Archive for the ‘Hydronic Control Panels’ Category

Climate Control Systems – Thermostats or Computer-based Management System

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

Indoor Climate Control

When to use Thermostats vs a software-based Management System

It is easy to know that a simple 1 or 2 zone system can be well-controlled using traditional wall-mounted thermostats at strategic locations within a home or building.  However, when the number of zones increases and/or the amount of equipment that needs to be managed within a system begins to require an advanced degree in science, it may be time to consider a more comprehensive solution.

Automated Climate Control systems are not new.  Indeed, they have been around for many years, but for the average homeowner or small business, they may have been out-of-reach from a cost standpoint.  New technology and new software are changing that scenario.

Before considering the software based management solution, we must first consider what the customer – the end-user – is looking for in the way of control for their HVAC system.

Simplicity – Thermostat systems are easy to use.  The input is a desired temperature, the outcome is hopefully the same.  Not a lot of thought required by the end-user.  A software-based system needs to be straight forward in asking for inputs and desired outcomes from the end-user.  Menus should be simple (e.g. – point & click).ecotstatscreen

Minimal Intervention – At its most basic level, a thermostat can be set and then ignored.  However, each time a different temperature level is required, it requires interaction by the end-user.  Ideally, a software-based system does not require repeated inputs by an end-user.  It should always have enough information to control the system and produce the appropriate comfort level.

Access to information (and reassurance) – People want to be comfortable with the idea that their equipment and systems are working as they are expected.  They want to be able to access information from anywhere at anytime.  At the same time, they don’t want just anyone to be able to do this, so security is just as important.

Easy Troubleshooting – When both mechanical and electronic components are in the mix (not to mention the human element), there are bound to be problems.  People want to be able to identify the source of their problem as quickly as possible so they can determine appropriate action.

Easy Service – Once a problem has been identified, people want to be able to identify and engage the best resource to solve the problem as quickly as possible.  As systems get more complicated, the need to assist the end-user in this process becomes more important.

What is a dealer looking for in the same system:

Simplicity – The system must be easy to explain to the customer.  The product itself must demonstrate that it will handle their complicated equipment while not requiring them to become experts in the technology.

Easy to design and install – The contractor wants to be able to provide a system cost and then come in on time and on-budget without requiring expensive or specialized on-site resources.  In addition, the system should use products that are non-proprietary, readily available, and are easy to maintain, repair, or replace.

Access to information (for easy troubleshooting) – The contractor wants to be able to access the system so they can quickly determine what resources will be required and when.  Ideally, the dealer will get this information at the same time or even before the customer does.

Long-term relationship with the customer – A system that contacts the contractor for service provides an excellent  opportunity for a high-value customer relationship that includes an assured revenue stream over a long-term period and an opportunity for customer referrals.

WHEN IS IT APPROPRIATE TO CONSIDER A CLIMATE CONTROL SYSTEM OVER A SIMPLE THERMOSTAT CONTROL?

The more complicated the system, the easier it is to justify the additional expense of a true climate control system.  The presence of multiple zones, multiple heat sources, multiple methods of heat distribution – e.g., radiant and forced air, or simply a variety of other system elements (snow melt system, heat recovery ventilators, etc.) will point toward a more comprehensive solution.  The point is to keep the control simple and easy for the end-user.  While there are new thermostat products and even smart-phone apps out there that can bring system controls right into the hands of the end-user, the fact is that most of these are not self-managing systems and do not really provide the maximum value to either the end user or the contractor.  A climate control system that ties all the inputs and controls together and is flexible enough to handle all types of heating systems including a mix of forced air and radiant floor systems is the optimal solution.

ECÔ – THE CLIMATE CONTROL AND ENERGY MANAGEMENT SYSTEM THAT BRINGS IT ALL TOGETHER.

