Just Because…

Don’t poke the mask off the ole’ Lone Ranger…

And you don’t mess around with Jim.  Croce, that is.  Miss this dude…

Ever wonder why pump curves look the way they do?  I mean, why is a 007 curve “flat” while the curves of a 0015 3-speed, or a Grunfos 15-58 3-speed are “steep?”

Well, it’s not “just because.”

In the pump world, a high-flow, low-head flat curve is often called an “American” pump curve, while a low-flow, high head steep curve is referred to as a “European” curve.

Why????

It has to do with the types of systems those circulators were designed for.

Last time we discussed how the typical European hydronic system – panel radiators, TRV’s and home-run piping – became the typical European system: it was the easiest, most convenient and least expensive system to retrofit into millions of old, existing homes that had no central heating.

And these old, pre-1960 structures weren’t very well insulated and leaked heat like a sieve.

When you design this kind of system, specific pumping requirements  take shape.

Consider an old, leaky cottage somewhere in Belgium or Germany. It gets quite cold, so let’s assume a heat loss of 100,000 BTUH.  When picking a circulator for a parallel piping system, you size for the total flow rate of the system, but only the head loss of the worst case piping loop.  What you select as a designed-for Delta-T makes a huge difference.

Let’s presume the longest piping run of  ⅜” (≈ 14mm)  PEX is 100′ total – 50′ there, 50′ back – and the radiator needs to deliver 16,000 BTUH at design conditions.  Here’s the required flow rate at a 20Delta-T:

GPM = BTUH ÷ (ΔT × 500)
GPM = 16,000 ÷ (20 × 500)
GPM = 16,000 ÷ 10,000

GPM = 1.6

So that one radiator needs 1.6 GPM. What would the pressure drop be?

Let’s look it up.

At 1.6 GPM you’d get .45′ of head per foot of ⅜” PEX.  Multiply that by 100′ and you’d have 45′ of head

Yikes.

As a result, European panel rad systems are designed around Delta-T’s of 30 or 40 degrees, not because it’s “better” or “optimal,” but because that’s what’s needed to keep circulators for those types of systems reasonable to install and reasonably priced.

At a 30Delta-T, the flow rate for that radiator would be around 1 GPM, but the S&R piping head loss would be around 20′.

At 400, the flow rate drops to 0.8 GPM, making the head loss only 11′ of head per foot of pipe.  At a total run of 100′, that’s 11′ of head.  Add for the TRV and other components and you’re looking at around 12′ for the worst case loop.

The total load was 100,000 BTUH, so at a 40Delta-T the required flow rate would be 5 GPM. Your pump requirement would be 5 GPM at 12′ of head.

See where it fits?  Right in the “wheelhouse” of the low-flow, high-head, steep “European” pump curve.

So, that’s why European pump  curves  are steep – because the steep curve fits the most common application in Europe.  Traditional flat “American” curve pumps – made famous by Taco and B&G – are flat for the exact same reason, as we’ll discuss next time.

In the meantime, stay away from those Car Wash Blues…

“…the man says we got all that we can use…”

How Do You Do?

This may very well be one of my favorite music videos of all time…

Dutch duo Mouth & MacNeil with their #8 hit from the summer of ’72, “How Do You Do?

The 70′s were different, especially in Europe…

And speaking of Europe, there’s a tendency in our industry to look at Europe as the “Gold Standard” for hydronics.

“Well, that’s how they do it in Europe” is an oft-repeated phrase by those who are said to be “in the know,” as if European origin is somehow automatic validation of superiority or, at the very least, an indication of the latest, greatest and most efficient.

So, are European heating systems “better” than the heating systems we have here in the US?

Well, they’re different.  I’ll give you different.

But better?  For that we need to dig deeper than hearsay.

Roughly 90 to 95% of the homes in Europe are heated with hydronics, while only 6 to 8% of  US homes are.  The typical European hydronic heating system is made up of panel radiators with thermostatic radiator valves (TRV’s).  These radiators are installed using a home-run parallel piping system, meaning there’s a direct supply and return line to each radiator from a centrally located manifold, using small diameter PEX or PEX-AL-PEX tubing (usually 14MM, the equivalent of our 3/8″).

