You might think it would take an army of plumbers to meet the day-to-day needs of an entire school district of circa 1960s buildings. Schools take considerable daily abuse from their rambunctious K-12 occupants, and HVAC systems have to work overtime to keep up with the demands of huge, drafty spaces like gyms and auditoriums. But somehow the Cinnaminson, NJ school district just outside of Philadelphia has managed to keep its five schools and administration buildings nicely comfortable in winter, and hot water flowing on demand to the many showers, bathrooms, and kitchens, through the efforts of just one plumber: Joe Earlen.


By all accounts, Earlen is a skilled plumber, but he’s quick to point out that a new generation of HVAC systems and components are now available that are designed to make him look good - and life a lot easier for both the installer and the building owner. He has, for example, been leading what he calls a ‘campaign to upgrade’ the dozens of older actuators used on the three-way mixing globe valves found on all the schools’ hot water lines that are used for both heating and domestic uses, particularly actuators.

For his upgrade campaign, Earlen chose TAC FORTA globe valve actuators.


According to Earlen, the unit is particularly well-suited for the demands of his school buildings because of its versatility and ease of installation and operation. He needs, for example, to stock only a few models to accommodate any globe valve size from ½ to 6 in., so inventory costs can be kept to a minimum (of particular appeal to a frugal school district). And any FORTA can easily be set up to handle any common proportional input signal, whether it’s the 0-10 VDC typically output by the controllers used in Earlen’s schools, or 2-10 VDC or 4-20 mA, or even a floating or two position signal, simply by flipping a DIP switch. Mounting the actuator to the valve and configuring it to that valve’s stem travel is extremely easy as well, he said, and it can be done without any special tools or having to worry about disconnecting power already going to the actuator.

Additionally, the unit allows the user to establish, via a DIP switch setting, a desired valve position at control signal loss, anywhere from a completely closed (stem down) to completely open (stem up) valve position. Why is this important? “Say we temporarily lose our controller during the school day,” said Earlen. “We don’t want a valve to begin delivering a 140°F to 150° scalding hot flow of water to our buildings where a child might be washing their hands, but rather, a flow of colder temperature. This can be done with FORTA by establishing the desired ‘stem-up or stem-down’ position in advance. We’re ready even when our controllers aren’t.”


Earlen said that the actuator also helps him heat his buildings more efficiently, leading to energy savings that are of increasing importance to the school district - not to mention improved comfort for students and staff. “Of course, energy efficiency is a big concern, and with FORTA, we can, with greater precision and improved responsiveness, achieve the ideal valve position as established by the programmer and the use of the latest controllers,” he said. “We can, for example, waste less energy by sending out a lower flow of hot water calculated to coincide with the warming of the building during the day. Conversely, we can respond to colder conditions more efficiently so that it takes less energy to ramp up to an ideal temperature when the demand for hot water increases.”ES