Many renovation projects evolve to become more complex than they initially appear. That is almost always the case when working with aging buildings, especially those that have been around for a century or more. There are likely to be surprises, and most are troublesome for any contractor.
Excalibur Water Heaters discovered such a project in the renovation of an 8-unit apartment house in San Francisco. Workers found a limited workspace and difficulty in accessing equipment. A boiler at the nearly 100-year-old building no longer worked adequately. “Because of the age of the boiler, the hot water was never reliable,’’ said Anthony Achermann, one of the owners of Excalibur.
Replacing the steam boiler, however, would have required a months-long wait. Many repair technicians also avoid a challenging boiler replacement project. “Most plumbers in this industry when they see a boiler, they run,’’ Achermann said. “Boiler service people are few and far between these days. Retrofitting any building with a boiler is hard.”
Steam boilers undergo significant stress and like humans, age over time. Poor water chemistry, corrosion, extreme temperature shifts and even the environment where the boiler is installed can contribute to the degradation of a unit.
Caustic embrittlement due to corrosion is a serious form of boiler metal failure. Even worse, chemical attack of the metal is usually undetectable. Failure occurs suddenly, often with catastrophic results. In the aging San Francisco apartment house, failure might have been imminent.
Achermann solved the issue by decoupling the boiler from providing radiant heat and hot water. The in-place boiler still runs the heating system for the apartment house. His team installed two American Standard Water Heaters for the building’s hot water.
Because of space issues, Excalibur installed two 50-gallon tanks. “We didn’t have the space or the height clearance to install a 100-gallon tank,’’ Achermann said. “It was a pretty tight fit.”
The durability and warranty of the American Standard Water Heater brand were important considerations for Excalibur. “Over the years, water heaters have been getting lighter, they are making the walls on many brands thinner,’’ Achermann said. “Over time, water will try to corrode the tank. Anode rods are supposed to prevent that, but eventually they’ll leak and fall apart. The water doesn’t have anywhere to go, and it leads to leaks. By having a heavier tank, it’s buying more time.”
The warranty also factored into the selection for the project. “With many manufacturers, the water heaters just make it past the warranty,’’ Achermann said. “The American Standard Water Heaters last well past their warranty date. They are also the only manufacturer in the San Francisco area that uses a mechanical gas control valve.”
One of the most dangerous tasks for the project involved separating the boiler and installing the water heaters. With the gas and water lines coming into the building, the team took extreme care to complete a smooth transition.
Workers completed the 10-hour project safely, and tenants celebrated that consistent hot water would flow to their apartments without interruption.
- Due to space limitations, Excalibur Water Heaters installed
two 50-gallon American Standard Water Heaters instead
of one 100-gallon tank in a San Francisco apartment house
- Excalibur found the durability and warranty of the American
Standard Water Heaters to be important considerations.
- The apartment house was nearly 100 years old and relied on
a boiler to provide hot water and heat. Workers decoupled
the unit, so that the boiler now provides heat. The new
American Standard Water Heaters provide reliable delivery
of hot water.