Steam-Trap Repairs Result in Savings


In a time of state budget deficits and related cost-saving measures, plant operations has found a way to save the NMU general fund $205,000 annually: by monitoring and fixing the university’s steam traps.


A steam trap is one of the most important parts of a steam heating and cooling system. Steam is an efficient heat transfer that transports energy from a central location—in Northern’s case, the Ripley Heating Plant—to any building that needs to be heated. As a by-product of this process, condensate is formed and detoured back to the heating plant, where it is converted back into steam. This is where the steam trap becomes important because the trap stops the steam from merging with the condensate and therefore prevents the loss of a great amount of energy.


“Any time a trap fails a certain amount of steam is lost,” said Jim Inch (Plant Operations).


In the past, a failing steam trap was detected only through manual inspection. In 2000, NMU implemented the steam trap maintenance program.   


“Prior to this program there was no means to check on the traps annually,” said Dennis Cieslinski (Plant Operations). “Before, we found a problem and fixed it.”


The program included an initial survey last summer of the 1,434 steam traps located on campus. The survey led to several repairs and replacements of the traps by Northern trades workers.


With the repairs and replacements completed, Northern has increased its traps from 1,434 to 1,617. The annual check of the traps will result in substantial savings, according to Cieslinski, since approximately 4 percent of a system’s traps will fail annually.


“The more efficient we can make these steam lines, the less money we have to spend to produce the demand needed,” Inch said.


Prepared by Miriam Moeller.



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Updated: March 10, 2006