Southern Florida’s tropical climate provides a number of design considerations, not the least of which is reducing humidity within the mechanical and conditioned living spaces—which is critical to ensure indoor air quality.

Even under normal operating conditions, preventing condensation and mold accumulation on ductwork and equipment located outside of the conditioned space can be a challenge. Making extraordinary demands of an ordinary cooling system can lead to a number of consequences from underperformance to mold growth. This was exactly the situation that Greg Borek found himself in after meeting homeowner Dr. Nils Nystrom.

Borek is president of B&B Cool Air, based in Lehigh Acres, FL. He runs the 40-year-old cooling company with his brothers, Matthew and Frank Jr. They have 11 trucks on the road providing AC and commercial refrigeration service to the southwestern part of the state.

“When I met the Nystroms in mid-2019, they’d been without air conditioning for a few weeks while trying to find a contractor that could properly address their comfort issues,” said Borek. “Their previous 12-SEER unitary system had failed and they were running a portable cooler in the bedroom for the time being. The challenge was that they were adamant about maintaining indoor temperatures between 64°F and 73°F, and yet, they’re quite environmentally-conscious.”

The Nystroms are originally from Umea, Sweden, which is the latitudinal equivalent of Fairbanks, AK, roughly speaking. Both retired medical professionals, they’ve lived all over the world and throughout the U.S., generally selecting cooler climates when possible.

“Heat belongs in the sauna,” said Nystrom. “Growing up in Sweden, we’d sleep with the bedroom window open all winter long. We have a hard time sleeping if the bedroom is warmer than 18°C (64.4°F). Frankly, I don’t care for the climate in Florida, but it’s where our grandchildren live.

“Our search for a contractor spanned a few weeks,” he continued. “Nobody seemed willing to put forth the effort needed to create the indoor environment we wanted. We were finally referred to B&B Cool Air. Greg Borek is the consummate professional, and he did his due diligence after meeting us and seeing our home. He listened and presented options.”

Undersized and leaky
The 2,000 square-foot, 50-year-old home had been cooled by a three-ton, 12 SEER unitary system until the compressor failed. Not only was it undersized for the demand of keeping the house cooler than average, but the ductwork throughout the home was leaking.

B&B Cool Air conducted a block load calculation, designing for a 66°F setpoint at an outdoor temperature of 95°F. The home required nearly five tons of cooling, which included duct loss.

“At first, the Nystroms were adamant that they wanted a new unitary system,” said Borek. “We found that we could maintain temperature by installing a five-ton, inverter-driven unit and sealing or replacing the ductwork, but condensation on the ductwork and air handler was a real concern.”

The home sits right on the water, which adds to the challenge of Florida’s humid climate. All of the ductwork is run through a very small attic space. Borek suggested installing ductless heat pumps instead of a unitary system to avoid the condensation issue altogether, but the Nystroms wanted to further explore their unitary options.

“I explained that if there was to be a unitary system installed, we insisted on installing a dehumidification system in the attic in addition to sealing the ductwork,” said Borek. “What finally tipped the scales in favor of a ductless system was the ability for the Nystroms to conserve energy by cooling only the rooms they were using at any given time, instead of cooling the entire house. They liked the concept of letting unoccupied spaces idle at warmer temperatures for energy efficiency.”


“To us, the environmental advantage of cooling only unoccupied spaces is a tremendous benefit,” said Nystrom. “It makes very little sense to cool the entire house at any given time.”

Ductless meets the need
B&B Cool Air has been a Fujitsu Elite dealer since early 2019. Their loyalty to Mark Rambo, at Ferguson Fort Myers, initiated the switch to Fujitsu.

“Mark called on my Dad in the 1980s, and we’ve had an outstanding relationship since,” said Borek. “He actually has a contractor’s license, so he understands what he’s selling. When he made a transition to Ferguson last year, we switched to Fujitsu to stay with him, and it’s been a good move. Fujitsu multi-zone systems are easier to set up than the products we’ve used in the past, and the quality of product and the warranty are as good or better.”

Once the decision was made to use multi-zone ductless split systems, Borek zoned the home according to input from the Nystroms.

“We discussed where they spent most of their time and how cool they wanted each of the living spaces,” said Borek. “Ultimately, we installed two multi-zone systems, a two-zone and a four-zone; 18,000 and 36,000 BTUH, respectively.”

Work began in the master bedroom. Its wall-mount head, along with a smaller one in the guest bedroom, is connected to the smaller Halcyon condensing unit. After the bedroom systems were operational, several days passed before B&B could return to complete the rest of the installation. During that time, the bedrooms maintained setpoint while also keeping the rest of the home at a livable temperature.

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“Aesthetically, running linesets proved a bit tricky,” explained Borek. “The roof has an extremely low pitch, but we managed to get the lines into the attic area, insulate them well and drop down through the soffit to the condensing units. Once outside, the linesets and condensate lines are covered in aluminum line-hide.”

The dining room evaporator required the use of a condensate pump. Otherwise, all the indoor units were mounted on exterior walls, so the condensate can drain naturally. B&B Cool Air took a few extra steps to maintain consistent temperatures within the smallest areas of the home, where installing a mini-split head couldn’t be justified.