Yep, that’s a pretty typical European residential hydronic heating system.  Have  you ever wondered why Europe does it that way?

Turns out there’s a very simple, very logical and incredibly practical reason.

A study of European residential construction is pretty interesting.  Roughly 42% of the residential housing stock in Northern and Western Europe (where most of the people live), was built prior to 1960, and most of that was pre-WWII.  The statistics tell the tale of the ravages of war.  In the UK, more than 55% of the homes were built prior to 1960, while in France that number drops to 43% and in Germany it’s only 35%.

And how were those homes heated?  Usually by either a coal stove or a hearth.

But starting in the late 60′s and continuing into the 70′s, these older homes were modernized with oil or gas-fired central heating systems. There were several reasons for this modernization, not the least of which was an increase in anti-pollution legislation.

Coal was pretty dirty back then.

As anyone who’s ever done it can attest, retrofitting an old home with central heating is a bear of a job. Technology came to the rescue in the early 70′s, with the rising availability of natural gas, the development of small, wall-hung boilers and the advent that new-fangled (at the time), flexible PEX tubing.

The really small stuff could be fished through the walls and timbers to each room. All you had to do was hook those home-runs to a radiator, slap a TRV on it and call it a day.

These types of heating systems became common throughout Europe simply because they were the easiest, most convenient and least expensive to install.

It’s not that they were better, more comfortable or more efficient than series loop baseboard systems, mono-flo systems, or two-pipe reverse return systems like we were installing here in the US.

They were just the easiest and the least expensive systems to install in the types of structures they had.

Now, this type of system – panel radiators with TRV’s, piped in a home-run manner using small diameter PEX, have very specific pumping requirements.

Aesop told us necessity is the mother of invention, and the pumping necessities of those systems led to the development of a very specific type of circulator for that very specific type of application – a circulator that was very different from what we were using over here in the good ‘ole US of A.

Which we’ll discuss next time.

And yes, Mouth and MacNeil were HUGE in Europe back in the early 70′s.  Wonder how they heated their homes?

Yep, life changing lyrics right there…

 

The Professor

In honor of the recent passing of Russell Johnson (aka “The Professor”) at age 89, we bring you this interesting take on two classics…

RIP Professor, one of the smartest men ever.

And speaking of professors, and the smartest men ever, I would like to submit to you the 2014-2016 winner of the Carlson-Holohan Industry Award of Excellence, the Mel Torme of Mini-Tube injection, the Tom Hanks of heating, that professor of Hydronics himself…

John Siegenthaler!

The “Brotherhood” of past recipients (Dave Yates, Mark Eatherton and yours truly), plus award stewards Robert Bean and the Dan Holohan, presented the award to John at last week’s AHR Expo at the Javits Center in snowy New York City last week, and it took him completely by surprise (I know how he feels!).  The award, as you may know, is the original B&G System Syzer Wheel created by the legendary Gil Carlson, the “Godfather” of American Hydronics (award history here)

Siggy is one of the legitimate “smart guys” in our industry – a graduate of RPI, a licensed mechanical engineer and a Professor Emeritus at Mohawk Valley Community College in upstate New York.  Here’s what it says on his plaque:

In recognition of your contributions to the world of keeping the human race healthy,
well and comfortable through selfless giving of your time and talents,
teaching and mentoring to raise the benchmark of professionalism
and in raising awareness and funds for industry causes,
the legacy of Gil Carlson and Dan Holohan forever and hereby includes,

John Siegenthaler

There are 53 words in that proclamation, but there are three that particularly fit Siggy to a T: teaching, mentoring and professionalism.

John has dedicated his life to teaching and mentoring in our little hydronics industry and he has, quite literally, written the book.  His epic Modern Hydronic Heating is now in its 3rd edition and is the “go-to” standard for all things hydronic.

And John’s professionalism? Simply stated, it’s physically impossible to attend a Siggy seminar, school or webinar and not come away with a book full of notes.  It’s an experience that changes the way you think and they way you do your job.

I’ve been very fortunate to be a caretaker of this award for the past two years.  It’s been an honor, but it’s an even bigger honor to hand it over to someone who is truly deserving and embodies the spirit of the Carlson-Holohan Industry Award of Excellence.

