A Whole Lot Of Hot Air

A Whole Lot Of Hot Air

“The cheapest thing to buy isn’t always the best thing to buy,” says Jim Kramer of Delta T Solutions, echoing one of the truest statements ever made. The bottom line always looms large in any investment decision, but what initially seems like the cheapest solution to your heating problem can actually be a deceptive mirage, with the true costs of your inefficient equipment lost in the heat shimmer coming off your pipes.

With a background that encompasses more than 25 years in the greenhouse industry, first as a greenhouse facility manager at the University of Illinois and the last 6 years in the greenhouse heating side of the industry, now with Delta T Solutions, Kramer can see through the haze to the underlying structure of heating systems in the North American market, both as they currently stand and where he thinks they should be moving.

“A lot of growers have been around for a while, some for a couple of generations,” he says. “They know they’re going to be here and growing plants, they believe in their businesses, they know they have the customer base and what their operating costs are. But they’re getting sick of paying so much to feed their hot air equipment. Even if they’re surviving right now, a lot of what we’re hearing is people saying, ‘If my costs get too high, that’s bad for my business. I don’t want to be paying the power company just to stay afloat.'” With this aim in mind, Kramer has a few recommendations for growers with outdated systems looking to get a clear view of the future. 

 

1 – An Honest Look

The first step is to evaluate what you have, as efficiency levels can range greatly depending upon what is used and how. Kramer references published data (see table) indicating that the efficiency of the gas-fired unit heater is relatively low — and that’s just the start.

“The unit heaters we sell are over 80 percent efficient as a heat source, but when you mount them higher up in the greenhouse, that overall efficiency number goes way down,” he explains. Kramer also cautions growers to take a hard look at what efficiency numbers actually mean.

“You have to look at the overall design of the heater for a true efficiency picture,” he says. “If you look at just the burner efficiency, then that’s one thing, but you have to look at how this heater fits into your overall system.”

For example, infiltration of air can be a major culprit in outdated heaters or in heaters not designed for greenhouses. Kramer points out that some growers are still using “gravity stack” heaters in which the air intake stays open all the time, with a draft continually passing through it–a solution that Kramer sees as defying logic. “If you have a heater that’s open to the outside, you’re going to lose warm air — air that you’ve paid to heat up — from your greenhouse!”

The next step up the ladder of efficiency is induced-draft heaters with a fan that only brings air in when the heater is running. This means it will burn more efficiently and won’t waste heat through infiltration, leading to a higher efficiency rating. Still, the heat source, although a good place to start, is just one part of the picture.  

2 – Pick A Crop

The next question is what to grow, and when? It would be a wonderful thing if there could be a single viable solution for every greenhouse in the country, such as in Holland where a consistent climate and the clock auction system make for many monoculture growers with similar problems and common solutions. However, the incredible diversity of a landscape that stretches from northern tundra to southern swamp, makes not only for unique market dynamics, but for a complex technical situation for North American growers, as well.

“The needs of any specific greenhouse varies from region to region,” says Kramer. “In Ohio, the heating season is six months. In California, they’re using heat to a lesser extent, but using it all year-round, especially for propagation.”

Which brings up another crucial point — the needs of any system also depends on the crop mix that growers are seeking to shelter from the storm.

“Some crops just can’t handle 45ËšF or 50ËšF nights,” he notes, adding that these types of concerns can be answered through consultation with other growers, Extension agents and allied trade representatives. “All of these questions should be figured out prior to investment.”  

3 – What To Buy?

According to Kramer, the next step is to look at whether something along the lines of a brand new, super-efficient floor heat system with a condensing boiler even makes sense.

“In most cases, if the grower is using unit heaters, they could be doing better with hot water. However, on the flipside, some growers don’t want to invest a lot of capital in a whole new hot water system if they’re only heating their greenhouses in the springtime,” he says. On the whole, though, “We’ve been seeing a lot of growers starting to worry about efficiency. We get a lot of calls from growers who have unit heaters and who know how much they cost to run. They now want to add benchtop heating and keep the unit heaters to fill in during the coldest months.” Kramer gives the example of Ohio, where most greenhouse systems are designed to handle -10ËšF or -15ËšF lows.