In the laundry, a small, low-speed fan draws warm air out of the room, discharging to the kitchen via a ceiling grille. As it does, conditioned air is pulled through the laundry doorway. This recirculation system can be controlled manually as needed.

Recalling Sweden
Over the first few months after the retrofit, the Nystroms contacted B&B Cooling multiple times to express their appreciation. The system was more comfortable and controllable than they’d expected.

“We’ve never been as comfortable in the home as we are now,” said Nystrom. “There’s no noise inside or outside. At worst, the sound level is a whisper. Greg’s honesty and experience were so apparent throughout the whole process, and we can’t say enough good things about his company.”

The Nystroms programmed the individual ductless heads to cool spaces according to their daily routine. The bedroom is cool while they sleep, the kitchen unit comes on when they wake up, and so on. They’ve found this to work very well, and can easily override the programming as they wish.

“When I was a child in Sweden, the town used to flood the soccer fields to create ice rinks over the winter,” said Nystrom. “In Phys Ed., we’d either skate or we’d find a hill and ski. Now, with climate change, it’s too warm for any of that. I contemplate these things when thinking of our changing world. One of the things I appreciate about the efficiency of our new Fujitsu system is that we can maintain a cool home with less impact on the environment than a conventional system.” ICM

Dan Vastyan is PR director and writer for Common Ground, based in Manheim, PA.

For better or worse, social media has had a profound and irreversible effect on society. Its impact has reached every business sector in the developed world. The skilled trades are no exception.
Some HVAC and plumbing manufacturers were quick to build a presence, although serious work-related adoption of social platforms by tradesmen and women took
some time. Now, however, the field has been populated by more than a few influencers who’ve differentiated themselves by regularly posting informational, interesting and humorous content that others in their trade can relate to.

TikTok and Instagram, specifically, have become peer-to-peer powerhouses, though the latter is far more widely used by tradespeople.
“Following other installers on Instagram has had a huge impact on my own work,” said Mike Flynn, Lead Installer & Job Supervisor for Service Professionals in northern New Jersey. “It pushed me to raise the quality of my work, especially from an aesthetic standpoint.
“You could plainly see the progress I made by comparing my own mechanical rooms to what I was seeing on social media,” continued Flynn. “I’ve probably learned the most on Instagram from Aaron Bond, Motty Pliers and Howard Mechanical, who I thanked in person at AHR [Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating Expo] 2020. The list goes on and on.”
Flynn really began posting to Instagram in 2015, about the time he started running jobs on his own. He goes by @flynnstone1 on the photo- and video-sharing app and has almost 17,000 followers.
His Instagram is populated by advice, tips, tricks and the rare tool review. Flynn’s French Bulldog, Bruce, makes a cameo appearance from time to time, and is even depicted in the caricaturized stickers he had made of his likeness. These stickers—in which Flynn is pictured with a giant pipe wrench and full arm sleeve tattoo—are traded with manufacturers and other tradespeople who use Instagram. The stickers he receives in return get applied to the inside of his van cab, acting as a backdrop when he records videos from the driver’s seat, or on the bins in the back of the van.
“Of course, 17,000 followers are insignificant for a celebrity or a big, household name company, but for a tradesman, it’s a very solid number,” said Flynn. “I appreciate my followers as much as I enjoy seeing other accounts that I learn from. I didn’t start posting in order to gain a big following. It kind of happened by accident. Once I hit about 1,500 followers, I realized I might have something unique.”
Flynn’s Instagram account is characterized by super clean work and things he encounters on a daily basis. He also posts what he calls Sunday Boiler School. He started these informative videos about two years ago.
“Sunday Boiler School is a way for me to address what I see in the field being done incorrectly,” explained Flynn. “Steam boiler piping, circulator placement, venting, and circulator sizing—the latter being something I promote working on with a manufacturer if help is needed. I often contact Dave Holdorf, Eastern Region Residential Trainer at Taco Comfort Solutions, when I’m not certain of the pump curve I need.
“I know my lane within the Instagram community, and I do my best to stay in it,” added Flynn. “For that reason, I don’t offer advice on things I’m not really confident in or passionate about. I also don’t do many tool reviews.”
Having a robust social media presence has provided a number of opportunities for Flynn, whether to socialize, share information or improve his own skill set. He’s been a guest on a number of podcasts, including HVAC Know It All, Bold City Plumber’s “Bold Cast,” and HVAC Reefer Guy.
A photo that Flynn submitted to the Ridgid Tools brand in 2019—in which he’s stands atop a 550 MBH residential steam boiler with two pipe wrenches—earned him a ticket to the 2019 Ridgid Experience in Ohio.
On occasion, customers will recognize him from posts and ask, “Hey, you’re the Instagram guy, right?” However, this typically comes after a salesman has shown the customer Flynn’s Instagram.
“Service Professionals salesmen will sometimes use photos from my Instagram to show off our work to homeowners,” said Flynn. “So when they see the big guy with the beard and tats show up for the install, they sometimes draw the connection. Ultimately, my company likes that I’m active on social media. I’m careful not to let it interfere with my work.”

