Watts Radiant

By Kolyn “Coach” Marshall No matter where we go these days it seems as if there’s always someone trying to upsell us on something. Truth is, the art of upsell is nothing new. Walk into a fast food restaurant and you’re asked if you want to super-size it. Go to the theater and you’re asked Read more

By Kolyn “Coach” Marshall

No matter where we go these days it seems as if there’s always someone trying to upsell us on something.

Truth is, the art of upsell is nothing new. Walk into a fast food restaurant and you’re asked if you want to super-size it. Go to the theater and you’re asked if you want to make your popcorn a combo deal. Heck, even Amazon’s in on the program.

Radiant heating, plumbing, radiant, radiant floors, Watts Radiant, SunTouch, Watts Water Technologies, HVAC, radiant cooling

Ubiquitous upsells can be awfully annoying, especially when it’s something you know a lot about. But, what if it’s something you know nothing about? Or, better yet, didn’t know to even ask?

This last question is where I find a lot of potential radiant buyers.  They simply don’t know enough about what’s out there to ask.

This is where you—Neighborhood Radiant Installer—come into play.

Radiant heating, plumbing, radiant, radiant floors, Watts Radiant, SunTouch, Watts Water Technologies, HVAC, radiant cooling

It’s your opportunity to throw out the option of radiant floor heating or snowmelting. Sounds easy, right? Well . . . sort of.  In order for you to be able to effectively talk about radiant, it can be helpful to know what there is to talk about.

Understanding the want

Depending on the audience, say, home or a business owner, the want or need may vary. For homeowners, they may want to be more comfortable. There’s a factor of efficiency or cost savings, but those are typically secondary to comfort. People really don’t like being cold.

Radiant heating, plumbing, radiant, radiant floors, Watts Radiant, SunTouch, Watts Water Technologies, HVAC, radiant cooling

Comfort, however, takes on many forms. But, as the Neighborhood Radiant Installer, it’s important to know what comfort means. One aspect is keeping the room temperature between 68 and 70 degrees. The other facet is knowing how occupants interact with the interior space.  The key driver for comfort is floor temperature.

Ever step out of the shower onto a cold tile floor? In that instant it’s pretty easy to connect to what cold is. Oddly enough, our feet dictate our comfort more than air temperature. It’s the main reason why we have slippers and wool socks. If our feet are warm we feel warmer.

So the easiest way to feeling comfortable is to keep the floors from being cold.  Radiant heat does that with most radiant systems maintaining a floor temperature between 75 and 85 degrees.

Radiant heating, plumbing, radiant, radiant floors, Watts Radiant, SunTouch, Watts Water Technologies, HVAC, radiant cooling

Business owners tend to have a slightly different goal in mind. Their focus is more on customer safety, especially when the weather turns cold and the freezing rain and snow start to fall. Or:  employee satisfaction, a great incentive in retaining, and attracting, employees.

As for safety, injuries due to slips and falls plague business owners constantly. It’s a seasonal risk, and source of concern.

Radiant snowmelting systems help keep walkways, parking lots, and access ramps ice and snow free all winter long. This means no more early morning labor; shoveling snow is a thing of the past. No more chemical ice melt. This alone eliminates another key concern:  icemelt tends to get picked up by customer’s shoes and tracked inside, eventually taking its toll on the floor.

The upgrade package

So a spark is struck. Warm floors are something that wasn’t expected but is now very much wanted.

How are these once cold floors now warmed? There are two main ways to provide radiant floor heat: hydronically with water, or through electric resistance.

Radiant heating, plumbing, radiant, radiant floors, Watts Radiant, SunTouch, Watts Water Technologies, HVAC, radiant cooling

Hydronic systems rely on tubing being installed in the floor and connected to a heat source. Tubing options range from PEX, to PE-RT, to EPDM rubber. Tubing is connected to a series of manifolds, then those manifolds connect to a boiler, or other equivalent heat source.

If the area to be heated is small, say only a kitchen or bathroom, then an electric product may be best; these use electrical resistant wire or cable to generate heat. Wire is embedded in a lightweight concrete or thinset generally under tile or other masonry material. One of the advantages of electric is there is no need for a mechanical room and no need to physically run piping back through a home or facility.  Electrical installations tend to be less invasive but also tend to be reserved for smaller areas.

With both electric and hydronic systems there are options for controls and thermostats. Most of today’s systems incorporate some form of connectivity feature, giving remote access to users.

 Delivering the Goods

Congratulations Neighborhood Radiant Installer! The Enlightened Customer has decided to go with the radiant upgrade. Now what?

Now it’s time to figure out how to get all those tubes and wires where they’re supposed to go.

