Back in 1983, when Hooters restaurants began business in Florida, they made a deliberate gamble, playfully positioning the franchise as a unique, entertaining place to dine. Today, with almost 450 restaurants worldwide, the Hooters system employs over 25,000 people; about 70 percent of them are Hooters Girls.

Yet, one thing Hooters managers get serious about, and are unwilling to gamble with, are the mechanical systems that keep patrons comfortable inside.

The majority of Hooters restaurants are located in newer buildings, with up-to-date HVAC systems. The 5,000-square-foot St. Louis building is an exception. “The St. Louis Hooters building was a problem child for us,” said Robby Fichtel, national facilities manager for Hooters.

After years of operation in the building, Hooters management decided to make a change that would not only increase comfort in the old downtown building, but also curb operating costs for the aging HVAC system.

Full Speed Ahead

The building’s heating system consists of an old 1 million Btu cast-iron boiler connected to a main air handler above the dining area. Bathrooms and kitchen areas are served by four additional fan coil units of various capacities.

Adjacent to the restaurant is a large concrete parking garage with a spiral ramp to access the upper levels. Inside, the spiral is open from the ground to the top of the garage, like a huge cylindrical skylight. A 50 ton chiller occupies this space, cooling Hooters in the summer months. The previous owner of the Hooters building had an agreement with the owners of the parking garage, allowing placement of the chiller within the walls of the spiral.

“It wasn’t the best arrangement for the chiller because no modulating valves were being used,” said Jeff Durbin, general manager of the service contracting firm, American Services, St. Louis. “The chiller runs full-tilt until the thermostat temperature is reached; then it shuts off. Once it starts back up, the entire building drops 4-5°F in 10 minutes. The same goes for the boiler and fan coil units.”

The challenge at Hooters in St. Louis was described as gas pedal-operated heating and cooling, with bricks thrown at the accelerator, then quickly removed. “We needed a real controls system in the building,” said Fichtel.

Taking Control

“The old gas-fired boiler is slated for replacement within a year or two, but in the meantime, we wanted a way to make our current system more efficient,” said Fichtel. “We talked with several controls companies, but Behrmann Co., a St. Louis-based manufacturer’s rep firm, came out on top. They were eager for us to use the new Taco iWorx Web-based controls. We liked the idea, and wanted to install the system ourselves.”

The iWorx system is an easily scalable, open-protocol building management, monitoring, and control system designed specifically for the light commercial market. The system is designed to best serve buildings up to 50,000 square feet.

“What makes iWorx different from other systems is that you don’t need special tools, software, or computers to do the installation or commissioning,” explained Tom Polansky, technical service engineer at Taco.

Once wired, programs are resident in the controller. By manipulating control parameters for the specific HVAC equipment on the local control interface (LCI), engineering time is eliminated, and installation costs drop significantly. “Once a controller is wired into the system, you just push a button, and it identifies itself on the network,” continued Polansky. “No control sequences to write; no website to build.”

The controls system at Hooters consists of a main module LCI, auxiliary sensor module, and a controller for each unit. The auxiliary sensor is a global controller, reading outdoor temperature and humidity. It relays data to all the other controllers in the system. Throughout the building, there are individual controllers for each of the four fan coil units, the main air handler, the boiler, and the chiller unit in the car port.

So Far, So Good

“Of all the controls systems we’ve used, the Taco iWorx system has been the simplest and easiest to install,” said Durbin.

“Hooters was our first iWorx installation, and it still went in faster than all of the other control systems would have, even though we were familiar with the other controls systems. Like any new technology, there was some learning involved, but we were able to power through that easily.”

Now that the system at Hooters is online, anyone with a Web browser and a password — even a smartphone with the proper app — can monitor or change the settings in the building. Managers at Hooters have the option of doing this on their own, or they can leave the task of system management up to American Services.

The system can also send preventative maintenance and service emails so that conditions are closely monitored, allowing problems to be solved before they arise.

As different components of the HVAC system get replaced, they are easily interfaced with the iWorx system. Although the old boiler is compatible with iWorx, the newer the equipment is, the more comprehensive the relationship between the unit and its controller, even further boosting efficiency and controllability.

“The project started shortly after the New Year and wrapped up two weeks later,” said Behrmann’s Walt Steiner. “We were delighted to see how smoothly the system was installed and became operational. The installation went very well for American Services and now the Hooters facility has a comfort solution that’s exceeding all expectations.”

Publication date: 5/27/2013 

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