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Looking for input on conventional technologies that can be leveraged for emissions reductions

I am working on putting together a presentation on how to upgrade typical Pre war construction buildings in Chicago.... typical multi-unit, 3 story brick bearing wall buildings that are steam heated...using well proven conventional technologies. My targeted venue is the Engineering Department at the Illinois Institute of Technology, with guests from the engineering and architecture departments at University of Chicago, Loyola, Northwestern, DE Paul, University of Illinois-Chicago, along with practicing architects and engineers and utility company representatives.
My inspiration has come from the ridiculous direction it appears New York City is heading with thier programs to reduce emissions and trying to prevent that from happening in Chicago and other cities. Fortunately the state mandated energy savings programs in Illinois are mostly focused in this direction already, but I still hear of and see lots of money spent on systems that end up with higher emissions and energy costs than the systems they replaced.

The outline:

Thermal improvements:
Top floor attic air sealing and insulation
Low E glass storm windows
Other air sealing
Exterior wall insulation on non-architectural walls ( back and sides) with drivit type systems
LED lighting

Steam Systems:

The basics: fixing leaks, boiler maintenance and tuning, boiler sizing, pipe insulation, main venting, radiator venting, control setups, steam traps

Mid level system upgrades: TRV's, Pressure controlled modulating power burners

Advanced upgrades: Orificing one and two pipe steam systems for radiation size reductions and therefore boiler size reductions for more efficient boiler operation and steam trap elimination. Restoring or converting to naturally induced or mechanical vacuum operation for both one pipe ( air line upgrades) and two pipe steam, Outdoor reset for steam heating.....pressure and vacuum systems with modulating boiler or stage fired boiler heating plants.

Addition of Heat pump technology to existing buildings: "Both/And " instead of "Either/Or" approach of using conventional fired systems with heat pump technology. Benefits of using conventional thermal improvements to reduce costs of heat pump technology.

My focus is to point out the much more cost effective methods of dealing with emissions-climate change and energy waste that are well proven and can ultimately make any potential future change to other heating source much less costly.
From my initial look into studies and running some basic calculations, thermal improvements alone would probably allow most buildings to hit a 30% reduction in emissions ( the savings are both winter heating and summer cooling). Basic steam system improvements are usually good for 10 to 15% reduction in fuel use, upgrading from oversized atmospherics to modulating power burners is about 35% reduction in fuel usage. These items alone would add up to about a 60% reduction in energy use and emissions. This would make the cost of adding heat pumps much less costly and using heat pumps only for the baseload ( where they are most efficient) and letting the conventional system to kick in during extreme loads, would increase this 60% reduction up to 96% reduction in emissions, assuming the heat pumps are powered from a zero emissions energy source. The building and grid would also only need about 1/2 the power required compared to a full heat pump conversion. This technique, which it appears the Germans are targeting, makes a lot of sense.

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  • Hot_water_fan
    Hot_water_fan Member Posts: 521
    edited June 23
    Is the DHW centralized? Drain water heat recovery would have ridiculously quick payback with multi-units.

    AC market share is high in Chicago correct? The both/and approach works great in that situation.
  • The Steam Whisperer
    The Steam Whisperer Member Posts: 923
    DHW is centralized...drain heat recovery is something I had forgotten about. AC is not that common in multi-units yet... mostly window units. But my thoughts are the same as yours about the efficacy of using the both/and approach if adding AC to a unit.
    To learn more about this professional, click here to visit their ad in Find A Contractor.
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 16,288
    I would add combustion analysis and burner cleaning and adjusting to the list
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
  • fentonc
    fentonc Member Posts: 98
    I found this to be a simple and interesting idea (and I worked for one of the founders in grad school): https://www.radiatorlabs.com/the-cozy - somewhat similar to a TRV, I think, it's an insulated cover that goes around a radiator that includes a thermostat-controlled fan. Tenants can just set the thermostat and it acts accordingly (so long as sufficient steam heat is available). For steam-heated multi-unit buildings, not having tenants opening up their windows because they're roasting seems like an enormous opportunity for both improving tenant comfort and reducing energy costs.
  • Larry Weingarten
    Larry Weingarten Member Posts: 2,545
    Hi, If we're looking at gas here, a large hurdle to overcome is that gas distribution systems leak on average 4% of the gas before it gets to your side of the meter. It's a problem that's coming home to roost for gas companies.

    Yours, Larry
  • The Steam Whisperer
    The Steam Whisperer Member Posts: 923
    Yes, Chicago is basically 100% natural gas. They are renovating the gas infrastructure in the city proper right now. They have found wooden gas lines still in use...so basically we are dealing with 70 years of deferred maintenance and capital improvements. And they are charging the customers for these decades of mismanagement and profit taking and making record breaking profits the last few years.
    To learn more about this professional, click here to visit their ad in Find A Contractor.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 18,924

    Hi, If we're looking at gas here, a large hurdle to overcome is that gas distribution systems leak on average 4% of the gas before it gets to your side of the meter. It's a problem that's coming home to roost for gas companies.

    Yours, Larry

    There are some really fascinating remote sensing (both airborne and satellite) systems which are coming on line to locate gas leaks -- not only are they a waste of gas, but methane (natural gas) is a pretty powerful climate warmer. I believe that Chevron, for instance, is doing a lot of work along these lines. Not so much in the residential distribution side of things, but in the collection and transmission side of things.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 15,331
    edited June 27
    @The Steam Whisperer , feel free to use info from our Find a Contractor ad.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    STEAM DOCTOR Member Posts: 1,485
    Proper boiler piping (bit of investment but should pay for itself in right set of circumstances). Clean boiler water. Nothing like trying to heat through layers of sludge. Properly treated and monitored water quality. 
    STEAM DOCTOR Member Posts: 1,485
    Adjust the pressuretrol
  • Zman
    Zman Member Posts: 7,330
    On the steam side, TRVs, modulating burners, and general recommissioning seem like home runs. Maybe even zone valves on the steam rads instead of TRVs? (that one is above my paygrade :D )
    I also think that a VRF central heat pump system might be a good fit for AC and heating on the many days that are way above the design day temp.

    With the steam/VRF setup, a building-wide DDC system would be a winner, it would take the user out of the equation. The system would know the room temp and would see the user's adjustment of the t-stat as a "request". The system would decide how warm or cold it will allow the unit to be and decide when the steam/VRF cut-in/out would occur.

    So many old buildings would benefit from recommissioning and automation rather than a complete overhaul. I always liked Henry Giffords approach of observing which windows are open on a cold day to diagnose heating systems. A typical tenant won't complain the space is too hot out of fear that the super will "fix" the problem by turning off the heat.

    When speaking with engineers/legislators about this kind of thing, I find it helpful to share stories and observations from the field. They are already convinced that they are smarter than you (they are not), what you have to offer is decades of real-world experiences and observations. Make sure they know that you understand the math side but lead the conversation with stories. "I understand why you are considering that approach, let me share a story about the XYZ building...."

    I always like to remind the "electrify everything" cult that there is a breakpoint where the heat pump running at low COPs actually uses more fossil fuels than a properly tuned natural gas boiler. That point depends on the percentage of renewables feeding the grid and the efficiency of the power plants.
    "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough"
    Albert Einstein