When the 26,000-square-foot Sanford-Springvale YMCA opened its doors in Sanford, Maine, in 1979, two heating-oil-fired HB Smith cast-iron boilers provided both space heating and hot water. Over the years, the YMCA’s membership grew to 3,900 individuals and 1,400 families, placing heavy demand on the facility’s aging boiler system.

In 2011, the YMCA’s 32-year-old heating oil boiler system had become inefficient, which required additional maintenance to simply stay up and running. Sanford-Springvale YMCA CEO Andy Orazio knew it was time to replace the system.

“The key was finding a solution that was not only energy efficient but could also provide enough hot water to meet our facility’s peak demands, provide all hydronic space heating, maintain proper indoor pool and hot tub temperatures, and accommodate potential load increases as our membership grows,” Orazio said.

Initially, the YMCA planned to replace its outdated boiler system with a modern, energy-efficient version also fueled by heating oil. While the infrastructure for such a system was already in place, the cost to replace the system was substantial. In addition to replacing the boilers themselves, the YMCA would need to repair the interior and exterior of the system’s chimney as well as replace and relocate its oil storage tanks.

The volatility of heating oil prices also concerned the YMCA’s leadership, which saw the replacement of the old boiler system as an opportunity to upgrade to a new solution with better value and performance. Management decided to investigate all available options — including systems powered by on-site wind and solar energy as well as those fueled by more traditional energy sources, like electricity and propane — and evaluated each on its initial system costs, annual energy cost estimates, and overall life cycle costs.

“We briefly considered using electric water heaters, but there was a challenge with their ability to meet peak demand at our busiest times of the day,” Orazio said. “Furthermore, we discovered that if we installed a series of 120-gallon commercial electric water heaters, the estimated cost to provide the hot water would have been twice as much as the propane system.”

After carefully considering performance, fuel supply availability, price stability, and storage options, YMCA management decided that a high-efficiency, propane-powered boiler system was the ideal solution for its space and water heating needs. The facility’s new system would consist of four 95% efficient, wall-hung boilers of 399,000 Btu each with simple PVC venting, two 1,000-gallon aboveground propane storage tanks, and three hot water storage tanks.

“As stewards for the towns of Sanford and Springvale, we wanted to be as sustainable and energy efficient as possible,” said Gwen Bedell, CFO for the Sanford-Springvale YMCA. “That further supported our decision to choose propane.”

Upon the YMCA’s decision to purchase and install the propane-powered boiler system, the YMCA’s former heating oil supplier, Downeast Energy, became its propane supplier. 
“We set up the YMCA’s propane pricing on a long-term contract so that they would have a predictable cost outlay for energy following the retrofit,” said Dave Oullette, Downeast Energy representative. “And because we had access to the facility’s historical heating oil consumption, we were able to project estimated annual propane usage and costs and create a consistent propane delivery schedule.”

YMCA management is planning to build a 22,000-square-foot addition that will nearly double the facility’s size. Propane’s flexible storage options will also help the facility easily accommodate any future growth.

“We may keep the aboveground propane tanks in an aesthetically pleasing ‘corral,’ or we may eventually opt for underground storage,” Orazio said. “We have the flexibility to make those decisions as our building’s footprint grows.”

The Sanford-Springvale YMCA’s new high-efficiency propane boiler space and water heating system is realizing annual energy cost savings of roughly $23,500. This figure is based upon the facility’s average heating oil bill prior to installing the new system compared with its current propane bill.

The project also qualified for a state-provided $50,000 incentive aimed at encouraging ultra-efficient commercial mechanical system upgrades. Considering the YMCA’s energy cost savings, the state provided incentive, and the system’s initial cost of approximately $120,000, the propane space and water heating system aimed to completely pay for itself in just under three years.

“Compared with the option of making expensive repairs and installing a replacement heating oil system, the propane system was estimated to have lower initial cost in addition to lower energy costs,” said Oullette. “This system offered the YMCA an immediate return on its investment.”

The high-efficiency propane boiler system is also delivering major environmental benefits compared with heating oil. The YMCA’s new propane-powered space and water heating system is keeping more than 183,000 pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere each year — the equivalent of taking 17 cars off the road annually.