Boiler Connectivity, Controls Integration Continue To Gain Steam
Manufacturers talk trends in the hydronics arena
As HVAC products and home appliances get “smarter,” so too is the boiler — although perhaps with less flash and bang than the smart thermostat, smart doorbell, smartphone, or the new smart furniture that’s hitting the market. (Smart sofa, anyone? It’s a thing.)
“In general, this is not the iPhone industry,” said Dan Moffroid, director of product management of Bosch Thermotechnology. “The boiler industry doesn’t change on a six- to 12-month schedule.”
Continuing trends include a focus on connectivity and the user interface, and control-side integration.
“So there’s a bit more focus on how people interact with their heating system — not only the boiler product itself, but really the customer experience of heating the home, and some [focus] technology-wise,” he said.
Connectivity, integration on the control side, and improving the user interface are ongoing trends in the boiler industry.
“The boiler, I would say, is not getting smarter,” said Moffroid. “It is a system for heating the water. What is getting smarter are the controls for heating the water: the capability to connect with the outside world to do monitoring, remote controlling. We’re going the direction where the boiler is part of a home ecosystem that is controlled off of an app.”
On the hydronic heating side, Bosch offers the Control 8000, a Wi-Fi-enabled controller that can connect to a BMS and allows the user to monitor and control a commercial system remotely. This helps maximize efficiency, minimize downtime, perform preventative maintenance, and respond to other appliances, with the overall target to be more efficient, Moffroid said — and a large touchscreen display makes it more intuitive to use.
“The Internet of Things continues to become more relevant within the water heating space,” said Robert Wiseman, product manager, commercial boilers at Lochinvar. “Data plays a huge role in this process as we are working to program boilers to know when to run, how long to run, and how much energy to expel.”
For example, Lochinvar recently upgraded its SMART SYSTEM® boiler control system, which now includes CON·X·US® Remote Connect option and the LOCH-N-LINK® USB Programming feature. The Set-Up Wizard guides contractors through installation, while Lochinvar’s CON·X·US option allows a technician or homeowner to monitor and manage the boiler from a mobile app.
“Our CON·X·US Remote Connect technology offers contractors and facility managers an easy way to diagnose and manage units from the palm of their hand,” Wiseman said. “Our engineering teams are always looking for ways to maximize the current technology and take it to the next level for customers.”
ATTENTION, PLEASE: The Cleaver-Brooks Boiler Monitor immediately notifies a customer when their boiler system needs attention.
Having remote access to system information provides customers with peace of mind knowing their equipment is being monitored seven days a week, 24 hours a day, said Catie VanWormer, product sales manager for ClearFire at Cleaver-Brooks.
The Cleaver-Brooks Boiler Monitor, launched this year, immediately notifies customers when their boiler systems need attention.
It allows customers to check the operating status and performance of their boiler system or multiple boiler systems simultaneously in real time, via a mobile app or online customizable dashboard.
Remote access to boiler system information can be granted on a permanent or temporary basis to different groups, including a service contractor, facilities group, or management, so that service techs can bring the correct parts and troubleshooting devices to the job site, saving time and labor costs.
Specific to condensing boilers, VanWormer predicts a continuing trend towards stainless steel firetube boilers — especially high-mass boilers that can be used in variable flow primary systems, instead of low-mass, watertube-style condensing boilers.
An example of this is the ClearFire-CE model.
“In the North American market, more manufacturers are launching the firetube boiler,” said Moffroid. “It’s hard to say if it’s really a complete shift or kind of a temporary preference. As with so many other things, there are pros and cons with it.”
With a firetube boiler, the heat is transferred to the water in the heat exchanger, whereas watertubes wrap around a burner flame or are positioned over it.
“They both do the same thing: they heat up the water, at a similar efficiency level,” Moffroid said. “The main pro is, there can be lower pressure loss in the system [of a firetube], which can help on the distribution side, when it’s distributed around the house.”
However, it’s a much more complicated heat exchanger, which means higher risk to the lifetime of the product.
Contractors believe that the pressure drop with a firetube boiler makes setup simpler, Moffroid said.
“Sometimes that’s true, sometimes it’s not, but it’s really being driven from installer demand to have a quick and simple setup,” he said.
“Through our conversations with contractors, we know that the longer it takes to setup a boiler or system, the more money it takes out of their pocket, so the easier, the better,” added Wiseman.
MINIMUM EFFICIENCY STANDARDS
On Jan. 15, 2021, a new rule issued by the Department of Energy (DOE) will take effect, amending minimum efficiency standards for residential boilers.
The revised national minimum annual fuel utilization efficiency requirements and new maximum standby and off-mode electrical consumption standards in the final rule are:
- Gas hot water boilers — 84 percent AFUE, 9 W (standby and off-mode).
- Gas steam boilers — 82 percent AFUE, 8 W (standby and off-mode).
- Oil hot water boilers — 86 percent AFUE, 11 W (standby and off-mode).
- Oil steam boilers — 85 percent AFUE, 11 W (standby and off-mode).
- Electric boilers — AFUE N/A, 8 W (standby and off-mode).
In order to be compliant, facilities will want to consider conducting a boiler plant optimization, said VanWormer.
In this type of review, a specialist evaluates and records information about the major operational pieces of boiler plant equipment, including the boiler, burner, controls, heat recovery, and water treatment. Issues are identified, and suggested solutions and expected results are proposed.
Cleaver-Brooks has a team of certified Boiler Plant Optimization specialists who work with customers to tailor solutions that help them increase system efficiency and decrease emissions levels to meet current and future regulations.
“In some cases, that means replacing the boiler system,” VanWormer said. “In other cases, Cleaver-Brooks can retrofit products to help a facility restore a system to its original efficiency.”
Bosch products already meet the higher standards, Moffroid said.
“In terms of the overall industry, it will affect some competitor products,” he said. “For some, it might make their product more expensive … to increase the heat transfer, retest, and recertify them. You can add baffles to add more heat transfer area. Some might have to do that, effectively increasing the heat transfer surface, and that’s expensive.”
Publication date: 2/11/2019