The students residing in this 30-year-old twin-tower high-rise averaged two to three calls per day complaining about the lack of heat. An air/dirt separator was a key part of solving this problem.
As director of facilities management for Eastern Illinois University (EIU) in Charleston, IL, Gary Reed is well known for his attention to energy conservation and innovative approach to maintenance cost-savings. He knew that several buildings on campus had air and dirt problems and were costing the university both money and man-hours. What he didn't know was that those problems didn't have to be considered routine maintenance and could be totally eliminated.

Situated on 320 acres in downstate Illinois, EIU is attended by over 11,500 students, approximately 35% of that total living in on-campus housing. Its three million square feet comprises 70 buildings, 12 of which are residence halls and 17 are apartment buildings. It's Reed's responsibility to make certain these buildings are kept comfortable all year long for students and faculty alike. Air and dirt problems in many of the buildings were making his job very difficult.

The Problem Child

Carman Hall was considered the "problem child" by the campus maintenance staff. The students residing in the 30-year-old, twin-tower high-rise in the far southeast corner of the campus averaged two to three calls per day complaining about the lack of heat. The record, though, was more than 25 calls in one weekend. Like many buildings on campus, Carman Hall is heated using a two-pipe system that takes steam from the central plant and converts it to hot water. One Aurora Horizontal Split Case pump (Aurora, IL) moves 760 gal. through a 6-in. pipe for both the hot and chilled water. With a series of valves, hot water is changed to chilled water when the weather dictates.

Reed thought that the air and dirt problems he was experiencing in Carman Hall and throughout the campus were all part and parcel of an operating hydronic system until he saw a working demonstration of a Spirovent® Combination Air & Dirt Separator. The Spirovent, made by Spirotherm, Inc. (Glendale Heights, IL), employs the patented Spirotube® coalescing/barrier medium to scrub air and dirt from hot and chilled water systems, allowing it to break free of the flow path. The air is released from the top of the unit via a patented air release mechanism, while the dirt falls to the bottom and collects in the dirt chamber where it can be blown down through a manual or automatic blowdown valve.

After reading an article in one of the facility management journals about Reed's in-house approach to energy and maintenance savings, Dan Whitezell, vice president of marketing and sales for Spirotherm, visited EIU and took a look at the systems in Carman Hall and some of the other buildings on campus. During his investigation, Whitezell found black iron oxide powder present in the control valves in Carman Hall, indicating a high level of oxygen in the system. He recommended installing a combination air and dirt separator between the heat exchanger and the pump suction, where it will operate at its peak efficiency.

Reed took Whitezell's advice and ordered the Spirovent unit. Because they are simple to install, there was no reason to hire a contractor, and the maintenance staff performed the installation. Reed stated that there has been a definite improvement in system performance since the Spirovent was installed. The valve clogging problems have been virtually eliminated and the no-heat calls have all but disappeared. "The product speaks for itself," he said. Rick Bagwell, the environmental control foreman, remarked, "I'm very happy with the Spirovent units and what they can do. I was skeptical at first because we've tried many things and none of them worked. [The] Spirovents are the first that did."

Man-Hour Savings

In the past two years, EIU has installed the combination air and dirt separators in six of their 12 residence halls. Reed tried the product because he was impressed with the demo, but continues to use the product because, in his words, "The Spirovent relieves us of the worry of providing comfort." As for the bottom line, Reed is expecting Spirovent to help with that, too. The savings in man-hours alone in a large university with multiple units can translate to thousands of dollars per year as a result of reduced trouble calls. With EIU's pumps no longer wasting energy by pumping entrained air and dirt, Reed is looking forward to improved efficiency, plus possible additional savings via a decrease in chemical treatment costs as well.ES