Welcome to the club, Siggy!

Whatever you do, don’t drop it!

 

A Small, Small World

With apologies to the Disney Corporation, Uncle Walt surely knew what he was talking about!

It really is a small world, after all.

How small?

Well, take the 2013 “Borrow Barba 3″ contest.

Because I miss all the planning meetings, Taco has decided to make me someone else’s problem for a day.  The most recent “winner” was chosen by computer from among nearly 800 entrants, so he won me for a day (2nd prize, of course, was 2 days).

The winner was Jason Michaels of Muirfield Mechanical in Boxboro, Massachusetts. This was exciting to me for the simple reason that Boxboro is right next door to my home town of Harvard, Massachusetts, so the trip to payoff the winner could be combined with a visit to some old friends and family.

Small world, right?

Wait.  It gets smaller.

After much discussion, is was pretty clear Jason had heard past stories of my fading field skills and wanted no part of me “suiting up” and going to work.  There were no safes to crack or, since it was December, lawns to mow.  There was, however, a home game down the highway in Foxboro (not to be confused with “Boxboro,” featuring the home town favorite New England Patriots against a supposed patsy, the Cleveland Browns.

“Hey Jason, want to go the Patriots-Browns game?”

He would!

So a quick tailgate party was arranged, meeting up with the one and only Bruce Marshall, Trainer-Supreme for Emerson Swan, Taco’s New England Manufacturer’s Representative and, officially, The Smartest Man I Know. Bruce has been tailgating at Pats games for nearly 30 years and has the whole affair down to a science.  The food is plentiful, tasty, perfectly timed, and plentiful.  Did I mention that?

On the way to the game, I told Jason that I grew up right next door to his office, in Harvard.

“I actually live in Harvard,” he said.

“Really, where do you live?”

“Corner of Ayer Road and South Shaker,” he replied, with a bit of a grin.

Hey, I know that house.

“Isn’t that the old West house?”

“Yup,” says Jason.  “In fact, I’m married to a West.”

I knew the West family.  Three brothers and a sister.  We all went to grade school, middle school and high school together.

“You’re married to Anne?” It was a guess, but an educated one.

Yup. And if it hadn’t been so cold, Anne would have be at the game with us.  Anne was a year behind me in high school and was pretty good friends with my wife, who was in the same class.

“It’s a small, small world…”

And two of Jason’s brothers-in-law are “in the biz,” too.  Dan is an oil dealer in town, and Rick is a plumbing and heating contractor.

In fact, Rick was an apprentice plumber under Dana Perkins, who, years earlier, apprenticed and worked under one Mario J. Barba of Harvard.  And as an apprentice, your faithful blogger (and at the time the boss’s son), also worked under Dana.

It’s a very small place.

How small? Dudley Moore sums it up quite nicely…

Anyway, it was fun making Jason’s acquaintance, although we had met before, albeit unmemorably at our respective wives’ 30th class reunion some 4 years prior.

Now, for the full confession part.  During the Pats-Browns game – the Patriots were playing like the Tommy Hodson/Marc Wilson/Rod Rust era Pats.

In a word, crappy.

And Cleveland was walking all over them.

After a late Cleveland score put the game seemingly out of reach with just over two minutes to go, the stadium started emptying.  I see Jason pulling out of the seats and heading for the exit.  Can’t really let him go alone, can I? So my boss, son and I also left.

Big freakin’ mistake!

Now, I’m not entirely sure the Big Man Upstairs had a hand in this comeback, but it was a comeback for the ages nonetheless, one we witnessed from…

The parking lot.

Yup, we were among those B******S who left with 2 minutes to go.

Oy.

Anyway, thanks to Jason for a memorable “Borrow Barba 3″ contest.

Small world.

But I wouldn’t want to pain it.

Next year, I’m looking for a winner from the Pebble Beach/Monterey area who likes to golf. And I promise to stay through all 18 holes.

I think we can re-program the computer!

 

Beautiful Day

A fine “play loud” piece of music to ring in the New Year…

And even thought it’s -11 here in Minnesota this morning, it’s a Beautiful Day, and looking back on the 2013, it was a Beautiful Year, blogwise.

