STONE HARBOR, N.J. — According to plentiful online resources, there are benefits to taking an ice cold shower. Among them: improved blood circulation, strengthening of the immune system, and even some metabolic advantages. Of course, there’s also the risk of heart attack, loss of motor skills, eyeball expulsion and a slip or fall coupled with hypothermia.
Clearly, an ice cold shower is best when done voluntarily.
This wasn’t the case for Stone Harbor, New Jersey, natives, John and Susan Willett.
In the early 2000s, they began experiencing subtle heat losses in their large waterfront home, beginning with substantial cooling of their hydronically-heated radiant floors. This progressed into full loss of heat in some rooms. The home’s radiant heat system would kick on and off for no apparent reason at all. And the provision of heat stopped altogether.
Instead of fixing the issue at hand, the mechanical contractor they’d been working with at the time installed a supplemental heat source — 10kw heat strip in an air handler that was installed as part of the air conditioning system.
For a full decade, the Willetts had tolerated what they now realize was a form of cruel and unusual punishment. The new fix helped, but at great cost.
Despite the supplemental heat, the old system controls kicked on and off whenever they wanted, with no apparent pattern. That’s when — last winter — the loss of heat for domestic hot water began.
“It got to the point that we could never make it through a full shower without the hot water kicking off completely — and that always seemed to happen right as I put shampoo in my hair,” recalled Susan.
With brutal coastal winters, the Willett’s couldn’t take it any more. The floors were once again frigid and icy showers were again the norm.
When the Willetts attempted to connect with the original contractor, he was MIA.
“After weeks of unreturned phone calls, we realized he’d left us in the cold — literally,” said Susan.
Eventually, a referral led them to a solution.
Mangled mechanical room
When Matt Calloway, owner of Ocean View, New Jersey-based TLC Mechanical, first entered the Willett’s mechanical room, he couldn’t believe his eyes.
“It had to be the most disorganized cluster of spaghetti wires I’d ever seen,” said Calloway. “Wires were mismatched and hung in a tangled nest of knots. Chaos — that’s what it was.”
It looked as if the mechanical space was modeled after a Jackson Pollock painting. (Pollock is the artist who splattered canvases with paint. Some people consider that art.) This wasn’t any form of art; far from it.
The lack of order and system piping didn’t help, either.
A 100 MBH boiler had a primary loop with two separate temperature loops coming off it controlled by two undersized pumps that attempted to inject heated, mixed water for the home’s radiant system.
Apparently, the two separate temp loops coming off the main boiler loop created quite a mess. The pumps were improperly arranged. The result was that they were constantly trying to fight each other for control of water flow.
TLC Mechanical’s first order of business was to restore space heating. After some careful research, it was discovered that one of the four zone controls was the main source of system problems, so the TLC team replaced just that, attempting to salvage parts and pieces of the existing system.
Calloway knew the place to start anew was to painstakingly figure out exactly what was causing the homes’ heating woes. Guessing that it would take many more hours — maybe days, and lots of work, he quickly saw the advantage of some teamwork. Calloway and his team took over 16 hours to go through the tangle of wiring — figuring out heat loss patterns and attempting to make sense of it.
“While lasting repairs were made to the faulty zone control, the following year brought similar issues to the remaining ones,” said Calloway. “Instead of doing the repairs all over again with the rest of the controls, it became apparent that the old system just had to go. It’d be an all-out gutting.
Bringing in the A-Team
Before the first wire was cut, Calloway had one last idea for the system and its complications. He called on the best guys he knew to help him solve the riddle of the horribly mangled system.
“I’ve worked with BJ Terroni [a Bensalem, Pennsylvania-based manufacturer’s rep firm] many times in the past,” said Calloway. “I knew they would be crucial to solving the mixing temperature problems at this jobsite.”
Enter Anthony Reikow, hydronics trainer and mechanical mastermind for Terroni, and Joe Fanelli, outside sales for Terroni. Both were eager to help.
When asked for his first impression of the Willett’s mechanical room after he’d had 10 minutes to ponder the mechanical-electrical warzone, Reikow at first couldn’t utter a response — something quite uncommon for the man who’s seen it all.
“Though it may sound over-used … It was just a mess,” Reikow said. “It looked like a nest made by some huge, unwanted, furry creature. My OCD kicked in and I needed to organize it — simplify it. So that’s what Joe and I got to work helping Matt with.”
Once Team Terroni confirmed the giant nest was an unsolvable crime — it had to go. The next step was to select its replacement.
“I knew they’d have something in their arsenal to handle the job” said Calloway.
Tools of the trade
The decision was jointly made to keep only the existing boiler, just 10 years old — now with properly-installed primary piping supplying 180°F water to the DHW and a secondary loop equipped with a Taco Radiant Mixing Block (RMB), supplying 115°F water for the radiant floors.
“The RMB is a complete injection mixing system combining a variable speed injection mixing control, injection circulator, system circulator and air elimination in a single unit,” Calloway explained.
It can be set up as an outdoor reset control, set-point control or a Delta-T (∆T) limiting control with no special piping or balancing valves, requiring no closely spaced Ts, external controls or complex wiring. With this addition, they were able to eliminate a slew of complicated (and unreliable) gear that hogged wall-space in the mechanical. The rats and their nest were permanently evicted.
Another step was to install a dedicated circulator to force flow through a Triangle Tube indirect water heater. This would solve the many, long years the Willets experienced with their domestic hot water system.
In a further review of the mechanical system, and how best to fix it, Reikow and Fanelli chose to specify eight Taco 00e VT2218 ∆T circulators to be installed by the TLC crew. Today, they appear like soldiers at attention, a platoon ready for battle.
“These new circulators are the best I’ve ever seen,” said Reikow. “You can navigate quickly and easily to any one of the five modes it offers — and it has two temperature sensors to provide the DeltaT readings right to the pump’s brain.”
Seven Taco ZVC404 zone valve controls offer complete hydronic system control — each one governing the systems many zones, including domestic water as the priority zone.
Two Taco switching relays, with changeable priority, control zone valve function. “The entire system now works just as it should,” explained Calloway.
“The combination of BJ Terroni expertise and the right technology solved so many problems for us,” said Calloway. “Now, I could send an apprentice out there that knows how to use a volt meter and they can literally troubleshoot anything in the system at a glance.”
It’s one thing for the trade pros to admire the repair work. Would the homeowners agree?
A week later, a call came in to the TLC Mechanical office. At first, laughter made it hard to tell who was making the call. But, as the excitement died down, it was apparent that their problem-solving was the cause of their customer’s happiness.
“Our home is now flawlessly heated,” Susan told him. “The thermostats are all working, and every zone is on when we want it to be, and we have no use for the old supplemental heat source anymore. Our ice-bath days are over.”
It wasn’t long before they received another call, this one from a referral from the Willetts. And then he thought: it really is true. What goes around comes around.