May 7, 2018

Vacuum Condensate Pump System Upgrade at the Palmer House Improves Steam Generation Capabilities While Helping the Environment

Hotel Heating Steam Generation System Upgrade

Located just a few blocks from Michigan Avenue and Chicago’s famous Millennium Park, the Palmer House is a part of Chicago’s history and one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Historic Hotels of America. To say the property is iconic would be an understatement, but it would be accurate to say that the hotel strives to offer its best to every one of its guests. Sure, part of offering the best possible guest experience comes in the way of stunning accommodations, dedicated staff, luxury bed linens, and elegant details that start in the lobby and extend into every room, but what happens behind the scenes is just as important.

These behind-the-scenes operations can cover everything from the electrical systems and technology connectivity to things we often take for granted, such as heat, hot water, and energy/resource saving initiatives. By ensuring that everything is running well behind the scenes, Palmer House can remain focused on its guests to ensure that everyone who sets foot in the lobby experiences the very best. As part of the hotel’s continued effort to achieve this goal, the decision was made to replace the aging vacuum condensate pump system, which is part of the system the building uses to generate steam for building heat and as a utility to generate hot water.

At Metropolitan, we know a thing or two about pump systems and iconic properties, and we were happy to help Palmer House update its operation. The job was far from off-the-shelf, but we never shy away from a challenge.


Out with the Old Vacuum Condensate Pump System

Old Vacuum Condensate Pump System Being Replaced

The existing system before replacement.

The old pump system had served the hotel well for the last 30-40 years thanks to regular maintenance, but it finally reached end of life. This allowed the Palmer House the opportunity to install a new system with improved functionality, energy efficiency and chemical/water reuse. In addition to ensuring the supplying of steam for heat and hot water, the hotel wanted to reduce its water usage to help improve the property’s environmental impact.
This building was designed to use a central steam boiler system, and the condensate system was designed with and incorporated a “vacuum return system.” In these situations, the vacuum pump is designed to remove the trapped air in the return piping, forming a vacuum that helps the condensate drain back to the mechanical room. The condensate is then transferred back to the boiler feed system to be reused for the generation of steam.

The previous vacuum pump system used a “liquid ring” style pump, but the cooling water was not reused. This meant that, after cooling, the water was dumped down the drain, leading to tens of thousands of gallons of wasted water each year. In addition to creating a large expense for the property, this process was not environmentally friendly. The goal was to design, build, and install a new system that would drastically reduce – or eliminate – water waste while also creating overall system improvements. When this warm water is dumped down the drain, more energy is required to heat cool makeup water. Water treatment chemicals are also lost which are expensive to add again.


In with the New Custom-Designed Duplex Vacuum Condensate Pump System

New Vacuum Condensate Pump System

Metropolitan’s custom-designed duplex vacuum condensate pump with two (2) 25 HP liquid ring vacuum pumps.

From the technical, pump-speak standpoint, Metropolitan built and installed a custom-designed duplex vacuum condensate pump system with two 25 HP liquid ring vacuum pumps. Due to the age of the building, the pipes are difficult to access without risking unnecessary damage to the historic property, so it was necessary to stick with a vacuum pump system. This, however, is not common in commercial applications, so the entire system had to be custom designed.

First, the new system had to be sized appropriately to handle the age of the building. Second, it had to fit in a specific, small footprint, which was especially challenging because Metropolitan was looking to not only replace the system, but to also improve it by incorporating a 300-gallon custom stainless steel cooling/seal water tank, two ½ HP cooling water pumps, and a plate and frame heat exchanger in addition to the new vacuum pumps. This addition means the new vacuum pumps’ cooling water is stored in the tank and, as it absorbs heat, is pumped through a heat exchanger and cooled to prevent the wasteful dumping of water. To ensure the operational safety of the system, the tank is designed to drain if it exceeds capacity, but this drainage would be far from the loss seen in the previous system.

Today, in addition to providing luxury accommodations in one of the greatest cities in the country, Palmer House can rest easy knowing that its supply of steam for both hot water and heating will remain reliable for decades to come. In addition to that overall peace of mind, the property will also benefit from greatly reduced water costs and a much smaller environmental impact. Some people might refer to this scenario as killing two birds with one stone. At Metropolitan, we just see it as doing our job and offering the best possible solution to every customer we serve.

Rendering of a Vacuum Condensate Pump System

A 3-D Rendering of a 300-gallon custom stainless steel cooling/seal water tank & two 1/2 HP cooling water pumps.

Thinking About Upgrading Your Building's Steam Condensate Return Pump System?

Learn more about Metropolitan’s packaged vacuum condensate pump systems and our custom design capabilities.

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