Infrared heaters positioned near the roof bathe this facility in warmth, even when the doors are open and the thermometer reads -28°.

Maintaining a 9,156-mile highway system traveled by over 26.1 billion vehicle miles a year is a formidable task for the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT). In the state’s six transportation regions, the familiar bright orange maintenance vehicles blade surfaces and shoulders, repair slopes, fences, road damage and potholes, and clean drainage structures, all part of regular year-round highway maintenance. Their use in snow and ice control involves plowing, sanding, de-icing, and controlling avalanches.

 In a career spanning over ten years at CDOT, Richard Marquez is responsible for managing all structures and buildings in the Alamosa section, an area of Colorado 182 miles by 100 miles where winter temperatures of  -28° below zero are commonplace. Of the 50 buildings under his command, two are heavy maintenance facilities that provide year round service for the trucks, plows, road graders, and sweepers. The others are minor maintenance shops and vehicle storage buildings strategically located throughout the region. 

Cold on the outside, warm on the inside

Not surprisingly, it’s winter that puts everyone to the test - greater wear and tear on vehicles and equipment and occasional breakdowns, with mobile me-chanics having to go out and make repairs on-site. “Equipment is out 24 hours a day,” says Marquez. “If we have a bad storm come in, it takes 24 hours to keep the highways open.”

Marquez explains that CDOT continually looks for ways to improve the atmosphere for its employees, adding that forty of the buildings in the Alamosa section alone now have infrared heaters. “It’s specified wherever it’s needed for good value, reliability, and efficiency. We want our employees to feel good about where they work and take pride in their environment and equipment,” he says proudly.

But he and his mechanics admit it wasn’t always comfortable in the Alamosa. Not unexpectedly, unit heaters were original equipment in many of the build-ings. “It’s almost a losing battle,” Marquez said. “In the morning when the three or four large doors open and the equipment rolls out, it doesn’t take long to lose all the heat out of the shop. The heater is always running continuously, and it never really heats the building. It would be warm right under the heaters, but in such a large shop, it would be cold elsewhere, especially laying down and crawling around on a cold concrete floor when the plows come in and a blade needs changing.”

With Solaronics heaters, recovery is quick when the large doors close. “We can warm the shop back up to where the crews can work comfortably,” he said.

Anthony Garcia, project manager for Vendola Plumbing & Heating of Alamosa, a long-standing CDOT vendor, said of the installation, “Positioned near roof level and out of the way of CDOTs vehicles, they quietly beam infrared energy that is converted into warm, radiant heat as it reaches work surfaces, machin-ery, tools, concrete floors and people below. Just like how we are warmed by the sun, the heat is retained where it’s directed, so people are comfortable and tools, equipment, and floors are warm to the touch.”

Solaronics heaters are CSA International Design-certified to ANSI/CGA Standards and are fueled economically by natural gas or widely available propane gas. Customarily specified for new construction and retrofits to existing commercial and industrial buildings, they achieve savings of up to 75% of fuel costs compared to conventional warm air units, according to Tom Lester, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing.

Compact, silent fans are the only moving parts. The heaters utilize a patented reflector design for optimum infrared dispersion and have a reflectional effi-ciency exceeding 90%. Each reflector section is constructed of Brite finish aluminum and can be precisely angled to direct the heat where needed. Marquez recently ordered Solaronics’ new True Dual two-stage heater for the CDOT Wolf Creek West facility near Wolf Creek Pass.