SPECIAL TO CONTRACTOR
MOUNT JOY, PA. — Saying the Martin house here has personality is putting it mildly, but the mechanical contractor is one who's drawn to a challenge. What he found when he got there — with tasks that would be tied to an extensive remodeling project — was an ancient, fuel oil-guzzling cast-iron boiler, uninsulated walls and plans for a new kitchen to be perched above a "rock quarry."
"The challenges certainly gave the job some personality," said Dave Yates, president of F. W. Behler Inc. in York, Pa., and CONTRACTOR's plumbing columnist.
The Martins, a family of four, live in a 2,400-sq.-ft. log home that dates back to the time of the Revolutionary War. It's been in the Martin family for six generations, and they were planning the firstever major renovation.
Interesting details included stone foundation walls and massive, hand-hewn logs that defied pipe and tubing runs.
Yates said he was impressed that the homeowners, Bruce and Heike Martin, hired a remodeling contractor, Duane Niesley, who wasn't an obstacle to radiant heat. In fact, he helped to champion the cause for a mechanical system overhaul-that, ultimately, would entail-extensive use of radiant. Though, clearly — with strong German heritage on both sides and an appreciation for finely tuned European hydronics — the homeowners were predisposed to radiant heat.
Roughly, half of the home would be involved in the renovation. Fortunately, the basement had a large room for the mechanicals, once necessary for the ancient boiler down there. In another area that serves as a cool spot to place the family's potato, onion and apple harvest, Yates would locate one of the radiant manifolds and have access for a small staple-up zone underneath the downstairs bathroom.
The home's centrally located firstfloor kitchen would be the focal point of the renovation.
" We all enjoy cooking and food preparation," Heike Martin said. "So we added some cabinets and counter space and found a better spot for the refrigerator. We'd endured the cold floors long enough."
In fact, the kitchen floor was ice cold during the winter months. The foundation below it "breathed" because of the generously ventilated rock foundation.
"This was not by intent," Bruce Martin added. "The old foundation moved here and there over the years, and so the winter winds had relatively free access to the space below, something we'd definitely do something about during the renovation."
Connected to kitchen is the 100- sq.- ft. laundry room. Its floor would also be heated. Next to it was the downstairs bathroom, soon to be radiantly heated by staple-up from below.
Yates noted the importance of directly interviewing the homeowners to avoid confusion and wrong assumptions. That's not always easy when a GC is involved, but Niesley encouraged it. They decided to salvage as much of the existing mechanical system as possible, Yates said. That meant marrying up the new radiant system with the tangle of iron piping that joined other hydronic lines within the home.
This also presented a slight design challenge because of the heating curve for the several remaining radiators, and the typical need to reset system temps based on outdoor ambient temperatures. Yates planned to run these as one high-temp zone.
While making the heat-load calculations, the kitchen became an interesting challenge for Yates and Bob Seiger, one of his chief installers. The room was troublesome because of its location above the "rock quarry," Bruce Martin's favorite description of the centuriesold pit, filled with rocks, rubble, old timbers, glass and pottery shards, a thoroughly worked-over cache of walnuts and corn cobs, and — Heike was certain — one of the oldest, continuouslyinhabited "mouse condos" in all of Lancaster County, Pa.
The floor of the kitchen would be suspended above the pit. Its under-floor area was inaccessible.
"Even if we did have access to it, it was too rough for crawl-space work," Yates said. He selected SubRay, a product made by Watts Radiant. The product is a radiant retrofit panel that is screwed to the top of the subfloor and the tubing weaves through it. It delivers up to 40 BTU per sq. ft.
The remodeling contractor sealed the stone foundation and cleverly devised a way to heavily insulate the floor of the kitchen to R-23 — cold toes would be a thing of the past.
The bathroom staple-up offered a new challenge. Unevenly spaced joists were running in one direction above a very narrow access area, and the drain and water lines were going in another. Yates found Watts' Onix EPDM radiant tubing to be the solution because it could be woven around obstacles such as protruding nails that had been used to hold down the concrete board under the finished ceramic tile floor above.
The homeowners had selected an oil-fired Laars Max boiler and its partner, a 40-gallon DuraFlow indirectfired water heater, chosen to meet the family's domestic water needs. The boiler is a low-mass, direct-vent unit with a two-pass cylindrical heat exchanger that delivers about 87% efficiency. The new boiler would use up to 60% less fuel than the old one, Yates said.
The DuraFlow water heater would replace a free standing electric unit that began duty 15 years ago.
Rather than building a control panel, Yates sent the specs to Watts Radiant, which fabricated a HydroControl-panel and shipped it to the site with the other materials.
"The panel is the heart of any radiant system, and it sets the tone for how all of its parts will operate," Yates added. "We needed to provide a multiple-temperature system from a single temperature source. We had two high-temperature zones — the indirect hot water tank and the remaining cast-iron radiators — and two lowertemperature zones for the staple-up lower bath and kitchen."
As the job neared completion, two new 275-gal. oil tanks were delivered by Highland Tank from the manufacturing plant just 10 miles away. The new 12-gauge "ToughTanks" by Highland are available in 137-, 275- and 330-gal. capacities and are UL-80 labeled for oil use (a UL-142 label is available) and are available with double-wall construction.
The twinned oil tanks, with fuel lines joined at their bottom outlet, were piped to the exterior with full-sized fill and vent lines.
"There's a fair amount of concern lately about high-pressure pumping (permitting faster delivery of fuel) and tanks having crossover lines becoming over-pressurized," Yates said. "
Considering this, I felt the extra time and materials were warranted. With each tank having its own vent-alarm to signal when to stop pumping oil, there's now minimal chance of a spill or rupture."