When a developer locked in the service providers to design and build Via Sol, a new 217-unit sustainable apartment community in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park, Minnesota, he took collaboration to a new level.
“Via Sol was a really important project for our organization,” notes Chris Velasco, co-founder and executive director at PLACE, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that collaborates with cities to build sustainable communities. “What we did with Via Sol is very unusual. We used an integrated project delivery method, which meant we involved all the subcontractors, the general contractor, the architect and the engineers upfront from Day 1.
“We sat together with them and said, ‘We need to do the most efficient mechanical system.’ We determined from our experience that their early involvement was critical if we wanted to get a very low kBTU per square foot, which is one of the leading measurements we use to make sure we’re designing these projects to be as efficient and sustainable as possible.
“For this project, we were trying to get to 42 kBTUs/square foot on a project modeled at code at 127 KBTUs/square foot. So that’s a big decrease.”
Included in that collaboration was Todd Matelski, pre-construction manager at Horwitz LLC, a full-service engineering contractor providing design-build, installation and ongoing support for the HVAC, plumbing and electrical markets in the Twin Cities. Horwitz is the mechanical engineering firm of record on the project.
Horwitz, along with MSR Architects, general contractor Greiner Construction and Ben Franklin Electric and others, would contribute their respective expertise to help fulfill PLACE’s vision for designing and building a multifamily dwelling that would take sustainability to the next level.
“This was our first project with PLACE,” Matelski says. “We won the job, not on price, but because we brought the best value: timetable, LEED requirements and thinking outside the box. LEED projects are a specialty of Horwitz, but we also specialize in energy-efficiency projects where we can exceed what the normal market is doing in terms of decarbonization, electrification and renewable energy ideas.”
While LEED projects represent only about half of the projects Horwitz does, most of their customers are still very interested in sustainability, energy conservation, electrification and SB2030, a Minnesota-specific initiative mandating requirements for Minnesota General Obligation bond-funded projects, setting standards and tracking the performance of a project from early design through operation.
Redundancy and Turndown Features
When it came to water heating options for Via Sol, Matelski was aware of tankless options on the market. One of his local sources was Jesse McMonagle, partner and sales/service coordinator at Ryan Co., a Minneapolis-based manufacturer’s rep firm representing Intellihot tankless water heaters and others in the upper Midwest.
“Tankless/on-demand water heating saves energy and carbon emissions over traditional tanks because they don’t need to keep a large vat of water at a constant temperature 24/7,” explains Perry Bobrow, Intellihot’s specifications manager. “Sustainability objectives are helping drive our sales, and incentives and mandates are at every level to help. At the national level, there’s the Inflation Reduction Act. At the state level there is, for example, SB2030 in Minnesota. And at the local level, utilities are offering rebates.
However, the primary drivers for engineers are savings on energy costs and creating more efficient systems.
“It came down to turndown, ultimately,” said Matelski. “Getting 1.5 million BTU input and being able to turn it down to 30,000 BTU — not many products on the market have that kind of turndown ratio. In addition, because of the multiple burners or heat engines in each unit, we liked the redundancy inherent in the Intellihot units without having to truly add redundancy.”
For the Via Sol project, Horwitz used two Intellihot iQ1501 units, which feature a turndown ratio of 50:1. With their compact size — 30 inches wide and a 1,025 lb. weight — iQ1501 floor units fit through elevator doors and are ideal where space is at a premium. When it comes to new multifamily projects, space is at a premium.
“Those are big selling features for Intellihot versus tank-type units — the built-in redundancy and turndown ratio,” McMonagle says. “The unit can still run if a heat engine is down. A project like Via Sol offers peace of mind for the building owners, managers and tenants.”
Installation Vs. Lifetime Costs
Budget is relative. Some customers are driven by installation costs, while others, such as PLACE, see the big picture and consider lifetime costs. “Every customer is different,” Matelski says. “Our whole design was based on a tankless-type heating system because we understood and communicated the lower lifetime cost.”
McMonagle notes: “The happy medium is to supply a piece of equipment that suits both visions. Our calculations include the overall quality of the unit. Some lower-end water heaters don’t provide longevity. The customers are aware of that. Almost all the water heaters we sell today include a two-year manufacturer’s warranty. That wasn’t always the case; it used to be only one year.”
Intellihot’s iQ Series water heaters have a 10-year commercial heat engine warranty; it was especially important for the Via Sol project as it took a while to get off the ground. “While Horwitz is charged with doing the service work after it goes out of warranty, they’re not required to do a lot of service because the units are basically running on their own,” he adds.
Intellihot also offers TelliCare, which is a Wi-Fi enabled, prognostics and predictive maintenance service that allows Intellihot water heaters to be monitored remotely or onsite through an app on a mobile device.
“What most companies do is just tie it into their BMS system,” explained McMonagle. “If a fault comes up it goes to the building owner/boiler operator. That’s when they’ll contact Horwitz or us. The TelliCare is a nice feature but it’s doing something that the building operator should be doing anyway.”
When asked about challenges around the project, Velasco says: “It was a project plagued with many challenges — COVID-19, labor issues and code enforcement. This was my 27th major project and it was the most challenging one I’ve delivered in my career. However, the system was without any problems.”
He adds that the team is conducting a commissioning auditing process after the first full year of operation, and no problems with the tankless water heaters are coming up during the process. Other things in the building not quite operating to spec are being fixed.
“The auditing process is something we do because, as we’ve learned from LEED-designed projects, a lot of those projects were not performing as they had been spec’d; the audit ensures they are,” Velasco explains. “With tenants in the building, in the Minnesota winter, we’ve had nothing but outstanding results from the system.”
As far as training, Velasco notes: “We’d never used a system like this on a project, so I wanted to see it. I went through the training with the Intellihot people on site, which we walked through with the property management and their maintenance people. They thought the system made sense: a sensible, clean, elegant system that’s also sustainable.”
Amy Turner, CDMP, has served as Intellihot’s director of marketing for more than three years, guiding the company’s marketing efforts during its double-digit, year-over-year growth. She is a certified digital marketing professional and has a Women in Leadership certification from Cornell University.