EPISODE 1: The Color of Heat Monday, Jan. 25 6:30-7:30 pm CST There is a new sheriff in town! Bob “Hot Rod” Rohr is back in the saddle for this 2021 edition of Shop Talk. We’ve partnered up with Mechanical Hub to offer you a real good time. In Episode 1 Hot Rod will yarn Read more
There is a new sheriff in town! Bob “Hot Rod” Rohr is back in the saddle for this 2021 edition of Shop Talk. We’ve partnered up with Mechanical Hub to offer you a real good time.
In Episode 1 Hot Rod will yarn the hour away talking shop about thermal imaging and how it can help buckaroos young and old alike in the field. He will share tips from the shop with a few infrared photos to boot. Watch for a giveaway. One ace-high member of our audience will take home a FLIR C3-X thermal camera. Yee-haw!
It wouldn’t be a Showdown without a duel. Sheriff Hot Rod will moderate a spirited debate between guest speaker Eric Aune of The Hub and Max Rohr of Caleffi.
→ What role does a thermal imaging camera play in modern mechanical systems?
→ If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging; a.k.a. troubleshooting
→ How important is insulation on the side of a radiant slab?
→ How can you get the most accurate readings from a thermal camera?
→ Could you even use it to decide between zone pumps and zone valves for your next project?
Don’t know “Hot Rod“? Recently recognized with the 2020-2022 Carlson-Holohan Industry Award of Excellence, he effortlessly shares his 35+ years’ of experience as a contractor and currently serves as a training and education manager at Caleffi.
Eric, owner of Aune Plumbing and Heating and operating partner of the popular Mechanical Hub website, is driven to learn and motivated to teach. Aune specializes in radiant heating, high efficiency hydronic systems and – in his own words – is a “tool nut”.
Max is a self-described hydronics and thermostat nerd. He has worked in the hydronics and solar industries for 20 years in the installation, sales and manufacturing sectors. Like father, like son Max, currently serves as a training and education manager at Caleffi.
Mechanical Hub recently talked with Tod Hebert, manager, customer relations, and Chuck O’Donnell – director of marketing, LAARS Heating Systems, Co. regarding the benefits—and differences—in condensing and non-condensing boilers in residential installations. The following is information garnered from that Q&A. MH: It would seem that condensing boilers would be the right choice for an install in Read more
Mechanical Hub recently talked with Tod Hebert, manager, customer relations, and Chuck O’Donnell – director of marketing, LAARS Heating Systems, Co. regarding the benefits—and differences—in condensing and non-condensing boilers in residential installations. The following is information garnered from that Q&A.
MH: It would seem that condensing boilers would be the right choice for an install in terms of energy efficiency and energy savings. Perhaps there is more than meets the eye here. What are the pros and cons of each?
LAARS: Both condensing boilers, with Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiencies (AFUE) in the 95% range, and mid-efficiency boilers, with AFUEs in the mid-80% range, have their place depending on the home and homeowner’s goals when purchasing a new boiler.
Condensing boilers do offer higher efficiencies and can greatly reduce heating bills. However, they must be installed correctly and controls set up so that the boiler will condense as often as possible throughout the year. Condensing boilers work best when low return water temperatures of roughly 130F or lower are seen, otherwise the boiler’s installed efficiency will drop considerably. Low temperature heat emitters such as in-floor radiant, air handlers, or low temperature baseboards are ideal as they are designed for low boiler water temperatures.
However, even standard high temperature baseboard can return cold enough water for condensing to happen if, for example, outdoor reset is used. During the course of a heating season a modulation condensing boiler with outdoor reset can maximize efficiency by matching its heat output with the heating needs of a home. Outdoor reset changes a boiler’s outlet temperature based on the outdoor temperature. Milder outdoor temperatures experienced in the fall and spring results in cooler boiler water temperature that will still keep a house warm. Cooler boiler water temperatures promote condensing and that results in higher efficiency.
However, non-condensing boilers may be the better choice when home heat loss calculations in conjunction with the use of high temperature heat emitters indicate that low return water temperatures will not occur often. In many cases a modern mid-efficient boiler can offer considerable savings when replacing an older mid 70% or low 80% efficient boiler. There are also venting installation requirements that should be considered. A condensing boiler cannot be vented into a standard chimney unless it is lined with stainless steel or high temperature rated plastic such as polypropylene or CPVC vent materials. This can be costly to the homeowner, especially if placed inside a long chimney run.
MH: What is typical lifespan on each? Does one outlive the other?
LAARS: If maintained properly both condensing and non-condensing boilers can provide many years of efficient, reliable home heating. However, as a general statement, non-condensing boilers tend to have slightly longer life spans in the 20 year or longer range where condensing products typically have lifespans of 15 years or longer. This, of course, is often dependent on site-specific run time and installation practices.
MH: How often does each unit need to be serviced?
LAARS: It is recommended that all residential boilers undergo yearly inspection and servicing. However, condensing boilers can be compared to a high-performance vehicle that may need more attention at service time vs. a non-condensing boiler that may not need as much work come service time. Again, these are general statements, and much depends on how boilers are installed and run time based on a homeowner’s thermostat settings per zone in their homes.
MH: You may have touched upon this in question 1, but is there a big difference in energy efficiency, savings and a reduction in carbon footprint?
