U of T Engineering researchers collaborate with Toronto startup to design hot water distribution tech for condos and high rises

Photo of Toronto skyline with many highrise buildings

Water delivery problems in condos or high-rise buildings can be substantial, as demand spikes during peak hours can leave some residents cold, says Professor Pierre Sullivan (MIE). (Photo: Lewis Parsons/Unsplash)

U of T Engineering researchers are collaborating with Toronto startup FlowMix to study technology that could improve hot water distribution — eliminating cold showers and accidental scalding for the 1.9 million Canadians who live in condominiums.

“The problem of hot water delivery in condos or high-rise buildings can be substantial. Not much has changed since mechanical valves — driven by pressure and temperature difference — were introduced over a century ago,” says Professor Pierre Sullivan (MIE), director of the Turbulence Research lab at U of T Engineering. Sullivan combines experimental and computational tools to better understand fluid physics with his research. His work has spanned aerodynamic control, wind power, small aircraft and weather gauges.

In residential buildings, where hot water must be supplied to multiple residents, there are demand spikes, such in the morning when people are getting ready for work. Longer periods of time when water is not in use, like overnight or while residents are at work, can also cause issues. During these down times hot water lines cool, which can lead to a chilly morning shower.

FlowMix, a company that designs hot water control systems, has developed a method that maintains a cycle of hot water in residential water delivery systems. Sullivan and his team reviewed the FlowMix design, and through testing and modelling, showed the effectiveness of the company’s solution.

Professor Pierre Sullivan

“Simulations helped us to understand the flow structure inside the device for the purpose of improving the performance. We also modeled the traditional mixing devices to compare the performance of these devices with FlowMix,” said Ali Rahmatmand, a former post-doctoral fellow in the Turbulence Research lab.

“We also provided an AI model to predict the supply temperature of a building based on a basic demand and cold-water temperature to improve the control system,” said former post-doctoral fellow Marin Vratonjic.

With the team’s recommendations, FlowMix was able to optimize their system in both new construction and retrofitting high-rise buildings. This collaboration also means FlowMix can now quantify its impact on energy savings and CO2 emission reduction, which could help inform decisions made by condominium boards.

“The collaboration with Professor Sullivan and his team at the University of Toronto has been phenomenal. Quantifying and validating our best-of-class product was not a simple task,” says Louie Mazzullo, owner of FlowMix. “The results on this two-year project have exceeded even our initial high expectations.”

FlowMix clients include leading developer, Tridel, engineering firms, MCW Consultants Ltd., M&E Engineering Ltd., and contractors, Stellar Mechanical Inc., Network Mechanical.

“With the potential to apply this novel technology to any urban centre around the world, this Toronto innovation is world-leading,” says Sullivan.

-Published December 14, 2020 by Lynsey Mellon, lynsey@mie.utoronto.ca

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