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Have steam heating? Convert and save 40% or more!

Does your building have steam heating?

If so, you should really consider converting to a hydronic system or, potentially, supplementing your existing steam system with heat pumps.

Such retrofits aren't slam dunks for all buildings - just how wise these retrofit investments are can depend on other building characteristics, hours of occupancy, and just how much fuel the building is using now.

But in general, we see very deep energy and cost savings reductions.

We've seen these reductions first hand in our own projects and it's well established in case study reviews.

How much can you save?

Well, consider for a moment one such case study review, this one from NYSERDA.

NYSERDA reviewed a sampling of retrofit projects, some replacing an older steam boiler with a new steam boiler and some replacing an older steam boiler with a hydronic boiler (and converting the steam piping to hydronic, if the system does not already have hydronic).

How did these compare?

The difference is stark.

Average heating savings (as percent of original heating use):

-Steam-to-steam: 0.6%

-Steam-to-hydronic 40.5%.

And, as the review notes, replacing a steam boiler with a hydronic boiler can achieve just as high savings - even if the existing system is already hydronic.

As we noted, we've now helped a lot of Maine building owners implement steam-to-hydronic retrofits - and we've seen the same or better results.

For example, take one fourteen-unit multifamily building in downtown Portland. The building had a steam boiler and steam piping. And it's oil bill each year was approximately $17,000. By converting to a properly designed hydronic system, the building reduced its heating use and cost by approximately 50%.

The buildings existing fuel use was high, to be sure. And in fact the building earned an Energy Star score of 1 out of 100, the lowest score possible. But nonetheless, this project's percent reduction in fuel use and cost is fairly typical when the hydronic system is designed and implemented correctly.

Important Considerations

1. The initial investment wasn't cheap. Such retrofits can sometimes cost around $40,000.

Luckily, though, some very affordable financing options are available. And because utility costs drop during the life of the loan (and for a long time after!), our clients often never even have to incur an added retrofit cost!

This project is already very close to paying for itself and the owner will soon start enjoying decades of profit from his investment.

2. Though thermostatic radiator valves can help, most steam heating systems are essentially single zone heating systems. Hydronic systems, ideally, are broken out into many different zones in a multifamily building. Thus, if installing sensors in new locations, it's important to ensure these locations are well enough insulated and air sealed. If they're not, you may not realize the energy and cost savings you might be expecting.

3. When considering a significant investment like this, it really benefits you to ensure cost savings projections are accurate - by having work scopes modeled with investment-grade building energy modeling software (e.g. PSD's TREAT). There is a lot of complexity involved in such retrofits and thus trusting a contractor's rough savings estimates is not advisable.

With these considerations in mind, converting from steam to hydronic heating - when done right - can generate excellent fuel cost savings! And, because tenants tend to be much more comfortable in buildings with multiple-zone heating, which should reduce turn-over and further drive rental income.

Stay tuned - we'll cover what to consider when considering heat pumps in our next post!

If you think you know a building owner who might benefit from this information, make sure to share it! They'll appreciate it and we certainly will as well!

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