LAARS: The less fuel consumed results in a lower carbon footprint and therefore a condensing boiler in general will result in a lower carbon footprint as compared to standard efficient boilers. In addition to lower carbon footprint, NOX emissions (pollutants) are normally lower on modern condensing boilers, due to advanced burner technologies that optimize the combustion process.
MH: In terms of initial and long-term costs, what is the investment in both units?
LAARS: A typical condensing boiler installation will cost between $10,000 to $15,000. However, the number may be higher or lower depending on the size of the home and thus boiler size, number of zones, and if major corrections need to be made to the piping in a replacement job. We see non-condensing installations come in around $8,000 to $12,000, again lots depend on job site specifics to land on a final number.
Condensing units typically have lower fuel costs than mid-efficiency boilers over the life of each unit. However, non-condensing units tend to last a few years longer and have lower maintenance costs. These should be looked at when doing any ROI calculation.
MH: What is the warranty on heat exchanger, parts and labor?
LAARS: Condensing boilers typically have a 10 to 12-year heat exchanger warranty and 2 -5-year parts coverage. Noncondensing boilers typically have a 20-year heat exchanger warranty and 1-year part coverage.
MH: What are the differences in installation? (venting, for example)
LAARS: Non-condensing units can be vented directly into standard chimneys without much additional cost (sometimes older chimneys need upgrade or liners). Condensing units must be vented with materials that can withstand the corrosive nature of condensing flue products. These materials include PVC (residential appliances), CPVC, or polypropylene venting materials. Federal, state, and local venting codes must always be followed as allowable materials change depending on the authority having jurisdiction in any given area. Condensing products also must have a condensate neutralizer kit installed and a drain line installed to dispose of the condensate generated during combustion. In some homes, there is not a drain near the boiler installation, and this can complicate a high-efficiency boiler installation.
MH: Is there an advantage with condensing in terms of corrosion control?
LAARS: Non-condensing boilers use various heat exchanger materials such as copper, steel, or cast iron. Condensation can attack these metals, so effort needs to be made to protect them from sustained low temperature return water, which causes condensation. Most condensing boilers will have stainless steel heat exchangers to handle the corrosive condensate that is produced via high efficiency combustion. Low return water temperature is not a concern, and in fact optimizes the efficiency of these units.
MH: Approximately when were condensing boilers introduced into the market?
LAARS: Condensing boilers found their start in the late 1990s; however, their popularity did not gain traction until the early to mid-2000s.
MH: Finally, is one more popular than the other currently? Is condensing gaining traction?
LAARS: Condensing boilers have grown in popularity, and their rate of use has grown quickly over the past ten years. However, there are still more non-condensing boilers installed each year vs. condensing, but the gap is closing.
The AHR Expo (International Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating Exposition) today announced the winners of the 2021 AHR Expo Innovation Awards in ten industry categories. Show Management, co-sponsors ASHRAE and AHRI, and the Innovation Awards panel of judges wish to acknowledge and honor the 2021 award winners despite the recent cancellation of the live event. Typically, award Read more
The AHR Expo (International Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating Exposition) today announced the winners of the 2021 AHR Expo Innovation Awards in ten industry categories. Show Management, co-sponsors ASHRAE and AHRI, and the Innovation Awards panel of judges wish to acknowledge and honor the 2021 award winners despite the recent cancellation of the live event. Typically, award winners are formally recognized at a ceremony hosted on day two of the annual Show.
“The Innovation Awards are an exciting part of the AHR Expo and we are disappointed that we won’t be able to honor them in the same ways we would at a live Show,” said Show Manager, Mark Stevens. “Despite the challenges 2020 has presented, we are committed to recognizing the incredible innovators in our industry.”
Submissions were collected over the summer and then reviewed by a panel of third-party judges made up of distinguished ASHRAE members. Entrants are evaluated based on overall innovative design, creativity of the product or service offered, application, as well as potential market impact.
“We want to formally congratulate each of our 2021 AHR Expo Innovation Award winners, as well as finalists and all our entrants, for their continued leadership and contribution to HVACR,” said Stevens. “We look forward to seeing these innovators in the marketplace in the coming year, and in-person on the Show floor in 2022.”
For a full list of winners: https://www.ahrexpo.com/awards/#winners
Here are some of the winners:
Winner: Caleffi Hydronic Solutions – AngleMix Angle-Style ThermoStatic Mixing Valve
Innovation: The Caleffi AngleMix 520 series thermostatic mixing valve accurately controls mixed water temperature in residential and commercial domestic hot water systems. It is the industry’s only thermostatic mixing valve with an angle-styled body. This geometry minimizes the number of elbows required which reduces overall installation cost. Additionally, AngleMix is the industry’s only thermostatic mixing valve that can close off its hot and cold ports at 100% tightness, preventing temperature creep or droop.
The innovative Caleffi AngleMix 520 series easily mounts at the tank-type, or tankless type water heater outlet and the angle-style body mixed temperature outlet is in line with the water heater outlet. This facilitates straight-line piping which reduces pipe elbows and overall space required for installation. The AngleMix has a lockable set point adjustment knob and includes a temperature gauge on the mixed temperature outlet for instant verification of temperature. The precision engineered anti-scale internal components
minimize service requirements, assure smooth operation and long life, and compensate for temperature and pressure fluctuations of the incoming hot and cold water. Available in a wide variety of end connections, the angle style body design is compatible with all common pipe types and connection styles from 1⁄2” to 1” sizes. AngleMix is certified to ASSE 1017 standard for point of distribution domestic water systems.