Ample education
As an employer, what’s better than a team member who actively seeks out his/her own training opportunities? That’s another advantage Flynn has found with social media. He’s always abreast of the training being offered by several different manufacturers.
Most recently, Flynn has attended Taco Comfort Solutions’ online training, which he learned about on Instagram. The company presents training materials in two live webinars.
The first is Taco Tuesday, a weekly webinar hosted each Tuesday at noon EST. The webinar alternates between residential and commercial topics. John Barba and Dave Holdorf host the residential courses while Rich Medairos and Brett Zerba host the commercial sessions.
Taco After Dark is presented weekly by John Barba, Dave Holdorf and Rick Mayo. The content from these webinars comes from Taco’s full-day hydronic courses, broken into one-hour segments.
“The webinars are great,” said Flynn. “I’ve met and learned from the hosts in the past. Dave Holdorf and John Barba are super smart and really funny.”
A recent Taco After Dark topic was whether to zone with circulators or zone valves, a topic that interested Flynn.
“My takeaway was that using valves or circulators is an entirely personal preference,” said Flynn.
“There are slight advantages in certain situations, like price point and redundancy, but it really comes back to sizing your circulator correctly for the demand. If you do that, the system will never be over- or under-pumped regardless of whether zone circulators or valves are used.”
More often than not, service professionals use valves to zone residential projects. Flynn speculates they do so only because that’s the way they’ve always done it. However, it wasn’t long ago that Flynn had the opportunity to install a lot of pumps in a single residence.
The Palace
“We arrived at a large residence in Upper Saddle River, NJ, to find a huge cast iron boiler, a 100-gallon, gas-fired water heater and 11 zones of baseboard, radiant, convectors and hydro coils, none of which were working properly,” said Flynn. “The owner only had three requests: replace it all, make it work and zone the house with circulators. That’s exactly what we did.”
The 9,500 sq ft home was served by a 20-year-old, 12-section boiler. Both it and the big water heater were due for replacement. The piping left a lot to be desired.
“You can argue all day about whether zone valves or zone circulators are better, but I think everyone will agree that you have to pick one or the other for a single zone,” said Flynn with a chuckle. “The zones on this system had zone valves downstream of the zone circulators. As you’d expect, the homeowner had all sorts of problems.”
Over the course of a week, the system was torn out and replaced, this time with two, 200 MBH condensing NTI boilers and an 80-gallon indirect tank. Primary/secondary piping was facilitated with a large hydro separator.
“We installed a Taco 007e ECM circulator on eight of the zones, with a pair of 0011s on the remaining two zones.” said Flynn. “The 007e was dependable, readily available and efficient. We install hundreds of them every year. The boiler circs are 0013s.”
Venting the job was the only challenge, given the mechanical room’s location in the middle of the beautifully finished basement. The joist bays ran the correct direction for combustion air and venting, but they would have terminated outside under a hardscaped stairway, so Service Professionals used the two existing chimneys that served the boiler and water heater.
“We ran both boiler exhaust vents through the existing boiler chimney with Centrotherm flexible poly vent lines,” explained Flynn. “The smaller chimney only allowed us to run one of the intake vents. The second boiler draws combustion air from the big mechanical room, and the owner leaves the mechanical room open. He likes to show the room off to his engineer buddies. He calls it ‘The Palace,’ and he’s really proud of it.”
When asked about the fuel savings provided by the retrofit, the owner admits that he doesn’t pay attention to his fuel bills. It’s safe to assume, though, that the reduction in natural gas consumption is substantial.
The job was gratifying for Flynn. He designed the system himself and headed up the install. Like many of his other mechanical rooms, the system is now immortalized on his Instagram account.

“Half of the work I do is hydronic, and half of that is steam,” said Flynn. “Last year we were installing four boilers each week. This year, for obvious reasons, we’re installing fewer. However, I’m keeping an eye on social media to see what others are doing as we emerge from the slow-down caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Instagram is one way I can keep a pulse on things nationwide, and I’m hoping to see an uptick in boiler sales soon.” ICM

Dan Vastyan is PR director and writer for Common Ground, a trade communications firm based in Manheim, PA

A grassroots effort that began in Missouri many years ago is changing lives across the U.S., and the world, one family at a time. Love INC—with a mission to mobilize churches and to transform lives and communities—has set its sights on improving the lives of families in poverty by offering “Homes for Hope,” transitional housing for those in need, entirely through volunteer effort.
Recently some good folks in the HVAC and hydronic industry learned about a Love INC Homes of Hope transitional housing project in Lititz, PA from a local affiliate based in Lancaster ( The suburban 1970s home still had its original HVAC equipment, so it was well overdue for a mechanical makeover. The volunteers quickly saw an opportunity to help improve comfort levels, and energy efficiency, for the soon-to- move-in family of four.
Mechanical makeover
Early in the project, local volunteer Rick Thompson, a Warwick Township Homes of Hope committee member and St. James Catholic Church member, asked friend Douglas DeAngelis, LAARS Heating Systems’ Eastern Atlantic Regional Manager, for some advice to help at this new Homes for Hope property. Its HVAC system’s equipment—an old, inefficient and leaking air conditioning system, and the original gas-fired furnace—were testing their resolve.

The location for installation work, now a residence serving those in need.

