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When Levi Strauss & Co. decided to replace 20 forced air unit heaters five years ago in part of its 360,000 sq. ft Florence, KY warehouse and distribution center, it looked at a variety of options including forced air units and several lines of gas-fired radiant tube heaters.

The 192,000 sq. ft active warehouse has almost four miles of conveyor which runs from an adjoining warehouse down 40 ft tall by 360 ft. long aisles.Heating a Distrobution Center

"We were barely maintaining a temperature of 60 degrees," noted Gary Cooper, maintenance manager of the company's Florence distribution center. "Employees had to wear sweaters and jackets to keep warm, a real problem during sub-zero winter temperatures. Complaints were frequent, morale was low and productivity was affected."

After a search including a heat analysis process with five major heating unit manufacturers, Cooper and Levi Strauss decided that heating and comfort needs could best be met by replacing the unit heaters with 28 RSTP17 infrared gas-fired radiant tube heaters from the Space-Ray Division of Gas-Fired Products, Inc., Charlotte, NC. The heaters were placed five ft down from the 24 ft high ceiling replacing 20 forced air units.

Since installing the system, employee complaints have stopped and Levi Strauss has saved over a quarter million dollars in gas and electricity costs alone during five heating seasons.

"I stuck out my neck going with Space-Ray's radiant heat technology," Cooper recalled. "The technology was relatively unknown to our corporate management who seemed to be more comfortable at that time with the forced air heating units. That's all changed now. If I propose adding gas-fired radiant heaters to any part of my facility now, it is much easier to justify."

The units operated so efficiently and cost-effectively that additional forced air units were replaced in the facility's shipping and receiving area and in the shipping area of an adjoining 116,000 sq. ft reserve warehouse that is similar in structure to the active warehouse. These units also replaced forced air units.

"These heaters will probably save us a half million dollars by 1992 in heating and electricity costs depending on the severity of the winter," Cooper said. "If building usage changes, we can relocate the heaters. They are among the most reliable and flexible I have seen. We are obviously extremely pleased."

"The forced air units were not efficient at all," Cooper noted. "Employees were cold and we couldn't adjust the units or move them for maximum comfort. They were stationary and totally non-flexible. Also, instead of wearing sweaters and jackets, as with the former units, our employees are now wearing short sleeve shirts, even in the winter," Cooper noted. "I don't have any more employee complaints, morale is up and productivity has increased. "

For optimum savings and efficiency, the tube heaters are controlled by a Honeywell Energy Management System from Friday at midnight to 4 A.M. Monday, but temperatures are never allowed to fall below 55° F.

"We turn the system on Monday at 4 A.M. so that the temperature reaches 70 degrees by the time the first shift arrives at 6 A.M.," noted Cooper. "During the week, we turn the system on at 5 A.M."

According to Cooper, in the five years of operation in the 192,000 sq. ft building, the infrared gas-fired radiant tube heaters have never had a maintenance problem. "I negotiated a spare parts package, but haven't needed to use it," Cooper said. "Performance has been superior. The only maintenance required was dusting the units each year."