“How often do you hit that?” he wonders. “In Illinois, some winters would barely get down to zero. As your first stage of water heat, a benchtop system could actually supply a majority of the heat because it’s not as cold outside as the system’s design temperature can handle.” There are better methods to achieve a more efficient system, Kramer says, but explains this may be a good cost-saving step at a reasonable expense.

“Unit heaters combined with a slab heating system often make sense for all the same reasons, with the next step up being, of course, an all-hydronic system,” he concludes, adding that no matter the heat source, HAF fans are another way to help growers distribute the hot air around the greenhouse and therefore even out the overall air temperature. 

4–Think Long-Term

Whatever the most cost-effective and fuel-efficient solution may be, there’s always that bottom line (whether real or imagined) lurking out there to mislead growers into trying a quick fix.

“A hot water heating system is going to be more up front, sure. But if you’re going to use it enough, the system will pay for itself in the long run. A lot depends on how far down the road the grower is willing to think,” observes this long-time industry member. “With our gas costs rising, people are being forced to get more efficient, and what do they do? They move from hot air to hot water. It’s happening already, so why invest your good money in a short-term solution?”

Leave a Reply

More From Finance/Operations...

October 10, 2017

Sharpen Your Skills in Cost Management and Profitability With This Online Course

The University of Florida is offering a new online course on costing and profitability. The course will take growers through the process of how to accurately evaluate cost of production, labor efficiency, pricing, and equipment investment decisions.

Read More
Willoway Nurseries Team

October 1, 2017

How Willoway Nurseries Gets Its Staff Engaged in The Company’s Future

Willoway Nurseries in Avon, OH, is creating a culture with people who think, act, and feel like owners. Learn how its team is taking the business to the next level.

Read More

September 21, 2017

Horticulture Is All About Connections

The beauty of our industry is that we are more than willing to reach out and help those around us. What connections can you make today to help your business, and what can you offer to help another grower?

Read More
Latest Stories

October 10, 2017

Sharpen Your Skills in Cost Management and Profitabilit…

The University of Florida is offering a new online course on costing and profitability. The course will take growers through the process of how to accurately evaluate cost of production, labor efficiency, pricing, and equipment investment decisions.

Read More
Willoway Nurseries Team

October 1, 2017

How Willoway Nurseries Gets Its Staff Engaged in The Co…

Willoway Nurseries in Avon, OH, is creating a culture with people who think, act, and feel like owners. Learn how its team is taking the business to the next level.

Read More

September 21, 2017

Horticulture Is All About Connections

The beauty of our industry is that we are more than willing to reach out and help those around us. What connections can you make today to help your business, and what can you offer to help another grower?

Read More
Worker taking cuttings at Vivero Internacional.

September 11, 2017

Vivero Internacional Elevates Clean Cuttings to New Hei…

One of the last independent cutting operations, this fast-growing company raises the standard for delivering clean, high-quality unrooted cuttings.

Read More
Selecta Sponsor bed at Raker trial gardens

September 5, 2017

C. Raker & Sons Acquired By Roberta’s Unique Garden…

Ownership will change hands in December, and Raker will supply young plants for the 2018 season. Beyond that, leadership of the two operations say they are excited to move forward with a partnership that will continue to supply the industry, and gardeners, with top-quality plants.

Read More

August 1, 2017

MPS Honors D.S. Cole Growers for 10 Years of Sustainabi…

At Cultivate’17, a ceremony to mark a 10-year milestone since D.S. Cole Growers became involved with More Profitable Sustainability (MPS), as the first U.S. grower to achieve MPS certification, took owner Doug Cole by surprise. Separate celebrations also recognized Metrolina Greenhouses and Dümmen Orange for achieving MPS certification.

Read More
Nexus greenhouse construction for Knox Cannabis Facility

July 27, 2017

Ornamental Growers Will Revolutionize Cannabis Industry…

Professional growers have much to offer the emerging cannabis market, according to the co-owner of Knox Medical, one of the licensed cannabis producers in Florida.

