We see the big picture, too

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.)
  4. 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.

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