Finalists in this category include: GE Appliances, a Haier Company – Electronic Water Heater with Smart Integrated Mixing Valve; Uponor – Uponor PP-RCT Pipe and Fittings
Winner: Viega LLC – Radiant Auto-Balancing System (RABS)
Innovation: The Radiant Auto-Balancing System (RABS) introduces the ability to monitor the temperature of every return circuit in a radiant system. Coupled with the monitoring of each zone’s air temperature via wireless thermostats, the control actuates flow of conditioned water to each loop using a learning algorithm to increase the efficiency of a radiant installation. Circuit lengths no longer need to be designed to be similar lengths or manually balanced using flow controls on the manifold. Even though designing similar length circuits is still best practice, designs rarely account for furniture and temporary floor covering. The system maintains set temperatures through changes in these variables without user input, giving designers more flexibility without loss of efficiency.
This innovation will offer a desirable solution to customers seeking high efficiency radiant. The system also incorporates more digitalization of plumbing for monitoring by end users, something that is sought after more and more by customers looking to have more interesting and useful data related to their system performance. Additionally, this system will save installers valuable time when balancing a radiant system. Once the system is connected to a manifold and the web application, the customer has the ability to make changes and monitor temperatures.
Finalists in this category include: Ecoer HVAC – Ecoer Home Comfort Systems with IoT Technology; Burnham Boilers – U.S. Boiler Co. – Alta Combi
Winner: Emerson – Copeland ZPK7 Fixed Speed Scroll Compressor
Innovation: The Copeland ZPK7 scroll compressor developed by Emerson is the most efficient fixed speed compressor ever produced in the 100 year history of Copeland. The
innovative next-gen Copeland compressor, now in its 7th generation, is available in 1.5-5 ton and can be applied in both residential and commercial applications. What’s more, it supports the HVAC industry with optimized efficiency by providing up to 5% efficiency improvement at the SEER2 B rating point condition and key HSPF2 part load operation conditions. With regulation-ready performance, the compressors are optimized for use with R410A refrigerant, but will also offer a lineup optimized for low GWP refrigerants, such as R32 and R454B.
This innovation provides improved efficiency and reduced variability, which will allow OEMs to effectively meet the 2023 efficiency standards while also delivering comfort and energy savings for homeowners and building owners.
Finalists in this category include: MRCOOL – MULTI-ZONE/DIY Series Ductless Mini-Split Heat Pump; Smardt Chiller Group Inc. – Smardt V-Class Water-Cooled Chiller Range
INDOOR AIR QUALITY
Winner: Des Champs Technologies – Des Champs Technologies Series PLP Air-Trap
Innovation: Des Champs Technologies Series PLP Air-Trap offers a new concept in condensate trap design that permits condensate removal from AC or other condensing equipment while blocking airflow all year and requires only 2 7/8” height for positive 0-40” WC pressure. The trap can never “dry out” or freeze because it does not depend on water to seal, only fan pressure.
The innovative PLP trap is the first AC condensate trap to use air pressure developed by the AC fans to prevent conditioned air from entering or leaving the unit. For a hundred years the P-Trap, a carryover from use on toilets and sinks, has been used on AC equipment to prevent air loss. Unlike the P-Trap, the PLP was designed specifically for HVAC equipment and does not require standing water to prevent air leakage. AC equipment produces condensate mostly during summer. The remainder of the year little or no condensate is produced, and the P-traps are dry most of that time. When they do have water, the bottom of the trap is prone to develop sludge and growth. The PLP operates dry when no condensate is being produced and uses a levered, horizontal pancake designed float-valve with a mechanical advantage about a pivot point.
Finalists in this category include: EffectiV HVAC Inc. – PLAY-UV Adjustable UV Diffuser for High-Efficiency Filtration and Ventilation; TSI Inc. – Q-TrakTM XP Indoor Air Quality Monitor
TOOLS & INSTRUMENTS
Winner: INFICON – D-TEK® 3 Refrigerant Leak Detector
Innovation: INFICON’s D-TEK 3 Refrigerant Leak Detector is the latest in a line of time-saving service tools for HVAC/R. This leak detector provides industry-leading sensitivity to find the smallest leaks for all common refrigerants, maximum uptime from its long-life, quick charging lithium ion battery, and unmatched versatility from the ability to use multiple sensors. D-TEK 3 is designed to use INFICON’s next generation infrared sensors, allowing it to search for leaks from classic refrigerants, CO2, and flammable refrigerants with just a quick sensor change.
For even more versatility, D-TEK 3 is equipped with 4 sensitivity levels to help search for different leak sizes and two operating modes. Pinpoint mode works like a traditional leak detector and automatically zeroes to the background refrigerant. Manual Zero mode will not zero to the background until the user presses a button, allowing for more control in the leak checking process.
D-TEK 3 will help technicians find even the smallest leaks quickly and reliably.
Finalists in this category include: Alert Labs – Sentree A/C Monitoring System; H2O Weld LLC – Oweld Water Gas Generator
Winner: Aldes – CAR3® – Next Generation in Precise Airflow
Innovation: The CAR3® constant airflow regulators by Aldes feature a state-of-the-art design with industry exclusive dual-side airflow adjustability and greater airflow ranges for a variety of applications. The patent pending airflow technology allows you to set or change the airflow quickly, in supply or exhaust applications, without removing the CAR3 from the duct.
