In a healthcare setting, the margin for error is slim. Everything must work as planned right when it’s needed, meaning every system needs to function flawlessly. This applies not only to the systems related directly to patient care, but also to the systems that support routine, daily facility operations.
With more than 600 specialists working across 80 specialties in Chicago’s western suburbs and beyond, the staff at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital are familiar with the importance of every one of these systems. Concurrently, building managers and operations teams understand that routine care and maintenance are necessary to keep everything running smoothly. Similarly, they know aging infrastructure comes with the territory and, over time, maintenance may no longer be the answer.
After years of managing an outdated and unconventionally designed hot water system in an extremely tight space, the hospital’s water heaters were no longer reliably meeting demand. With maintenance not enough to correct the issue, a replacement was necessary. Sherman Mechanical out of Cary, Illinois, was tasked with coming up with a solution. Realizing that the existing configuration would complicate equipment upgrading and future servicing, Metropolitan Industries was brought in as the solution specialist to come up with a custom approach.
Improving Access to Improve System Life
The hot water system was located on an elevated frame. At 10-feet off the ground, a ladder was necessary for accessing, which made serviceability inconvenient and unsafe.
“Delnor did an admirable job with servicing despite the accessibility challenges,” said Matt Brickey, commercial sales representative at Metropolitan. “Normally we find that routine maintenance has been neglected and often forgotten about, which shortens the life of the product and makes replacement a necessity sooner than normal.”
Metropolitan personnel went on-site multiple times to assess the existing operation and to brainstorm ideas. “We took a systems approach to the redesign, rather than attempting to apply just any sized equipment,” said Brickey. “We examined their system operation and came up with a solution that would reliably generate hot water and ease serviceability.
Metropolitan is in the unique position to design and manufacture custom solutions engineered to meet the unique specifications of a given application. That flexibility is what allowed us to propose a redesign that stationed two MetroTherm semi-instantaneous water heaters at floor level, making them easily accessible.
To further promote routine maintenance, each semi-instantaneous water heater comes standard with a clean-in-place port, eliminating the need to remove the bundle for cleaning. “With the accessibility to the clean-in-place ports, building crews will take the time to keep up with servicing,” said Brickey.
“By replacing the heat exchangers,” said Todd Spane, Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital Chief Engineer, “the average temperature is about 142-145 degrees.” The main water is elevated at that high temperature to ensure its storing temperature doesn’t fall low enough to allow bacteria growth, such as legionella – an especially critical safety concern for a healthcare facility.
With the successful upgrade to the hot water generation source, the hospital identified additional hot water issues with distribution in hopes that Metropolitan could address. What began as a single upgrade became a “three-phase” hot water system upgrade.
Maintaining Temperature Adjustments for Safe & Reliable Delivery
The original system at Delnor relied on traditional thermostatic mixing valves. These valves have been a part of the plumbing industry for decades, but their design and overall simplicity often make them unable to safely handle today’s demands, especially on a larger scale. For a more precise and regulated hot water temperature control, Delnor transitioned to the MetroMix, our electronic mixing valve package.
The MetroMix is effective at mixing elevated hot water with cold water, even as building demand changes, ensuring that distributed hot water is comfortable and safe. The duplex MetroMix skid was prefabricated on a common frame with the piping and valves factory mounted and wired prior to delivery. The redesigned piping installation completed by Sherman Mechanical made the MetroMix skid accessible to the hospital’s operations crew, while its BACnet capability allowed for seamless tie-in with their building automation system for easy monitoring.
Finalizing the hot water system upgrade was a replacement of their domestic hot water return pumps. As with the rest of the existing components, the set of wall-mounted pumps had been very difficult to access, maintain, and balance within the tight space. Metropolitan constructed a return pump package that consisted of four variable speed return pumps on a prefabricated frame which arrived all mounted, piped, wired, and ready to install. Staying consistent with the rest of the equipment, the hot water return pumps are now easily accessible which allows for ease of required inspection and any future maintenance as needed.
“From the safety standpoint, the system is much easier to access. We can now rotate pumps monthly to ensure the same hour distribution evenly across the pumps” said Spane.
Today, the digitized system at Delnor ensures precise accuracy and control while also easing maintenance. With safe and accurate water temperature distribution to every fixture, hot water is now a non-issue for the hospital’s staff and patients – exactly as it should be.