In the summer of 2021, a major utilities construction project had gouged the normally pristine lawns of the Wheaton College campus. “We wouldn’t have looked out of place in a World War I battlefield,” according to the college’s director of facilities, Jay Bieszke.
Despite their appearance, the trenches had been dug to achieve a decidedly contemporary end. The old, inefficient central steam heating system that serviced 71% of the college’s 1.9 million square feet was being overhauled and replaced with a new, sustainability focused solution. The first step in the transformation? Replace the underground pipes that were “coming to a point of failure,” according to Bieszke.
While the college knew that something had to be done about the old system, the decision to modernize it wasn’t necessarily an inevitability. “You can replace same with same, or you can use technology to do things better,” said Bieszke. “This is a college that favors finding new solutions.”
A Green, 21st Century Approach to Heat
Central steam heating systems are common on college (and other) campuses. The systems – which carry heat in the form of steam from a central plant to other buildings via underground pipes – are generally old, inefficient and expensive to maintain.
Unfortunately, Wheaton’s steam system was nearing the end of its useful life, which isn’t uncommon on campuses according to Bieszke.
Instead of attempting to patch or replace parts of Wheaton’s failing system, the school’s Utilities & Energy team used the moment as an opportunity to explore more efficient and cost-effective heating solutions.
“What I like to think about, is ‘can we find a better way?’” said Bieszke. “Can we replace something outdated with something modern that can serve the college better – either in operations or long-term cost?”
The team developed an approach to install a centralized medium-temperature hot water system that would be more efficient, sustainable and modern – and lower cost – than steam heat.
The project – which broke ground in 2021 and is scheduled to extend through at least 2025 – is an extensive one. Once complete, the new system will service 16 of Wheaton’s most highly trafficked buildings, including large academic, administrative and recreational buildings, the student center, dining hall and primary residence halls.
In addition to replacing the pipes, new pumps, filters, boilers and controls have been installed in the central plant. The mechanical rooms in the serviced buildings are in the process of being converted and fitted with new piping and heat exchangers. Seven buildings are already complete.
In both the central plant and mechanical rooms, one additional tool has been integral to modernizing the system: Spirotherm SpiroVent air eliminators a.k.a. deaerators.
Air & Dirt Elimination
“We needed a way to get air out of the system and keep water continuously clean,” said Bieszke. “SpiroVent is playing a critical role in both of those requirements.”
SpiroVent, a core product in Spirotherm’s line of coalescing air and dirt separators, removes air and dirt from hydronics systems. In doing so, SpiroVent helps systems last longer and perform better.
Bieszke, who has worked in facilities for over 26 years – first with the Navy, and now in higher education – was first introduced to Spirotherm at a conference some years ago. Impressed, Bieszke started using Spirotherm products at the university he worked for prior to Wheaton.
When the time came to plan Wheaton’s new heating system, Bieszke knew SpiroVent could maintain water quality and, ultimately, extend the life of the system. Based on his previous experience using Spirotherm products and the subsequent analysis of the utilities team, they decided to use SpiroVent for three main reasons: energy savings, sustainability and low maintenance.
“I’ve never met anyone in higher ed facilities management who says, ‘I have enough money,’” said Bieszke. “There’s always more to do than there are resources.”
With that in mind, Bieszke knew the system would need to operate as efficiently as possible. Here, SpiroVent plays a key role. The units don’t just help extend the life of pumps – they also improve the performance of systems and reduce resistance that causes pumps to work harder. The result? Significant energy savings.
The new system has a “smaller carbon footprint than steam,” said Bieszke. The energy savings SpiroVent delivers makes the system even more sustainable.
And while the sustainable nature of the system is good for the planet and the school’s pocketbook, it also helps to satisfy (and attract) another, core demographic: the students.
“Using SpiroVent is just a good business decision,” said Bieszke. “Students care about sustainability; it plays a role in their selection of where they go to college.”
SpiroVent plays an outsized, but “quiet” role in the new system, according to Bieszke. While the SpiroVent works hard to extend the lives of systems, the units are durable and easy to service.
“The staff goes out and cleans the SpiroVent units as part of regular maintenance,” he added. “SpiroVent does its thing. It does it well. It’s low maintenance.”
A Lasting Solution & Valued Partnership
While the system’s overhaul is not yet complete, Bieszke anticipates the college will see improvements when it comes to performance and savings. What is certain, however, is that Maddock Industries, who supplied the SpiroVent units, has served as a helpful guide throughout the project.
“Maddock is a resource when we are thinking about products, capabilities and outcomes,” said Bieszke. “We have leaned on them when it comes to exchangers, pumps, SpiroVent and a few things in between.”
Bieszke is confident that the new system will serve Wheaton long into the future – and that SpiroVent will help contribute to that long life. “SpiroVent is a fantastic solution for this system,” said Bieszke. “The product speaks for itself.”