The technology is capable of maintaining constant airflow within +/-10% of the scheduled flow rates, within the operating range of 0.12 to 1.2 in. w.g. differential pressure for low-pressure models (CAR3-L), or 0.4 to 2.8 in. w.g. with high-pressure models (CAR3-H). CAR3 solely operates on duct pressure and requires no external power supply or sensors, and will be rated for use in air temperatures ranging from -25°F to 140°F (-32°C to 60°C). CAR3 must be equipped with a double lip gasket to provide a secure, leak free installation into rigid round duct, take-offs, collars, etc. Each regulator features a dual-side adjustment dial to allow for changes in airflow setpoint while installed in either the supply or exhaust direction without removing the regulator from the duct. Regulator is classified per UL 2043 and carries the UL mark indicating compliance. The constant airflow regulator is enhanced with antimicrobial, anti-static, and flame retardant additives for increased durability and safety, and covered under warranty for a period of no less than seven years.
Finalists in this category include: ebm-papst Inc. – AxiEco Perform Axial Fan; Kingspan Insulation LLC – KoolDuct
“We continue to be surprised by what the innovators in this industry bring to market,” said Stevens. “It will be exciting to see these products and services come to life in the marketplace, and to see how they inspire others to think outside the norms and develop new solutions in the coming years. Once again, we wish to extend our congratulations to each of our 2021 Innovation Award winners, finalists and entrants on their continued excellence in the industry.”
The AHR Expo provides a unique forum for industry professionals to meet under one roof to share ideas, discover new products and technologies and find solutions to the industry’s technical problems. The 2021 AHR Expo in Chicago has been canceled. Registration for the
2022 AHR Expo slated for January 31-February 2 in Las Vegas, NV will open in summer 2021. Visit the AHR Expo website for updates and to sign up for the Show newsletter.
Among hydronic/plumbing and mechanical professionals, there are a few trade pros who make their craft into an art form. Their work is so refined and deliberate that the finished work takes on the appearance of mechanical mastery. Tradesman and mechanical artist Orest Omeliukh is one of those. He’s drawn inspiration from the European approach to Read more
Among hydronic/plumbing and mechanical professionals, there are a few trade pros who make their craft into an art form. Their work is so refined and deliberate that the finished work takes on the appearance of mechanical mastery.
Tradesman and mechanical artist Orest Omeliukh is one of those. He’s drawn inspiration from the European approach to mechanical system design, though with his own flair.
Across the big pond, hydronics are prolific, and mechanical components often see more human interaction than in North America. Components are sleek and clean looking, and installed within the occupied space instead of being relegated to cramped, dungeonesque mechanical rooms where resident spiders are rarely disturbed.
Omeliukh, who founded Blackrock HVAC Ltd. in 2014, was born in Ukraine, immigrating to eastern Canada at the age of three. His father was a tradesman who came to Canada to work on massive district systems.
“My Dad has designed underground steam mains up to 16 feet in diameter,” said Omeliukh. “He came here, to Mississauga, Ont., with 20 other mechanics, engineers and pipefitters. Half of those men stayed and raised families.”
Recent trips back to Ukraine, Switzerland, Germany, and various other European countries left an indelible mark on Omeliukh’s style of work.
“I build the Bentley of HVAC systems,” he explained. “The systems are complex in regard to what they accomplish, but they’re very simple for the service contractor and the homeowner. I only take on two custom home projects per year, and each is unique and aesthetically pleasing. But form follows function.”
Every Blackrock mechanical room has four key elements: components and system design that provide absolute premium comfort and efficiency, a feature wall, painted floors and LED lighting.
In late 2017, Blackrock was approached by a custom builder, Gonell Homes, for a full gut remodel of a home in one of Tornoto’s older neighborhoods. Omeliukh had done work for the general contractor before, and the company’s owner, Will Gonell, hired Blackrock to design and install the comfort systems for his own residence.
“Will has been a mentor to me in a lot of ways,” said Omeliukh. “He’s an former U.S. Marine, so he has a very direct way of explaining things. He teaches and motivates simultaneously, with a wisdom beyond his years. When he asked me to build the mechanical system in his own home, he gave me full artistic license.”
War against bulkheads
Gonell’s two-story, 3,000-sq.-ft. home was stripped to the studs. The second floor was expanded to include a new master suite. Spray foam insulation and new windows were added throughout, and the domestic hot water recirculation line was insulated. Greatly reduced heat loss—Check.
The concept that evolved between Gonell and Omeliukh was to use six zones of radiant in-floor for primary heat, and a seventh zone served by a hydronic air handler, which shares high velocity ductwork with a heat pump. Domestic hot water is also provided by sidearm tank. Snowmelt in the driveway also draws from the condensing boiler in the basement, meaning that Blackrock had to provide four different water temperatures.
“This job was unique in that it was an old home,” said Omeliukh. “I wanted to show off the mechanical equipment within the mechanical space, yet eliminate it from view elsewhere. I call it ‘The War Against Bulkheads.’”
