With the skyrocketing costs of energy affecting people of all ages, the students and teachers at the Moffat School in southeastern Colorado learned a valuable lesson in energy efficiency.

At an elevation of 7,600 ft, the school sits squarely in a region known for fierce winds year round and sub zero winter temperatures for weeks at a time. “It was 50° below for sixty straight days last winter,” says Kevin Neese, the school’s director of maintenance and facilities, glad now it’s only a frosty memory.

The K-12 public school, with an enrollment of 150 students, was built in the early 1900s. A gymnasium addition, constructed in the 1960s and originally equipped with warm air blowing unit heaters, is also used as a community facility by local theatre groups, family reunions, and town and government meetings.

Speaking affectionately about his long-term association with the school - Neese and his wife were students and graduates many years ago - he recalls his younger days in the drafty gymnasium. “When we were in school these old heaters ran all the time and we still were cold. Also, the heaters were noisy, a distraction during events, especially at student concerts, drowning out the kids’ instruments.”

Noisy and problematic

Neese explains that over time, the gymnasium’s noisy and underperforming unit heaters were requiring very high levels of maintenance. “In a small district as this is, I’m responsible for the upkeep of the building as well as being the mechanic for the school buses. I don’t have the time to service heaters, too, which I’ve continually had to do with these old units.”

The decision to finally replace the aged heaters was triggered when unhealthy CO emission levels were detected near the gymnasium’s roof during a routine inspection.

After contending with the heaters’ problems for so long, the school now had the opportunity to establish its requirements for a new system. Top on the list, as expected, included safe and quiet operation, little or no periodic maintenance, and energy efficiency to reduce fuel costs. Says Neese, “With this old building and with the poor ventilation of the building, we needed a cost effective system that would be easy to maintain.” Durability was also important, he notes, “Kids have hit the old heaters with basketballs.”

All the requirements were handily met by the energy-efficient Solaronics gas infrared heating system specified and installed by Vendola Plumbing and Heating of Alamosa, CO. One thing that hadn’t changed though, Neese reveals, was the errant basketball, necessitating protective screens for the heaters.

 Anthony Garcia, Vendola Plumbing and Heating’s project manager, claims the low- intensity Solaronics heaters are the appropriate choice for this building because they direct the heat right at the level where people are enjoying a sports event or other activity.

Warm and quiet

Mounted above spectator areas, Solaronics heaters steadfastly maintain their preselected operating temperature range, quietly and efficiently beaming infrared energy that becomes warm, radiant heat as it reaches floors and people below - similar to the way the sun warms the earth. And even after the heaters cycle off, people remain comfortable because they retain heat longer.

Operating on natural gas and LP gas (propane), the heaters are CSA International Design Certified to ANSI/CGA Standards. (The Moffat School’s heaters are fueled by propane.) Optimal combustion is achieved by precisely matching air and gas ratios for fuel efficiency, resulting in savings of up to 75% over conventional warm air blowing units.

All burners are supplied fully assembled and tested. Compact, silent fans are the only moving parts. The heaters utilize a patented reflector design for optimum infrared dispersion and have a reflectional efficiency exceeding 90%. Each reflector section is constructed of Brite finish aluminum and can be precisely rotated to direct the heat where needed.

Brian McLane of Air Purification Company, Solaronics’ Colorado and Wyoming representative, points out that the heaters’ combustion systems are typically built for operation at elevations of up to about 2,000 ft. But the thinness of the air at the school’s 7,600-ft altitude required larger air orifices in the heaters to allow sufficient air intake for proper combustion. Also, he says that for the long runs of heater tube required to cover large areas, up to 70 ft can be utilized, with inputs rated to 200,000 Btuh.”

 “What a difference,” Neese exclaims. After running a full heating season with the new Solaronics system, he was able to compare fuel usage with that of past years. “Our energy savings have been tremendous. With the old heaters we were using up to six tankers of propane per year - this year we only used two.”

 Along with the warm, comfortable environment and energy savings, the heaters’ silent operation is most appreciated. “Now during concerts you only hear the sound out of the kids’ instruments,” Neese said. ES