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Just like society in general, the new generation of HVAC contractors are used to using smartphones.

“So when you look for easier ways to set up boilers, monitor boilers, troubleshoot boilers, we purposely made all our controls, our screens, look like a smartphone,” said Mike Boyd, product manager at Weil-McLain. “They know it, they’re comfortable with it, they know how to navigate through it.”

Connectivity was the top trend among boiler manufacturers at this year’s AHR Expo, with many offering apps and remote-control features that enable tighter control and better energy efficiency.



At Lochinvar, Paul Rice said one of the big trends in boiler technology is being able to truly control oxygen levels within the combustion chamber.

“You're seeing a lot of adjustments with O2 trim and the ability to manage that … through any number of environmental conditions,” he said. “Oftentimes, our climates change pretty drastically — you can have, in Minnesota, a 70-degree swing — so what we're trying to do is make sure that we maintain the best possible flame and combustion process that we can. So we're looking at outdoor temperature, we're looking at humidity, we're looking at barometric pressure to make sure that we can maintain the best flame possible in all of those conditions.”

Lochinvar Hellcat Crest Boiler.

HELLCAT: Lochinvar’s Hellcat Crest boiler is designed to help energy efficiency through providing the amount of heat that’s truly needed inside a building. (Staff photo)

The Hellcat Crest boiler, available in models from 750,000 through 6 million Btu/hr., is designed to help energy efficiency through providing the amount of heat that’s truly needed inside a building. It reduces cycle times on and off and gives longer runtimes, which extends the life of the product.

“By being able to control that combustion process, we're able to get very deep turndowns to really allow us to match the building load as best as possible,” Rice said. “We’re seeing that throughout all of our product lines: tighter control, the ability to communicate with buildings through building management systems.”

Lochinvar is also building functions into its controls to let contractors and engineers tweak the unit once it’s installed.

“We call it zone anticipation,” explained Lochinvar’s Mike Juhnke. “Something happens in the system and our boiler reacts to it before it actually sees the sensor, based on temperatures and pressure returns and how the pumps are operating.”



At Weil-McLain, this year’s products build on smart controls and simple installation — both features of the newly released Eco Tec Series 2, a high-efficiency boiler designed for large-scale residential uses like apartment buildings or larger homes.

Weil-McLain Eco Tec Series 2 Boiler.

APP CONTROL: Weil McLain’s Eco Tec Series 2 has an app that allows technicians to copy-and-paste a set of boiler settings to multiple units. (Staff photo)

The Eco Tec Series 2 comes in both heat-only and combi versions, which provide both space heating and domestic hot water. Through an optional multi-boiler wiring kit, users can connect and operate up to eight Eco Tec boilers simultaneously.

“The beauty about the Eco Tec Series 2 this year, along with its touchscreen control, is that we have a new app, and you can connect to it via Bluetooth,” said Mike Boyd, product manager. The app has a dashboard, insight into fault codes, and a time-saving tool: Users can copy the settings from the first boiler onto their phone and use them again.

“You can flash that software onto the next boiler, whether you go to your next project across town or another boiler in the same mechanical room,” Boyd explained. “It's really simple. You don't have to touch the boiler, and it's ready to go.”

For those not using the app, the Eco Tec Series 2 comes with 10 preprogrammed settings to speed up system setup.

“You don't need to know temperatures and timing. You got a radiator system with a water heater — press the button, all the settings are done for you.”

Weil-McLain’s units are built with water connections on the bottom, electric higher up (so there’s no concern of electrical mixing with water), multiple venting options for different home styles and buildings, and built-in zone control.


Laars/Bradford White

At the Laars Heating Systems booth, the water heating manufacturer chose to display two boilers with extensive communication capability. Nate Warren, business development manager for specialty products, said it’s because controls are part of the transition away from fossil fuels.

“We're seeing a transition to basically all high-efficiency boilers with a far smaller mid-efficiency segment than ever before in our industry,” he said. “And of course, we're pushing larger BTU sizes on these big units, and additional ways to integrate into alternative energies to try and maximize the efficiency of the system … like BACnet, controls and gateways, things that allow boilers to integrate into systems that are collecting heat from, for example, heat pumps. So maybe on a mild day, the heat pumps will generate a larger percentage of heat required by that building, but then, on a very cold day, the control system will fire up the boilers to supplement the additional heat required that might not be available from the heat pumps.

“It's going to take time — multiple generations [of products] down the road,” he continued. “But until then, we have to find a way to mix and match to meet the needs of the building, but also optimize the efficiency and utilize as much green energy as we can. Control systems are probably one of the biggest ways that we can do that right now … [although] that'll probably be less critical as we can carry more that building’s load with just the heat pumps.”

Laars MagnaTherm FT Boiler.

STEPPING STONE: Nate Warren, business development manager for specialty products, said boiler controls are part of the transition away from fossil fuels. Pictured is the MagnaTherm FT commercial condensing firetube boiler. (Staff photo)

Laars’ MagnaTherm FT commercial condensing firetube boiler, which goes to 3.5 million BTUs, has a control system that can communicate with either Modbus or BACnet. The newly released NeoTherm XTR, on debut at the booth, uses the same touchscreen control system and has a quick setup menu.

“If you have a building that has multiple boilers in it, you can actually store all your control parameters on a USB drive, and then just go plug the USB drive in each unit and initialize all one after another. Really, it's a big time saver,” Warren said. “These can both tie in and allow a building management system to control the firing rate, control the water temperatures, control the pump on these units. It gives you a lot of different parameters that you can influence to maximize your efficiency. … And so depending on the amount of heat that you would need, either one of these would be a great way to supplement a green energy system.”



For hot-water and steam boiler manufacturer Cleaver-Brooks, the HVAC industry’s sustainability buzz is just another day at the office.

“Electric boilers, alternative fuels, hydrogen — we've done that for decades,” said Sean Lobdell. “We have boilers that have been running on hydrogen for 20, 25 years, and now it’s like this ‘new’ thing and people are putting it on their brochures. So for us, it's just doing what we do, but trying to market it a little bit differently. We’re definitely seen the growth of our electric boilers as well.”

One trend Cleaver-Brooks has noted lately is switchfire dual-fuel condensing technology being used on larger systems.

“Critical care facilities and government buildings, where you don't need both fuel oil and natural gas supply for their heating boilers, traditionally would use a noncondensing equipment [that is] less efficient. As systems have evolved, people have gotten more comfortable using kind of cooler water to capture the efficiencies of condensing,” Lobdell said.

Another trend he’s witnessed is a resurgence of interest in steam, which he attributes to food production changes that took place through COVID as well as increased demand from health care and pharmaceutical markets. In response, Cleaver-Brooks released the CBEX3W, a new all-steam boiler with low emissions and high efficiency.

At the same time as interest in steam picks up, a lot of firms have lost their knowledge on the steam side of the world, Lobdell said, as people have kind of morphed over to hydroponics and heat pumps and other technologies for the heating side. (As far as new builds, steam for comfort heat has been gone for a while, he noted, although there are still some people replacing existing steam boilers with new ones.) With the buildup of interest, Cleaver-Brooks is offering a lot of training and education to make sure HVAC contractors have the information they need to properly install steam systems. Webinars on steam have been their highest-graded, which Lobdell said reflects that people are actively seeking out that knowledge now.