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Polar Vortex: Upgraded Heating

Remember being back in school and your teacher would ask you to write an essay on what you did on your vacation? Well, this is going to be kind of like that. Unless you’ve been under a rock you know this winter was brutal for many of us ‘ cold, snow, freezing rain and repeat.


When I started writing this it was a beautiful day in February with the temperature going over 50°F and the forecast saying more 0°F weather and snow next week. Enough already. As I’m finishing the article we’re at the start of April and hopefully the winter of 2013-2014 is in the books.


During the first polar vortex, we were on our annual vacation and in warm weather down south. Having turned 66 years old in November, we decided it was time I started acting like a semi-retired guy and took a month off for the first time in my life. So, we missed the first polar vortex and the associated storms. We drove down in the first December snowstorm and back in an ice storm, but it was still nice to get away. It was Christmas in Florida, New Year’s in Georgia and a very nice time.


During the second vortex at the end of January we went ahead with the plan to replace and modernize our boiler and associated heating system that we’ve been planning for four years. Not only a major upgrade of the boiler, but also adding lots of new control and technology strategies, and making the domestic hot water system more user friendly and energy efficient.


In Figure 1 is the 25-year-old system that I’ve owned for five years. Don’t mind the missing covers and such we were just starting the rip-out and conversion, and then I remembered we should have a before shot. The system was a three-zone with the original boiler to the house. It had not been properly maintained by at least two local oil companies, and that’s enough on that subject. I replaced the burner five years ago and started planning the upgrade then. The tankless gasket was shot and did a lot of damage to the front of the boiler. You’ve never seen that before, right? The indirect was put in about 12 years ago and did a great job. Taco zone valves and circulators were original and you can’t ask for a more dependable lifetime than that.



The replacement and upgrade is going to be a long term R & E (research and education) project that we see taking about one to two years. Most of the changes still coming will involve technology updates, new equipment and lots of control strategies. To form a good base we started with a new boiler, Figure 2. After lots of research I decided on the Slant/Fin Eutectic EC-13. Although many boilers were looked at, the single biggest decider was the Eutectic’s extremely low noise level. A big factor when the boiler resides under your den and TV room. The burner is a Riello F3 with electric air damper, and at some point this burner will be replaced with a two-stage. The indirect hot water heater is a Weil-McLain Aqua Plus 35. No problems with the Gold one, so in went with a Platinum one.


For now, and to form a baseline, the boiler currently has a plain (high limit only) boiler control and that will get replaced as soon as we have established that data baseline. The zone valves are now Taco Zone-Sentry and a fourth zone was added for the basement. The near boiler piping is now a Primary-Secondary system using all Taco circulators, including an ECM type for the system controlled by a Taco ZVC 406-4 EXP Panel providing for circulator and zoning control.


One of the newer technologies I’m really excited about is a Fernox filter, Figure 3, and the water treatments involved. Using an ECM based circulator the protection of the water is essential for proper operation and a long life and the Fernox and chemical treatments are essential to that goal. I’m going to start telling you more about this project with the filter first, because it was not only part of the new system but also part of the old one. As I said, over the coming months we’ll talk more about this and the updates.



Just a few days before the scheduled rip-out, I treated the system with Fernox Cleaner F5 Express and let the system run. The day before the rip-out the system was drained and flushed. As the system emptied and was vented for the last time the water ran black with the dirt those 25 years had produced. I can tell you that the filter and chemicals work because we are already feeling better output from the 25-year-old copper finned-tube baseboard all through the house. When the job was done we added the Protector F1 Express, and now we wait. We have flushed the filter a few times, and every time we do we are still seeing some black residue. Hopefully that will go away. I was really impressed with the kit provided by Fernox USA. This is a well thought out plan that includes even the proper fitting and adapter to place the charged cans of cleaner and protector onto the system boiler drain to be introduced quickly and easily.


In upcoming articles I’ll let you know how we’re doing, what we’re finding and will continue to thank those involved. But for now; many thanks to Adam Dubin, Bob Flanagan, Jim Harding and lots of other great people at Slant/Fin for the boiler technology. Many thanks to Bob Mercer and the folks at Weil-Mclain for your assistance on the indirect. Many thanks to Mark Chaffee, John Barba and the crew at Taco for lots of specialties and controls. Many thanks to Mark Nelson and Jim D’Anthony for ongoing assistance with Riello burners. Many thanks go to my education partner Jim Todd and others at the Beckett Corporation for assistance with planning the control theories yet to come.


A special shout of thanks to Bruce Marshall and others at Emerson-Swan, Fernox and Flexcon for suggesting new technologies and to Bruce for acting as a well-used sounding board and idea generator ‘ thanks Bruski! Last but not least, a big thank you to Andy Renzoni and his crew from Future Piping for a fantastic installation that should last for the ages, Figure 4.


I’ll be writing a lot more about this job down the road and give you my observations and findings as they develop.
See ya!


George Lanthier is the owner of Firedragon Academy, a Massachusetts Certified School teaching both gas and oil heating subjects along with heating system design, management and troubleshooting topics. Firedragon is also a publishing firm for George’s over 60 books and manuals on HVAC subjects. He is a CETP, NATE, NORA, PMAA and PMEF Proctor and a Massachusetts Certified Instructor. He can be reached at 608 Moose Hill Road, Leicester, MA 01524. His phone is 508-421-3490 and his website can be found at www.FiredragonEnt.com.

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