For the Contractor – Simply define the inputs (zones, temperature, humidity, power-monitoring points) and equipment (furnaces, heat pumps, boilers, air handlers, HRV’s, ERV’s, etc.) to be controlled while planning the rest of the HVAC system and obtaining a cost estimate for the system is easy.  Better yet, rough-in work is just as easy with all wiring coming back to a single point (typically the mechanical area).  The system ships already partially configured.  All that is left is for the desired outcomes (e.g. – zone temps based on time, day, season, event, etc.) to be set up through the easy to use menus.

Once the system is up and running, it allows for the dealer/service provider to automatically be notified (via e-mail or text) of any problems with the system.  What value will an end-user apply to the dealer that proactively calls them to discuss a potential problem with their HVAC system?  What value will the dealer apply to a product that allows them to access and view the system through a web-based connection to potentially troubleshoot the problem without having to roll a truck?

For the customer – once the initial work with the contractor and the system is set up, they will have full ability to monitor their system.  While they will have the ability to make adjustments to their system, they should rarely need to do so.  By prearranging a service agreement with their dealer, they will have the confidence and the comfort of knowing that through automatic system notification that any problems will be addressed quickly and cost effectively.

Summary

The contractor should not be afraid to discuss automated climate control systems with their customer.  Trying to manage multiple zone systems using traditional thermostats may sound simple at first, but the practical day-to-day management of this approach may prove to be frustrating as well as tedious, resulting in an unhappy consumer.  Technology is meant to simplify our lives.  It doesn’t get much simpler than a climate control system that proactively monitors the weather forecast, knows both your work and vacation schedule, sets the climate accordingly without any intervention at all.

Hydronic Control Panels – What You Should Expect to Find.

Monday, January 9th, 2012

Hydronic Control Panels
What should you expect to find in a control panel?

WHAT IS THE VALUE OF A HYDRONIC CONTROL PANEL?

The control panel is the heart of the hydronic system. It should include all components that are not only compatible with the rest of the equipment connected to the HVAC system but allow the system to provide optimal performance. It should be easy to install. It should include all mechanical and electrical connection points. It must provide equipment that protects both the system and the home in case of equipment malfunctions. It should provide for ease of serviceability during routine and emergency maintenance. As it is perhaps the most visible system component in a customer installation, it should also provide a clean and professional appearance.

When considering a hydronic control panel design, the following should be taken into consideration:

  • Functionality
  • Installation
  • Durability and Appearance
  • Serviceability

FUNCTIONALITY

By definition the control panel is the main system component where the hydronic system should be controlled or operated from. This means that it should include as many of the system control elements as possible as well as be the electrical center for all equipment attached to the hydronic system.
Standard elements that should be included in a control panel design include: feed water regulator and backflow preventer, expansion tank, air eliminator, zone valves, circulating pumps, pressure gauge, temperature measurement for supply and return with delta, system controls, master power switch, electrical wiring connection points, and fill and flush connections.

Visio-showroom panel labeled.vsd

Basic Elements of a Hydronic Control Panel

Other items that can be included:

  • Fittings for a variety of piping types
  • Strainer or Dirt Separator
  • 3-way or variable speed mixing
  • DHW Piping and controls
  • Heat Exchangers
  • Glycol Feeders

Integrated Control Options

  • Variable Speed Mixing
  • Setpoint Controls
  • Ice and Snow Melting
  • Ecô Energy Management System

Wiring Connection Terminations for:

  • All thermostats and sensors
  • Circulation pumps
  • Actuators
  • All heat pumps, boilers, air handlers, and any other active equipment being controlled in the HVAC system.

INSTALLATION

As all control panels are essentially customized to a specific installation, the contractor essentially has two choices:

Option 1 – Build it on-site:

  • Pre-design or design-on-the-fly
  • Specify and obtain components
  • Work in potentially unconditioned and uncontrolled environment
  • Incur travel & labor costs
  • Test system on site
  • Make any revisions to panel at on-site labor costs plus travel

There are a lot of variables in this equation. Even with experienced personnel, costs can be unpredictable and difficult to control.

