Putting the Pieces Together: Training the Next Generation of Green Pipefitters

By Kenneth Ruesken

Pipefitter Local 597 has been training members in the installation, maintenance and service of heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVAC/R) for over one hundred years. Since the inception of the green movement, they have focused their effort on training for the future.

Let’s face it: if you look at the HVAC/R industry, there are many new ideas and new technologies to help save the environment.

Some of the areas Local 597 has been looking into are alternative refrigerants, energy efficient HVAC units, energy audits in existing buildings and renewable energy. In fact, they have over 50,000 square feet of training space dedicated to the HVAC/R industry in south suburban Mokena. Local 597 trains its service apprentices in all of the new technology in the industry. Apprentices and Journey persons have taken “Green Awareness” classes to ensure end users that solutions to their problems can include the use of renewable energy products and/or more energy efficient products.

The Mokena training center features a working geothermal system which includes three vertical wells and a simulated pond with three pond loops. Both systems are connected to a three ton heat pump. This system allows the apprentices and journey persons a hands-on training course on this renewable energy choice. Also in the training center is a working supermarket with new “Green Chill” equipment, which allows for a reduction in refrigerant of up to forty-five percent. This reduction is part of the climate change initiative to lower overall refrigerant usage.

“Green Chill” is a joint program of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry, the Environmental Protection Agency and various manufacturers. The goal is to remodel a typical supermarket, which contains five thousand pounds of refrigerant moving to all the coolers, freezers and condensers. Converting the equipment to environmentally friendly glycol coolant and pumping it to all the cooling equipment reduces the refrigerant to only five to ten percent of the original and keeps it in a central location.

Local 597 now includes combustion analysis and carbon monoxide testing in its residential furnace classes. Most of the boiler work that its members perform in the Chicago market usually involves a combustion analysis on the output stack discharge. Members learn that every increase in efficiencies of converting the air/fuel mixture to a perfect ratio will reduce the customer’s heating bill and lower the stack temperature. The more the heat is entering the hot water or steam again reduces the cost of heating to the customer. When members approach their respective customers, they usually recommend cleaning the boiler tubes or the water box to remove any fouling agents, which will also improve the heat transfer, thus saving more money and reducing pollution.

In fact, all of Local 597’s service apprentices have been trained in Green Awareness classes in order to answer any questions that may arise from the end users about renewable energy usage. They also train their members in the RESNET Energy Audit in both commercial and residential applications, as well as the retro-commissioning of existing equipment to new standards. They also have residential energy audits presently being incorporated into the apprentice curriculum. The goal of the residential audits, which is not the focus of the member workers and contractors, is to give members a way to get their arms around the complete concept of all the effects of R-values, U-values, air infiltration and energy efficiencies just on one location–preferably their own residence, to start with.

As you can see, Pipefitters Local 597 is committed to training for the future and committed to train its apprentices and journey persons on all aspects of renewable energy as it relates to the HVAC/R field. If you have any questions about your next HVAC/R project please visit their website at www.pf597.org.

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