DeAngelis visited the home to find that there were multiple problems with the ducted system, not the least of which was the system’s inefficiency, even if properly repaired.
Knowing that comfort and energy efficiency could be achieved with a retrofit, DeAngelis took into account the possibility of eliminating the home’s existing, gas-fired water heater. He then contacted a LAARS distributor and friend, Charles “Chuck” Evans, for assistance in understanding the air-side of the HVAC system. Evans is with Houston, TX-based Goodman Manufacturing, and is the Philadelphia region parts manager for Goodman Distribution, Inc.

Triangle’s Refrigeration Field Service Supervisor Chad Heisey (left) and Eric Weaver, Triangle’s Business Developer, set the Mascot FT boiler in preparation for near-boiler piping.

An intriguing recipe
“When I made my first visit to the house, I was glad to see that it already had clean and well-installed sheet metal ductwork for year-round HVAC,” said DeAngelis. “We had a good foundation from which to work.”
DeAngelis then called Thompson with a recommendation: to eliminate all of the old equipment and to replace them with a new, high-efficiency, two-ton Goodman condensing unit and air handler paired with an A-coil for cooling. The key components for space-saving and domestic water heating included a natural gas-fired 140 MBH LAARS Mascot FT floor-standing combination boiler/water heater with an integrated, stainless steel indirect water heater, as well as a hydro-air coil to be mounted just above the air handler’s A-coil.

Eric Weaver prepares to commission the system.

Thompson was intrigued. “Douglas DeAngelis gave me a basic explanation about how the equipment would work together, and that it would provide reliable cooling and heating, and also eliminate the need for a separate water heater, because that was sure to be the next need.”
While Evans spoke with Goodman managers about possibly donating equipment for the good cause, DeAngelis asked managers at LAARS to donate the floor-standing Mascot boiler. Both were successful.
Thompson responded that he also had some good news. A steering committee member connected with managers at Leola, PA-based Triangle Refrigeration Co., a nearby commercial and industrial mechanical contracting firm that had previously sponsored their ministry; they were also eager to help. Several employees stepped forward to assist with the installations.
Also, in the course of their work, Triangle purchased a Bindus Aquecoil hydronic heating unit, programmable thermostat, low-ambient lockout sensor and a variety of supplies and materials—all donated to the Homes of Hope project in Lititz.
It wasn’t long before all of the materials, and the skills and expertise, were available to complete the mechanical makeover.
Enter Triangle Refrigeration
Managers of Triangle’s HVAC division got wind of the need for installation work at the Lititz Homes for Hope project, telling the committee that, if help was needed, they’d gladly provide the time and expertise. Committee members responded with a resounding Yes.
“We had decided that our involvement was to be a corporate gift, so it was only fitting that some of the managers would do the work,” explained Eric Weaver, Business Development Manager for Triangle.
Weaver’s brother Dwain Weaver, Director of Refrigeration Operations; Janson Zima, HVAC Project Manager and Chad Heisey, Refrigeration Group Field Service Supervisor, joined forces with Weaver to do the work at the Homes for Hope project.
“We were—well, at least I can speak for myself—perhaps a bit rough, having set aside field work some time ago,” added Eric Weaver, who joined Triangle in 1994 as an HVAC installation apprentice. “So it was a good ‘back to our installer roots’ experience.”
“This was a fairly routine project as far as the work goes, with the use of hydronic heat applied a bit creatively to provide heat in a home that had previously been served by a strictly forced-air system,” said Dwain Weaver. “It was a good departure from our routine work, and we were all very glad to help with the Homes for Hope project.”
Importance of relationships
“In our ministry, relationships are key—relationships between church volunteers and neighbors in need; relationships among churches, relationships with people across many denominations and relationships throughout the community,” explained Shawn Moyer, Lancaster Love INC Homes of Hope Coordinator. “That’s why we’ve seen the development of such great relationships in communities through our Homes of Hope program—a transitional housing outreach ministry that seeks to end homelessness one family at a time.”

Eric Weaver (left) and Janson Zima, Triangle’s HVAC Project Manager, take satisfaction in a job well done.

As a non-profit organization, Love INC needs healthy local relationships to help others throughout the many U.S. communities in which it operates, and now in Kenya, as well.
According to Moyer, there are currently eight active Homes of Hope communities operating 11 homes in Lancaster County. Partner churches provide financial and volunteer support for the homes.
“Also, we work in partnership with local schools, community resources and agency partners to provide a holistic response that strives to break the cycle of homelessness,” he said.
“Ideally, our transitional homes provide families shelter for four to six months,” concluded Moyer. “This period of time—with subsidized living costs, and with volunteers helping to get their finances back in good order—then enables them the time to begin overcoming the obstacles that led to homelessness, initially.” ICM
John Vastyan is Owner of Common Ground, an HVAC/plumbing + mechanical trade communications firm based in Manheim, PA.

