SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, PA. — The numbers themselves are a bit mind-boggling: more than 200 youth players and their adult coaches on 16 teams, hailing from nine different countries, including eight squads from every corner of the U.S., playing 32 baseball games in 11 days. All of which is why there are few sporting events in this country that can match the pageantry, excitement and sheer inspiration of the annual Little League Baseball World Series. The 2013 undefeated winner was from Tokyo, having bested teams from the Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, and Chula Vista, Calif., on its way to capturing the crown.

But that many 11- and 12-year-old boys rolling in the outfield, diving into bases, and sliding into home over that many days also results in whole bunches of really, really dirty uniforms and assorted baseball gear. The monumental chore of keeping all that fabric bright and white, so that the teams will show well for the folks in the stands – plus those watching back home on ESPN – falls heavily on the diminutive structure known as the “laundry facility,” situated on the property of Little League International (LLI) in South Williamsport, Pa.

LLI assistant director of facilities John Swisher, who is also a licensed plumber, estimates that the 900-sq.ft. operation will restore roughly 150 uniforms to their former pristine brilliance each day during the annual tournament.

During this period of absolutely frantic activity, all seven washing machines (six of them commercial-grade) and two sets of four-bowl stainless sinks for pre-soaking the uniforms are doing a full-tilt boogie, gulping roughly 32 gallons of 140°F to 180°F water per minute. As Swisher notes, in an understatement as big as the task itself: “The need for hot water is urgent. We simply cannot afford a breakdown, not even a little one.”

The problem

Of course, that doesn’t mean the laundry operation hasn’t suffered its share of stoppages. Until January 2012, the washing equipment was fed hot water from a pair of 86-gal. storage-type water heaters. Most of the malfunctions, according to Swisher, were the result of “stuck gas valves” that would somehow oxidize, evidently because of the chemicals used in the washing process.

“Usually, only one of the tank units would cease functioning in these situations,” said Swisher. “But our facility personnel were so busy, they wouldn’t notice until the second unit, operating all by itself, ran out of hot water.”

Of course, to obtain the desired results — perfectly clean baseball uniforms — maintaining a consistently high water temperature is critical.

Water hammer, due to sediment in the system, was another chronic headache. Although it didn’t impact the availability of hot water, the problem drove the staff to distraction at times: “The noise got so bad,” said Swisher, “it sounded like someone was slamming a hammer on the pipes with all their might. We were worried that our two-inch copper water main might actually burst.”

Swisher is a licensed plumber, having worked nine years for a local plumbing contractor before joining LLI in 2010. His skills and expertise helped persuade LLI management that it was worth investing in a substantial upgrade in their hot-water system — by going tankless.

Easy choice

The system that Swisher eventually brought to his superiors — after extensive consultation with Jeremy Haas, a road sales representative with Eastern Penn Supply Co. (EPSCO) and Noritz regional manager Jeff Kornhaas — consisted of nine Noritz NC250-DV-ASME gas-fired units, with an input range of 11,000 Btu per hour to 250,000 Btuh and a maximum flow rate of 11.1 GPM.

The three men “carefully discussed a number of possible options” to the gas valve and water hammer problems. But the choice of tankless was a relatively easy one, according to Swisher, whose previous experience working with the technology was mainly in residential applications.

“We decided tankless was the best remedy because of the large volumes of hot water we needed during our peak periods during the summer, as well as the much smaller volumes required the rest of the year,” Swisher said. “The opportunity to cut gas consumption and fuel costs was the main motivator. If we are operating at only 30% of peak demand eight or nine months of the year, why run the system all-out, 24/7, as we were doing with the two tank units?”

What about the up-front expense of tankless versus tank? Swisher acknowledges a “like-for-like” replacement strategy would have cost considerably less.

But the ongoing operational savings, plus the labor savings achieved by keeping the installation in-house convinced LLI Senior VP of Staff Administration & CFO Dave Houseknecht and Director of Maintenance and Field Facilities Gary Mitcheltree that tankless water heating would be the more economical option, long-term.

“We didn’t calculate a payback, because it’s difficult for us to isolate the gas consumption in the laundry facility from other usages,” said Swisher. “But not having two water heaters firing to the max around the clock was bound to save a lot of fuel – and cost – in a relatively short time.”

The redundancy of multiple tankless units would also allow Swisher to service one or two of them, while the others continued to meet ongoing demand. With all these advantages in mind, said Swisher, “Dave and Gary really had no misgivings in the end.”