For air conditioning and backup heat, Blackrock installed a 2.5-ton Midea heat pump condenser paired with a Unico high-velocity air handler, allowing the branch ducts to be run within 2×4 stud walls. Proprietary sound attenuator branch ducts provide quiet airflow.
This air handler, along with the home’s Lifebreath HRV and an AprilAire 800 steam humidifier, is installed in a smaller mechanical space in the attic. Splitting the mechanical components between the basement and the attic was a tactic that helped Omeliukh win the War Against Bulkheads.
“The basement mechanical room is the showpiece here,” Omeliukh. “Everything was selected carefully for function, then assembled in a manner that catches the eye, and provides ample room and lighting for service work. I used a ‘bunker’ theme here, as the room is like none other in the house, and really feels like a high-tech bunker.”
Blackrock started with plywood walls covered in a very convincing poured concrete mural, giving the impression that each penetration was neatly core-drilled. In the past, he’s used murals portraying graffiti, art by Picasso, and a map of the Canadian Shield.
The 160 MBH IBC condensing boiler is piped primary-secondary. Omeliukh has calculated that the home’s heating load will only require 40 percent of the boiler’s capacity. When DHW or snow melt calls, the boiler will fire at 100 percent for rapid recovery. The rest of the time, it coasts along at low-load, condensing as intended.
The primary loop is circulated by a Taco Comfort Solutions 0018e circulator with Bluetooth capability. An identical pump is used on the 80-gallon indirect tank. This allows Blackrock to select between multiple constant speed, proportional pressure, and constant pressure modes as well as activeADAPT™, Taco’s self-adjusting proportional pressure mode.
The secondary loop consists of the eight heating zones: six radiant, one for the hydronic coil and one for the master bathroom towel rack. These zones are pumped by a pair of Taco VT2218 circulators, and use Zone Sentry valves for control. With the temperature sensing radiant circulators, Blackrock maintains a 20°F Delta-T. The zone valves are wired to expandable Taco zone controls, which communicate with tekmar WiFi thermostats.
“I use a lot of Taco products because of their reliability,” said Omeliukh. “They’re simple, the tech support is great, and the company culture breeds innovation and long term relationships.”
From the radiant manifolds in the downstairs mechanical room and two remote manifolds hidden neatly in the house, half-inch PEX was installed at nine-inch centers. This was poured over with a thin layer of Agilia lightweight concrete for optimal thermal performance and floor rigidity.
The system was designed with a -21°C (-6°F) outdoor design temp, and the boiler responds to actual conditions via outdoor reset for any heat call except DHW. Omeliukh insists the servicing the system is simple. He’s taken steps to ensure that those who come after him—whether a service tech or a homeowner —will agree.
Every zone features a label that was 3D printed in the Blackrock studio, and each loop has a pair of isolation valves. One wall of the mechanical room features a black box, wrapped in carbon fiber and illuminated with LEDs. This was for aesthetic purposes—simply to hide wires and piping that would otherwise clutter the installation. The box also contains piping and wiring diagrams.
“Unlike some contractors, I want the homeowner to be able to tweak the system or make adjustments in the event of an emergency,” explained Omeliukh. “And if a technician other than myself is going to work on it, I want to make their experience a good one.”
Pushing the limits
When Omeliukh dusts off his hands after a job, he goes home knowing that he’s done everything possible to deliver premium value. This mean taking extra, unconventional steps.
Gonell wanted discrete HVAC: highly visible only in the mechanical area, and invisible elsewhere. So, no t-stats; instead, Blackrock installed flush mount tekmar 084 sensors throughout the home. The tiny sensors are installed in a small indent in the drywall, then mudded and painted over. Wired to the tekmar 562 T-stats in the mechanical room, this approach allows occupants to manipulate temperature in any zone via an app, whether they’re sitting in the kitchen or at a tiki bar in Fiji.
The need for comfort paralleled Gonell’s desire for aesthetics. After installing radiant systems for years, Omeliukh’s recent visit to Germany reshaped the manner in which his company installs radiant tubing.
“If you look at an in-floor system through a thermal camera, you’ll find that loop ends are significantly cooler than the supply side. Most radiant installers use the “serpentine” method of laying tubing. While this is fast and easy, it tends to group all of the hottest pipe together, and same with the cooler loop ends. Lately, we’ve been using the ‘counter-flow’ layout, which is common in Europe.”
The counter-flow design takes more planning and a little more time to install, but it alternates the warmest portions of a loop with the coolest across the floor. This provides even heat distribution across the floor.
“I like to push the limits on all our installations – it forces us to grow and develop new skills,” said Omeliukh. “On this job, that included a third tubing layout, which we’d never tried before: double-wall serpentine.”
The master suite featured two exterior walls. The double-wall serpentine method places the warmest portion of the radiant loop in close proximity to exterior walls, concentrating the most heat in the area with the most heat loss. It required some extra thought, and Omeliukh and his partners—as he calls the other HVAC tradesmen that he collaborates with on extensive projects—to pull tubing and re-staple it on one occasion.
A tight building envelope, the latest condensing boiler technology and a full suite of ECM-powered circulators were just the starting point for efficiency at the job Omeliukh has dubbed “Operation Gonell.” He wanted maximize the efficiency.
