Mechanical Renaissance Saves Heidelberg Church

Heidelberg United Church of Christ in York, PA, needed a mechanical fix in a bad way. According to one church member, heating equipment at the church needed “salvation” and, more importantly, summer services were hotter than Hades.

The answer to their prayers came in a red truck driven by Dave Yates, president of York-based F.W. Behler, Inc. The system Yates proposed, when compared to the nearest competitor’s bid, would be more than twice as efficient and cost $200,000 less.

In addition to the energy and installation savings, Yates’ plan for the 20,000+ square foot church was far less invasive, requiring minimal disruption to the building, and the congregation. It’s no surprise that F.W. Behler, Inc. was the contracting firm chosen to give the church its long-awaited mechanical makeover.

Jobsite foreman Scott Barnett positions a condenser as technicians Carl Einsig (kneeling) and Jamie Schrum fasten the bases to the concrete and work to connect the refrigerant lineset.

The oldest part of the building dates back to 1800; it’s seen numerous additions and remodels since. The entire building was heated by a sinfully-oversized steam boiler. That came as no shock, though. The 1918 Flu Epidemic brought awareness of the importance of fresh air in high-occupancy areas. The trend toward over-sizing systems allowed for windows to be cracked for fresh air circulation, even in the dead of winter. This, in a sense, marked the beginning of IAQ consciousness.


Many systems installed during the “fresh air” era were oversized by at least 20%, often more, and sometimes much more than was needed. Of course, this also meant that the church’s boiler knew bang-bang short cycling as a way of life. “They thought demons were knocking on the cellar door when that system started,” quipped Yates.

Converting the sanctuary's steam radiators to hot water required new compact modulating-condensing hot water boilers be installed. Technicians are seen here securing the new units to a concrete base.

“The old system had some pretty big problems,” added Yates. With a thermal efficiency of around 30%, the old boiler at Heidelberg Church was connected to a maze of crudely-patched piping. Yates’ plan included converting the sanctuary’s steam radiators to hot water, requiring several new, compact modulating-condensing hot water boilers. Remaining portions of the church would be served by a new, properly-sized steam system. And, to save them from summertime’s inferno, Yates also planned to provide air conditioning to the entire, non-ducted building with ductless Fujitsu mini-split systems.


The 5,000 square-foot sanctuary presented quite a few challenges for the conversion. While calculating the heat load, Yates had to compensate for lower radiator temperatures (tied to outdoor reset), no longer around 215ºF, but a glide between 85ºF and 160ºF.

Technician Rob Mosley wires the wall-hung condensing units, enabling a far less invasive solution for bringing Heidelburg Church an energy efficient solution to heating and cooling their building.

While trying to figure out if hot water running through the current radiators would be sufficient, Yates was glad to learn that, years ago, a generous layer of insulation had been blown across the entire crawlspace above the sanctuary. The subsequent Manual-J heat loss calculation revealed it would be a marriage made in heaven!


The big ‘ol steam radiators were single-tube piped, requiring some work to convert them to hot water, along with the use of twin-piped supply-side valves. The installation crew had to drill and tap each one to change all the valves and fittings. To preserve the 100-year-old ceramic tile on the sanctuary floor, return lines were run back down with the supply lines through the pre-existing, one-pipe floor-holes.

Ductless Fujitsu mini-split systems meet the church's air conditioning needs without cutting into very limited space.

Heating the whole sanctuary with one traditional hydronic loop would not be possible. To remedy this, Behler techs used reverse-return piping, ensuring that all the radiators reached the same temperature simultaneously.


With prolonged periods of record cold and snowfalls, the new heating systems’ inaugural winter was brutal. But the congregation was delighted with the quiet warmth it delivered. And, according to the church’s treasurer, they also saved $6,000 in fuel last winter alone.

When the heating problems were licked, Yates and his crews turned their attention to the air conditioning challenge. Cooling the big interior spaces of the church would have its challenges, too.

Rob Mosley checks operating pressures once the units are installed.

The system proposed by other contractors called for installation of a 150-ton chiller that would have required special permitting and also cut into the church’s very-limited parking space. To solve the problem, Yates specified single and multi zone ductless Fujitsu mini-split systems to meet the church’s air conditioning needs.