In 2019, Kalisha Stevens’ life hung on a string. Well, actually it was a pneumatic pump known as an “LVAD,” for left ventricular assist device, connected to her heart. She’s now out of the hospital and on a list for a heart transplant. While the LVAD rhythmically pumped blood for her heart while in a critical care unit, essential blood flow was only one of her main concerns.
As a single mother of twins Myra and Ameera, Stevens knew that her savings were dissolving by the minute. She needed to survive if only to provide a home, as well as a mother’s love, for her girls. Little did Stevens know that events unfolding nearby would help to build a foundation for her and her girls.
Denver House
For many years, a big three-story building in downtown Denver, PA—once a bustling saloon and hotel known as Denver House—had become the community’s festering blight. The drug-infested structure had become home turf for all type and variety of crime.
Denver House was built in 1863 as a hotel and bar and was once the hallmark of Denver. Rod Redcay, Mayor of Denver and Executive Director of REAL Life Community Services, a faith-based non-profit, noted, “Back in the day, it was the most beautiful building in our community.
“Like so many buildings of its kind, Denver House was later remodeled into a boarding house with 22 living units; the bar remained,” Redcay added. “For decades, conditions worsened. Ultimately, it became the source of our highest police call volume. The owner eventually checked out, leaving unpaid mortgage, taxes, trash and fuel oil. We knew we had to do something.”
Redcay and others formed a non-profit LLC (REAL Life Community Services), purchasing the building at a tax sale in 2016. A grant from the borough to acquire the structure, intended as transitional housing for those in need, inaugurated an effort that has since become a model for other communities to follow.
After the purchase of Denver House and its three-acre property, remaining tenants were connected to various community resources—eventually all were relocated. Then, the work began: 250 volunteers emptied the structure of its trash, which required about 30 large dumpsters. Meanwhile, Redcay and others went to local businesses and institutions for help, eventually raising more than $400,000 for renovations. They also appealed to the State, receiving $2 million more.

Initial projections for renovations put the cost at $1.7 million, although costs climbed to $3.5 million as the extent of work, and vision for improvements, grew. REAL Life Community Services, a nonprofit organization that helps youth and at-risk families, had big plans for the building.

Declaration House
The name “Declaration House” was chosen when Redcay and six local pastors gathered to talk about and pray for transformation in the community. Not long after that, Scott Leid, CFO of Ephrata National Bank, became Chairman of the capital campaign. Throughout 2016–2018, work proceeded steadily as the structure was gradually emptied, dismantled and rebuilt, nearly doubling its size to 22,000 square feet. Declaration House is now home to 10 apartments (with one or two bedrooms), a social service office, a medical/ dental/ behavioral health counseling center and a 1,500 sq ft organic foods grocery store.
An HVAC solution
Vince Youndt, President of Stevens, PA-based Vertex Mechanical, explained that he and Rob Redcay graduated high school together in 1989.
“I’ve kept in touch with Rod ever since. Shortly after he became mayor of Denver, he told me about his vision for the building,” said Youndt.
Not long after that, the two spoke about plumbing and HVAC solutions for the structure, all eventually handled professionally by Vertex experts.
“Our biggest challenge was to find a way to cost-effectively provide heating and cooling for residents, common areas and the retail and medical service spaces,” added Youndt. “Initially, we looked at installing a large furnace coupled with split systems for air conditioning. With some difficulty, chiefly with ducting, we could’ve made it work, but it was overly-complicated, and residents would have no way to equitably pay for their own utilities. We recalibrated the plan, switching to high efficiency Fujitsu mini-split heat pumps to meet the need.”
Youndt added that with one 24,000 BTU condenser, ten 18,000 BTU condensers and one 12,000 BTU condenser—all mounted on a flat roof atop the Declaration House—they were able to heat and cool the entire structure.
Installation solutions
One of Youndt’s head-scratchers was the need to reduce the cost of providing an HVAC solution to Declaration House. After some discussions with designers and technicians, they came up with ways to simplify the installation of Fujitsu’s ARU behind-the-wall air handlers, used for many of the apartments (some wall-hung units were also used).
“We developed a design that we could replicate for all of the living units,” said Youndt. “We had eight-inch wall thicknesses to work with, and fortunately a lot of similarity between the size and makeup of the living spaces. Our installation crews knew that time was of the essence, but that there was to be no compromise in quality, durability and reliability.”
Comfort, affordably
“Before we moved into Declaration House, I lived in two single-bedroom apartments, both of which weren’t very comfortable, and each cost a lot more for electric utilities,” said Stevens. “Here, I pay all utilities with an average of $50 a month for electric, year-round. We’ve been here for summer months, and winter, and it’s very comfortable. The girls and I are very happy about that.”
Today, Stevens, Myra and Ameera live in comfort in their two-bedroom apartment at Declaration House. Stevens and her daughters live a relatively stress-free life, affordably. The girls are getting an education, her budget works and they enjoy the blessings of a great church family. So now, as Stevens completes her preparations for transplant heart candidacy, everything else is in place. And that’s a blessing indeed. ICM
John Vastyan is Owner of Common Ground, an HVAC/plumbing + mechanical trade communications firm based in Manheim, PA.