The HRV is a whole-house system, connected to each of the home’s five bathroom fans. This is required by Ontario Building Code, but Blackrock took energy recovery one extra step. The unit is just an HRV chassis. During the summer, an ERV core is installed in the unit. Come heating season, the ERV core is swapped with an HRV core. This method provides optimal energy transfer regardless of outdoor conditions.
The HRV, Unico air handler and the steam humidifier share an impressive, insulated mechanical space in the attic, technically making that room an occupied space. So it needs to be conditioned during the winter. Blackrock had a plan for this.
“Boiler rooms are inherently warm,” said Omeliukh. “Too warm, for most of the winter. So we installed a central bathroom exhaust fan in the boiler room to move “free” warm air into the attic mechanical room. It’s energized by a thermostat when the temperature in the boiler room reaches 78°F, and does a fantastic job of maintaining a conditioned atmosphere in the attic. Blackrock calls this use of waste heat a “hybrid innovation.”
Finally, Blackrock took several steps to ensure that domestic hot water is provided efficiently. DHW lines were insulated, and the Taco 006e3 circulator used for recirculation is plugged into a SmartPlug control.
Using a sensor that mounts to the hot water supply pipe, the SmartPlug “learns” the daily hot water usage pattern in a home and adjusts the circulator run time to deliver hot water when needed. When usage patterns change, the SmartPlug adjusts run times automatically.
Blackrock also installed a ThermoDrain DHW preheat system. It includes a three-foot section of copper drain with an integral copper coil, and is installed on the main plumbing stack. Supply water to the water heater first passes through the ThermoDrain, collecting waste heat from the stack as an occupant showers. The Gonell home has five residents, with two teenagers, so being able to collect some of the heat is a bonus.
It’s pretty common to receive HVAC permit drawings that don’t reflect the structure or meet mechanical space requirements – especially on renovation projects,” said Omeliukh. “Because of that, communication between the designer, all the trades, and the equipment manufacturers was crucial on this project.”
“Gonell and I both wanted to use the best of the best component on this system,” he continued. “He gave me free reign to push my limits and incorporate everything I wanted to. From there, we just let all the elements fall into place.”
I’ve always had this romanticized view of Alaska. Ahh, The Last Frontier. It’s been on my bucket list for years, and it was actually one of the places my father and I had initially planned to visit before he passed away. There is something mystical about it — the beauty of the mountains, the wildlife, and Read more
I’ve always had this romanticized view of Alaska. Ahh, The Last Frontier. It’s been on my bucket list for years, and it was actually one of the places my father and I had initially planned to visit before he passed away. There is something mystical about it — the beauty of the mountains, the wildlife, and I would think you would have to have something special to live and work there. “Living in Alaska is an adventure. It is an extreme place to live with beautiful amazing summers with almost 24 hours of daylight to extreme cold, dark, snowy winters. There is no shortage of extreme activities to choose from,” says Everett Knudsen, owner/operator, 907 Heating & Plumbing, Anchorage.
Working in Alaska is extreme as well, says Knudsen, especially for the heating and plumbing trade. “Extreme cold (-20 F) is not uncommon in Anchorage January through February, and even colder in more northern locations of Alaska (-50 to-70 F). I’ve had a project that required taking a helicopter to get to the job site and another that required taking a boat,” says Knudsen.
“I used my own boat to travel back and forth to the jobsite over the course of about a week and a half. When we launched the boat there was about 6” of snow on the boat launch and had to chain up the box van just to get the boat in the harbor. Then the harbor was frozen over and one person had to sit on the bow with a piece of steel pipe and break up the ice in front of the boat to get the boat out of the harbor. The boat ride to the jobsite was out of Valdez harbor through the Bay to the Narrows. The mountains come right into the water, and just an amazing 30-minute commute.
“On our final trip back at the end of the project was very dangerous, the weather had turned very bad with high winds and blowing snow. We didn’t want to be stuck on the remote jobsite any longer so we went for it. The waves were 8-12’ and it was blizzard conditions. For my 22’ jet boat we were in way over our heads. Any type of engine failure would surely cost the two of us our lives. We could barely see the glimmer of the harbor lights as we slowly pushed through the storm. The windshield of the boat was freezing over and we could barely see. The boat was crashing over each wave and the spray was freezing and build up on the boat. I was terrified, as was my helper. Luckily, we made it back safe, very shaken, but safe. It was an experience I will never forget. You have to respect the extreme of Alaska or it could get the better of you.”
Plumbing in -20 F degree weather is very difficult and can be dangerous, reiterates Knudsen. “I’ve had my Channellock pliers freeze/stick to my gloves. I’ve entered houses full of ice from frozen split pipes. Working outside requires wearing the appropriate gear, and sometimes I’m only able to work outside for 30 minutes at a time before getting too cold. “Sometimes I have to use a pipe thaw machine (buzz box) or large welder to thaw frozen pipes to restore domestic water or heat. And usually this means wet gloves and hands, which does not match well with freezing temperatures,” says Knudsen.
Needless to say, frozen cordless tools—mainly batteries—have to be kept inside once it gets colder than 20 or so and calls at all hours of the night, and working long late hours because time is of the essence to avoid more damage to property when it is very cold out, is imperative.
But what about the occasional wildlife encounter? Typically, while working in Anchorage it is safe, says Knudsen. There is frequent moose and the occasional bear, and depending on the part of Anchorage, there can be some added risks in the suburbs, he adds. “Springtime is always a good time to be cautious. The moose are having their babies and mama moose are very protective of their babies. Also, bears are coming out of hibernation and looking to eat anything. Yet, in my 25 years in Anchorage, I have not had a problem with either moose or bear.”
