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Standing back from ISH - Dan H.

DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 16,400
I’ll be heading to ISH in Frankfurt during the last week of March with a group of 40 friends from NAOHSM. This will be my seventh time there. ISH gives me a chance to think like a European Wethead for a week and to poke around the show and whatever buildings I can wheedle my way into to look at radiators and pipes and boilers. I’m forever comparing and contrasting what I see there to what I see in America. The show is marvelous but you really need to stand back from it to see it properly. You have to get out into the field to fully understand the subtitles of European hydronics. So that’s what I always do.

Ten years ago, I was out in the field talking to a German engineer on a jobsite and he told me that when East Germany joined the rest of the world, the West discovered a number of old steam heating systems. These systems horrified the Westerners and they immediately passed laws forbidding their repair or replacement. Soon, they had all been replaced with modern hydronics.

While this was going on, the Western engineers and installers got to meet their Eastern counterparts. The folks from the East were mechanics who could fix anything. These chewing-gum-and-duct-tape East Germans fascinated the Westerners. The former Communists had grown up without access to most parts. They had to make the systems work with whatever was at hand. They were true junkyard warriors and no one in the East knew what to do with these people.

And the more they thought about it, the more they realized that Western Europe had developed heating technicians while Eastern Europe had developed heating mechanics. Technicians replace; mechanics fix. That’s the difference.

And I learned that American Wetheads are much closer to the Easterners in this way. Our installers and service people and engineers have to deal with both modern and ancient systems. The German technicians I spoke with back then couldn’t believe that our people actually wire controls on the job. They were in awe of that and saw it as an enviable talent. For them, controls are all plug and play, black box stuff. You don’t think about it; you just plug it in and leave.

Getting out into the field made me realize that because of our old equipment, we’re more creative than they are.

I visited many factories on that trip and other trips that followed. I was having lunch with a Dr. Jager who worked for Viessmann, the world-class boiler manufacturer. I asked about the heat-loss-calculation software that the German designers use for residential work. He gave me a confused look and said that European installers don't do heat-loss calculations. They just install a certain size boiler in a certain size house and let the reset controller and the thermostatic radiator valves (both of which German law requires) do the rest. I explained to Dr. Jager that we typically do a similar thing in America, but without the benefit of reset controls or TRVs. “Hey, this looks like a six-section job to me, Joe. What do you think?” And Joe says, “Close enough, Bill. It ain’t fine carpentry!”

Dr. Jager also told me that decorative panel radiators (which are absolutely everywhere at ISH) were strictly a luxury item and not at all widespread in the real world. You get just the opposite impression if you stay within the aisles of the show. This may have changed in the past 10 years, I’ll ask when I’m there in March, but it sure was an eye-opener in 1993. It’s good to get out of the show.

I then visited with some engineers from Buderus, the other world-class German boiler manufacturer. I asked about old chimneys (of which Europe has many) and leaned that stainless-steel, ceramic or glass chimney liners were required by law, but when the gross stack temperature is above 400 degrees F., the homeowner can get away with the old chimney without using a liner. This was 10 years ago and Buderus had internal bypass baffles inside their boilers. By removing certain baffles, you could raise the gross stack temperature by degrees, while lowering the boiler’s efficiency. Saves you the price of the liner.

We do a similar, but opposite, thing here on Long Island with our old American Standard Arcoliners. To improve efficiency, open that wide-swinging front door and install a case of crushed beer cans. This Bud’s for flue!

I got together with Priez Contracting on a residential job they had just completed. It was a nice-looking house in the suburbs of Frankfurt. There were steel column-type radiators, flat-panel radiators, and in the baths, towel warmers. Yum! There was also a fan-driven convector beneath the edge of the floor in the two-story, glass-walled living room. Cathedral ceiling. No radiant. You won’t see that at the show.

The mains on this job were surprisingly large and there was a gravity-bypass line around the circulator. I asked about this and the owner told me that it was there in case the circulator failed. Remember gravity hot water heat? It’s back in the suburbs of Frankfurt.

There was also a differential pressure regulator at the discharge of that circulator to accept the excess pump pressure when the thermostatic radiator valves closed.

The gas-fired boiler had a 4-way valve to protect against cold return water. This was particularly interesting because many of the European boilers are sold in America on their ability to withstand cold return water temperatures, which they can. This particular European contractor, however, wasn’t buying it. Sound familiar?

The contractor used flexible stainless-steel hose to connect his boiler to his indirect domestic water heater. He also used a bronze recirculation pump with a timer on the domestic hot water. All the connections throughout the system were welded steel.
I asked about radiant heat (thinking about that atrium living room) and he mentioned high first costs and possible leaks. This was in March, 1993. I’d love to run into him again and ask him the same questions today.

One of the contractors I met talked about how Europeans are satisfied to do what they do well. He said that they don’t try to climb the ladder like we do. If someone is a waiter, or a pool superintendent, or a heating engineer, he strives to be the very best at that job, and that’s good enough. This fellow spoke of how, in metal shop, the teacher made him file for weeks until he could "feel" the metal. “It’s like samurai training,” he said.

Be the file.

On my way to ISH 1999, I detoured through beautiful Denmark where the wind spins big whooping windmills and powers the country. I visited two Danfoss factories. I watched them make thermostatic radiator valves and fuel oil nozzles and I got to meet the Nozzle Man, a fellow named Knud Mölholm who lives to make nozzles. This guy was so enthusiastic that I thought his eyeballs were going to pop into my coffee cup. I get excited when people love what they do, and this guy was absolutely passionate about nozzles. See? Life doesn’t have to be complicated.

Be the nozzle.

The point of all this being, you have to get out in the field and visit the job sites, the factories, and the people of Europe if you want to understand what they’re doing over there. Which brings me to this.

The folks who run Plumbing & Mechanical and PMEngineer magazine, along with the passionate people at Viega, have put together a tour of ISH with all sorts of interesting side trips. This happens during the last week of March, 2003. You can get all the details by calling Lois Brooks at Stadler Viega. Her phone number is 800-370-3122. Or drop her an email: [email protected].

Every American Wethead should see ISH at least once. It’s a trip that will change the way you see the world of heating, air-conditioning, plumbing and a host of other things. ISH is huge and magnificent and unlike anything you’ve ever seen in the US.

But if you go, get out into the field. That’s what PM/PME and Viega are planning to do. Get out there and pick the brains of the engineers and the contractors. Watch how they make things. Look at the beautiful countryside in early spring and notice the way they warm their hotels, their restaurants, and their homes. Pay attention to everything, and learn.

That’s the way to do it.

Happy Thanksgiving. Thanks for all that you do for us.

Hug your kids.

Retired and loving it.


  • Paul Rohrs
    Paul Rohrs Member Posts: 357
    Ich Bin ein Hydronic

    I am trying hard not to be envious of your upcoming trip. I was stationed in Germany for 2 years and it was a great experience for me. In the US Army, I wore several hats, but hydronics was not a word in my vocabulary. If I knew then what I love doing now, what a journey that would have been. I was stationed in Wildflecken- 80 miles NE of Frankfurt, which was then the East-German border. The barracks I lived in (in the mountains) was the original 1920 barracks that the SS troops trained at. The rooms had the original strawplaster ceiling and one large flat panel radiator. We never had the ability to adjust the temperature because there was no thermostat, but we were always comfortable come to think of it. Oh, to go back for a while.


  • Mark Hunt
    Mark Hunt Member Posts: 4,909
    I hope

    this gets printed in P&M.

    Life is a circle!!!

    Have fun Dan!

    Happy Thanksgiving!!

    Mark H

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