Hydronic tubing is generally installed in one of two ways, either in a concrete slab or under a frame floor. In a concrete slab, tubing is typically 6, 9, or 12 inches on center with the tubing approximately 2 inches down from the top. In a frame floor, the tubing is secured to the subfloor, often with heat transfer plates. These plates secure the tubing (usually PEX or PE-RT) to the subfloor while providing good conductive heat transfer to the floor.

Radiant heating, plumbing, radiant, radiant floors, Watts Radiant, SunTouch, Watts Water Technologies, HVAC, radiant cooling

Electric systems are installed in a similar fashion to hydronic slabs with the difference being the wire is generally installed on top of the floor in ½ inch thinset with tile or other stone material as the finished floor covering.  An electric system is then connected a controller or thermostat.

Both hydronic and electric systems then operate in the same way any forced air system does. The controller or thermostat is set to the desired temperature and the system operates automatically.

Satisfied Customers

So how does our Neighborhood Radiant Installer know the system is working as expected and the customer is happy? It’s simple:  our Honorable Customer won’t be able to stop talking about the most comfortable heat they’ve ever experienced.

Becoming the go-to radiant expert is the best way to keep the future looking warm and bright.

Kolyn “Coach” Marshall, based in Springfield, Mo., is Systems Engineering Manager at Watts Radiant.

Keith and Jenessa Frey’s dream took form in a 3,000-sq.-ft., three bedroom log home—located in Lancaster, Pa.—with space for two additional bedrooms. Jenessa’s kitchen occupies one end of the large open area on the main floor, blending easily into the great room with a tall stone fireplace. Heating and cooling equipment were much smaller than Read more

Keith and Jenessa Frey’s dream took form in a 3,000-sq.-ft., three bedroom log home—located in Lancaster, Pa.—with space for two additional bedrooms. Jenessa’s kitchen occupies one end of the large open area on the main floor, blending easily into the great room with a tall stone fireplace.

Heating and cooling equipment were much smaller than the Freys expected because of their insistence on heavy insulation. “That meant less cost to buy the HVAC gear and also a lot less energy to operate the equipment,” said Keith Frey. “I grew up in a drafty ol’ farmhouse; we learned that a dollar spent on insulation goes a long way.”

Piped dream

“Our mechanical contractor was impressed by the volume of equipment and material we could source through a single company purchased through wholesalers near here,” he added. So he and Kurt Shreiner, co-owner of Lancaster County-based Mountain View Heating & Cooling, LLC, chosen by the Freys to do most of the mechanical system installations, tapped Watts for a wide range of material and equipment.

Mountain View technicians installed 1,900 lineal feet of ½-inch Watts PEX radiant heat tubing in the lower concrete slab and 3,160 feet of 3/8-inch Onix synthetic rubber tubing for the under-floor areas in a five-zone system that would warm most of the home’s floors. They also hung three, prefabricated, pre-engineered Watts Hydronex panels to manage hydronic system flow.

Meanwhile, the Frey’s excavator trenched the geoexchange field behind the house. Four, 300-foot long trenches were dug to a depth of 10 feet and were piped as they were completed—each line feeding into a large manifold pit.

Mechanical systems, connected

Within a single day, as the excavator completed trenching, Keith Frey and Shreiner fused the geo-exchanged pipe.

Kevin Hul, Mountain View technician, made many of the connections inside the home, completing fluid circuits to and from the five-ton, water-to-air geothermal unit.

According to Shreiner, the heat pump was a perfect match for the tekmar controls chosen to integrate management of the home’s forced air geothermal heating and cooling equipment, and the five-zone radiant heat system.

“The geo system allowed easy integration to the tekmar 557 thermostats and controls,” said Roger Prevost, hydronics general manager for Millersville, MD-based ROI Marketing, a manufacturer’s rep firm. “The controls included two 557 t-stats; five 552 t-stats and a setpoint and wiring center.”

“The tekmar controls are key components of the Hydronex panels,” said Watts Eastern Regional Manager Rich McNally. “Installers simply hang ‘em, make connections, add power and water.” The preassembled, pre-engineered panels are factory wired and tested. The three modular Hydronex panels, ready for off-the-shelf delivery, were ordered by Mountain View a few weeks before they arrived.

The first, primary panel moves hot water from the boiler-fed buffer tank; it includes outdoor sensors and interior thermostats. Injection panels two and three parcel-out heated supply to feed the home’s different-temp radiant heat zones. Taco zone controls govern a bevy of Taco pumps, mounted at a 45-degree angle on the panels to control flow within the mile-long network radiant tubing.

All the comforts of home

Shreiner chose a 125 MBH, wall-hung Laars LX mod-con boiler as the main source of heat for the home. “I especially like the system for its high efficiency [95% AFUE] and that the New Hampshire company makes the boiler here in the US, even their own stainless steel heat exchangers. It’s got an advanced control system and outdoor reset, a condensate trap, zero clearance installation and allows venting up to 150 feet,” said Shreiner. “And it’s so danged quiet.”