There are usually 1-3 or more bear attacks each summer in and around Anchorage. It is important to be aware of your surroundings in the summertime. “In the summer, when I go hiking anywhere in Alaska, I carry a 10mm or 44mag pistol for bear protection. Surprising a bear in the wild is where the problems lie and you never know when that will happen and it’s better to have it and not need it, then need it and not have it,” says Knudsen.
Into the Wild, and into the Trades
Originally from the Northwest, Knudsen, moved from Olympia, Wash., to Alaska in 1994. Knudsen answered a help wanted ad in the Anchorage local newspaper back in 1998 for “Local Plumbing Company Seeking Shop Helper.” He was 19 years old. “I started at Anchorage Plumbing & Heating, and at that time it was not my intention to be a plumber or have a plumbing career, I just needed a job, and I didn’t mind labor-type work.
Bottom line, Knudsen started a family at a very young age and needed to provide for them. “My son was six months old when I started plumbing at age 19; eight years later my daughter arrived. Family was my main drive to become successful and work the hardest I could. I wanted to provide the best environment for them that I possibly could, while setting an example of honesty, hard work and determination as an ethical backbone for success,” says Knudsen.
At that time, Knudsen didn’t have a clue about how plumbing or heating worked, or how vast and essential it really was. “Turns out that I was gifted with a solid mechanical inclination and I caught on very quickly. Within two months, AP&H put me in my own van and started having me do basic plumbing and heating service calls. From there I worked for two other companies over the course of eight years. At year five—shortly after getting my journeyman’s license—I learned I could get my own plumbing contractor licenses so I set my sights on completing that goal. This goal was big for me since I didn’t have any type of formal education. I acquired my Mechanical Administrators License in the Unlimited Plumbing category for the state of Alaska. Then I acquired my Anchorage City Contractor’s License and started working for myself.”
Knudsen has been self-employed for the past 13 years as a one-man shop, with occasional hired experienced help along the way when needed. He has done all types of work throughout his career; he started with residential service and repair work, which includes retrofit of boilers, forced air furnaces, fireplaces, water heaters, as well as regular maintenance, remodels, repairs of heating and plumbing systems.
A catalog of his work includes: Residential gas boilers including baseboard heat, radiant heat, flat plate exchangers for snow melt and pool heating, multi temp injection systems, commercial snow melt 10,000 sq. ft., 3 x 500k Knight boilers; oil boilers residential and commercial; brazed 3” copper and worked with 2” REAHU PEX; installed/replaced forced air furnaces of all types from closets to crawl spaces; HRV installation to maintain good air quality in our cold climate; retrofit/upgrade hot water system in 30 unit apartment building cut fuel and water usage by 50%; new construction on several custom homes, triplexes, duplexes, and single family homes; low voltage controls of all types. I do enjoy wiring controls; water heaters of all types and sizes; HDPE butt fusion and saddle fusion for new water supply to subdivision; multiple large generators, fuel lines, exhaust piping, fresh air supply—24” VFD fans—and ducting to exhaust radiator heat out of building; 25-unit trooper housing complex in Bethel, Alaska; and HRV for FAA Housing in Nome, Alaska.
And occasionally, he does some new construction projects here and there. “Service work is very rewarding for me. To help a homeowner resolve their heating and plumbing challenges and provide excellent customer service never gets old to me. The vast majority of customers are very happy to receive excellent service and are happy to pay for the service provided. It’s a win-win situation, I enjoy this type of situation, as does the customer.”
And that’s one the biggest ethical factors that Knudsen has based a lot of his business principals on: Treat every project as if it were his. “I put myself in the client’s shoes, asking myself the question, ‘how would I want this to go if I was the client’ or the golden rule, ‘treat others as you wish to be treated.’ I was raised with a couple of core principals—hard work and respect. Applying these principles and ethics in my plumbing career has grown into something that has provided me with numerous lessons for personal growth, and a good income as well.”
What does Knudsen love most about his job? “I love building something with my hands and mind, then having a client look at the work and saying, ‘Wow, that looks amazing; how come the other plumber didn’t do that?’”
Again, Knudsen loves the win-win aspect of the job. “I love a customer that is super appreciative and complimentary, and at the same time, I’m making a living. This career constantly gives me opportunity for professional and personal growth. It enables me to learn new plumbing techniques, learn new customer relation skills on each job, and the scene always changes with new challenges every day. I love the variety.”
But what are the issues Knudsen sees in the trades that need addressing? Honesty, Integrity and Craftsmanship, says Knudsen. “These are the things that I saw missing as I was coming up in the trade, and I still see quite a bit of it missing today, especially in residential work. Too many plumbing businesses/contractors influence customers into work or products they do not need. Then do marginal quick installs to maximize profits and move to the next.
A lot of Knudsen’s learning has been on-the-job training. To him, that means the client has paid for his education as a tradesman. He does his best to honor the valuable experiences he has gained while working for clients. If there is a situation where Knudsen made a mistake due to lack of experience or making an assumption and was incorrect, he makes sure not to charge the customer for that time for two reasons: 1) They are paying for an experienced professional to resolve their problem correctly and efficiently. 2) The value of the experience will vastly outweigh the few extra dollars he would have made on that one job, by giving me the experience for the jobs to come in the future. “Doing the right thing when no one else will know is HUGE!! That is true integrity!”
