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You’ll see why this is relevant in a minute…
Much to my chagrin, I saw that the fuel consumption for the school was greater on the Thanksgiving holiday than on the preceding days. Something must be terribly wrong–or is it?
During non-school hours, we set back (lower) the temperature of the school to conserve energy. We cannot make extreme setbacks since the masonry building takes a great deal of heat to warm up in a reasonable time. (To control costs, we need to ensure that the pellet system is capable of providing 100% of the recovery from setback. We could choose to have a deeper, more aggressive setback and save more energy, but we’d have to enlist the oil boilers to recover from the setback. That would save energy, but would be more costly.)
So, on Thanksgiving, the temperature was set back all day. You’d expect some nice savings relative to the preceding day–or at least I did, till I thought it through. So what’s the deal?
Students! The children (and adults) at school generate a lot of heat when they’re there. And since this is no sedentary school, they generate lots of heat. With a few assumptions, the occupants of the school generate about 55 kBtu/hr of heat. For some perspective, the pellet boiler generates 200+ kBtu/hr of heat. If you assume the school is full for 7 hours of the day, people are displacing about 57 pounds of pellets each day!
(Lights are another contributor as well. If I get around to it, I’ll estimate their contribution.)
Putting it all together, we saved pellets by lowering the temperature setting, but we had to use more pellets since there were no people and no lights contributing heat to the building. We’ll continue to experiment with the setbacks while still permitting a reasonable recovery time using pellets alone. It certainly seems a reasonable goal to use less energy when the school’s empty!
Maybe we should add some more students to reduce our fuel costs… (I hope the cartoon now makes sense!)
Yes, we can create a mean boiler room, but that’s not the extent of our ambition. Our goal is to find creative ways to conserve energy for our customers and to wring every bit of utility out of the fuel that must be consumed.
The assembly room at MWS has been notoriously difficult to keep comfortable. We didn’t make any changes to the distribution system at the school (just the boiler room), so this is a problem we inherited. Regardless, it reflects poorly on us if the “top-notch heating system” doesn’t keep the space comfortable…
So what’s going on?
- The rim/band joists and sill plate under the entire room are poorly air sealed, so the dropped ceiling cavity below the floor is bathed in cold air from the outside. Never mind that this is where all the heating pipes run… This creates an uncomfortable variation on radiant floor heating. We would like to explore options for retrofitting the perimeter with spray-in-place foam insulation to stop this infiltration of cold air. That will improve comfort and energy consumption upstairs and downstairs.
- A single, very long loop of baseboard radiators was installed, much longer than any others in the school. Flow rates are likely poor through the loop (this can be confirmed with a simple delta-T measurement–yet to be done).
- Mattresses and other items were stored over the radiators, preventing the heat from escaping from the radiators to the room. This is a simple fix. (Hint: don’t put a sweater (or bed or couch or furniture) on your radiator! It ends up heating the exterior wall and the outside air rather than your room.)
- When looking at the room on Monday, I noticed a distinctly frigid blast of air emanating from one of the grilles in the ceiling. This grille is associated with an exhaust fan that’s never used due to unacceptable noise. I guess there’s no backdraft damper… I sealed off the grilles (there were two) and left with high hopes.
When I went in Tuesday morning, the temperature in the room was at the thermostat setting! This was the first time I’ve ever seen it satisfied first thing in the morning. A few pieces of paper and some scotch tape–pretty high-tech, isn’t it?!
It gets even better.
Monday and Tuesday were equally cold (as measured by heating degree days). Our daily fuel consumption dropped 12% from Monday (grilles open) to Tuesday (grilles shut). Yes, there may have been other things going on, including slight variations in the daily topping off of the fuel bin, but even 5% improvement for such a simple fix would be terrific. And the space might actually become comfortable!
Today, an opening to an old ventilation shaft was discovered and promptly covered over. Heated air was escaping the building through the grating at such a clip that a small student might have gotten sucked in and trapped on it! You get the picture…
Also, there was an assembly today in the assembly room (makes sense!), so we decided to turn down the heat in advance to try to avoid overheating and waste. It turns out the audience itself raised the temperature at least 6F. Good thing we didn’t start out toasty.
Small, very simple steps can have a big impact. We’re looking at the high tech, the low tech, and everything in between to make a difference.
We had a wonderful opening for our first installation at Monadnock Waldorf School. Thirty or so people made the effort to come to a ribbon cutting for a new boiler installation. A ribbon cutting for a boiler installation?!
Of course, this was no ordinary boiler installation–nor was it an ordinary business model that we were celebrating.
Thanks to everyone who made the effort to see our handiwork in person and to all who have expressed enthusiasm for the great things we’re trying to accomplish!
Please join us at Monadnock Waldorf School in Keene to celebrate the launch of Xylogen LLC’s first project! We will be gathering at the school at 3:30 on Thursday, November 15. (The school is located at 98 South Lincoln Street, with a parking lot off of Wilbur Street. Come to the door to the left of the brown pellet bin in the school parking lot).
We would love to show off our work and share with you the unique and compelling aspects of our business model.
Very briefly, they include:
- At no capital cost to the customer, Xylogen installs a new state-of-the-art heating plant fueled primarily with local, renewable biomass (wood pellets or wood chips).
- We set up a long-term service agreement to provide heat to the customer. We don’t sell boiler installations or the hassle and expense of owning expensive equipment–we sell heat.
- In exchange for annual payments, the customer outsources all heating needs to Xylogen. We take care of all maintenance, repairs, fueling–everything required to keep the heat coming out of the boiler room.
- Both the customer and Xylogen benefit financially from improvements in efficiency and conservation. If we use less fuel than the customer did historically, we share the savings. This gives both parties incentive to do everything possible to use heat wisely and generate it efficiently. We’re unaware of any other such setup. Typically, one party has no incentive to care about the system’s true, long-term operating efficiency.
- To ensure top efficiency and problem-free operation, Xylogen installs a web-enabled control and monitoring system. This allows us to discover opportunities for efficiency improvements and identify and rectify any problems before they turn into costly and uncomfortable “no-heat” calls from the customer.
In crafting Xylogen’s offering, we started out with the core understanding that all parties need to benefit from doing the right thing for the long term. All efforts to increase efficiency, to reduce heating requirements, to minimize maintenance expenses by designing with longevity and easy maintenance in mind… All these must be rewarded. A long-term commitment to efficiency brings a different mindset to the job. Please come experience what that’s like!
The beauty of automatic real-time monitoring is that it’s possible to identify a problem with the equipment and rectify it before the customer even notices. That is service.