Here’s a look back at this year’s Top 10:

January, 2013 started off with a trip back to 1950.  Mr. Rudolph Lizotte wanted a revolutionary new heating system installed in his house.  This cutting edge technology was called “fin-tube baseboard.” Mr. Lizotte’s installer? One Mario J. Barba of Harvard, MA.  Here’s my old man’s recollections of how he tip-toed into this new-fangled radiation, and what the rep had to do to help make the job happen…

And later that month, we kicked off a 3-part series on the Mystery of The Banging Zone Valves. It took the combined efforts of Sherlock Holmes, Columbo, Shaggy and Scooby to get to the bottom of this whodunnit (Parts 2 & 3 are here and here).

A good portion of our blogging year has been spent studying variable speed circulators.  We launched a series in mid-February trying to separate the fact from the fiction – starting with Speed King.”  

In early March we lost guitar king Alvin Lee. His talents are featured in Bees Make Honey, a look at the role of Delta-T in variable speed pumping (Hint – it’s not the target, it’s the “aiming device“).  The rest of this 4-part series focuses on how changing water temperatures and changing flows affect the output of heat emitters.  Check them out here, here and here.

Baseball season started in April (and for Sawx fans, it’d be a darn good year!), and we launched a series on the very distinct functional differences between Delta-T and Delta-P variable speed pumping, and how those differences may matter to your heating systems.  Girls Talk started the 5-part series.  Check out the rest here, here, here and here.

In July, NASA’s Mars Rover starts poking around the Red Planet, Phil wins the British Open and you guys gobbled up a 3-part series of case studies on the fuel saving benefits of Delta-T variable speed pumping, starting with Anthony’s Voice.”  Delta (T) Dawn and Feel The Noise follow.

By late August everyone was still wondering just what the hell had happened to Miley Cyrus, but the FloPro Blog decided that musically, 1974 was the better choice.  ”Midnight At The Oasis” kicked off a 3 part series on the importance of system curves when it comes to choosing a circulator, and why a 3-speed pump isn’t always the right choice, especially when using zone valves.  Click here and here for the Parts 2 and 3.

What Red Sox fan will ever forget October?  It was BoSox, Beards and Baseball all month long!  In Blog-land, we featured a 2-part series on what not to do when you lose a customer.  Check out Already Gone and the follow-up, Takin’ Care of Business.

Words were the topic of the month in November – more precisely, why we should take a critical look at some of the words or phrases we commonly use when selling hydronics, and why those words or phrases may not be appropriate, or helpful.  Is a new boiler really an “investment?” Check out Words,” Call Me Al and Chirpy Chirpy Cheap Cheap for some provocative reading.

And we wound up the blogging year with a post about – you guessed it – Delta-T variable speed pumping (are you sensing a theme here?).  Watching The Wheels shares with you the importance of the Universal Hydronics Formula and why it can’t be ignored or minimized when it comes to variable speed pumping.  It was good enough for the great Gil Carlson, it’s good enough for us, too!

It’s been a pleasure blogging for you this year. We’ve had more than 14,000 hits this year and for that we offer a very sincere “thank you!” We hope what you’ve found here has been useful and thought provoking.

And with the help of U2, here’s wishing a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

“A world in white gets underway…”

Celebrate Me Home

She wasn’t technically my Grandmother – she was my mother’s step-mother – but that never mattered much. From my very young perspective, she was the matriarch of a pretty remarkable family. Every Christmas most of my mother’s brothers and their families would gather at our house for one long, loud and crazy day.

Nona and Aunt Marge would show up after church and help Mom with the cooking.  Uncle Frankie  and his wife would drive up from Connecticut, followed by Uncles Mike, Tony and Freddie and their clans.  If we were lucky, Uncle John and his wife would come up from New Jersey.  This was one interesting collection of Italians, and all fine examples of what Tom Brokaw called “The Greatest Generation.”

All five uncles were on active duty during WWII: Mike and Tony were in the infantry in Europe from D-Day on, Freddie was in the Army Air Corp in England while John and Frankie were in the Navy in Pacific.

None of them talked very much about their service (all were decorated),  but these humble men simply did what hundreds of thousands of other men and women did back then, and are still doing today.  And through the lens of time it seems now that one of the things that made those Christmas gatherings so special was the implicit gratitude they must have felt to be together.