Without a prior air conditioning system of any kind, the building had no ductwork. “One of the many benefits of the mini-splits is that we were able to outfit the church with an a/c system that didn’t require tearing down the ceiling to run ducts,” said Yates.

Before the overhaul, much of the building was unbearable, such as the secretary’s office. The temperature was usually around 85ºF in the office on any summer day. The humidity: “About as high as you could push it,” said Yates.

Technicians Carl Einsig (left) and Jamie Schrum (right) hang an indoor head.

A 12,000 BTU evaporator unit was installed; one of three that are connected to a 2.5-ton, triple-zone condensing unit outside. The other two evaporators, at 9,000 BTUs each, were installed in the nearby restrooms.


The secretary’s office, the pastor’s office, and the auditorium together required 12 tons of cooling, all easily met with the installation of a few Fujitsu multi-zones. The sanctuary received a total of 26.5 tons of cooling from 10 evaporators.

“Instead of having an on/off system sure to gobble large chunks of the operating budget, our installed system can quietly glide from 8,500-BTUs to the full 26.5-tons as needed and will react via on-board sensors wherever the congregation crowd is seated – all the while sipping only the energy required to meet demands for congregant comfort,” noted Yates.

18,000 BTU indoor heads are hung, mirroring the wall-hung units outside.

Large capacity, 3-ton units were installed to throw air over large distances; a requirement for the 5,000 sq.ft., 65-foot high sanctuary.


The church’s 6,220 sq. ft. social hall is located downstairs, on the opposite end of the building from the sanctuary. Unlike the sanctuary, where the heat load is greatly dictated by the giant stained-glass windows, the social hall has a different need for cooling. The area is often used for activities, when people create nearly twice as many BTUs as they would sitting in a sanctuary pew. There is also a large kitchen, raising the cooling needs when in use.

Jamie Schrum checks air flow using an anemometer.

The social hall is one large room separated into four smaller areas by divider curtains. Each of these areas, and an adjacent classroom, were zoned separately. This way, if a group of people needs only half the hall, no energy is wasted by cooling the unused areas. The social hall is conditioned with 25.5 tons of cooling, delivered by nine separate air handlers. “Here again, the social hall and classrooms can work together, or separately, anywhere between 8,500-BTUs and full capacity,” explained Yates.


The 26 air handlers throughout the church connect to 23 condensing units outside, all but five of which are in a gated alley between the church and an adjacent building. To minimize their footprint, the units are racked and stacked on top of each other, two high.

On the other side of the church, the remaining five units were hung 15 feet off the ground from the exterior wall of the church. Fujitsu’s condensing units are front discharge, so mounting them close to the brick wall was no problem. As long as the back of the unit has at least four inches of clearance, efficiency isn’t affected.

Scott Barnett adjusts the vapor-stat pressure settings for the steam system to ensure that energy consumption is kept to a minimum.

“With limited outdoor space, we knew we were going to have to get creative. Fujitsu makes that a little easier,” said Yates. F.W. Behler, Inc. installs a lot of mini-splits, not only because of the tremendous efficiency, but also because of how quiet they are. The Fujitsu evaporators run as low as 22 decibels. “As quiet as the proverbial church mouse,” said Yates.


Before installation of the system, Yates was asked to appear before the congregation to present his plan for the new system. “Yates was very helpful in designing the system custom to our needs, and he did a great job explaining it to the congregation,” said church member Steve Green. “His company did an excellent job installing the systems. Their work is superb, and the systems are quiet and comfortable beyond our expectations. Because of the new comfort we now have, we’ve also had more summer weddings and events here, and they help to pay the bills.”

Addressing the congregation one Sunday morning after completion of the job, Yates left them with a clever parting shot.

“Y’know, Pastor, you’re in control of this environment,” he said with a wink. “If the congregation gets too comfortable in the sanctuary and forgets what a blessing it is to have air conditioning after so many years without it, you can always call upon a higher power to remind them. The remote control will be right in your hand. It’s small and easily concealed.

“Maybe, with the wave of a hand … you could wield mystical powers,” he concluded. “That’d make ’em more attentive to the sermon.”

Posted by on Apr 1st, 2011 and filed under Feature Story. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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