Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Spokane’s Dominican Sisters revel in new ‘green’ heating system

by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the May 21, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)

Dave Ressa, facility manager for Dominican Center, Spokane, stands with the new, energy-efficient heating system the Sisters had installed. (IR photo courtesy of Dave Ressa)

In 1999, the entire lighting system of the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome was upgraded to be low-impact. Energy-saving light bulbs were installed inside and out, reducing the basilica’s energy consumption by about 40 percent.

In 2000, the Vatican installed an electric vehicle recharging station, and later the roof of the Pope Paul VI Audience Hall was covered with 1,000 solar panels that produce no carbon dioxide and enough electricity to meet the lighting, heating, and cooling needs of the entire structure.

Pope Benedict XVI has made no secret of his convictions about the need to care for God’s creation and to use natural resources wisely. In 2007, he declared: “We cannot simply do what we want with this Earth of ours, with what has been entrusted to us. We must respect the interior laws of creation, of this Earth, to learn these laws and obey them if we want to survive. This obedience to the voice of the Earth is more important for our future happiness … than the desires of the moment. Our Earth is talking to us and we must listen to it and decipher its message if we want to survive.”

Spokane’s Dominican Sisters are doing their part. Two years ago, expenses for heating Spokane’s 22,000-square foot Dominican Center had gotten out of hand. The annual bill had reached a bloated $1,000 per square foot.

“We had this big, 3 million BTU boiler in the boiler house 150 feet away from the main building,” said Dave Ressa, the Center’s facility manager. “So we were piping steam at 212 degrees underground, through the boiler building and shop portion of that building, down to the Center – so there’s at least 150-200 feet right there – and underneath the dormitory part of the building and down a real long hallway, which is about another 100 feet.”

The old boiler was estimated to be running at 60 percent efficiency, losing much of its heat outdoors between the boiler house and the main building. “The grass would never die in the winter, and the snow was always melted on that part of the ground,” Ressa said.

Then he had a brainstorm: “Why not put a boiler in the main part of the building?” he wondered. “That would eliminate this long run of steam line and would certainly be more economical.”

Contractors, however, didn’t agree. They all recommended a new boiler that would be next to the old one to be close to existing natural gas and steam lines.

Enter Don Smet, a commercial designer and service manager with Spokane’s Standard Plumbing & Heating Controls Corp. He agreed with Ressa that a boiler should be installed in the main building, and in a few weeks he designed a new heating system, including a highly efficient and flexible modulating condensing (“mod/con”) boiler.

“The negative pressure gas cells that come in a mod/con boiler are so sensitive and adjustable,” Smet said, “that you can literally dial in less than 50 ppm (parts per million) of carbon dioxide and low NOx (nitrogen and oxygen).” Also, this type of boiler is rated as 15-20 percent more efficient than other boilers. Smet decided on two boilers which can put a total of 500,000 BTU each, operated by digital controls.

The Dominican Center has a large commercial kitchen with a high demand for hot water, so Smet’s plan included a dedicated mod/con water heater with adjoining storage tank. This system would also eliminate the need for steam.

It took less than two weeks in March 2007 to install the new heating system, and the old heating equipment was kept operational until the new one could be completed.

Even apart from its “green” characteristics, all concerned expected a significant saving from the new system. But the difference turned out to be huge.

“It has netted the Dominican Sisters an annual savings of $20,000 per year,” said Ressa, “and proven itself beyond our expectations. The project received national attention in three plumbing/heating/engineering publications.”

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