The cadmium sulfide cell, or cad cell as it’s more commonly called, has provided more than a half century of yeoman service, but that time may be ending soon for a couple of reasons.
To review, how does the cad cell do its job? The cad cell eye is made from a cadmium-coated disc with a conductive grid encased in a protective enclosure. The cad cell eye has a very high resistance in darkness and a very low resistance in the presence of visible light. It is basically a variable resistor that alters its resistance in relation to the light it sees.
The cad cell’s primary control uses this resistance to determine whether a flame is present or not. The ohm level that is determined to be an unsuiable flame and to cause the primary control to lockout is called the threshold. Resistance is measured in ohms and must only be checked on de-energized circuits. Failure to do so will usually result in the need for a new multimeter!
In darkness, the ohm reading will be well over 50,000 ohms and is typically in the hundreds of thousands ohms. When subjected to a typical oil burner flame, it will drop to under 1,000 ohms and most often in the 200–300 ohm range. Cad cell resistance also varies in relation to CO2 readings; lower CO2 will raise cad cell ohm readings and vice versa. As an example, at 12% CO2, the ohm reading may be 300; at 10% CO2 it could be double that.
The primary control or cad cell relay must have a very high resistance across the F-F terminals to allow the burner to start—this is to prevent burner operation when a flame is already present. After the trial for ignition (TFI) period ends, the cad cell must provide a resistance under the lockout threshold to prove the presence of flame and allow continued burner operation. The lockout threshold varies by manufacturer and is field selectable on some newer primary controls. All microprocessor-based controls have a higher threshold than older electromechanical types, but 1,600 ohms will be sufficient for even older legacy primary controls.
Room for improvement
The electro-mechanical controls are operated on a very reliable, robust system that has proven itself over the years. If it isn’t broken, then why fix it? There are two main reasons—first is the cadmium itself. Cadmium and its compounds are highly toxic and exposure to this metal is known to cause cancer, targeting the body’s cardiovascular, renal, gastrointestinal, neurological, reproductive and respiratory systems. The danger is primarily to process and production workers rather than service technicians, as they do not handle cadmium directly. Riello has already switched to a new flame detector without cadmium in response to a European Union (EU) directive preventing the use of hazardous materials in production processes.

Riello’s new flame sensor

The second reason for alternative flame detection systems is the move to higher biodiesel blends to meet both State mandates and industry goals for carbon output reductions. Unlike heating oil, biodiesel doesn’t contain paraffins—meaning the flame is less luminous and emits less light than No. 2 oil. You can’t visually see the difference, but the cad cell eye sure can! This only becomes a potential issue with very high blends of biodiesel and very low CO2 levels. Keep in mind—as excess air and CO2 go down, cad cell resistance goes up.
There are many sites currently using B100 that are experiencing no problems at all with cad cell flame detection. However, to assure reliability in the face of unknown excess air levels and high blends of biofuel, an alternative to cad cell-based flame detection will probably be needed for the industry to satisfy required greenhouse gas emission targets.
What are the alternatives to cadmium sulfide flame detection technology? In commercial applications over 20GPH input, where cad cell use is not permitted, Ultraviolet (UV) flame sensors are most commonly used. UV sensors are utilized extensively in Europe with residential blue flame burners; the Buderus 125 series boilers that were sold in the U.S. used UV flame detection. The drawbacks are the cost, compared to cad cells, and the lack of backward compatibility with existing primary controls. Infrared (IR) flame detectors have the same negatives as UV.
The photodiode is a promising technology for flame detection and you may have already used a photodiode sensor without knowing it. The new Riello flame sensor introduced over a year ago utilizes photodiode technology—basically a very tiny “solar panel” that produces an electrical current when exposed to light. The Riello primary control takes this current and converts it to a resistance output so it’s backward compatible with all existing Riello controls.
The “conversion” is done electronically via semi-conductors on a small board within the sensor assembly itself. The older Riello cad cell detectors are enclosed in white plastic while the newer photodiode types are in black plastic enclosures, making them easily distinguishable. The photodiode type of flame sensor cannot be tested with an ohmmeter.
As we move forward into a renewable future, it’s a pretty good bet that the cad cell flame sensor will indeed be supplanted by a new and better technology. ICM

