Creating a Hands-on Hydronics Lab
Donated equipment offers students a high-tech experience
Manufacturers of HVAC equipment are a charitable bunch, often lending a hand after weather-related and natural disasters, as well as offering their expertise to national and local charities. They are particularly generous when it comes to supporting trade schools and vocational training programs that count on their donations of HVAC equipment in order to provide a hands-on experience for their students.
This experience is important, as budding HVAC technicians need to demonstrate their ability to work on actual boilers, furnaces, and heat pumps before they can be entrusted with a customer’s heating or cooling system. By donating equipment to trade schools and vocational training programs, manufacturers demonstrate their dedication to educating the next generation of HVAC professionals
One recipient of manufacturers’ largesse is Lincoln Technical Institute, Union, New Jersey, which recently revealed its state-of-the-art heating mechanical room. The new lab replaces a previous facility that housed old, heavily used hydronic equipment in a configuration that was not conducive to learning, said Lincoln Tech’s HVACR program supervisor, Nick Lombardi. “The new layout is much neater, with less piping clutter, so it’s easier for the students to understand.”
The new lab took three months to install, including the teardown and disposal of previous equipment, and features brand-new equipment from Peerless Boilers, including a Series MI™ cast-iron, gas-fired, hot water boiler; a Series WBV™ oil-fired, hot water boiler; a Purefire® gas-fired condensing boiler; and a Series 63™ gas-fired steam boiler. Caleffi Hydronic Solutions donated the hydronic hardware for each boiler.
In addition to the generosity of the manufacturers, Lombardi noted that the entire Lincoln Tech community was instrumental in creating the new lab.
“Our instructor, Joe Lotruglio, really put the wheels in motion for this project and is our go-to heating guy, and our HVAC Elite students volunteered countless hours to get the lab set up.”
Lincoln Tech instructors John Constantelos and Rick Ruscigno also worked hard — not only helping set up the lab but using their extensive heating and plumbing expertise to create the revised curriculum, which will help students get the most from the donated equipment. Some of the hydronic procedures that students will be able to perform include boiler filling and air purging, circulator replacement, expansion tank draining, tank pressure tests, temperature adjustments, zone valve troubleshooting, lock out/tag out, and fire and burn safety issues, just to name a few. “That’s not even taking into account the procedures they will be able to do on the fire- and control-side of the equipment,” said Lombardi.
Working with the manufacturers, as well as installing the new equipment, was relatively easy, noted Lombardi, who said that the new layout was designed to be student proof and instructor friendly. More difficult will be the maintenance and upkeep of the equipment over the next few years, as major equipment in the lab normally only lasts about five to eight years before it reaches a point of disrepair.
That equipment will definitely be put to good use, though, and Lombardi plans on expanding the lab even more.
“We would love to get more units that are actually mobile, so they can be pulled out and spun around in multiple positions, so students can better practice their installation skills.”
Manufacturers are often happy to donate equipment to qualified schools and training programs for several reasons. First, they want to ensure a steady supply of technicians are properly trained to install and service their equipment, and second, they want to make sure those budding technicians are familiar with their particular brand.
“ECR Intl. Inc. feels it is important to have our equipment in front of new potential installers and service providers so that once they are in the field, they have seen the brand, and they can make a connection to the company that manufactured the equipment,” said Scott Dam, technical service manager, ECR Intl. Inc.
To that end, ECR not only donates gas and oil boilers, hydronic boiler controls, and air conditioning units to a variety of training institutions, it offers students the opportunity to visit its factories, so they can see firsthand the engineering and manufacturing side of the HVAC industry.
“Many local schools take advantage of this opportunity, which gives the students the chance to see this side of the industry,” said Dam.
Weil-McLain also donates boilers to schools that meet its rigorous vetting process.
“We choose schools to partner with based on numerous factors, including enrollment numbers, location, and the role hydronics play in the broader HVAC educational program,” said Jason Krantz, director of business analytics and insights, Marley Engineered Products/Weil-McLain. “We also consider the long-term vision of the program manager and how we can help bring that vision to fruition.”
For example, one school Krantz recently worked with was looking for guidance in creating an elite level HVAC training facility.
“We worked with the program manager to identify the equipment that was needed to accomplish this goal,” he said. “We settled on a mix of residential standard and high-efficiency boilers along with a commercial high-efficiency boiler, giving them a very solid balance of hydronic products. By going through this process with the program manager, we received clarity on exactly how the school planned to integrate the equipment into its training protocol, and we were able to help them build a truly impressive hydronics lab.”
Creating a high-tech hydronics lab can be challenging, as there are numerous types of equipment to which students should be exposed. This includes oil- and gas-fired equipment, as well as mechanical panels with access to all key functions of system control, said Rich McNally, sales manager of the Eastern region, Watts Water Technologies. “It would also be good for the panel to have a variety of components and circulators.”
In addition, a well-appointed lab should have an assortment of heat emitters, noted McNally, including baseboard, hydronic fan coil, radiant heat or floor-warming, snow-melt, wall or ceiling panels, low-temp panels, and/or towel warmers.
“Having a variety of tubing to work with — such as PEX, PERT, Onix EPDM [ethylene propylene diene monomer] synthetic rubber, composite pipe such as PEX-al- PEX, copper, and iron — would also be good,” he said. “The lab might also feature electric floor heating or higher voltage outdoor snow-melting technologies.”
A well-designed lab should also feature a solid balance of both standard (cast iron) and high-efficiency products across both residential and commercial applications, said Krantz. “Many labs just want to focus on high-efficiency products, but a vast majority of the residential hydronic install base is cast iron, meaning at some point in time, these students must be familiar with the nuances of a standard-efficiency boiler. To let the students fully experience everything involved in real-world residential and commercial hydronic applications, labs should also have robust loops built with gauges, pumps, valves, etc.”
Unfortunately, budget constraints often result in outdated hydronics labs that do not feature current technology.
“All the instructors I have dealt with work hard to offer a quality program to their students,” said Dam. “However, too many times we hear that the budgets are reduced or the equipment is wearing out, and they do not have funds to spend on new equipment.
“Many times, schools will even utilize old equipment that has been removed from the basement,” he continued. “This may be great for service training, but these units may not have the latest in controls and technology for students to see what is available to the market today.”
As a result, many schools fall short in offering students a state-of-the-art hydronics lab, said McNally, but that’s where manufacturers can make a difference.
“Most schools do an incredible job preparing young people for good careers,” he said. “I can’t imagine a manufacturer that wouldn’t want to donate products and technology to help advance the trade. They should do whatever they can to support these schools.”
Publication date: 10/30/2017