Radiant snowmelt system

Riding the Snowmelt Train

Aug. 14, 2018
In addition to a residential driveway and walkway, snowmelt was the perfect solution for a miniature railroad system throughout the homeowner’s property

RIVER FOREST, IL — Snowmelt in August? Seems a bit counterintuitive, but actually it’s not. Summertime is the perfect time to line up your snowmelt projects and installations heading into the unpredictable weather patterns of the upcoming changing seasons. In other words, no more snow, ice and sleet.

 For Jason Ridgeway, owner of Ridgeway Home Services, West Chicago, Ill., a provider of indoor home comfort services for the Chicagoland area, snowmelt is his “bread and butter,” and an additional technology he encourages potential HVAC customers to pursue. “What used to be a popular choice for larger homes, snowmelt is becoming more commonplace in ‘regular’ sized homes in the area,” said Ridgeway.

 Last September, Ridgeway was called to the near west suburban neighborhood of River Forest to install snowmelt for a residence’s driveway/walkway, and in addition, believe it or not, for a miniature railroad/train track system that meanders throughout the customer’s property.

 And yes, the train actually works! The original homeowner, an inventor who made it big in barcode technology, decided to install the train tracks in the yard for his children and grandchildren. When he sold the home to the current owner, “the railroad had become a neighborhood institution of sorts, with neighbors pleading to keep the landmark train system, and keep it operational,” said Ridgeway. So keep it, the now current owner did.

 The project began with paving contractors removing the tracks and labeling them accordingly, while a welder repaired the tracks and fitted them atop the tubing, which was installed later.

 Enter Ridgeway. He began the snowmelt project in September of 2017, adding the “oomph” behind the system in the basement mechanical room. Prefabbed in his shop, Ridgeway constructed the mechanical panel, which consists of Grundfos circulators, an Axiom filling station, tekmar controls for the brains behind the snowmelt system sensing, and an HTP Elite 399 boiler—installed onsite. On a side note, Ridgeway left stub outs on the boiler panel in the event of upgraded in-home radiant heat, or in the case of a future boiler change-out.

 Covering approximately 3,000 sq. ft. of outdoor space—with approximately 4,500 linear ft. of REHAU PEX tubing—which includes the area of the tracks, driveway and walkways, Ridgeway began the multiple week installation—due in part to an arduous concrete pour and curing timeline—with time to spare for the upcoming winter months.

 Ridgeway came away impressed with the ease of the tubing installation. He used the PEXGUN installation tool, an automatic, lightweight and compact hand-held tool that attaches PEX pipe to rebar or wire mesh, as well as a tubing uncoiler, both part of his commitment to REHAU products. “With the PEXGUN tubing installation tool, and REHAU uncoiler, I personally can put down 300 ft. of tubing, the same as three guys using zip ties in equal amount of time or better. The extra plus is that I don't have to go back and cut off the tails when I'm done,” said Ridgeway.

The supply water temperature was set to 160 F with the slab melting temperature set point at 34-36 F. The cold-water shutoff was set to -10 F.

The intelligence of the system consists of a tekmar 090 snow and ice sensor and a tekmar 665 snowmelt control system. Basically, the in-ground sensor—used in conjunction with the tekmar snow melting controls—“senses” the precipitation and intuitively correlates the freezing or below freezing temperatures and automatically detects precipitation as snow or sleet on the applicable surface, which tells the system to activate.

The tekmar 665 control uses the snow/ice detection sensor in order to automatically melt snow using Pulse Width Modulation and slab outdoor reset to maintain slab temperature. It is capable of controlling a single boiler, a system pump, and providing a signal when melting is enabled.

 The existing system is one zone but is set up for the possibility of adding multiple zones, which is advantageous to Ridgeway. He will be going back to the residence to add snowmelt to existing pavers around the pool area in the back of the house. This added snowmelt will pull hot water from the existing HTP boiler.

 Ridgeway ran into one challenge during the installation when the system, upon initial start-up, kept experiencing a drop in pressure. Initially thinking there was a leak in the lines somewhere, Ridgeway eventually resolved the issue by diagnosing the problem, finding an unusually high content of air in the system. An elongated purging of excess air in the system solved that minor glitch.

 The end result is a beautifully paved snowmelt area, complete with added railroad tracks crisscrossing through the driveway. When all was said and done, and a full season of experiencing snowstorms, ice and a wintry mix in between, the end result was one happy homeowner.

 Manifold images: All REHAU manifolds are pressurized to 80psi.

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