I’ve recently seen (online) and heard (in person) several discussions about today’s fuel quality and it’s supposed relation to service issues.
I use the word “supposed” because it seems that some people tend to blame all of our problems on something they believe to be “new.” We had “fuel quality” issues when I started in the field back in the 1960’s, long before anyone thought of bio-fuels or low sulfur heating oil. After looking into some of the issues being reported today, I believe that the same things that caused problems decades ago are still causing problems today, and the #1 cause of many of those problems is water in tanks.
You’re all probably familiar with the credit card advertising program that asks “What’s in your wallet?”
As I think about fuel quality and service issues the first question I think should be addressed is “what’s in your tank?” After a bit of research it doesn’t seem that the quality of fuel being provided by reputable suppliers is the issue. The issue that I’ve seen is the quality of fuel in our customer’s tanks.
This picture shows tank bottom samples of 4 randomly selected above ground tanks (Figure 1).
The sample on the left is obviously much cleaner than the other samples which get progressively worse as you look from left to right. The haze that’s visible in the two middle samples is suspended water.
While these samples might seem “normal” to those of us in the industry for some time, it’s important to keep in mind that oil tanks have changed over the years and samples like these should not be the norm.
Up until the early 1990’s standard above ground tanks were typically installed with longer legs at the end of the tank where the outlet was and shorter legs at the other end. This kept water and sludge in the tank and, in theory, supplied cleaner fuel to the oil burner. However, it also led to the accumulation of water and sludge in the tank bottoms as well as a number of other problems.
For the last 25+ years above ground tanks have been equipped with a bottom outlet. If these tanks are properly installed, with a minimum of 1/4” per foot slope towards the bottom outlet, water won’t build up in the tank bottoms and the oil in the tanks should be much cleaner than it was pre-1990. See Figure 2. In theory, if a tank is pitched properly, any water that falls to the bottom will be eliminated from the tank through the bottom outlet and trapped in the filter.
However, not all tanks are installed properly, many are still pitched away from the bottom tapping and allow water to accumulate. This brings us to the first recommendation of this article – Install tanks properly! Read and follow the instructions and you’ll avoid problems.
Why is keeping the water out such a big deal?
Water in fuel tanks leads to fuel degradation and enables the growth of microbes (bacteria or fungus) that thrive at the oil/water interface. Their presence leads to acid formation, corrosion, fuel degradation and service issues such as filter plugging, tank failure, etc.
I was recently involved in testing a random sample of 150 above ground residential fuel oil tanks with Mark Stellmach of Fuel Management Services. We conducted Liquidcult microbial tests and found that 53% of the tanks tested positive for contamination, with 16% showing moderate to heavy bacteria and 37% showing moderate to heavy fungus. (Figure 3)
It’s important to understand that fuel degradation occurs over time even without microbes. All fuels oxidize over time and as they do acids are formed that transform into polymeric gums – “sticky stuff” that can clog filters, bind fuel units, etc.
These pictures show a fuel sample that contains water on the bottom and the sample jar shows the polymeric gums sticking to the bottom of the jar when turned over. (Figure 4)
So back to fuel quality & service costs – yes, they are most definitely related.
The good news is that it’s not that hard to keep service costs in line – KEEP WATER OUT OF YOUR CUSTOMERS TANKS! ICM

