Separating a Gasket

The Richard H. Poff Federal Building in Roanoke, Va is a 14 story 316,369 square foot high-rise housing tenants like the Veterans Affairs Administration, the U.S. Marshals Service, and multiple courtrooms. Originally constructed in 1976 in honor of U.S. Representative Richard H. Poff, the building has undergone a handful of renovation projects through the years. Southern Air is fortunate to have put our stamp of craftsmanship on many electrical and mechanical upgrades to include installing new chillers, booster pumps, water heaters and significant re-piping.

Due to the relationships our teams have built with Poff’s facility maintenance teams, they were quick to make an emergency call to Southern Air when the night security team discovered a gushing leak in their mechanical room. A 24” flange on a condenser water filtration unit had failed and the leak would result in a loss of all cooling in the building.

“Water was aggressively shooting from the flange on the separator – maybe two feet of high energy spray in two spots,” says Jake Gravett, Poff Federal Building General Maintenance technician. “I shut off the system and was told I couldn’t go home until the separator was back up and running. I called Southern Air immediately.”

Dean Metts, Southern Air service technician came out early Saturday morning to diagnose the issue. He and Steve Anthony, Roanoke Service Branch Manager deliberated with Chris Boone, Southern Air Construction project manager, who is very familiar with the property. Once on site, Boone discovered the gasket failed on the separator and needed immediate replacement in order to turn the pumps back on.

A dirt separator in a closed loop chill water system is essentially a filter to remove dirt and air from the water as it recycles back through without losing pressure. Dirt and oxygen introduce their own contaminating and corrosive properties, which can be damaging to the performance of a hydronic system. The virtually invisible build-up of mineral deposits on gaskets causes them to erode and fail.

Knowing the solution, Boone spent his Saturday in search of parts and labor. He struck pay dirt calling Southern Air’s Kelly Hancock who provided the gasket solution as many other stores were either out of stock or closed for the weekend. Southern Air lead mechanic Robert Harris agreed to meet Boone and Gravett at the Poff Federal Sunday morning. Within six hours, the trio lifted the flange high enough to replace the bad gasket with a new one. Sounds simple enough, however the flange itself weighs roughly 200lbs, connected to reducers and 8-inch piping just sitting on top of the gasket. This was a heavy lift! Once all the bolts were back in place, Gravett tested the system, turned on the water and fired the pumps back up, happy to see it holding pressure.

“A forklift would have been nice,” Gravett joked. “This was a mechanical emergency for our building. This was not like a scheduled project, nothing was planned and all short notice. Chris (Boone) managed to track down a solution that would work, we made it happen and had the building up and running Monday morning for the 750 or so people who work upstairs.”