should warrant a promotion off the list. Wild, isn't it? Meanwhile, parents aren't fooled, they're putting their kids in alternate schools of which there is an ever greater choice. Many selections can be made to best suit the student's temperament. Want a school with steam heat exclusively? go for it. :D The Bill Gates foundation is funding one such charter school right here.

As far as getting in touch with the cavernous school administration system -good luck. I have long been a part of a charitable entity that has been pushing the importance of teaching math and science into the school system. We arrange and finance and pay for the individual teacher's hourly attendance at remedial teach-math seminars (because a degree in education doesn't mean you know anything about mathematics...) This program has been well received by the public, by the local and state politicians, it has been enormously appreciated by local businesses, however, some (you know who) remain unimpressed and the local schools where the help is most needed are the ones stubbornly refusing it. We've even had a strike. See why choice is good.

I have a hunch your good ideas and good common sense about the heating situation at your school won't be listened to. You're just a parent.

There is a grand old high school building here that our local government school board agitatedly wants to demolish. Meanwhile a private national group has come forward to preserve the building and convert it into a mixed use facility, housing, community center, child care, small businesses and such - they want to buy the building as is! They have the money, they are ready to go ahead. This would save our school system all the demolition costs of more than a million, plus the sale money. For the community this would be better than a vacant lot, which is what the school board's brilliant plan is, since they have no intention of rebuilding this school at the same location.

Guess what the decision was: "Naah, we've already set aside the money for demolition costs, so it would be all the same for us. Money is no object and we're not interested in preserving the community. Go boil your head!" This has been argued for years now.

And we worry about boilers and air conditioners.


  • nick z.
    nick z. Member Posts: 157
    Help! need statistics to save a Stem system

    My kids school has sent home remodeling plans which include"Removing antiquated heating system and replacing it with a new HVAC system."
    Current system is 2 pipe steam with 2 newer HB Smith nat. gas fired boilers. School board wants to install A/C, so the Design firm decided to replace all of it.(didn't we all mange without A/C in our school?)
    I would like some facts to present on just how effic. the steam system still is.
  • Brad White_9
    Brad White_9 Member Posts: 2,440
    It all depends....

    Sorry but 'tis true.

    Not sure what stage the design is in (preliminary RFP, Schematic Design (SD), Design Development (DD) or Construction Documents (CD). Knowing that would be a way to choose your windmills. If this is an initial concept phase you have a shot but if any later than SD you would be up against possibly wasting thousands of pre-contracted dollars. That is just the reality...

    Back to your question (and presuming pre-SD status):

    The consultant/designer or someone at least, should have an idea what the piping condition is, trap maintenence, general condition. Also a five-year track of fuel consumption, not cost but gallons or therms. This will show a possible trend of deterioration when tracked against degree-days.

    From that also you would have an answer as to efficiency far better than an empirical guess.

    On that score I would offer that a large steam system in a school might have an actual annual efficiency in the mid-60's. So much depends on controls (outdoor temperature-based cycling for example), targeted warm-up, do they run at low pressure or maintain 5 psig "just because"?

    Way too many variables...

    That said, if they rip out the piping and replace with Hot Water, even if they perform a "gender change" on the steam boilers (keep them but convert to HW), it is all in the controls... will they decouple and run Primary/Secondary? Use deep outdoor reset? Replace all emitters (almost plan on that!)...

    The consultant/designer should have performed, as part of due diligence, a cost-benefit analysis. It is not enough to say an assumed efficiency before and after. The capital cost plus bond cost (30 years- longer than most systems projected useful lives!) has to be taken into account.

    Did I leave anything out? Lots. But you get an idea...

    My $0.02 from the design side-

  • Mark Hunt
    Mark Hunt Member Posts: 4,909
    In 1969

    we had A/C in the school I went to, only it wasn't called A/C...........

    it was called WINDOWS(Pre Bill Gates).

    I agree with Brad and his "guesstiamte" on efficiency.

    Perhaps the school should also look into lowering their heat loss/gain as well. That would have a much quicker pay back.

    Mark H

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  • Guy_6
    Guy_6 Member Posts: 450

    If those Smith boilers are the 28 series, the AFUE eficiency of them is somewhere in the 81% range.

