Chair's Update 4th Quarter 2016

By Tim Griffin posted 06-25-2017 19:21


Eight years ago my wife and I had our dream home built. We had purchased the property three years before but waited until we had the right floor plan and finances to move forward. Knowing this was to be our dream home, and one we would likely be carried away from in a casket someday, we wanted to get it right.

As an engineer, my goals included build­ing a home that was inexpensive to maintain and operate, with a brick exterior, rot-resistant trim, extra insulation and high-efficiency win­dows. I even made sure the house's orienta­tion, overhang and shading from trees resulted in more than 95 percent of the windows never receiving direct sunlight in summer. All these years in our business were paying off.

So, when I found out the EPA's ENERGY STAR program was available for residential buildings I realized securing an ENERGY STAR rating for my home could provide two benefits. First, it would secure a lifetime 5 percent dis­count on my electric bills. Second, even more important to me, it would require a third-party reviewer to certify the builder got all of the energy-saving features correct. Basically, com­missioning for my home. All this would lead to lower lifetime energy bills, and since we never plan to leave I would have a long time to recoup the additional investment required.

The builder suggested a nifty idea to help achieve the projected energy savings needed to secure the ENERGY STAR rating: a tankless water heater. Sounded great to me. I under­stood there was significant energy loss from a traditional hot water tank that occurs whether it is in use or idle. Installing a tankless heater instead would result in zero energy loss when the system was not in use. Even with two teenage daughters I knew they couldn't take showers all the time (they tend to sleep a lot). So, even though it was twice the installation cost of a traditional water heater, I green-light­ed the tankless installation without further investigation.

Today, I regret that decision for several reasons. First, the projected energy savings have not been achieved because the system required a 10-gal electric water heater to keep the recirculation loop warm without constantly cycling the tankless system's burners. Running this electric water heater offset any savings in gas cost. Second, before long the unit started making an awful noise and shaking every time it came on. Third, I discovered that the tank­less system required yearly maintenance to descale the coils. Adding insult to injury, I have poured almost $1,000 into repairs. Now, after only eight years, it needs to be replaced.

Okay, I can admit when I have made a mistake. What I now realize is that tankless wa­ter heaters had just hit the residential market when I built my home. As a result, they had no proven track record and were being promoted with inflated expectations of energy savings and life expectancy. They are also very com­plicated, with many parts that can break: flame igniters, burner nozzles, control boards, etc.

My plumber offered to get me another tankless unit by a different manufacturer who claimed to have solved these problems. No, thank you. This time I'm going with a traditional water heater whose design has stood the test of time. It will last 15-20 years, require no regu­lar maintenance and should rarely need repairs.

Now, what does that have to do with district energy and our theme for the year, "Sustaining Our Success"? Everything! Our industry is under attack from the "tankless" crowd: those who are selling the latest and greatest craze to help building owners save energy and achieve sustainability ratings. Like the tankless water heater, their systems have no proven track record, often have complex controls and parts that break, and need regular maintenance that is not advertised. Also similarly, their systems' life span and energy savings are both significantly overestimated.

District energy is the tried-and-true system that is proven to deliver. The energy savings, maintenance requirements and life of the systems are all known quantities. As a result, we are often the best long-term choice for customers. However, we have to sell it.

Be sure to join us in Miami in February to learn how college and university campuses are doing just that!



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