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HVAC/Water Heater Reference Information
Our heating and cooling systems are unique and are always the source of many questions. Please read the following information as it will save you time, aggrevation, money, and will help you to avoid damage to your unit and others! The below information has been compiled and placed here by Board President Travis Beaver for the benefit of all residents. If you have questions for him, please contact him through FirstService.
- Our units do not have the floor space or exhaust lines for a gas furnace, so our water heaters not only provide hot water, but they also provide hot water to heat our units.
- Our heat is provided by an "hydronic air handler" inside the unit. This is the large metal box inside your unit behind the louvered door. Water is drawn from the water heater with a small pump through a small metal heat exchanger which warms up. Then cool air from inside passes over it, warming the inside air. The now cooler water from the water heater is returned to the tank for reheating. This is called a recirculating loop.
- We do NOT use standard residential water heaters. Our water heaters are special, as they have side taps labeled for "space heating". These tanks also have larger burners to accommodate faster heating.
- Modern energy efficient "tankless" water heaters are compatible with our heating systems, if installed properly.
- A "mixing valve" is installed on the hot water output from the water heater to mix in some cold water to the hot tap water to avoid scalding. The high temperature water travels direct to the air handler as part of the recirculating loop.
- Our air conditioning is fairly standard, with the exception of the outside condensing unit, which is a "through-the-wall" model, frequently used in apartments and condos to save space.
- Consider installing a programmable thermostat in your unit. This can also save you a great deal of money on your heating and cooling.
Critical Things You Need to Know
- Many plumbers and HVAC techs have set off fire sprinkler heads while soldering pipes, and servicing the exhaust flues of our water heaters. Ensure you mention to the technicians to use extra caution near sprinklers. They can be set off by physical contact or heat and will release hundreds of gallons of water in minutes. If you are having any work performed in your water heater closet or air handler closet, call FirstService as far in advance as possible so that the sprinkler system can be placed in test mode. Test mode will alert the alarm company that work is being performed near the system, but will not turn the water off...we cannot legally disable the fire sprinkler system.
- When draining your water heater, do NOT use the overflow pipes in your water heater closet! Use a garden hose, and drain the tank outside to ground level. The overflow pipes in the closet are not designed to handle 50 gallons of water flow, as they are connected to the condensate drain lines. If you or your contractor ignore this, you risk flooding the unit(s) below you. This warning is here for a reason: it has happened multiple times in the past.
The Water Heater
- If you have an "Apollo" brand water heater, you most likely have the original water heater.
- If you have an original water heater, replace it ASAP. It WILL fail soon, and any water damage to other units is your responsibility to repair. Our buildings are 20 years old, and water heaters generally only last 10-15 years. Plus, new tanks are more efficient and will save you money on energy bills - especially tankless models.
- If you are getting inadequate hot water in your unit, you may need to simply turn up the temperature on your water heater, adjust your mixing valve setting, or both, especially when the weather turns colder. Your water heater should be set between 120 degrees and 140 degrees, depending on your hot water usage, and thermostat setting.
Please pay close attention to the specs below when obtaining a quote from a contractor. These specs have been proven to be necessary!
Required Bristol Green Water Heater Tank Specs:
- Natural gas
- Direct vent models are required as the water heater is installed in a confined closed space.
- 50,000 BTU rating (required for sufficient recovery during heating season)
- 50 gallon capacity (40 gallon is too small when dealing with space heating & hot tap water)
- separate side taps for space heating recirculating loop (required for proper performance and efficiency)
- Examples include: Bradford White DH1-504T6BN, AO Smith GDVT-50L
- Cost: Expect to pay up to around $3,000-3,500 for a water heater tank replacement including labor
- Contractors: BGE Home, Blue Dot, Environmental Systems Associates, and Ken Griffin Plumbing have been recommended by residents.
Tankless Water Heater Information:
- Tankless water heaters heat water on demand ONLY, thus not requiring a holding tank, giving you more space in your closet.
- As they only heat on demand, an electric baseboard heater should be installed in your closet to prevent pipes from freezing in the winter.
- Tankless units require electricity to operate their control circuitry. Consider purchasing a small power backup (UPS) unit for the water heater in case power goes out.
- As far as the Board is aware, BGE Home is the only contractor that has installed tankless water heaters in Bristol Green, and only two installations have been performed.
- Rinnai is the leader in tankless technology. Rheem also sells tankless systems. Consider purchasing a matching air handler from these vendors when upgrading your system.
- Click HERE to see an article on tankless space heating.
- Tankless water heaters are far more expensive to install than a tank water heater, but can last twice as long and will significantly reduce your gas costs.
The Air Handler & Air Conditioner
- Hydronic air handlers typically last around 20 years, along with air conditioning condenser units.
- The original Apollo air handlers are no longer manufactured, although some parts are. One replacement model is the First Company 30HBQB. First Company is a division of Carrier.
- If you are having a tankless water heater installed, consider replacing your air handler with one specifically paired to that heater by the tankless heater manufacturer.
- The original air conditioner condensing unit next to your water heater was made by National Comfort Products and is still made today in Pennsylvania. You can also replace it with a First Company (Carrier) model 24WCX-AB, or equivalent.
- Based on unit owner feedback, replacing your air conditioner and air handler together will cost approximately $4,000-5,000, but will reduce your energy bills, and heat & cool your home faster. Replacing them separately will cost extra in labor.
- New hydronic air handlers are at least 10-15% more efficient than the original systems from 1994-95.
- BGE Home and Environmental Systems Associates have completed HVAC system upgrades in Bristol Green. Residents are encouraged to research several contractors before choosing one.
Each unit has an individual shut-off valve. It is blue or black in color, round, and is the closest valve to the wall in your outside water heater closet. Turn to the right until tight to turn off your water supply.
If you have a first floor unit, your closet also has a special valve on the wall called a "riser valve" which will turn off the water to your unit, and the two above you. This should only be used in rare (emergency) circumstances. Turn this valve clockwise until tight to turn off the water to the entire stack of 3 units.
For shutting off an entire building, please contact FirstService.