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I have had a long-standing relationship with the Burnham brand. On my very first day in this industry, way back in 1987, I installed a Burnham Series 2 hot water boiler as a summer helper at Arlington Heating.
Of course, I use the term “installed” very loosely. I did not even know what a boiler was at the time much less which end of the Ridgid 24-inch pipe wrench to grab ahold of. My only useful task that day was running to 7-Eleven to fetch coffee for the crew.
In the mid- to late-1990s I served on the Burnham Trade Council and made annual trips to the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, headquarters. I’ve lost track of how many times I have been there, but I have not been there recently. The last time I was there was maybe a dozen years ago at the invitation of Jimmy Schnorr, my U.S. Boiler TM at the time, now president of Thermal Solutions, and my good friend and boiler supplier Ross McDaniel, RIP.
At the time, U.S. Boiler was just starting to make inroads into the condensing boiler market. They were well known as a cast-iron boiler manufacturer, but they were adding the growing condensing boiler market to their lineup. I was there at the time to tour their condensing manufacturing facility.
In the dozen years since then, condensing boilers have grown from a niche market to capturing a major share of the boiler marketplace. When Mike Hook, marketing communications manager of U.S. Boiler invited me back to Lancaster to see the changes, I jumped at the opportunity.
In early fall, I made the two-hour drive from the DC metro area to Lancaster. The first building I toured did not exist last time I was there. It included new warehouse space as well as their test lab. I was met there by Mike as well as Craig Eshenaur, product development manager and Duane Breneman, director of engineering. The three would be conducting the plant tour that day. I was there primarily to preview their new Alta Combi condensing boiler.
We started with a brief video presentation of the Alta outlining the product and unique features incorporated into the new boiler. I absorbed lots of good information, but I was chomping at the bit to get to the test lab. I am hands on. I need to see, touch and feel a boiler in three dimensions to formulate an opinion.
We next went into the test lab where we got into an operational Alta. We fired it up, played with the controls and I took in all the features of this new boiler. I am a service tech at heart and tore into the Alta.
I have worked on boilers that were hard to get to critical components. This was not one of them. With some borrowed tools, I took it apart and got into almost all the operational parts. The boiler is well laid out with components that are easily accessible. The front and side panels are removable to allow easy service access to all components. I had it apart and back together and firing again in a matter of minutes.
The test lab was impressive. Multiple boilers were being tested and put through their paces. One room was dedicated to testing electronics and controls. In addition to the Alta, one other boiler in particular caught my attention: a new gas-fired steam boiler. See the sidebar for my thoughts on the new SteamMax boiler.
Next was the warehouse where boilers and product were stacked floor to ceiling waiting to ship out to supply houses nationwide. Also, in one corner there were test boilers that had been field-tested and removed, waiting to be torn down and inspected by U.S. Boiler’s engineering staff.
We then ventured down the street to the manufacturing facility. This is the same building I visited a dozen years ago. Gavin Samson, manufacturing process engineer conducted the tour. Lots of changes had been made since my last visit.
Cast iron was still manufactured there, but condensing lines have taken over an increasing footprint in this facility. I was impressed by the streamlined manufacturing process. I spoke to several of the line workers. Each station was well laid out and organized to maximize efficiency. I liked the fact that each boiler was test-fired and checked before it was packaged and shipped. The day of my visit, the manufacturing plant was running at maximum capacity to ensure sufficient product availability when the cold weather hits.
More on Alta
The Alta is U.S. Boiler’s new combi boiler. It is a gas fired 95 percent AFUE water-tube boiler with integral space heat as well as DHW. It can provide a solid 3.7 GPM domestic hot water with a 70*F temperature rise. It features a 316L stainless steel heat exchanger and a 10:1 turndown pre-mix burner. It fires at 120 MBH input for heating and 136 MBH input for DHW demand. An additional 180 MBH Heating/200 DHW combi model, plus heating-only models will be introduced in February 2022.
A wall-mount bracket and a primary-secondary are included with this boiler for fast, easy installation. Venting is through a sidewall or roof with CPVC or polypropylene. A flexible chimney chase kit is suitable as well. The warranty is exceptional: 5-year warranty on all parts with a 12-year limited warranty on the stainless-steel heat exchanger.
The DHW component is compatible with re-circulation. A re-circ pump relay is built into the control. This feature minimizes the wait time for domestic hot water at the fixtures. The Alta features a virtually instantaneous DHW response time as well as tight temperature control resulting in stable DHW supply temperatures under all demand conditions.
The biggest innovation is the control system for this boiler. It features an automatic “no touch” combustion management system that continuously monitors the burner and fuel/air mixture and automatically adjusts for safe, clean combustion. The burner self-corrects using flame ionization technology. No manual adjustments are required. It is self-calibrating and adjusts to variations in fuel, air, venting and component wear. It can be converted to LP fuel with a simple switch setting. No LP kit is required.