    If they are Mills boilers, the efficiency will be slightly less, however, the Mills products are what we call "Lifetime" boilers, in that they are designed to last the lifetime of the building. As a taxpayer, I would hate to see that thrown away.
    My town recently rebuilt a middle school and installed Viessmann boilers. As much as I would have loved to see a Smith there, at least I know that my tax money went toward good boilers.
  • Brad White_9
    Brad White_9 Member Posts: 2,440
    No question about the lifetime quality, Guy

    The AFUE is one thing though; actual usage dictates much less (way too often). Unfortunately in our experience, school departments skimp on maintenence far too often. Which is why we often specify "abuse resistant" cast iron boilers!
  • Guy_6
    Guy_6 Member Posts: 450

    Off topic here, but I had to comment on Mark's A/C post:

    I was in school in 1970, so I can relate. I laugh because I tell my kids that we only had AM radio in the car, and the music would stop when you went under a bridge. If you got caught in traffic in the summer (Cape run!!), you would SWEAT. On a rainy day, we were limited to 4 TV channels, as the UHF really wouldn't work (that foolish round antenna), and if the President was on......

    Sorry- my birthday is fast approaching, and I am feeling old....
  • Steamhead (in transit)
    Steamhead (in transit) Member Posts: 6,688
    Unless they're planning to have year-round schools

    which in itself isn't a bad idea- why do they think they need A/C?

    This sounds like a classic case of unscrupulous contractors saying "wow, they have radiators- think of all the money we'll make tearing them out!". And guess whose taxes will go way up to pay for all this?

    If the steam system has been maintained poorly, and they replace it, the new system will also be maintained poorly- and it will have more equipment to maintain poorly! Infiltration and exfiltration will drive up energy losses. Mold and mildew will build up in the ducts, since they will never be cleaned- do you really want your kids breathing all this?

    Nick and Guy, you're absolutely right. Today's kids have it way too easy. I only went to two schools that had A/C- and they were always having trouble with it.

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  • Brad White_93
    Brad White_93 Member Posts: 12
    AC in schools....

    I can defend AC in schools-

    Not for classrooms specifically for those often have exterior exposures and operable windows (not to mention code-prescribed outside air per pupil). And as you say, unless year-round, for the few days it is warm they will live.

    But a strong case can be made for internal areas which "know no season" and for administrative areas where those diligent staff who labor all summer- one must make life reasonable for them. Computers and office electronics in general add siginficant heat not known in our time.

    Places of assembly are another but a June convocation happens but once a year. I will admit to installing an H&V system for a school field house with cooling coils ready to go when chilled water becomes available; we used heat recovery to keep the tonnage down. But for 1,000 people in an otherwise hot field house seemed worth it.
  • Steamhead (in transit)
    Steamhead (in transit) Member Posts: 6,688

    are what they make window-shakers for. Keep the June convocations short- no long, boring speeches- and roof fans coupled with open windows will suffice, even in humid areas like Baltimore. Or hold the events outside, in the evening when it's cooler. That's what they did when I was growing up.

    What's going to happen to all these schools that rely on A/C, when energy costs are so high the school systems can't afford to operate their A/C systems? Oh right, they'll just raise your taxes again, and again, and again....

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  • Brad White_93
    Brad White_93 Member Posts: 12
    Nolo Contendre

    provided the offices have windows... Many schools I work in have the Principal, Vice Principal, Minister of Indoctrination, et. al. with exterior views... The secretary (my step-mom was one) and the other administrators are stuck in an interior room...

    One of the perks of working in the modern world; if not a school but an office, who would work there?

    At my core and as a taxpayer, I do not disagree, but I do defend the human condition. And yes, keep those dang speeches short for crying out loud. Progams are for fanning..
  • Steamhead (in transit)
    Steamhead (in transit) Member Posts: 6,688

    the "Cape Run" the same thing we call "goin' down-e-ocean, hon" in Bawlamer-ese?

    I'm waiting for some kid to ask "What's SWEAT?".............

