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Boilers – Preparing for the Next Decade

Boilers –  Preparing for the Next Decade

Boiler manufacturers have their eye on the future as new standards for residential boilers take effect in January 2021. The Department of Energy (DOE) mandated that minimum annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) levels need to be raised to 84% for gas-fired boilers and 86% for oil-fired boilers. These boilers are designed to be the main source of heating for the residences that requires heat input rate of less than 300,000 BTU/HR.

The Wisconsin PHC Contractor magazine asked several industry professionals about the impact of the 2021 AFUE regulations and industry trends going forward.

“Although, the DOE has finalized new boiler efficiency standards, which will become effective 2021, these revised standards are less stringent than the existing Energy Star levels,” said John Kopf, boiler product manager, Navien.

“The Environmental Protection Agency has decided not to pursue a revision of the Energy Star boiler specification. Instead, the EPA will continue monitoring future market and technology trends,” Kopf said. “Boiler manufacturers, specifying engineers, contractors and building owners had been invited to provide EPA additional information regarding new technology developments or market shifts toward energy savings. Developments in controls, alternative fuels and other energy savings initiatives have always been of EPA’s interest, especially when it comes to boilers operating in condensing mode allowing building owners to capture additional energy savings.

“Despite weak efforts at the federal level, there are still a number of state or local initiatives promoting energy efficiency. These programs should remain in existence throughout the U.S. in the foreseeable future,” he said. “It is worth mentioning that all Navien products have minimum 95% AFUE ratings and qualify for federal, state and local utility rebates.”

Commercial AFUE Not Impacted Yet

“A second regulation, that is not finalized and put on hold by the current administration, is potentially raising the new minimum efficiency levels for commercial boilers,” said Mike Boyd, product manager with Weil-McLain. “Along with the new minimum efficiencies’ levels, a third impact includes new testing procedures.

“It’s extremely important to stay on top of regulations that may impact the boiler industry,” Boyd said. “As a leading manufacturer with one of the broadest lines of products in the industry, it is a challenging endeavor that requires additional expenses and resources to properly balance the implementation of our future product roadmap innovations, while addressing the compliance needs of our existing legacy products.”

Among products Weil-McLain introduced to meet the 2021 AFUE regulations is the product extension to its Evergreen boiler line with sizes 70-155 joining the 220-399 MBH input units. Designated as Most Efficient 2019 by Energy Star, the Evergreen boilers have a 95% AFUE residential efficiency, and in commercial applications, have up to a 96.5% combustion efficiency. All sizes are ready “out-of-the-box” floor standing or wall hung capable, and feature a boiler control with a simple set up wizard with preset application options.

Trends – Moving into the 2020s

“There are a couple of important trends that affect the boiler industry,” Kopf said. “First, there have been significant developments in boiler controls as such more intuitive front panel displays and smart thermostats. Secondly, remote access via mobile applications and building automation systems became one of the major features seen in new products being introduced to market. The new controls allow homeowners to communicate directly with their boilers via mobile applications and obtain important information such as operating status or history of failures. Homeowners can also adjust the set point and change operating schedules. In addition to these capabilities, contractors can perform remote analysis and troubleshooting allowing them to be better prepared for their service call by having the right tools and replacement parts.”

On the commercial side, Kopf said boilers often have built-in BMS communication capabilities that include BACnet, Modbus and Lontalk protocols. In addition to these communication standards, some manufacturers offer 0-10VDC and/or 4-20mA signals to start and stop the boiler and control its modulation.

“Navien has developed innovative WI-FI controls for all its products. The NaviLink WI-FI controller can be used on a single boiler or cascaded system allowing end users to remotely access data, monitor current boiler operating status, adjust settings, obtain error notifications and view past usage data. The NaviLink is fully compatible with both, the Android and iOS mobile devices,” Kopf said.

