52 States in 8 Months

Yeah, let’s find a way to waste energy!

Posted in Newark, University stuff by Ulf on June 11, 2009

Last week the heating system in our lab was finally fixed (if anyone at the University of Delaware reads this and also has problems with the heating, simply call 1141). At this event we learned about how our heating works:

The air system supplies us air at a constant temperature of 60°F (which is 15.5°C). It’s always the same, summer and winter. In winter, this air is obviously preheated, and in summer it is a/c’d down. Then there is a steam network, probably running somewhere between 200°F and 300°F, but this is just a guess. So how does our room get warm? The incoming air (60°F) can be detoured through a heat exchanger in our room which is fed by the steam network. A thermostat controls how much air goes through the heat exchanger, and how much air directly comes to our room. It’s always interesting how people find ways of wasting energy!


In the previous years the pneumatic actuation of our thermostat was broken, leaving the valve open so that the air was constantly heated to a room temperature of 80-90°F which I can hardly stand (27-32°C). So this system doesn’t just waste energy, it’s also unreliable. Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures of myself sitting topless at my desk and sweating anyway.

Next week (from Sunday to Sunday) they’ll shut the campus-wide steam network off. They do this once a year to clean things. That means: No hot water in our buildings, and no re-heating of the pre-cooled air. That means that our lab will be cooled down to about 60°F for one week, and there is no way to control this temperature. Luckily I’ll be in St. Louis most of the time.


6 Responses

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  1. Martin said, on June 11, 2009 at 9:17 am

    Ulf you still sure you want to work on cars in the future? Considering your Blog you are much more passionate about the environment. (If it”s sounds different, I think it”s good tho :) )

  2. Don said, on June 11, 2009 at 10:34 am

    The question is, how many TIMES do you have to call 1141?

  3. Andreas said, on June 11, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    you call that unfortunately ?

  4. Ulf said, on June 11, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    @ Martin: I’m not completely sure about that. But there is a lot to improve about transportation, so I would surely find a way to save energy there.

    @ Don: I guess we were lucky. I told our lab coordinator about the problems for months, but nothing happened. So for us calling the facilities-people directly really did the job.

    @ Andi: Maybe you’re right ;-).

    btw: Does my drawing show up on your computers? It’s just a white area on the machine I’m using right now…?!?

  5. Steve Smith said, on June 12, 2009 at 10:01 am

    We rebuild pneumatic controls (mostly thermostats)and sell new ones. Question-Did you or yours ever try to be the thermostat mechanic? We rebuild a portion of controls that fail (mostly)due to the room occupants “improving” the response of the thermostat. There are many pieces in a pneumatic thermostat but ultimately the total movement of a particular critical, vulnerable piece is about 1/16 th of an inch and room occupants (mostly unwittingly I hope) stick things through stat covers that throw that dimension off and the room overheats automatically. So your final control of the valve-fully open to fully closed-is dependent on leaving the 1/16th thermostat travel movement intact. Also, your drawing is a pretty good illustration of the general idea of things but it lacks a good number of other controls required to do this properly-not a criticism. Too, while pneumatic controls are losing popularity in favor of electronics, (which facilitates monitoring via a PC)they remain in this guy’s opinion an excellent method of control. If properly maintained (and left alone) they are just as good as the electronics-maybe better. In fact, many new systems are keeping the main pneumatic muscle in place and making the rest electronic. Finally, like too many places, good maintenance mechanics are a dificult find and with budget constraints- are hard to keep. You are absolutely correct that a lot of money is wasted-as it is all over, certainly a lot more than it costs for a properly funded and trained maintenance dept. I am sure you realize that a steam shutdown is a little more comprehensive than cleaning things but you demonstrate a point. Maybe under this Admin.,we will all get a little energy wiser and maybe even appreciate the added value, ability and energy saving potential that people who are “good with their hands” bring to every large commericial, industrial, and eductional building that drink energy by the barrel.

  6. Ulf said, on June 13, 2009 at 7:13 pm

    Hi Steve! Thank your for your comment! I didn’t know that the control range of the thermostat was such a small range. Yes, we did indeed open the thermostat, but only after it had been broken. It turned out that the actual problem wasn’t the thermostat but a little rubber piece behind it, so one of the two pneumatic lines apparently had a small leak. The mechanic first replaced the thermostat and realized afterwards that the valve wasn’t reacting to the thermostat input, and things were fine after he also replaced those rubber seals.

    The thing I don’t like about this concept of building heating is that, during the summer months, the air is cooled down and heated up again. But actually I’m not familiar with air supply systems in Germany, so I can’t really say for sure that we’re not using a similar approach.

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