In the 1920’s, there is no doubt that steam heating was king in apartment buildings and high rises throughout New York and other parts of the country. The boilers were all fired by coal which was abundant, and cheap, if not a dirty and back breaking affair when it came to shoveling it into the boiler or cleaning out the ashes.
But in the 1930’s the cost of coal soared and the switch to oil heating was on. Oil was cheaper, cleaner to deal with (relatively speaking), no damper regulator was required to control the fire, and it worked with this amazing thing called a thermostat, that controlled the firing of the boiler automatically! Magic!
The problem was that in all those buildings designed with vent-work for coal heated systems, oil (and gas) heating behave differently. Coal burns for hours and hours, creating a slight pressure that is constant. With this near-constant pressure, steam was always pushing at the air, nudging it from the main vents and the radiator vents. The only time the pressure dropped was when the coal fire died down which it only did very gradually (if at all). But with oil heating, the thermostat could shut the burner off almost instantly when target temperatures were reached. It shut the burner off before most of the air was out of the steam mains, preventing the ready flow of steam into the system leaving buildings with hot and cold spots.
Fast forward 90 years, and steam heating is still going strong in many older urban buildings across the country though almost all have converted to oil or natural gas or city steam heating at this point. The original problems of coal fired buildings were solved by many innovators with the introduction of concepts like “dry steam,” enlarged main vents, and master venting. With these innovations steam was able to move through these old buildings at high speed, and the resulting systems were balanced with only a few ounces of pressure at the boiler, and the burners did not short cycle.
Taking Steam Heating Efficiency to the Next Level
While hot water may be the preferred heating method for new buildings, recent studies show that over 82% of NYC buildings over 50,000 square feet use a form of steam heating*. Getting these steam systems to work efficiently was (and still is) a long and slow evolution, but now these systems can be made to work well with both fuel oil and natural gas sources. The challenge is that for a given heating load, a steam-based system will consume much more fuel than a hot water system even though it uses both a boiler and external pumps, producing more greenhouse emissions as a consequence.
Thus the next frontier for steam systems, is undoubtedly boiler control using an advanced heating control like the Heat-Timer® Platinum Series MPC, to take boiler and fuel management to the next level while maintaining comfort.
What does the Heat-Timer® Platinum MPC Do?
The MPC Platinum control Series can be configured to operate a steam boiler or a steam valve to using both steam outdoor reset and multiple wireless space sensor feedback. Utilizing the steam cycle concept and the outdoor temperature, the control varies the duration of the steam supply to the building in a cycle based on the outdoor temperature as well as aggregate analysis of space sensors in all areas of the building. The advanced computer hardware and software in this heating control actually “learns” the thermal loss characteristics of all areas of the building and its control software synthesizes this into anticipatory boiler control signals that run them far less often and more evenly than any other heating control system available today. The control also acts as a reporting hub for other sensors like feedwater, sump pump and stack sensors, allowing even better management of alarms and heating issues, heading off problems before they become big problems.
Another major benefit of the internet enabled Platinum MPC, is its complete ability to be monitored and controlled remotely. Preprogrammed alarms hit your email inbox or phone text message. All heating set-points can be easily changed through our internet portal, or mobile app. Reports and tiered alerts can be configured to be delivered to both technicians and management. Standardize your property portfolio around Heat-Timer® controls and you can have one central website portal that shows you all your building locations, boiler rooms, and boilers. Best of all, the control is future proof in the sense that it embraces industry standard BACnet and Modbus protocols for integration to a 3rd party building management system.
Customers using the Heat-Timer® Platinum MPC Control with Internet features have shown monthly savings of 15% to 30%. For a mid-sized apartment building, that can translate into tens of thousands of dollars a month, as well as allowing you to preserve and extend the life of your steam based heating system in a way that is much greener, and lowers carbon emissions significantly.
Bring your steam heating into the 21st century. Contact a Heat-Timer® expert today.
A special thanks to Dan Holohan of Radiant & Hydronics for his wonderful history of advancements in steam heating. You can read his treatment here.
* From the Greener Greater Buildings Plan at http://www.nyc.gov/html/gbee/downloads/pdf/greener_greater_buildings_plan.pdf