Tankless Water Heaters Increase Energy Efficiency at Florida Jail

By Jason Fleming

VERO BEACH, Fla. Jails have a constant need for hot water — be it for cooking, dishwashing, laundry or hygiene. Indian River County Jail in Vero Beach realized this firsthand when a boiler and 300-gallon storage tank in its E-building complex began to malfunction..

“The last thing you want is a riot because the inmates don’t have hot water in their showers,” said Administrative Lieutenant Adam Bailey, who oversees facility maintenance at the jail, which houses the county’s pre-trial detainees as well as inmates with sentences lasting up to one year.

A malfunctioning boiler in the jail’s E-building was putting hot water supply at risk. In total, the building contains four units with 64 beds each and more than 100 showerheads and sinks, meaning a potential of 256 inmates could be impacted by insufficient hot water.

Bailey explained that E-building was constructed in 2007, but it was temporarily shut down due to a low inmate population. It was during this period that the jail decided to replace the original propane-fired boiler and storage tank.

A local wholesaler suggested tankless water heaters as one option to replace the defunct boiler, which was answered without hesitation on the jail’s part. Bailey was extremely open to the technology — having successfully installed a residential tankless unit in the past — and he began to do his research. Tankless water heaters use a powerful burner to quickly heat incoming water to the set point temperature. They activate only when a fixture is turned on and cease heating once it is off. This ensures energy efficiency and lower fuel costs because the heater is not constantly firing on and off to heat stored water.

Furthermore, the per-unit costs for the tankless equipment were actually lower than those for the storage-tank alternative Bailey was considering. With all this in mind, he ultimately opted for the tankless equipment. The final design involved installing multiple tankless units, which would ensure that even if one failed, there would be enough hot water produced to meet the jail’s needs.

E-building Installation

Bailey decided to install eight, 199,900 BTU, propane-fired tankless water heaters in E-building back in 2013. “Unit redundancy was very important to me because it offered the certainty that there would always be sufficient hot water,” he said.

The building also had an existing hot-water recirculation system to which the new water heaters were connected, further enhancing system performance. Jared Taylor, of locally based Southern Plumbing, was ultimately contracted to do the installation in June 2013. Part of the job involved choosing a venting system for the water heaters. The building was constructed with pre-stressed concrete and had one exhaust hole serving the boiler. To avoid the complicated and costly process of drilling individual vents through the wall, it was decided to common vent the eight water heaters through the existing exhaust aperture.

“We ended up installing an exhaust fan to prevent emissions backflow into the room,” said Taylor. “The installation itself went smoothly and was completed in less than two weeks.”

Although the exhaust fan added to the total installed cost, Bailey said that there were significant savings on the water heaters themselves over storage tank-type alternatives. “Having spent $63,397 on the eight tankless water heaters, we saved around $14,000 over tank water heaters,” explained Bailey.

Indeed, the lower cost of tankless is what allowed the jail to install eight heaters. Bailey admits that had they installed tank-style heaters, they could have budgeted only for six.

Check out the entire article in the September/October issue of Correctional News.

Jason Fleming serves as vice president sales and marketing for Noritz America, based in Fountain Valley, Calif.

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