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The $37 million steam trap

HeatingHelp Administrator Posts: 634
edited August 2019 in THE MAIN WALL

The $37 million steam trap

Here’s to preventative maintenance, a practice often overlooked.

Read the full story here


  • johnlobb
    johnlobb Member Posts: 22
    In the middle '00's, I was working in Ann Arbor, MI repairing and replacing the steam traps in the Stephen Marsh building at the University of Michigan. Marsh was known as "the boy governor" . He served Michigan in the middle 1800's.This is a main campus building. Most of the traps were small 1/2" thermostatic traps on the outside wall fin tubing and radiators. But, in the basement there were some larger F & T main traps and those were replaced as well. In one corner of the basement (and they used almost every square inch of this building) there was a electronics lab. Against one of the walls I noticed some steam piping disappearing into the wall. With a little more investigation, I found a cover installed in the wall that hid a small 4'X4' hole in the wall, a small tunnel. I finally jimmied the cover off, and explored the space. About 10' back in the tunnel was a 1" F & T, that when I finally got up next to it was blowing steam right through it. I wonder how long that had been going on? And I also wonder how much it had cost the U of M for energy to pay for all that steam being wasted? John Lobbestael
  • John Ruhnke
    John Ruhnke Member Posts: 882
    I see this as a $37 million dollar mistake for hiring the wrong contractor. Dan mentioned in this article that a contractor used sealant. He was careless in the way he applied it. It moved through the system and plugged two steam traps. So hiring the lowest bidder, I am just going to assume he was the lowest bidder, cost the city of NY $37 million dollars. HMMMMMMMMM.

    Often I found myself bidding on jobs and the potential client would proclaim "Why are you so expensive? So and So is willing to do the same job for half the price." I would say "That is less than my material costs." So obviously he is not doing the same job." I would then ask to see the contract and often find items needed to make the job work properly missing or cheap products often to be buried in the walls that were sure to cause problems in the future. I would talk about why my design would make the project safer and more comfortable. Some people could see the value and they paid me. Some couldn't and they hired the lowest bidder.

    When you add up all the time I spent on my education, which was full of seminars, trade shows, visiting here on Dan's wall, a strong network of experts that I rely on for information that is all worth something. I charge extra for that something. From all I learned, I learned extra added safety measures and comfort measures that make the job take longer.

    So sometimes paying more for the better contractor will save you money in the long run. All I know is that if the City of NY hired a better contractor they could have saved themselves $37 million dollars!!! worth of damage.
    I am the walking Deadman
    Hydronics Designer
    Hydronics is the most comfortable and energy efficient HVAC system.
    STEAM DOCTOR Member Posts: 1,943
    Get this all the time. Why are you so expensive? I tell the customer that I am not more expensive. A 2019 Lamborghini is not more expensive then a 94 Ford Taurus. It's more valuable. Paying Lamborghini prices for a Ford, that's expensive. Paying Lamborghini prices for a Lamborghini, that's value.
    STEAM DOCTOR Member Posts: 1,943
    You have to explain to customers that you are more valuable, not more expensive
  • Woody_S
    Woody_S Member Posts: 12
    I tell customers that "we will do it right or not at all". If you want someone else who is less expensive to do it, go ahead. We will come back later to fix it right, and make even more money, because it's always more money to do it over, than to do it right the first time.
  • jhrost
    jhrost Member Posts: 57
    After reading that I have a better idea of the why and how of these explosions. It reminds of a series I saw called "Life After People" which looked at various types of infrastructure and how quickly they break down without constant attention and maintenance by people. It is sort of human nature I think to forget about something after it has been fixed thinking it will last forever, and then being surprised and disappointed when it fails at some point.