“One trend is the continued shift to high efficient products for applications that can match and take advantage of the technology,” Boyd said. “However, there also continues to be a large compelling need for standard efficiency cast iron products where the economics, the existing distribution system design (emitters and required temperatures) and venting constraints, provide a better solution. Systems that optimize comfort and efficiency for high temperature, replacement applications, such as hybrid boiler applications, continue to gain popularity as the industry recognizes their design benefits for commercial building owners. Hybrid applications use a non-condensing boiler for lead operation in the core heating season months and a condensing boiler design for lead operation in the heating season shoulder months.”

Boyd added that Weil McLain has an extensive line of products to meet the needs of any application, whether high efficiency condensing boiler or standard efficiency boiler..

“Controls continue to become more capable, enabling a boiler control to run multiple boilers, across multiple applications and temperature zones, optimizing boiler rotation to balance the load across each boiler,” Boyd said. “In addition, more controls are able to integrate easily with the smart home environment and commercial building management systems including products with imbedded communication technology to enable connectivity for remote monitoring/alerts and analytics for predictive maintenance,” he said.

“Also, NOx emission concerns and regulations continue to sit on the horizon and will become more regionally prevalent in the future,” Boyd said. “New boiler designs will continue to advance in areas of intelligent combustion design, which will monitor intake of gas content, automatically adjusting boiler operation to maximize fuel consumption and/or NOx emissions.”

As appliance efficiencies approach theoretical limits, Weil-McLain helps to enable customers to design the optimal system for their application needs, empowered by capable controls to manage the application design. Our focus is to reduce the cost and effort required for installation and make it easier and less costly to service and maintain these high-tech boiler systems.

Raypak, a division of Rheem, reports the biggest trend going into the 2020s will be high-efficiency product designs, advanced control systems with sensing technology to maximize uptime and wireless connectivity solutions.

David Federico, brand director, Rinnai, sees wall-hung condensing boilers continuing to make an impact. “We believe we will see continued increase in wall hung condensing product, which will replace the non-condensing lower efficient product and then a continued rise in the combi models, which will replace the non-condensing boiler with indirect tank installation in North America,” he said.

Contractor Education

Another impending trend is the changing knowledge base of the industry’s technicians and installing contractors. “The average age of our existing contractor group is 58, with an average retirement age of 62,” Boyd said. “With this in mind, Weil-McLain is working closely with our channel partners to provide education to improve technical skills needed to install and maintain equipment, as well as application knowledge to ensure the correct type of product selection. On the product side, we continue to develop equipment that is more ‘plug and play’ capable-easier to install and troubleshoot, resulting in higher field productivity and reliability.”

Weil-McLain also offers hydronic system training that includes extensive in-field application training, class instruction and special certified courses for continuing education. Its School of Better Heating program is an annual series of comprehensive condensing boiler technology for residential contractors that includes two days of training, a foundry tour, reference materials and a certification of completion. Training is also conducted at industry trade shows throughout the year.

“Our commercial boiler products portfolio is supported with regionally based commercial specialists that are available for boiler and boiler systems site training or factory sponsored training at our Michigan City, Indiana, or Eden, North Carolina, facilities. Weil-McLain also conducts regular technical, service and sales training sessions throughout the year. Visit weil-mclain.com/training.

Commercial boiler manufacturer Raypak recently opened an Innovation Learning Center that serves as a training hub and collaborative space for engineers, manufacturers representatives, wholesalers, and plumbers/contractor. This is the fifth center that parent company Rheem has opened across the U.S. and Canada. Raypak’s facility features an interactive classroom, a live demonstration and instruction lab and state-of-the-art product showroom. The center not only highlights Raypak pool heaters, water heaters and boilers, but also includes water heating solutions and HVAC equipment manufactured by Rheem and its other subsidiaries.

Navien Academies offers courses in its state-of-the-art academies in Irvine, California, Moorestown, New Jersey, and Woodbridge, Ontario, to work in a hands-on environment with Navien products.

Navien also offers in-field trainings throughout the United States and Canada to learn in-depth about Navien products and discuss region-specific issues. Information can be obtained through a contractor’s local sales representative or www.navieninc.com.