They’re all gone now, but definitely not forgotten.  So for my uncles, and for all the men and women away from home, here’s a wonderful piece of music from Kenny Loggins…

No circulators, boilers, controls or radiators this week, just fondest wishes for a safe, happy and peaceful holiday season from all your friends at Taco.

Watching The Wheels

We lost John 33 years ago this past Sunday…

My favorite Lennon classic!

Some random hydronic thoughts while watching the wheels

GPM = BTUH ÷ (ΔT × 500)

If there was ever a non-controversial math formula in all of hydronics, this is it.  It was good enough when Gil Carlson developed the very first System Syzer Wheel way back when, so it should be good enough now.

Time certainly doesn’t diminish the math.

It’s a wicked simple math formula that essentially helps you determine what flow rate you’ll need to deliver a certain amount of BTU’s at a designed-for Delta-T, or temperature drop between the supply and return water temperatures.  Hydronic systems have been designed using this formula for decades.

Say you have a 40,000 BTUH zone, and you’re designing the system to a 20* Delta-T (you don’t have to, but it is the industry standard for most residential hydronics – basically because it makes the math easy). Fill in the blanks for the formula to get the required flow rate:

GPM = 40,000 ÷ (20 × 500)
GPM = 40,000 ÷ 10,000
GPM = 4

If you make the Delta-T 30 instead of 20, the required flow rate would be lower.

If you make it 40, the required flow rate would be lower still.

In fact, wide Delta-T’s are used all the time when sizing pipe and pumps for variable speed injection mixing “mini-tube” systems. You can transfer a boatload of BTU’s through very small pipe with a very small pump through the power of Delta-T.   Say we had a 40,000 BTUH radiant system designed to a 10* Delta-T. The supply water temperature is 110*,  so the return water temperature would be 100*.  And let’s say the primary loop water temperature is 180*.

To size your injection pipe and pump, you’d want to find the Delta-T between the water going from the primary into the secondary, and the water coming from the secondary into the primary.

That would be 180 – 100, or an 80* Delta-T.  Let’s stick it in the formula:

GPM = 40,000 ÷ (80 × 500)
GPM = 40,000 ÷ 40,000
GPM = 1

Now, could you carry this out to the extreme and use an 800* Delta-T and deliver 40,000 BTU’s with .1 GPM?  I suppose you could, but to carry the argument out to that level is borderline ridiculous.

When we look at the reality going on in people’s basements, GPM = BTUH ÷ (ΔT × 500) is how we design systems, and it’s why the Taco BumbleBee and 00-VDT variable speed circulators use Delta-T technology to vary their speed.

It’s not a matter of “regulating” output by “imposing” a Delta-T on a system.  It’s simply a matter of using the designed-for system Delta-T as a meaningful and downright logical means of varying the speed of the circulator.

Let’s say you have a zone valve system with a few zones calling. The circulator is chugging along as a specific speed.  All of a sudden another zone opens, meaning the system needs more “heat.” The obvious immediate result is that the return water temperature is going to decrease, and the Delta-T in the system will get wider.

This happens all the time, regardless of what kind of circulator you have.

A Delta-T circulator will immediately recognize what is essentially a change in the BTUH requirement, and speed up.

When a zone closes, it’ll recognize that change in actual heating load, and slow down.

Why?

Because GPM = BTUH ÷ (ΔT × 500).

Not only does a Delta-T pump react immediately to zones opening and closing, it also goes faster when it’s colder out and slower when it’s warmer out.  As it warms up, the BTUH requirement goes down and the system needs less heat. That will manifest itself in a shrinking difference between the supply and return water temperature.  A Delta-T pump sees that, and does the logical thing: slow down.

Pretty simple, ain’t it?

As with anything, there’s a practical limit on the low end.  Check out the BumbleBee performance curve here. That line labelled #1 on the BumbleBee pump curve is the minimum speed, so that’s as slow as it’ll go.  So when it’s mild out, and in a reset system when the water temperature is fairly low, the circulator will operate on that minimum speed line.  The Delta-T won’t be 20 (or whatever you set it for), but you’ll have ample flow to satisfy any heating load.