He added that the boiler is paired with two 120-gallon Bradford White tanks, one of which had a large stainless steel coil inside. “We chose these for their very low standby loss,” added Shreiner. “One of them is a buffer tank for the hydronic system. The hydronic panels pull from this large volume of water to meet the home’s space heating needs. The other tank is an indirect water heater with a large stainless steel coil inside to heat domestic water.

“The buffer tank is kept at temperatures between 110 and 140 [°F] is the first task met by the boiler; temperatures in the tank vary according to ambient temps as monitored by the outdoor reset control,” Shreiner continued. “The hydronic panels pull from this large volume of water to meet the home’s heat needs. The other tank is an indirect water heater in the truest sense, for domestic water.”

Populating the Hydronex control panels and managing flow for all of the home’s five radiant heat zones are Taco 0015, 3-speed circulators. The circs also control flow to and from both of the indirect water heaters. A Taco 4900 air separator posts quality control guard duty for the entire hydronic system. Taco zone controls interface easily with the tekmar components.

“We’ve installed Taco circs, pumps, zone valves and zone controls for years,” added Shreiner. “With a system as robust as this one, there was no way we’d use anything but the products we’ve come to trust.”

The Freys also installed a small HeatWeave electric radiant mat below the tile in their guest bathroom—complete with its own programmable thermostat. “I didn’t want my guests to experience cold feet here. It was a very small splurge,” said Jenessa Frey.

Water quality, assured

The Freys have a good, on-site well. But – common to many agricultural areas – coliform bacteria and nitrates are present. After testing for water-borne minerals, sediment and other contaminants, it was clear to the Freys they’d need water treatment systems.

Well water now passes through a sediment filter; it then flows through a Watts ultraviolet unit to kill bacteria. Water then moves through a Watts Pure Water non-chemical iron removal system. Domestic water then makes its way through a Watts OneFlow scale prevention system to control water hardness; the system’s scale media operates catalytically without salt or chemicals, and doesn’t produce wastewater.

“It doesn’t even require electricity,” said an amazed Matt Woodcraft, president of Lifeflow Plumbing, who installed the water treatment, filtration and plumbing systems.

“The scale prevention is effective at preventing over 98 percent of the scale produced by the hard water,” said Woodcraft. “The only maintenance required on the system is a simple media replacement after three years of service.”

The final water treatment happens in Jenessa’s kitchen where Woodcraft installed an under-sink reverse osmosis system by Watts.

“You might say the Freys took on a challenge or two in solving the problems they encountered with the groundwater,” added Woodcraft. “But we learned quickly that there’s a solution for every variety of need.”

A Taco hot water recirculation system and dedicated return line were installed to continuously circulate hot water to showers and fixtures.

Delayed gratification

Within a few months, the Frey’s excavated trenches were invisible, covered by a robust crop of soybeans. The field now serves two purposes with equal vigor: farmland, and geothermal exchange. Fall came and the soybeans were harvested and sold. The geothermal system switched between cooling to heating modes effortlessly while harvesting subterranean BTUs.

“Being my own GC added substantial time to complete the home,” said Keith Frey. “But, we saved a bundle, most of which allowed us to improve the home’s carbon footprint.

“The geothermal, radiant heat systems and water quality equipment are facets of the home we’re most proud of,” he added.

https://youtu.be/1tctk1d3OCw ProStaff member Andy Mickelson, Mickelson Plumbing & Heating, takes us onsite in Missoula, Montana to show us how a simple mechanical room can provide premium efficiency and perfect comfort through hydronic applications Read more

ProStaff member Andy Mickelson, Mickelson Plumbing & Heating, takes us onsite in Missoula, Montana to show us how a simple mechanical room can provide premium efficiency and perfect comfort through hydronic applications.

Mickelson Plumbing & Heating, in Missoula, Montana was recently hired to add back-up heat to a wood-fired hydronic system serving three buildings; a home, a shop and a lodge.  The system, which draws heat from an Econoburn gasification boiler and 800-gallon buffer tank, served the family well last winter.  But in the spring of 2014 Read more

Mickelson Plumbing & Heating, in Missoula, Montana was recently hired to add back-up heat to a wood-fired hydronic system serving three buildings; a home, a shop and a lodge.  The system, which draws heat from an Econoburn gasification boiler and 800-gallon buffer tank, served the family well last winter.  But in the spring of 2014, their lives changed.

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The family’s oldest daughter, who’s 10 years old, came down with a mysterious illness that rendered her incapacitated from the neck down.  After spending time at several hospitals, she ended up in critical care in Spokane, WA.  Here, doctors discovered that she was plagued by a rare disorder called Guillain-Barre syndrome.

The life-threatening disease causes the body’s immune system to attack the central nervous system, and recovery times – when patients are fortunate – last a year or more.  Needless to say, the girl’s parents are spending as much time as possible by her side.  This means that more often than not, nobody is home 200 miles away in Montana.