Clean sweep but keep the oilEvery story has an origin. According to Manheim, PA homeowner Tim Slusser, the story of his “New” home’s massive makeover started with a puddle in the mechanical room. He and his wife had just purchased the mid-’70s bi-level. Two weeks later, the home had a new roof. Water that found its way inside had destroyed part of an exterior wall and part of the second story subfloor.
Clean Sweep houseApparently, bees also took a shine to the little hole where the rain got in. The pest control pro apologized to the homeowners for the large, up-front fee saying, “The nest has been active for a while; it’s a big one.”
Within several months, carpets that hid slicks of animal soiling, ‘70s-era bathrooms and mustard-yellow aluminum siding were all replaced to update the home.
Throughout the remodeling process, the Slussers wanted to boost the home’s energy efficiency. The attic, newly free of angry bees, had only four inches of fiberglass insulation. An additional 30 inches of blown-in Atti- Cat fiberglass made an immediate improvement. The block walls of the basement were covered in foam insulation, then pine tongue and groove. Several windows and doors were also replaced.
“At every turn,” added Slusser, “we heard cha-ching, cha-ching.” Money was moving into the home at a clip I’d never imagined.”
The last remaining project—a job Slusser knew he’d hire a team of professionals to handle —was to replace the home’s mechanical system. Although in good condition, the system was designed for a larger, less efficient home. After a heat load analysis, it was clear that the boiler was originally 30 percent larger than it needed to be.
Pipe assembly for new boiler“We’ll, it was the last wad of bills to hit the bottom of our money pit,” complained Slusser. “We just couldn’t do the work we’d done on the house to see the last remaining task un-done. Clearly, the boiler was a lot bigger than it needed to be.”
Oversized much?
The home’s original mechanical equipment had been replaced in 2006 with a boiler of equal size. A 180 MBH, oil-fired New Yorker boiler with an internal DHW coil provided all the heating needs . . . and then some.
“A manual-J heat load calculation at the 2,200 square-foot home resulted in a 48,000 Btuh heat loss, with an outdoor temp of 10°F and an indoor temp of 70°F,” said Dave Yates, owner York, PA-based F.W. Behler, Inc., hired by Slusser to perform the retrofit.
Pipe assembly“Using Taco’s FloPro Designer software, I learned quickly that the New Yorker was rated for an output nearly three times what the house needed,” explained Yates. The boiler was oversized and short-cycling.
“The boiler must’ve been sized by the ‘curb’ method, from a block or two away,” added Yates with a grin. So, in early 2012, with oil prices hiking, it was time to downsize.
The bees and the big boiler were both removed. An old water softener and wholehouse UV light—both of which were well past their prime—were removed. Groundwater in southern PA often contains coliform bacteria, high nitrate levels and moderate amounts of scale, so the equipment was ready to go.
Honey, I shrunk the boiler!
Clean sweep teamThe system Yates chose includes a 64,000 Btuh Burnham MPO-IQ boiler with Beckett Burner and a 75 gallon Bradford White indirect water heater with on-board electronic anode and thermostatic scald-guard valve to ensure both longevity and bather protection. “We’ve installed Bradford White equipment for years and have never been disappointed.”
Technicians Larry Lawrence and Spence Walker carefully laid out all the mechanical components before lighting a torch. The seven-by-eight-foot area wouldn’t leave room for error. “We had to conserve space on this job,” said Yates. Yates built his parts list carefully. One of the first, new-generation ECM circulators from Taco—the yellow and black, variable speed BumbleBee—was ordered. “The Slussers removed a bunch of bees from the home months ago, but this was one they were eager for us to find a permanent place for,” quipped Yates.
Dave YatesThe ECM circulator provides flow to the upstairs and downstairs zones of the house. At each loop, the system uses a one-watt Taco Zone Sentry zone valve.
According to Yates, the Taco hydraulic separator, mounted directly above the boiler,
helps the home’s two heat zones and the Bradford White indirect “play well together.”
A 007 circulator is used as the main boiler pump, providing steady circulation within the short loop. Yates included a half-inch Watts RBFF (residential boiler fill fitting) to ensure the system stays full, and a Taco 4900 air and dirt separator to keep the fluid pure.
“The BumbleBee is a Delta-T circulator,” said Yates. “So it ramps up to full speed
momentarily until it finds the difference in supply and return temperature, then backs
down to the ideal flow rate for one or both of the zones.” A digital readout on the face
of the circulator flicks between readouts for GPM and electric consumption.
“On this job, it usually coasts along at sixand- a-half GPM, consuming only 9 watts,”
said Yates. Couple that with the two, onewatt Zone Sentry valves and we’re using
just 11 watts instead of 174 watts for two circulators! In fact, the ECV (Energy Conservation Value) is $58.73 in the first year, but when we look at a 20-year ECV with
an annual increase in cost for electricity, it shows a savings of $1,947.87.”
“I fully expect their home to use half, or less, of the heating-oil previously consumed while maintaining optimal comfort,” continued Yates. “And: reduced power-consumption.”
Shoe-horned in
“Access to the inside of a Burnham MPO is convenient,” said Yates. “The door, which is in the front of the boiler, just swings open.” To help overcome tight space constraints, the Bradford White indirect was placed to the left of the boiler so that the service door could swing in front of the tank. To the right of the boiler, the original Well-XTrol tank was pushed several inches from its previous position.
The homeowner didn’t want to expose all-new water fixtures to any scale, even if it meant using a dual tank system. So a twin-tank Watts water treatment system was installed; while one tank is recharging, the other conditions incoming water.
No reserve capacity is required to carry the tanks until a recharge can happen. There’s no possibility of the bypass valve opening while one tank recharges. The new Watts system can be used in a timer or metered configuration and when set to meter, will use
less salt than the previous, timer-only tank.
A new 12 GPM Watts whole-house UV disinfection system accompanies a media filter on the wall above the water softener. If power is lost to the house, a solenoid valve closes; no contaminated water slips by the UV light to re-seed freshly-sterilized domestic water.
Prep for removing boiler“The old UV light was a 7.5 GPM model,” said Yates. “I prefer a little more flow capacity to accommodate quick bursts and numerous fixtures running simultaneously.”
Aside from the MPO boiler’s inherent efficiency (Yates found 89.6 percent at the flue using an electronic combustion analyzer while adjusting the Beckett burner), it’s equipped with a compact, three-pass cast iron heat exchanger. The boiler also includes the optional IQ panel that allows the addition of features like outdoor reset, low water cutoff and auxiliary highlimit for additional protection, enhanced efficiency, and that complies with new 2012 government regulations.
The large-volume indirect tank helped to lengthen boiler run-time while, at the same time, reduce boiler size overa l l — i m p r o v i n g efficiency and promoting a clean burn
Yates wanted a circulator with an internal flow check on the water heater, so he installed a Taco 00RIFC to tap the boiler. The three-speed circulator remains on low, letting supply water take it’s time through the big coil inside the tank.
Bradford White tanks can be ordered with a tempering valve on top of the tank so that water exits at safe temperatures. “We can store 140°F—or higher—water while the outgoing supply temp is only 120°F,” said Yates.
The removed New Yorker boiler had a six-inch flue, while the MPO required a four-inch pipe. After sealing up the new flue, Yates covered the oversized terracotta chimney liner with a polished diamond plate ring as a finishing touch.
“We’re glad that Bob Coons and Jason Richards from N.H. Yates [manufacturer’s representatives for Burnham and Taco based in Cockeysville, MD] were able to stop by on the day the boiler went in,” said Yates. “It was good to have quick access to product information.”
Reuse, reduce (oil consumption)
It would’ve been a shame to discard a healthy, sixyear-old boiler. The Slussers knew that the top of a scrap heap was no place for it. Months before Yates and his crew arrived, the
Slussers were visiting neighbors who lamented the fast approach of winter, voicing concerns about whether or not their old boiler would make it through another season.
The neighbors’ enormous coal-to-oil conversion drank 240 gallons a month at the height of the heating season. The old farmhouse needed an energy retrofit of its own—but at least they’d replaced all the old doors and windows.
While Yates was at the Slusser home taking measurements and completing the heat load calculation several weeks before the install, he visited the neighbor’s home at Slusser’s request. Twenty minutes later he confirmed the Slusser’s suspicion: “Yep, your boiler would be a good fit for their place.”
Dave Yates new boilerFor a yard sale price, Slusser sold the boiler to his neighbor. Along with it, the neighbor received the expansion tank, isolation valves and some perfectly fine Taco 007s.
“We made a two-fer out of it,” said Slusser. “What started out as a nasty, money pit problem led to huge improvements here, and for our neighbors, too. We’re delighted with the way things turned out.”