GPM = BTUH ÷ (ΔT × 500) was good enough for Gil Carlson, and it still applies today.

Lots more blog posts on Delta-T operation.  Click here, here, here and here to check it out.

And here’s my second favorite Lennon tune ever…

33 years…

Chirpy Chirpy “Cheap Cheap”

Can you believe this was a monster hit in 1971?

That’s a Scottish band called Middle of the Road, and “Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep” hit #1 on the European charts. And it’ll be bouncing around your brain all day!

Way to go, Europe…

Our topic of late has been the language of hydronics – more specifically, the words we tend to use and their meanings (click here and here to review).  Words like “payback” and “investment” are pretty loaded with meaning, and the way you mean them and the way the customer interprets them may be very different. Use them at your discretion, but make sure you and your customer both know what you mean.

With that said, here’s a word that should vanish from the industry’s vocabulary, especially when talking with customers:

“Cheap.”

Is there anything positive about the word “cheap?”  When used “in the biz,” it usually represents a lower priced product or option, as in “it’s cheaper this way,” or “I use that product because it’s cheaper.”

But in the mind of the person who is actually going to live with the end result, the word “cheap” has an entirely different meaning – usually “low quality,” or “inferior.”  If you tell your customer you use a certain product because it’s “cheaper,” this is what they hear you saying:

“Mr. & Mrs. Johnson, my role here is to find the cheapest piece of junk I can find and stick it in your house.”

Doesn’t really inspire confidence, does it?

And “cheap” goes by other names, too.  Have you ever used any of these code words?

“Cost effective”

“Price competitive”

“Builder’s grade”

And my personal favorite: “Value engineered.”

In other words…

We all know customers are, shall we say, price conscious. That doesn’t mean price is the only thing that matters, even if they tell you it is (click here to read more on that crazy concept!). It’s often a good idea to offer your customer a “good, better, best” menu – this helps equate price levels with value levels.

A “Good” package is functional, of sufficient quality, has basic functionality and meets your own personal standards for workmanship and professionalism.  It’s also your lowest-priced offering (but has sufficient profit built in – don’t work for nothing!)  For example, this could be the basic cast-iron replacement boiler with fixed speed circulators – a good system that will perform for a long, long time.

“Better” should be a nice, value-laden upgrade.  Perhaps it’s still a cast-iron boiler, but with variable speed Delta-T circulators to maximize the boiler’s economy of operation, along with an indirect hot water tank to make tons of hot water in the most efficient way possible.

“Best,” of course, is Christmas, New Year’s and a ban on foreign imports all rolled into one.  This is your top shelf, most efficient, most effective, coolest rock ‘n roll system you can envision – it provides maximum comfort, maximum efficiency and maximum value for your customer.

Present your customer with the choices, explain what they’re getting with one option vs. what they’re giving up with another, answer their questions and then let them choose.

And never use the word “cheap.”

If you do, I promise, you’ll always think of the above tune!

And when you offer your customer those three choices, chances are they’ll more than likely choose the middle option.

Because everyone loves the Middle of the Road…

The other “big hit” from 1971 for MOTR (that’s what we fans in the know call them), “Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum,” which hit #2 throughout  Europe.

Seriously.

Best Thanksgiving Ever!

It’s Thanksgiving Day….

Classic Kink-master Ray Davies with a wonderful, melancholy and ultimately uplifting Thanksgiving “carol” from 2005.

As far as holidays go, Thanksgiving is the best, followed closely by the 4th of July and Memorial Day.  Christmas is two separate events – the gift buying-house decorating-tree trimming-card sending nightmare, and the religious/spiritual milestone of my Catholic upbringing.  Now that the kids are older, the first event is losing its appeal, but the second will always be important.

Thanksgiving is split in two for me.  There’s Thanksgiving “BM” (Before Minnesota) and Thanksgiving “AM” (After Minnesota).

Thanksgiving “BM” was always spent with the Leominster, Massachusetts Barba’s — my father’s brother and his family — one year at our house, one year at their house.  Imagine if you will several large tables sitting end to end, taking up 3 rooms and filling it with loud, laughing Italians (La Famiglia!). Counting children, there were years we’d top 30 place settings!

If you’re not Italian – and my condolences if you aren’t –  just imagine the wedding scene from “The Godfather,” and you have the idea.

