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What Could Possibly Go Wrong? Part 1

April 6, 2015
Some of these things were silly mistakes Some of the things I saw were minor infractions Comfort is an elusive beast, with no real measurable parameters or metrics The focus of this series of columns is things I have seen in the field that could have been avoided Tune in next month as we continue our journey into what can happen if we are not in total control of these wonderful comfort systems

In my previous business life I was an expert witness. In this capacity, I was called upon to review the work of other tradespeople and make a judgment call on the quality and craftsmanship of many defective hydronic and radiant installations. I’ve have seen things that would cause the hair on the back of your neck to stand up.

Some of these things were silly mistakes made by good people who unfortunately thought that they were doing the right thing, only because they didn’t know any better, or had not taken the time to become educated in their given field. Some of the things I saw were minor infractions, like leaving the balance of a 300-ft. coil of tubing sitting on the crawl space floor because they were told by their boss that the loops had to be the same length, plus or minus 10 percent.

Seriously, they had to fill the floor of a small 50-sq.ft. bathroom with tubing 6-inches on center, which equates to roughly 100 linear feet of tubing. So instead of putting balancing valves onto their manifolds so that they could “balance” the flows out so that loop temperature differentials were covered, they left the balance of the tubing roll connected and lying on the floor of the crawl space below the bathroom being served. This wasn’t a health safety issue, but more of one pertaining to the “workmanlike manner” clauses of most contracts.

There were many other issues on this project, like having two zones in a two-story home with a partial basement. If the south side happened to be where they placed their thermostat, the thermostat would get satisfied by solar gain before the north side was comfortably heated. In an effort to resolve this situation, they moved the thermostat to the north side of the building, which caused the south side to significantly overheat.

Comfort is an elusive beast, with no real measurable parameters or metrics. I have my personal beliefs, that have gotten me into hot water with some of my industry associates, but I still think it is a valid measurement. Simply stated, my definition of “comfort” is this: Not being aware of your environmental surroundings. You are not hot, nor are you cold. Your sinuses are not dry, nor is the humidity too high, and you shouldn’t be able to hear any noises associated with the delivery of your comfort. If you are not thinking about your environmental surroundings, simply stated, you are comfortable. If just one of these parameters is off, and you are thinking about it, then quite simply, you are not comfortable.

Here’s the bottom line: we in this industry are in the comfort business, and if we can’t deliver on that promise, we are not doing a good job. Oh, sure, we can deliver “heat,” but that is but one component of overall comfort. More on this comfort proposition at a later time.

I want to get back to the focus of this series of columns, which is things I have seen in the field that could have been avoided had there been a good code in place, and the installers were properly educated to execute their marching orders.

I have seen mechanical rooms that were immaculate, with properly supported straight pipes, well insulated with controls that were out of this world — a thing of beauty that could grace the cover of any trade magazine. And it had a large family of dis-satisfied consumers who had never really experienced true comfort. Now, this was no small home; it was a 20,000-sq.ft. beast of a home with every type of distribution system known to the hydronics industry. It had radiant floors, hot water baseboard, fan coil units, was doing their domestic hot water heating, as well as handling the snow melting demands of an equally large snowmelt system. When I first walked into the room, I kept saying to myself “What a beautifully put together system. What could possibly be wrong with this system?”

In the course of doing forensic investigations you start by interviewing the consumers about the comfort issues they are experiencing. So I sat down with the owners and their family members and began the list. The list included complaints about rooms that were too cold, rooms that were too hot, shortages of domestic hot water, the accumulation of snow on melting surfaces, major temperature swings, and air in water noise complaints.

If you are not yet a member of the Radiant Professionals Alliance, please check us out and further our efforts to promote the use of radiant heating and cooling systems by joining our organization: Tune in next month as we continue our journey into what can happen if we are not in total control of these wonderful comfort systems. Until then, happy hydronicing!

All Mark Eatherton material on this website is protected by Copyright 2015. Any reuse of this material (print or electronic) must first have the expressed written permission of Mark Eatherton and CONTRACTOR Magazine. Please contact via email at: [email protected].

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