Option 2 – Have it designed and fabricated off-site for easy and quick installation:

Using Eagle Mountain/Hydronic Systems this provides the following advantages:

  • Full Control panel is designed and reviewed ahead of time for physical layout, components, connectivity, wiring layout, and panel size – before any fabrication begins.
  • Panel is fabricated in a controlled environment at factory labor rates.
  • All electrical control connection points are brought to a single electrical box mounted on the panel.
  • Panel is tested before leaving the factory.
  • The only labor required on the job site is for mounting the panel and making the physical connections to the rest of the system.
  • Cost of the panel is known up-front. Installation costs are not only predictable and more easily controlled, they are also greatly reduced.

DURABILITY AND APPEARANCE

Panel Material
It is common to find control panels mounted on materials ranging from plywood to steel sheets. While these materials are readily available and may be relatively inexpensive, they are not ideal for hydronic systems. By their nature, hydronic systems involve water. Components can collect moisture on external surfaces that eventually can migrate to other components in the system. This moisture will eventually weaken and warp wood materials potentially compromising the structural integrity of the control panel. Similarly, steel sheets may be subject to corrosion that may also bring similar risks to the structural integrity of the overall control panel.

An ideal material for control panels is a high-density polyethylene (HDPE) board. This material provides adequate strength and stiffness to accommodate all the control panel components, is completely impervious to the effects of moisture, and also provides a professional appearance in the home or facility where the control panel is mounted.

Panel Mounting
Any prefabricated panel should come with a mounting system that allows for simple and quick wall-mounting by one or two people (depending on the size of the panel). Connection to the rest of the system should be simple and easily accomplished once the board is mounted. Remember, one of the primary purposes of the prefabricated hydronic control panel is to reduce on-site labor.

Copper and Brass Handling
During fabrication, the copper and brass components should not be touched by hand due to the salts on the skin, or exposed to environments that can produce oxidation. Fabrication should be done using gloves designed for handling copper and brass that eliminate the salts transfer.

Cleaning
The piping and fittings need to be cleaned of the flux material used during the assembly to prohibit accelerated corrosion of the copper. The copper may also have surface oxidation from the assembly process as well as salts from shipping and/or handling of the copper by hand. These salts will accelerate the oxidation producing discoloration and eventually corrosion of the copper and brass components in the system. The panel should be thoroughly cleaned and polished to prevent any corrosion of the components.

Following installation, the control panel is perhaps the most visible component to any hydronic-based HVAC system. In addition to the serviceability issues discussed above, the value of a clean and well organized control panel that will stand the test of time should serve any contractor well as a showpiece for the type of installation and work that potential customers can expect from them.

SERVICEABILITY

Next to the ease of installation, the most significant criteria in control panel design have to do with serviceability. As the system is mechanical in nature, over time there is a significant likelihood that maintenance of some sort will be required. Chances are, if a service call is required, the first place a technician will need to go is the control panel. A well-designed control panel allows for easy access to all of the system controls in a consistent manner and provides appropriate access to all components. This design should include removable actuators and sufficient valves and drains to isolate any component for service or easy replacement.

Another benefit inherent with pre-fabricated control panels is that the contractor will have access to a drawing of the control panel available to them to review in the event of a service call. Having this information available will help technicians with remote trouble-shooting and save money in service calls benefitting both the business and their customers.

SUMMARY

Together, all of the elements discussed above add up to the value that the hydronic control panel can bring to your business. Each of these elements is important to both the contractor and the end-user. The decisions made around the design and installation of the hydronic control panel can have both immediate and long-term impact to the system functionality as well as to the relationship between the contractor and the system owner. Care should be taken to consider future maintenance as well as potential changes to the system. Weight should be given to the desired optimal performance of the system when determining system components and layout. All electrical wiring and controls need to be taken into account when designing and evaluating control panel solutions. Eagle Mountain’s hydronic control panels provide a high-value solution to any hydronic-based HVAC system.