Hydroair: The Best of Both Worlds

by James Reid Special to CONTRACTOR In Hebron, Maine, the winters are long. We have an interesting snow removal system its called July. Average summer temperatures in the state range between 62F to 66 as you might guess, there isnt a great demand for cooling. Hydronic heating-only systems are quite common in the New England area. However, there are those times during the summer when everyone wishes

by James Reid

Special to CONTRACTOR

In Hebron, Maine, the winters are long. We have an interesting snow removal system — it’s called July. Average summer temperatures in the state range between 62°F to 66°F; as you might guess, there isn’t a great demand for cooling. Hydronic heating-only systems are quite common in the New England area. However, there are those times during the summer when everyone wishes they had air conditioning rather than a heating only system.

It’s for just those times that my company has found another option to provide customers the comfort they desire — hydroair systems.

James Reid Heating Co. was established in October 1996. Prior to starting my own company, I had worked 11 years for a local oil dealer. Our business has grown from one person to three people since the first day the doors opened. Last year, our sales consisted mostly of boiler units. We installed 91 boilers in homes ranging from 950 sq. ft. to 7,400 sq. ft.

Hebron, Maine, is located in the southwestern part of the state, about 35 miles from New Hampshire and nearly the same distance from the Atlantic Ocean. The population is about 1,000 people.

With such a dependence on heating season work and a limited population base from which to earn a livelihood, having the ability to solve every customer’s need is not only important to the customer, but it may be critical to the survival of a business.

Customers Request Dual Comfort

I began providing hydroair systems when one of my customers requested air conditioning, as well as heating, but didn’t really want to purchase duplicate systems. In other words, they didn’t want a forced air cooling system that could double as their heating system. They already had hydronic heating that they were very happy with. We researched ways to accomplish this through my local wholesaler. At first, we did a complete heating and cooling load analysis of the home. We found it was actually very simple to accommodate their needs.

By sizing a hydroair handling unit for the home, we were able to provide both heating and cooling with one hydronic system. The air handling unit has a heating coil and a cooling coil. The boiler heats the heating coil, the same way it would a baseboard zone with a supply and return line between the boiler and coil. Here’s the premise for providing cooling. A condensing refrigeration unit is set and connected via supply and return lines to the cooling coil, also housed in the air handler unit.

Generally, the reason we use boilers for heating is that we can provide multiple zoned comfort and control. That may consist of one zone for each hydroair handler, radiant heat zones, baseboard zones, and an indirect hot water heater that’s sized for the domestic hot water need. This provides great versatility in the way hydronics is used in a home. With hydroair we’re also able to provide zoned cooling for our customers in a method similar to that which they’ve become accustomed to with their zoned heating systems.

Sell the Comfort

We sell this concept as total comfort. We can heat and cool our customers’ homes as well as give them comfort and control of multiple zoned areas. It’s not that we need to cool all areas of the homes, but we need to heat all areas. Often, in this geographic area, people won’t cool the downstairs area of a two-story house. That may sound strange to some contractors, but remember, this is Maine we’re talking about. A typical application might find us providing a heating-only system for the downstairs area, and heating and cooling for the second floor.

A hydroair system, using the typical example above, would have a heating coil in the air handling unit mounted underneath the floor of the first floor. A second air handler, with heating and cooling coils, would be installed in the attic above the second floor.

Some contractors may suggest that a home with floor registers isn’t the ideal method for first floor cooling, but this has worked well for us. We install ceiling registers for the second floor unit, thus providing two zones for total comfort. This also makes it simple to hide duct work, so the building contractor doesn’t have to build soffets for the heating and cooling ducts.

Toss in an indirect fired water heater for that large whirlpool tub, as well as a radiant heat zone in the garage concrete slab, and now you are really selling! That’s total comfort.

The cost could be about one-third more than just doing baseboard heat around the perimeter of the home, but if your customer wants total comfort this is the way to go. I also find the more of these systems we do, the more jobs we get for hydroair applications. The total comfort of heating and cooling is undeniably the best possible solution for customers — even my customers in the great Pine Tree State of Maine.

Jim Reid is president of James Reid Heating, Hebron, Maine. He can be reached at [email protected]. Reid was a participant in the First Hydronics Roundtable sponsored by Burnham Hydronics. Future issues of Contractor magazine will feature more information gleaned from that roundtable discussion.