A sensor-less reset control is integral. No hard-wired sensor is required. The control monitors supply and return temperature and adjusts the boiler operation for maximum comfort and efficiency. A “boost” function is built in to the control to ensure the boiler maintains comfort level under all operating conditions. It also features three inputs (two demand and one configurable) as well as three pump relay outputs simplifying control and pump wiring. A boiler flow safety switch is built into the boiler.
The Alta control is compatible with a Bluetooth accessory for connection to smartphones. At the time of my visit, a smartphone app was in development for release in the near future. Technicians on site will be able to read, assess and easily adjust the control parameters on their phones. Boiler installation remote monitoring is also planned. Imagine being able to see boiler parameters and error codes remotely, before sending a tech.
My company recently had a chance to test out the Alta on one of our job sites. We have been working on a project in McLean, Virginia, incorporating a 6,000-square foot main house and an 800-square foot detached pool house with a sunroom, garage and in-law suite. This is where the Alta was a perfect fit for the pool house feeding in-slab radiant floor heat. As this is a Combi boiler, the DHW component provides domestic hot water to a bar sink, powder room and a full bath.
My lead tech, Brian Golden, installed and fitted the Alta boiler. He liked that it came with a pro-press compatible Primary/Secondary header allowing for quick and easy piping. This installation consisted of a single-zone low-temperature radiant floor heat embedded in a concrete slab. There were no high temperature zones simplifying the piping and control.
The supply and return piping from the radiant manifolds were piped directly into the primary-secondary header with the integral control relay operating the system pump. No mixing valve or additional mixing controls were necessary. I have learned over the years that simple equals good and reliable. The sealed-combustion boiler was vented with 2-inch schedule 80 CPVC through the side wall with a concentric vent kit.
Brian really liked the ease of installation.
“We were able to set, pipe, vent and wire the boiler in one day,” he said.
The start-up was done the next morning as he was waiting on the gas line connection from the plumber.
“Start-up was a snap,”, Brian added. A combustion test with an analyzer confirmed the burner was operating cleanly and within manufacturer specifications.
“This boiler is well designed and a joy to install” Brian explained. “I look forward to using the Alta on our future projects.”
The installation manual is clear and concise allowing for a smooth installation and start-up. Brian had one question regarding the setpoint adjustment. A five-minute call to tech support clarified this setting and the start-up was complete. The system has been operational since late October without any issues.
My trip to Lancaster was a day well spent. I got a chance to meet some great people and see an impressive facility. I was amazed at the new products and the investment U.S. Boiler is making in boiler technology and manufacturing. U.S. Boiler is an outstanding industry partner. I see more Alta boilers in our future as well as our first SteamMax installation.
Burnham Steam Max
As I was touring the test lab at U.S. Boiler in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, I saw many different boilers being run through their paces. One boiler in particular caught my eye. I could see it was a steam boiler with the familiar Burnham Sherpa Blue jacket, but this one had a different look.
I had installed most, if not all, of Burnham’s steam boilers, both residential and commercial. The multiple risers on this particular boiler caught my eye.
“What is this?” I asked Mike Hook, U.S. Boiler’s marketing manager, who was giving me a tour of the facility.
“This one is new,” he said with a smile on his face. “You will like it!”
U.S. Boiler did a total redesign on this residential and light commercial, atmospheric draft, gas-fired steam boiler. It was designed for optimum efficiency and longevity with a 10-year waterside corrosion warranty on residential installations. It comes in multiple sizes ranging from 75 MBH input to 550 MBH input.
Changes and upgrades include wider boiler sections with a larger steam chest. This allows for an increased steam disengaging area resulting in drier steam. There are no heat transfer pins above the water line and no crown sheet fins to allow for greater corrosion resistance. This heat exchanger was designed for longevity. Stainless steel in-shot burners along with more heat transfer pins below the water line push the combustion efficiency to 82 percent AFUE.
Piping kits are available for sizes 250MBH and down. I am a big fan of the steam boiler piping kits. It streamlines and simplifies the installation process. It makes for uniform installations that comply with the manufacturer’s specifications. It also avoids having to buy out the entire supply house stock of black fittings and nipples to install one boiler. In addition, the pre-cut nipples speed up the installation eliminating the need to cut and thread black pipe.
The best upgrades are the repositioning of steam risers to the inner cast-iron sections and the addition of intermediate risers on the larger sizes. This allows for optimum steam disengagement at the water line. It also allows for smoother steam flow and a stable water line.
The fact that U.S. Boiler would do a total redesign on this boiler incorporating multiple innovations shows their commitment to their steam line as well as hydronics in general. I look forward to trying out the SteamMax on my future steam projects.
At press time, my U.S. Boiler rep was bringing the SteamMax into local distribution in my market, the Washington, D.C. metro area. I will report back in a future column.