There are often questions and doubts regarding thermal banking systems. Some include how they work, the benefits compared to Design/Build costs, as well as maintenance and operating cost changes over the system’s life.

For centuries man has capitalized on the benefits of stored hot water systems. One of the first uses of natural hot water for heating was in a monastery in Greenland at the end of the 14th century.

Jeff Sturgeon

This first example does not use stored thermal energy as we think about it today. It is the first known example of a BALANCED hydronic system as the flow of hot spring water had to be regulated so the spaces were not over heated or turned into steam rooms.

The Romans became masters at the direction and control of stored resources such as water for the cities, agriculture, and more. Central bath houses required fresh and heated water. To accomplish that huge wood fired boilers were carefully engineered and controlled (balanced).

Imagine arriving at a prison to serve your sentence
and being greeted by 12-foot-tall gargoyles
squatting over the entryway with
stored steam jetting from
their mouths.

Even with the early achievements of the monks and the Romans, it wasn’t until 1829 that America had its first state facility that used stored hydronic heat and flushing toilets. The facility was the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. Fun fact: in 1829, even the White House didn’t have flushing toilets!

Problems With Redesign

The Eastern State Penitentiary operated with no issues until 1935 when additions to the prison included adding a second floor. Sometime later, they discovered the addition of the second floor compromised the entire hydronic design, forcing engineers to redesign the system. It was never right again! The modifications’ impact on the original balanced systems never were overcome until its closing.

The advances of the past 100 years have taken the conversation of thermal storage to new heights and temperatures that can achieve considerable returns in the right (engineered) conditions.

The use of storage systems for satisfying cooling demands has moved into chilled water systems. Although chilled water cooling has been in use for years in the commercial sector, more homes today are designed with a passive energy efficiency intent as the primary goal. These systems try to maintain a typical residential footprint. Chilled water storage requires an array of equipment, from compressor banks to huge district chiller farms serving large cities.

Residential projects using these systems can only achieve efficiency goals if correctly designed, installed, and balanced. Over the last several years, I have worked on several huge homes plagued by problems in one or more of these areas. The problems compromised completion time and cost, and often led to litigation proceedings and court judgments.

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