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They realized that their daughter’s condition wouldn’t stabilize before the onset of heating season, so Mickelson was called to install a supplemental heat source for when nobody is available to put wood in the existing boiler.

In September, owner Andy Mickelson and Service Technician Chris Paul arrived with a 399 MBH Burnham Alpine condensing boiler and a Fan-In-A-Can combustion air system for the wood boiler.

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“The first thing we did was plumb the new boiler into the two-inch supply for the big buffer tank,” said Mickelson.  The tank supplies water to Watts manifolds and PEX for in-slab radiant, domestic hot water tanks, Modine Hot Dawg H20 unit heaters, and Magic Aire coils in the home’s ductwork.  Connecting all the buildings is pre-insulated, 1-1/2-inch Watts R-Flex supply-and-return tubing underground.  A variety of Taco pumps and zone controls are used throughout.  The tank and system are designed for 160°F water on average.

Montana-12“The Alpine was easy to plumb and wire, and we were impressed with how light it was for a unit of its capacity,” said Mickelson.  “It was just easy to install.”

They were surprised by how quickly the big buffer tank heated up after firing the boiler.  “It went from about 70°F to 125°F in about 40 minutes.  Of course that’s on hi-fire.  They’ll see much lower fuel consumption once the boiler is just maintaining setpoint and firing at a lower input.”

With efficiencies up to 95% and sizes from 80 to 399 MBH, the Alpine comes standard with a five-year parts and labor warranty.  Mickelson and Paul used a Honeywell T775 staging control to fire the Alpine if the wood boiler does not begin to raise the buffer tank temperature within the programmed interstage delay period.

“The T775 control gave us the benefit of a multi stage, outdoor reset control which is completely stand alone,” explained Mickelson.  “The buffer tank was programmed to maintain a 160°F at design conditions with a low reset to 110°F. Most of the terminal units are fan coils, requiring a slightly higher supply temperature. With the wood boiler’s built-in bypass control and the Alpine’s heat exchanger design, low return temperatures are not a factor.”

When the wood boiler was first installed, the property owner hadn’t been concerned about leaving the boiler room open to supply combustion air to the wood boiler.  But the reality that the two youngest daughters could make their way to the boiler room on their own sunk in.  Young hands and hot pipes being incompatible, they decided they wanted a way to shut the door without choking the boiler.

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Mickelson’s solution was to use a Fan-In-A-Can, made by Field Controls.  The unique product is what the name implies; a fan inside a “can”, attached to a pipe that draws air from outdoors. Fan-In-A-Can is an engineered system, and when properly sized to the application, supplies the precise amount of air needed in close proximity to the combustion appliance.

With several configurations and single-fan sizes that range from 50,000 to 1.8M BTUS, the Fan-In-A-Can can be used to supply combustion air for just about any atmospheric combustion appliance.

Wired to the power supply from the wood boiler’s combustion blower, the Can actually starts before the blower comes on.  Half a second later the Can proves, and the blower starts.  When the temp control on the boiler is satisfied, the Can shuts off with the blower.  The system will allow the boiler room to be sealed without concern of having adequate combustion air.

With the boilers, buffer tank, and hundreds of feet of underground PEX, the hydronic system contains more than 1,000 gallons spread out among three buildings.  Given Montana’s wicked winters, Mickelson wanted to be sure that if makeup water was being added to the system, antifreeze wasn’t being diluted.  An Axiom MF200 glycol feeder was added to round out the new system upgrades.

With any luck, the family’s little girl will return to Montana before spring.  Whether LP or wood is the source, she’ll have a warm homecoming.

Date started:  9/2014

Date Finished:  9/2014

Size of Project:  Approx. 7,700 sq. ft. total in three buildings

Workers onsite:  2

Boiler —  Burnham Alpine condensing LP boiler, 399k BTU input

Buffer Tank – Niles Steel Tank, 800-gallon ASME

Pumps — Taco Bumble Bee, Taco 0015, Taco 2400, Taco 007, Taco 0013

Underground Pipe – 870 lineal feet of  1-1/2-inch Watts Radiant R-Flex insulated pipe

Relays — Taco SR and ZVC relay boxes, Honeywell T775 staging control

Manifolds – stainless steel Watts Flowmeter

Piping —  Watts RaniantPEX+, Watts Onix EPDM

Tools Used —  Rothenberger ROPOWER portable compact threading machine, Milwaukee M18 cordless power tools

Valves — Taco Zone Sentry zone valves, Watts ball valves

Separators —  Taco 4900 Series

Combustion Air Supply – Field Controls Fan-In-A-Can model CAS-3 with 120 VAC control circuit.

Other  — Axiom MF200 Glycol mini-system feeder, Axiom acid neutralizer