'Big Event' takes contractors to school

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. — Held in the ballroom of the Foxwoods Resort and casino here, the Burnham “Big Event” offered the lure of casino gambling just outside its doors. But inside, it was a sure thing selecting from its list of hydronic seminars presented by industry experts.

The Big Event was a mini-trade show put on by Burnham Corp., Lancaster, Pa. It included booth displays from several hydronic product manufacturers including Heat-Fab, Honeywell, ITT Industries, tekmar, and others, as well as several Burnham displays.

The Burnham Boilers #77 race car was there along with driver Bryan Wall and Ms. Motorsports 99 Jennifer Olsen, who held autograph sessions for their contractor admirers.

It was the seminars, however, that regularly drew packed, SRO crowds. A lot of information was there to be had, and the hydronic contractors were ready to soak it in.

The following are capsule reviews of some of the presentations.

“Converting a Steam System to Hot Water,” by Jim Roche, manger of technical training, Burnham, provided the why, when, and how to convert.

Why: Making the switch will improve the comfort level and lower operating cost, said Roche. “You’re looking at longer life for a hot water system.”

When: Convert when the customer needs a new boiler.

How: Salvage as much of the original system as possible, Roche stated.

Whether the outside temperature is -10° or 40°F, you get the same amount of steam heat, he noted. With hot water, you can modulate the heat.

For a hot water system, he continued, “Size the boiler based on the calculated heat loss. The closer you match the boiler to the heat loss, the more efficient it’s going to be.”

Change a two-pipe direct-return to a two-pipe reverse-return system. With a direct return you have to constantly adjust valves.

Divide heat loss by the installed radiation to get the maximum Btuh needed per ft of installed radiation. And don’t forget other items in the home; Roche pointed out that one installation was able to reduce heat loss by more than 40% by installing new storm windows and insulation.

Burner operation, however, is the key to efficiency. “The way you save money is not by tweaking the controls. It’s how you operate the burner,” he said. Be sure to operate the burner only when needed.

“Controls Basic Wiring” was presented by David Sweet, a marketing-training professional with Taco, Inc., Cranston, R.I.

Sweet covered the principles, terminology, and connections for low- and line-voltage wiring. He told his contractor audience to try to minimize wiring in the field. “Use point-to-point wiring.”

Zone with a circulator or zone valve. Use a switching relay with a circulator. Use a multizone control with a multiple-zone system. “We can prioritize one zone over another,” remarked Sweet.

Wiring connections to relays and controls also were illustrated and discussed.

“Using Oil Burners in Commercial and Residential Applications,” by Peter J. Cullen, national technical service manager, Carlin Combustion Technology, Inc., East Longmeadow, Mass., discussed how to set up and troubleshoot oil burners.

Newer boilers have pressure augmenters to push flue gases through the boiler, Cullen said. Most boilers now are positively pressurized.

“There are no national standards for nozzles,” he declared. There are many varieties. “In these lawsuit-happy times, you have to make sure you have the right nozzle.”

Startup and shutdown are when you generate most of your soot, he explained. Improper setup is what usually creates soot.

“Do all of your final tuning with CO2 test equipment,” stated Cullen. “Limits are so tight,” using CO2 testers “is absolutely critical.”

He noted that you can’t set up by just looking at the flame. He challenged the audience to bring him one of those big boxes of crayons that have many variations of color and tell him which color is yellow.

“Air in the oil line has got to be the number-one problem.”

Electronics can stretch the service period. “Solid-state igniters are a whole different animal,” he continued, and should make oil burners more reliable. Carlin’s testing shows you get about half the electrode wear with an igniter than with an ignition transformer.

He talked about microprocessor-based relays that have a serviceman protection reset lockout to stop the customer from resetting more than three times. He jokingly said that this was done instead of just sending 115 V to the reset button, referring again to that pesky “lawsuit thing.”

“SmartControls for SmartSystems” was the topic of Rich Simons, director of engineering for oil and gas hydronic controls, Honeywell Home and Building Control, Golden Valley, Minn.

The needs of the future for oil systems, said Simons, include pre- and post-purge to prevent sooting up. The goal is “less soot, less smell.”

Electronic controls will be used to cut down noise and reduce electrical wear. He noted that many are now going to solid-state igniters and new electronic aquastats for oil.

Honeywell is working on “low-cost home automation,” Simons remarked, to understand what is going on with the home heating system.

The needs of the future for gas systems are for an electronic aquastat such as is available with oil, and two temperature sensors so you can cross-check.

A smart valve with inducer is available that integrates the ignition and safety functions into one control.

With communications from an electronic aquastat, boiler temperature will be able to be modulated up and down based on demand.

“Residential Boiler Controls — Installation and Troubleshooting,” by Jerry McCallum, senior product specialist, ITT McDonnell & Miller, Chicago, talked about product selection as well as providing installation and troubleshooting tips.

“Probably the most confusing aspect of this industry is codes,” McCallum said. The local jurisdiction comes first.

In Connecticut, all hot water boilers now must have low-water cutoffs. Several other states have already done this. Pay attention to current local codes, he emphasized.

Low-water cutoffs are not maintenance-free, he said. Some minimal maintenance is required despite what some think.

For a float-type cutoff, the owner needs to clean the float regularly. The homeowner usually doesn’t.

It’s important to keep track of the water line. The water feeder maintains the minimum water level, not the optimum level. If condensate is slow coming back, you need to find out why.

When installing a probe-type cutoff, he recommended using pipe dope. “Stay away from Teflon tape,” he cautioned. People tend to use too much.

Make sure the tip of the probe has 1/4-in. gap minimum from the wall of the pipe. If the probe is installed with extensions, an air pocket could develop.

The voltages of the feeder and cutoff should be the same for easiest wiring and troubleshooting.

“Follow the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule” to help prevent problems, said McCallum. “Eighty-one percent of boiler incidents are caused by low-water conditions, operator error, or poor maintenance.”

“Welcome to the Radiant Revolution,” presented by Walter Tittermary, manager of training for Burnham Radiant Heating Co., gave a brief overview of the radiant field.

According to Tittermary, radiant heating has seen 30%-plus growth annually for the last seven or eight years.

A radiant job can be as simple as a single zone. One contractor did a 17-zone job as his first installation. However, Tittermary noted that radiant is primarily going into standard-size homes, not mansions.

He went through the various types of radiant installations, including concrete slab, gypcrete on wood subfloor, and staple up under a wood floor.

For new construction jobs, he urged contractors to “Be sure to get in writing what kind of floor they have.” Otherwise, if the owner suddenly changes from a hardwood floor to carpet, you have a problem.

He showed the R-values of different floors and also carpet and carpet padding. A carpet and padding can greatly increase the R-value of a hardwood floor, said Tittermary, from 0.5 to 3.4. Carpet makers have now come out with a radiant pad with a much lower R-value to address this problem.

“Different floors require different water temperatures,” he stated. If the temperatures are widely different, use different zones.

For more information on the Burnham Big Event, contact the company at 800-527-1953; 972-719-5960 (fax); www.burn ham.com (Web site).

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