And food.  Did I mention the food?

Oh dear Lord, the food…

There would be antipasto, lasagna, salads of all kinds, potatoes, pies, Italian cookies and, some years, TWO turkeys.

We were good eaters.

Both households made a meat stuffing that, if you were going to the “chair,” you’d want on the menu for your last meal.  Last year I shared the recipe with you, and learned the secret is the ground sausage!  Mom left that part out when she told me how to make it.

Thanksgiving “AM” is a very different affair.  No high school football games (Fitchburg-Leominster was very big), no waiting for the army of relatives to arrive.  This year it’ll be a very small get together – just the 5 of us (oldest daughter lives in Chicago now — sigh….), but after the year we’ve had, this might just be the Best Thanksgiving Ever.

As they say, tomorrow isn’t guaranteed to any of us, so be thankful for all the todays.

Anyway, that’s it.  No business today, nothing technical or heating related.  Just some memories and warm wishes for a very Happy Thanksgiving!

And laughs.  Don’t forget the laughs…

One of the funniest lines in TV history right there.  Rock on, WKRP!

Call Me Al

So the 80′s weren’t all bad…

Paul and Chevy.  And some guy – you could call him Al.  He’d be okay with it…

You can call a hydronic system all kinds of things.  Some may call it art, others an appliance.  Heck, you could even call it Al.

Or Betty.

But one thing you can’t call it is an investment.

That may run counter to the salesy mumbo-jumbo out there, but hear me out.

An investment usually involves putting money into a 401k, or buying a stock or bond.  Over time it’s expected, if the markets are kind, that the amount of money you’ve put in will grow into a larger amount of money. The money’s basically locked away, so it’s not easily accessible.  When the bond comes due or the stocks or 401k are cashed in, you have a nice chunk of dough to buy a car or vacation home, send your kids to college or live out your golden years.

An appliance doesn’t do any of that.

Let’s say you invest in a high efficiency boiler with a fancy-schmancy ECM circulator, all designed to save you big money.

Upgrading from an old, ready-to-die system to a new, reliable, efficient system is a very good thing to do, but is it, in the strictest sense, an investment?

I’ve seen spreadsheets and read articles stating that, when considering annual rate hikes, a new system can “save” thousands of dollars over a 10 or 20 year period when compared to a standard efficiency system.  Those estimates are usually spot-on accurate, but are ultimately meaningless.

It’s pretty simple: you were spending a certain amount of money to keep warm in the winter.

Now you’re spending less.

At the end of that 10 or 20 year period will you have a lump sum of cash to send your kid to college?  Will you be able to use that cash to live on during retirement?

Well, if you stick that $10, $30 or $50 a month you “save” into some sort of long-term interest-bearing account, then you may.

In reality, that money usually gets redirected into the family budget to pay for something else. The 10- to 20-year projection of how much money will be “saved” with the new system sure sounds great, but ultimately it’s money not spent on one thing that will be spent on another.

That’s not a bad thing.  It’s a very good thing.  It’s just not an “investment.”

As Wesley Snipes said in our last blog, you can put a cat in an oven, but that don’t make it a biscuit.

A heating system isn’t an investment, even if you call it one.

It’s a pig.

It eats fuel, and it poops heat.

Your goal should be to put the pig on a high-fiber, low-fat diet. Make it a lean, mean, heat-poopin’ machine that keeps the monthly cost of not freezing to death as low as possible.

Sure, there’s the investment in your home comfort, the investment in your peace of mind, or the investment in your home’s resale value.  Those are all legit and have value.

But when you talk about the new system as an investment that saves money, the conversation naturally leads to “how much will it save?”

Which leads to “What’s the return on investment?”

Which leads to “What’s my payback?”

Which leads to “How long before this thing pays for itself?”

Which we discussed last time.

Soon, all the other benefits of upgrading to a high-efficiency system take a back seat to a vague, nebulous financial proposition.

Efficiency is a great selling feature, but it’s just one selling feature.  It should be used in conjunction with other features, not instead of.

Graceland was one hell of an album in its day, with lots of great songs.  Focus on just the hits, and you miss gems like this one…

“That’s one way to lose these walking blues…”