Michael Richardson had a problem that was driving him and everyone else in the Raytown School District maintenance department crazy.
“It was the science wing of one of the high schools,” recalls Richardson, the district’s director of Buildings and Grounds. “There are 10 classrooms in that wing and we were getting six or seven calls a day complaining that it was too hot or too cold.”
Raytown, MO, a suburb of Kansas City, supports 18 schools. The building wing in question was fairly new, built in 1992, but the zone control system had never worked right since the HVAC contractor had installed it.
“It operated on pneumatics, opening and closing the vents to the individual rooms on demand,” explains Steve Atkin, head HVAC technician. “But the contractor had never gotten it to work right. So we were always sending maintenance guys to the rooms. If it was too hot, all they could do was turn off the heat. Then they’d have to return two or three hours later to turn the heat back on. The same with air-conditioning. In the spring and fall, we were averaging six to seven calls a day. We had one rooftop unit for every two classrooms. We looked into replacing them, but the cost was prohibitive.”
A Solution for Light Commercial Applications
Then the school board approved a three-year plan to replace old systems with heat pumps in 15 buildings, and the science wing became priority one.
“We checked out several alternatives,” notes Richardson. “Everything we found cost between $35,000 and $40,000. It was just too much money to spend on a relatively new system. Then we asked our HVACR distributor for his opinion and he recommended network thermostats.”
Fred Schoen, the branch manager for distributor Geo Enterprises in Buffalo, MO, adds, “Raytown schools didn’t need to replace their rooftop units in that wing. They just needed to be able to control them. I suggested instead of controlling the vents, why not control the heating and air-conditioning systems themselves. I had been carrying a line of network thermostats and had supplied them to another school district in Cameron. They had used them successfully to remotely manage geo exchange systems in two buildings, one existing and one new.”
“It looked like the ideal solution to our immediate problem in the science wing,” says Richardson. “Fred explained that we could install them ourselves and the price for thermostats, sensors, and controllers was only $4,500. That was a significant savings over the other options. We decided to treat the science wing as a beta site for the rest of the project and went ahead with the thermostats to determine how well they worked.”
System Fills a Need
The idea of network thermostats is relatively new. Grapevine, TX-based XCI Corp. (www.xcicorp.com) introduced its first product in 1995. Currently, the company offers four lines of network thermostats, a variety of remote sensors, and three network controllers for any size installation. Recently, XCI has added Internet and LAN access to its systems.
Notes XCI Founder and CEO Jerry Drew, “There was a serious need for something that could fill the void between individual thermostats and expensive building automation systems. I reasoned that there had to be a market out there in high-end residential and light commercial like schools, banks, retail, churches, and so forth – areas where the cost of BAS could not be justified. I came up with the idea of networking thermostats and controlling them through a personal computer. I put my years of high reliability engineering experience to work and before I knew it, I was in business. We introduced our first network thermostat product at the Home Automation Association Show (now the CEDIA Show) in 1995.”
Ease of Installation and Operation
Atkin vouches for the system’s ease of installation.
“It took two technicians two days to install 10 sensors, six thermostats, and the controller that connected to our LAN system,” he says. “And now that we have done a few, it won’t take nearly that long in the future. All the wiring we had to do was pull one wire to each thermostat, a CAT 5 communications wire. We installed the controller in a utilities closet and ran the communications wires from it to each room. A LAN adaptor connected the controller to our Ethernet system, which connects to our computer in the maintenance offices. The thermostat wires were already in the walls. To hook up the stats and the sensors was just a matter of connecting two wires.”
In this installation where two classrooms share one rooftop unit, one room had a thermostat installed and the other a sensor. “It’s a master/
slave arrangement,” explains Schoen. “The system averages the readings from both rooms and turns on the heat or chilled air as needed and supplies both rooms.”
Modernizing with Copper Fire Sprinkler Systems
The need for installing all-copper fire sprinkler systems when renovating high-value residential and commercial properties was underscored at a seminar held recently at the Restoration & Renovation Conference in Baltimore. Invited speakers from the Copper Development Association (CDA), based in New York City, cited numerous reasons why copper systems are critical for remodeling or restoring structures with historic value and for buildings that contain furnishings or collections that cannot be replaced following a disastrous fire.
“Copper is not just the preferred material for fire sprinkler systems in structures with particular importance, it’s often the only plumbing material that should be used,” explained Andrew Kireta Jr., CDA’s national program manager for Tube, Pipe & Fittings. “Copper is flexible and lightweight, so it’s less intrusive than steel pipe systems, which are ugly to look at, difficult to work with, and can result in considerable structural and interior damage during installation. And when fires do happen, copper systems deliver clean water, even if the system has never been flushed – unlike the rusty, sometimes black water from steel pipe systems that can ruin interiors and furnishings. For valuable or historic buildings or museums, that can be a disaster in itself.”
Kireta also stressed another copper advantage, noting that it is not vulnerable to open flame and will not emit toxic fumes when exposed to fire. All-copper systems can withstand heat up to 2,000 degrees F., and copper has a long-standing record of reliability in commercial and industrial fire safety, he added.
For a variety of CDA resources and references, visit the association’s website, (http://piping.copper.org).
Research: Continuous Commissioning of Building Systems
Avoidance of poorly installed HVAC systems is best accomplished at the close of construction by having a building and its systems put “through their paces” with a well-conducted commissioning process. Methods For Automated And Continuous Commissioning Of Building Systems, a new research report released from Arlington, VA-based Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Technology Institute’s 21st Century Research (ARTI 21-CR) program, is focused on developing key components to enable the development of tools that will automatically detect and correct equipment operating problems, thus providing continuous and automatic commissioning of the HVAC systems throughout the life of a facility.
A study of pervasive operating problems revealed the most benefit would be gained from automated and continuous commissioning to address:
1) Faulty economizer operation.
2) Malfunctioning sensors.
3) Malfunctioning valves and dampers.
4) Access to project design data.
Methodologies for detecting system operation faults in these areas were developed and validated through “bare-bones” form within standard software such as spreadsheets, databases, statistical programs, or mathematical packages. Demonstrations included flow diagrams and simplified mock-up applications. Techniques to manage data were demonstrated by illustrating how test forms could be populated with original design information and the recommended sequence of operation for equipment systems.
Proposed tools would use measured data, design data, and equipment operating parameters to diagnose system problems. Steps for future research are suggested to help practical application of automated commissioning and its high potential to improve equipment availability, increase occupant comfort, and extend the life of system equipment.
This final report can be downloaded at no charge from the ARTI website (www.arti-21cr.org).
Fighting Superbugs From the Ground Up
Tests by an independent laboratory have shown that Altro High Performance Safety flooring inhibits the growth of a superbug. Superbug Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) is a strain of the common staph bacteria that has become resistant to conventional antibiotics. Because MRSA infections are very difficult to treat, it poses a serious risk of infection in hospitals.
“The product’s intent is to stop cross infection by putting an antimicrobial in the floor,” says Nicholas Fincham, marketing manager-North America, Altro (www.altrofloors.com), Mississauga, ON, Canada. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 80,000 patients a year become infected with MRSA after entering the hospital. To prevent the spread of germs, hospitals need hygienic surfaces.
Widely used in healthcare facilities, Altro High Performance Flooring is currently reviewing the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) guidelines by the U.S. Green Building Council. “You have to go back to the source, which is the manufacturing process and how you make the floor. Our manufacturing process is very clean and probably the most modern in Europe,” says Fincham. The company invented safety flooring over 50 years ago and has set the standard for safety ever since.