Read More
Ball ColorLink logo

July 11, 2017

Get Guidance on Running Your Business from Ball ColorLi…

Representatives from Ball ColorLink will be on-hand at Cultivate’17 to answer questions and present business-building tools and industry insights to growers.

Read More
Lean Consortium in Washington

July 10, 2017

Washington Growers Join New Horticulture Lean Consortiu…

The group of growers has committed to learning and applying the principles of Lean, a method for eliminating waste that results in more value to customers delivered at a lower cost, in a shorter time, with fewer defects and less human effort.

Read More

April 11, 2017

Jerry Halamuda of Color Spot Nurseries Retires

The co-founder of Color Spot Nurseries has retired, effective immediately, and has named a replacement.

Read More

March 21, 2017

How Greenhouse Vegetable Growers Can Prepare for a Prod…

The United Fresh Produce Association is holding a Recall Ready Workshop in April that is designed to help growers properly manage a recall, from liability to communications.

Read More

March 14, 2017

Expanded Customer Footprint, E-Commerce, Succession Key…

Costa Farms' acquisition of indoor foliage producer Delray Plants rocked the industry, but the story behind Delray Plants' sale is the same as for many growers struggling with succession planning. For Costa Farms, the strategic purchase expands its customer footprint and also fast tracks its foray into e-commerce.

Read More

March 10, 2017

Costa Farms Expands With Purchase of Indoor Houseplant …

Costa Farms annnounced March 10 that it has acquired Delray Plants, one of the leaders in the indoor houseplant industry. The two operations are committed to the same values, principles, and goals to grow the industry, and will fit well together to accomplish this, say Randy Gilde, CEO of Delray Plants, and Joche Smith, CEO of Costa Farms.

Read More
Ken and Deena Altman

March 7, 2017

Altman Plants in Escrow to Purchase EuroAmerican Propag…

Ken Altman, a co-owner of Altman Plants based in Vista, CA, has confirmed that the operation is currently in escrow to purchase EuroAmerican Propagators, the Bonsall, CA-based young plant and finished plant grower that filed Chapter 7 Bankruptcy on Jan. 23, 2017. Ken and Deena Altman are co-owners of Altman Plants and The Plug Connection, along with their son Matthew, who has recently bought into the family business. The 55 acres of land and all of the facilities on it, which were previously owned by Jerry Church, a partner in EuroAmerican Propagators, are part of the purchase agreement currently in escrow, Altman says. However, it would not be absorbed by Altman Plants, which in 2016 was number 3 on Greenhouse Grower’s Top 100 Growers list with more than 11 million square feet of environmentally controlled greenhouse production, 62 acres of shade production, and 400 acres of outdoor field production. Altman Plants’ property […]

Read More
EuroAmerican Propagators Greenhouses

February 14, 2017

Suppliers Comment on Plant Genetics’ Fate After EuroAme…

Since the operation’s bankruptcy filing on January 23, 2017, suppliers associated with EuroAmerican Propagators have updated Greenhouse Grower on what the operation’s bankruptcy means for them – and how it will impact grower customers.

Read More
Stephanie Whitehouse

January 17, 2017

Stephanie Whitehouse Takes Her Passion for Plants to Di…

Stephanie Whitehouse, who has spent the last seven years as the Sales and Marketing Director for Peace Tree Farm in Kintnersville, PA, recently joined Dickman Farms Greenhouse and Garden Center in Auburn, NY, as the company’s new Retail General Manager.

Read More
Laura Drotleff

December 6, 2016

Are You Driving Young Growers Away? [Opinion]

In a time when the industry is facing a critical shortage of both labor and skilled, educated growers, it's important that grower operations don't unwittingly turn candidates off to a career at their business or in the industry in general. Take a closer look at your hiring practices to ensure you are being inclusive and not breaking any laws.

Read More
Trays move on an overhead conveyor to the end of the production line, where workers carefully pack the cleaned, sized, graded, counted and sorted Calla tubers

November 29, 2016

Texas Judge Halts Overtime Rule; Here’s What It Means F…

According to Craig Regelbrugge at AmericanHort, the injunction against the overtime rule is welcome news for horticulture.

Read More