While the German construction industry was slipping into decline around the beginning of the millennium, in the States everything was booming. This was partly due to US energy prices which contrasted to Germany where they had already been rising for years, sparking new energy-saving technology in the construction industry, especially alternative heating systems. Now the trend has reached the United States where there is strong demand for energy saving heating. Timo Spörl, a qualified heating and plumbing specialist and a graduate of Steinbeis University Berlin’s Bachelor of Business Administration, rose to the challenge of transferring the technology from Germany to the States.
The American heating market is lagging several years behind the German market. One of the main reasons for this is the use of hot air heating systems which use several times the amount of energy. In California, they have to turn on the heating in the winter as the temperature can sink to zero but on hot summer days they need to keep buildings cool. It was this need that led to one and the same – albeit inefficient – system being used to heat and cool buildings with air. As the price of electricity, gas and oil is closely linked to the price of petroleum, an increasing number of Americans are being forced to rethink their energy consumption. On top of this there is another key aspect that makes the US market for energy-saving heating so lucrative: the population of California (and with it, energy consumption) has doubled since the mid 1970s. In the construction industry this equates to up to six per cent growth per year – in contrast to Germany where construction investment stagnated before actually going into 0.7 per cent decline.
To use energy efficiently (and maintain a healthy indoor climate), most German heating systems use hydraulic water pipes. Instead of pumping air around the system to transmit heat, water is used. Water heating uses a fraction of the energy needed in hot air heating. For example, to transport the same amount of heat, a hot air duct needs to be 20.32 x 35.56 cm (14 x 8 inches); the pipes used in hydraulic heating systems only need to be 1.9 cm in diameter (3/4 inch). Using the same insulation (one inch of mineral wool), in an hour a hot air duct loses 69 BTU/ft (British Thermal Units/foot); a hydraulic pump only loses seven per hour. In other words, hot air systems lose ten times the amount of heat, although this does not take into account the energy used to air a room. Another major disadvantage is the amount of room big air ducts take up and the detrimental effect such systems have on air quality, as air is pumped through filters which are often not replaced for years.
But the Californians and other Americans are reconsidering their options – literally creating an unlimited market for the Swabian Timo Spörl. As part of a bachelor project, he looked closely at the technical challenges faced in California and problems with the market as a whole. As a result of his business plan, a company based just outside San Francisco, Dale Plumbing Inc., is now forging ahead in the market. For Timo Spörl, the fact that German craftsmanship also enjoys an excellent reputation in the United States was a good reason for hydraulic heating technology to be used as a stepping stone into alternative energy systems such as solar energy or thermal heat pumps.