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  • Scott04
    Scott04 Member Posts: 69


    Four channels?? Boy, you were lucky! I'm only 36, but I live in aq small town. Growing up, we got 2 channels, most of the time! The one channel was normally a bit fuzzy though! We did finally get cable in our town in 1990! Kids nowdays just don't realize how lucky they are! Or are they? Growing up, we had no computers, no video games, and very little tv. Toys, we had a few, and sticks made good swords, guns, etc.. We had to use our imagination! I really don't remember ever being bored. My kids have more toys than I ever even dreamed about, as well as their own tv, and computer, and yet not a day goes by that I don't hear at least 20 times how bored they are!

  • Leo
    Leo Member Posts: 770
    In my town

    In my town the high school was gutted, renovated, and a VERY LARGE addition added. I haven't seen the system but it was heated with "heavy oil" when I was a kid. The school supt. told me with todays buildng construction the new building hardly uses more fuel than the old one did. The increase came in the form of electricity, to meet the air quality codes there is an impressive system that keeps the air fresh but costs to do it. This supt. is very cost conscious and has had the building energy audited to get the best bang for the buck. I am on my second board that has input over town budgets so I get information both pro and con as to how they want to spend money.

  • Brad White_93
    Brad White_93 Member Posts: 12

    Do I understand correctly that you are in MA? Whereabouts is the school you mentioned? Wondering if my company may have designed the HVAC if not the full MEP/FP for that. Curious.


  • Leo
    Leo Member Posts: 770

    It is the Ashburnham/Westminster school district. The name of the school is Oakmont.

  • Jim Pompetti
    Jim Pompetti Member Posts: 552
    a/c its just not for kids

    The main reason we install a/c , acid removal system ,systems that are twice the sizes that are needed , is greed. the engineering of these systems is provide by the people who receive kick back or commission from equipment sales. A good friend ,works for a local school district,being new he asks a lot of question,which noone has the answers for.As, a $250,00o acid removal system ,which is needed is handled 5 to 6 gallons of acid per month 250 not bad ,but the piping necessary to carry the acid 1 million , Operating cost I can only guess. WE need people on school board who know what is needed . People who can fight for our taxes.
  • Christian Egli_2
    Christian Egli_2 Member Posts: 812
    Burn out

    Burn out

    Yes our school board people are elected, and it seems there is a high rate of burn out. I don't know how badly they get tumbled in the brand new giant expanded school headquarters downtown.

    Amazingly right next to these horrible schools we have old catholic and other private schools that are putting out kids that rank on top of the same state-wide smartness list. It's not the kids.

    During national engineers week a few years back, I had been invited to give a fun talk to some little boys and girls (12-14 ish) about the exciting things in life. I had been warned that the kids would be completely apathetic and that they'd never be interested in anything else beyond the boring and that I'd leave shaking my head. Talk about engineering.

    This was in the so-called horrible educational segment. Well, I rather found the kids to be very easily excited about what I was talking about. And all I did is talk about how machines and things work and how great careers can be made from manufacturing things (of which Dayton does a lot). I quickly got besieged with questions.

    What impressed me the most were the three students who came to me after the talk, these young adults were already full of ambition and already actively thinking of their future. All they needed was easy encouragement. They were taking their own education into their own hands. That's the key.

    Perhaps a system that zombifies all kids, squashes all enthusiasm and mortifies learning just pushes the good kids (and parents) that much more to get a decent education for themselves. But I'm just trying to make lemonade out of lemons here...

    Hopefully all those little guys I spent time with are walking down some school hallway somewhere fondly patting all the radiators they pass by.

    Back to Nick's problem, it occurs to me a way to get some action is perhaps to motivate the kids into saving their radiators. They're the ones who'll have to care.

    One trend in big time school problems has to do with mold. Mold.

    In the recent past, schools have been tightening their building envelope, installing windows that don't open and adding forced air systems in the place of the reliable steam radiator. Now, you've got the perfect breeding ground for mold growth, a classroom full of breathing kids adds lots and lots of moisture that goes nowhere in an air tight setup. All this makes sense: if you are trying to heat with air, you need air tight rooms.

    Obviously, if the old schools had been left the way they were, many of which with large plenums fitted within the humid basement level, (which all works perfectly well with steam radiators and steam coils in the aerating ducts) then, perhaps, school boards would not have worked themselves into this new mold problem.

    But then, we wouldn't have any reasons to now demolish perfectly good buildings either.

    You may be on to something, Steamhead.
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