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Inside look at ISU’s Heating Plant

Employee looks at Heating Plant

The Heating Plant heats more than 2,527,000 square-feet of classrooms, residence halls, office space, and other academic buildings.

Built in 1916 and nestled against Schroeder Hall, the Heating Plant has experienced dramatic change.

Heat on campus was converted from coal to gas in 1965. Four years later a remote automation system capable of monitoring all room air systems was installed. Today the plant heats more than 2,527,000-square-feet of classrooms, residence halls, office space, and other academic buildings.

Always on duty

The 44 staff members who run the Heating Plant and three campus Chiller Plants have two goals: keep everyone as comfortable as possible and make the plants as efficient as possible. To make both happen staff are scheduled 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to monitor the equipment and make sure no issues arise. John Fleming (pictured) has been on staff four years as steam and power plant operator. In this role he monitors equipment; dispatches coworkers; and even takes part in the annual dismantling of each boiler for cleaning, maintenance, and inspection.

Efficiency is the name of the game

Plant staff constantly make improvements on the boilers, pipes, and other systems to increase efficiency. Upgraded controls allow fine tuning of water levels, humidifiers, heating and cooling coils, and fans. A comprehensive monitoring system allows staff to keep track of 30,000 points on campus. Even the air that is vented from the boilers—which gets as hot as 360 degrees—is recaptured and used to preheat water after it is treated and before it goes into the boilers. The increased efficiency from this modification gives the University savings equivalent to a fleet of Priuses and was paid back in only two years. Thanks guys!

The power of four

The Heating Plant contains four boilers that supply all of the heat and cooking water, domestic water, and humidification for campus. Three boilers (pictured) are D-type boilers, named for the pipes that wrap the unit in a backwards D. These giants have been in service for approximately 50 years. The other boiler is an O-type boiler and has pipes that wrap it in—you guessed it—an O. The rookie O-type has been working for almost 20 years.

Sharing the load

During the typical winter only two boilers are running, with a third started if temperatures drop below 10 degrees. The fourth boiler serves as a backup in case there is a leak or malfunction in another unit—an extremely rare occurrence. Even when three boilers are in use, they are only running at partial capacity to avoid putting too much strain on the units.

The mysterious tunnels

Spend enough time on campus and you might hear whisperings of hidden tunnels that connect the greater campus area. Most treat these stories the same as the tales about Ange Milner’s ghost. It turns out talk of the tunnels is true. Pipes from the heating plant travel in four loops in campus via dark, steamy underground tunnels to the buildings on campus. The tunnels allow the crew at the plant easier access should there be a leak or need for maintenance.

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