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An uninterrupted flow of hot water is a modern necessity, especially when it comes to certain commercial applications. Without it, places like restaurants and hospitals would literally shut their doors — the inability to cook and clean properly would put peoples’ health at grave risk.
Jails too, have a constant need for hot water; be it for cooking, dish washing, laundry or hygiene. Indian River County Jail in Vero Beach, Fla., realized this firsthand when a boiler and 300-gallon storage tank in its E-building complex began to malfunction.
“The last thing you want is a riot because the inmates do not have hot water in their showers,” warned Administrative Lieutenant Adam Bailey, who oversees facility maintenance at the jail.
This need for hot water prompted Bailey to replace the boiler with multiple tankless water heaters, providing continuous hot water on-demand without the hassle of storage. Furthermore, when combined in a multi-unit system, if one tankless unit malfunctions, the others will automatically work to meet demand until the problem can be fixed.
By choosing tankless, the jail assured that hot water would always be delivered on demand. On the financial front, $50,000 in installation costs were saved, and the tankless system’s energy efficiency continues to provide savings in energy and operating costs.
Tankless goes to jail
The jail houses the county’s pre-trial detainees as well as inmates with sentences lasting up to one year. Although it currently houses around 400 people, the 200,000-square-foot complex has a maximum capacity of 611 inmates.
E-building’s malfunctioning boiler proved extremely problematic. In total, the building contains four units with 64 beds in each and more than 100 showerheads and sinks, meaning a potential of 256 inmates could be impacted by insufficient hot water.
Bailey explains that E-building was constructed in 2007, but was temporarily shut down due to a low inmate population.
At that point, jail officials decided to replace the original propane-fired boiler and storage tank.
“That boiler had always had problems, even when the facility was still housing inmates,” Bailey explained. “It turned out that the boiler had been set to Canadian air standards, obviously very different from those in Florida.”
The question of whether to replace the old boiler with another boiler or install an alternative water heating system was yet to be answered.
The Vero Beach location of plumbing wholesaler Winnelson Co. offered Noritz tankless water heaters as one option to replace the defunct boiler.
“There was some initial hesitation on the jail’s part to choose the tankless option because it is still relatively new technology,” said Ralph Litton, president of the supply company.
“I was worried about there being enough hot water to effectively serve the long piping distance from the heater to the last fixture,” Bailey admitted.
Still, Bailey was extremely open to the technology, having successfully installed a residential tankless unit in the past.
“I began doing a ton of research on tankless to ascertain whether it would be a prudent installation,” Bailey added.
After his research, Bailey sat down with supplier Litton and local Noritz representative Roger Davis of Integrity Sales & Marketing, Inc., Mulberry, Fla., who further eased his apprehensions about installing the tankless product. The design they developed involved installing multiple tankless units; which would ensure that even if one failed, there would be enough hot water produced to meet the jail’s needs.
A further incentive involved the fuel consumption and installation savings that tankless would provide. The fact that tankless units do not operate constantly translates into lower fuel costs. Meanwhile, the per-unit costs for the tankless equipment were actually lower than those for the storage-tank alternative Bailey was considering. With all this in mind, he ultimately opted for tankless.
Bailey decided to install eight 199,900 Btu per hour, propane-fired NCC1991 tankless water heaters in E-building.
“Unit redundancy was very important to me because it offered the certainty that there would always be sufficient hot water,” he said.
The building also had an existing hot-water recirculation system to which the new water heaters were connected, further enhancing system performance.
Jared Taylor of Southern Plumbing, Vero Beach, Fla., was contracted to do the installation in June 2013.
Part of the job involved choosing a venting system for the water heaters. The building was constructed with pre-stressed concrete and had one exhaust hole serving the boiler. To avoid the complicated and costly process of drilling individual vents through the wall, it was decided to common-vent the eight water heaters through the existing exhaust aperture.
“We ended up installing an exhaust fan from Tjernlund Products to prevent emissions backflow into the room,” Taylor explained. “The installation itself went smoothly and was completed in less than two weeks.”
The only challenge presented itself long after the original installation, when the building reopened. At that point, the tankless system began to display an error code.
“There were some complications between the water heater controller and the exhaust fan that we had to straighten out,” Taylor recalled. After discussing the issue and solutions with Noritz, the error was resolved.
Although the exhaust fan added to the total installed cost, Bailey reported significant savings on the water heaters themselves over storage tank-type alternatives.
“Having spent $63,397 on the eight tankless water heaters, we saved around $14,000 over tank water heaters,” Bailey said.
Indeed, the lower cost of tankless is what allowed the jail to install eight heaters. Bailey admits that had they installed tank-style heaters, they could have budgeted only for six.
These savings made such an impression that when it came time in February 2015 to replace another boiler in C-building, which can house 120 inmates, Bailey had zero hesitation about choosing tankless.
Financial savings in equipment and propane costs were once again the main incentive to go tankless for Bailey.
The other factor was that the small size of the room did not easily allow for bulky commercial tank heaters. For example, the previous boiler had to be stripped to pieces prior for removal because the room had actually been constructed around it. The tankless units’ compact size eliminated this problem.
The water heaters in C-building needed to serve the jail’s nonstop laundry operation, as well as 15 showers and 35 sinks. These extra hot-water needs required by the laundry led to the decision to install a 119-gallon storage tank, in addition to six NCC1991 water heaters.
“It was advisable to install the storage tank, not only for the additional hot-water that the laundry would require, but also because it meant having to install fewer tankless units,” Taylor explained, who handled this second installation as well.
Unlike in E-building, the heaters in C-building did not require common venting.
“In C-building, we were able to vent all of the units individually, three through one penetration and three through another, reducing the total cost,” Taylor said.
The installation, which spanned two days with a crew of three to four, had to be coordinated so as not to frustrate the jail’s laundry process, which continued to operate in its same space. Post-installation, Southern Plumbing remains involved by performing annual descaling and other maintenance check-ups on both tankless systems.
Equipment-cost savings in C-building were once again significant, totaling roughly $36,000, and the ability to individually vent the system saved additional funds. As with the E-building installation, the ongoing savings in propane usage are substantial according to Bailey though he was unable to provide specifics (since the county pays the bills).
“The fuel savings are truly the driving incentive for many of my commercial customers who decide to go tankless,” Taylor said.
Both applications have been meeting hot-water demands since the installations. For his part, Lieutenant Bailey is extremely pleased for choosing tankless water heaters. “They are very good products that eliminate the need for bulky storage tanks, simplify maintenance, and significantly reduce operating costs,” he concludes.
About the author: Jason Fleming serves as marketing and customer care manager for Noritz America, based at company headquarters in Fountain Valley, Calif. He can be reached at 714-433-2905 ext. 7813.