Knudsen advises to do your best to take pride in your work whenever and wherever you can. “Unfortunately for plumbers and mechanical workers, our work is buried in the ground—a wall, a crawlspace, a mechanical room—where not much of its glory and existence is on display. Even so, still take the time to have a clean, proper, well-installed system, even if it is to be covered up, it is still about integrity and pride in craftsmanship,” says Knudsen.
The trades are a wonderful opportunity for young people not really sure what they want to do with themselves, says Knudsen. Regardless, adds Knudsen, young people will need to work, and getting into a trade is super valuable, not to mention they will get paid to learn. “I do not think there is another situation that can compare to the benefit of getting paid to learn a trade. A trade is not any less important than a doctor, lawyer or any of the other careers that require a college degree. For several years, in the early stages of my career, I felt less than because of my lack of schooling. Now, that lawyer whose heat is not working calls me to come fix it. Trade workers are just as smart and valuable as the next. Just because school isn’t for you doesn’t mean you’re not smart and can’t make a good living,” says Knudsen.
Work/Leisure Time Tilt
How does Knudsen balance work and leisure time? That has taken a lot of practice, says Knudsen. “But learning to say ‘no’ has been the key to that. It’s been difficult to learn that, especially being in business for myself. Even some of my longest, best customers have helped me learn this. It has been truly difficult to tell them no at times. I don’t do it often, but it happens, even so they are still my loyal customers. I’ve discovered that is the key to not having my business/schedule own me and for me to own my business/schedule. There is a right time and a wrong time to say no, but it takes practice to learn those moments to help maintain balance in life,” says Knudsen.
Social media is big for Knudsen (@907plumber on Instagram). He has just gotten into social media the last couple years and overall, he says it has been wonderful. “The Instagram community is amazing IMO. Big shout out to the IG community you all ROCK!”
Knudsen was actually feeling burnt out after his second shoulder surgery and contemplating trying something different for work— not trade related. Since Instagram has been such an amazing thing because it truly brought new life into his plumbing career. All the positive feedback from people all over the country and world has impacted him in a way he has not experienced before.
The growing of the followers, winning giveaways, connecting with others who do the same things he is passionate about everyday has brought a new shining light into his life, and for that, he is forever grateful. “I’ve learned so many new things through Instagram and it grows every day. It also has helped give me more of a sense of accountability and confidence I didn’t have before. I cannot believe people want to watch little ole’ me doing my thing, but I guess they like it, and being a service provider, I like to give people what they want. Additionally, If I can encourage or motivate someone to become a better version of themselves so they can experience a better quality of life and for all who they come in contact with, that is a true blessing,” says Knudsen.
Speaking of the shoulder injury and a demanding skilled trade, Knudsen puts a heavy emphasis on fitness. “I have only really incorporated fitness into my regular routine in the last several years and I have noticed tremendous benefits. Three years ago, I had surgery on my left shoulder for torn rotator cuff and torn bicep and four years before that I had the same surgery on my right shoulder. I’ve had to do quite a bit of physical therapy to get my shoulders back in working condition. I’ve also developed some tendonitis in my elbows in the past couple years. I’ve done several sessions with a physical therapist for my elbows. The therapist essentially told me that my poor posture was contributing to my elbow pains.
So now I’ve added regular fitness to maintain strength in my shoulders and core to reduce fatigue and improve posture during the day. A good portion of my exercises also incorporate strengthening muscles for good posture to reduce added stress on shoulder, elbow and wrist joints. We are constantly working on stuff right in front of our chest causing poor posture and unbalanced muscle development. This leads to fatigue, joint soreness and injuries.
“We are working in awkward positions, pushing, pulling, lifting, twisting, bending. When we are in our younger years it seems that the need for fitness is not very important. Our bodies are fresh and more resilient but the longer we are in the trades the more wear and tear on the body happens, especially after 20+ years in the field. Fitness helps increase on the job performance, stamina, reduces potential for injury, helps with mental health and focus as well.
My goal is to maintain my ability to work in the field efficiently for many years to come. Hopefully my post about fitness helps some tradespeople to avoid injuries and discomfort while adding new vigor to their work and personal life,” says Knudsen.
In addition to performing better on the job, that dedication to fitness allows Knudsen enjoy the array of outdoor activities that Alaska has to offer, which include fishing for salmon and halibut, boating in the numerous sounds, inlets, bays, lakes, rivers and ocean all around Alaska, hiking, camping, wildlife viewing, exploring, snowboarding, snowmobiling, ATV adventures.
“I love outdoor activities. Much of my spare time has been spent outdoors. For many years boating, camping and fishing all around Alaska was my summer time activity. Then snowmobiling and snowboarding in the winter. I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to see some of the most beautiful places and scenes Alaska has to offer while enjoying these activities.
And it’s that Alaska mystique I spoke of earlier. When asked when was the last time Knudsen said it was a great day? “I feel like it was somewhere around a week ago driving. It was just one of those days where it was crisp, clear beautiful weather, and the music was right. Thinking about all the people, experiences and moments that make me feel grateful to be alive; to have an opportunity to get to see the future unfold in front of me.”