CORVALLIS, ORE. — The city of Corvallis sits cradled in the Willamette Valley, about an hour's drive from Eugene and about an hour and a half from Portland. The area is home to some spectacular scenery, several local wineries, Oregon State University (go Beavers!) and Radiant Heat Solutions, a company specializing in radiant installations. Little more than a year ago the company completed a radiant job for the Fisher family that uses an innovative design to deliver an energy-efficient, comfortable and nearly allergen-free living space.
Radiant Heat Solutions was founded in 1994 by its owner/operator Paul Cooke. A graduate of the University of Illinois with a degree in industrial design, he moved west to California in the late '70s and got his start in the industry doing solar applications.
"We did active solar water heating systems," Cooke recalled, "a few passive solar sun room additions and solar pool heating systems."
The solar work became Cooke's doorway into the "wet" side of the business. He and his family eventually moved to Oregon where he became a licensed plumbing contractor. The company specializes in new homes but does some remodel work as well.
" The bulk of my work the last 15 years has been both plumbing and radiant floor heating," he told CONTRACTOR.
Josh Fisher is that most demanding of customers a contractor can have — another contractor. In the business since he was 15, he's now 56 and semiretired, although he still does some design work. Fisher, a long-time Corvallis resident, used to specialize in high-end remodeling, and he would occasionally bring Cooke in for radiant jobs.
"In fact," Fisher said, "if I'm not mistaken, Paul's first radiant job in Corvallis was for me."
Fisher and his family moved away to Portland for a number of years but ended up returning to Corvallis and buying back the fairly modest (about 1,600 sq. ft.) ranch house they had previously owned. And then they gutted it.
"I'd just never been happy with the room layout," Fisher said. "It being a fully trussed rectangle, the simplest thing to do was to gut it."
They took everything back to the studs, pulled out all the wiring, all the original plumbing, then bumped up the ceiling, put on two additions and rearranged the interior. Along the way Fisher doubled the insulation quality and installed all-new plumbing to go with his whole-house radiant system.
From his past experience with radiant heat, Fisher would have preferred an inslab system, but the house is post-andbeam construction with 4-by-8s on 4-by-4 posts: The floor just wouldn't take the added weight of the Gypcrete. There was also the time factor to consider. Start-to-finish, the entire rehab was done in just four months, with Cooke's work on the radiant system involving two weeks' work at breakneck speed. Given these constraints, he opted for a system that uses aluminum plates.
" They're from a company in Bozeman, Mont., called Radiant-Engineering, and they're called Thermofin extruded aluminum heat transfer plates," Cooke said.
Using the transfer plates and Wirsbo PEX tubing, Cooke built the radiant panels on-site working closely with the carpentry crew. After chalking the layout marks on the floor, the tubing was rolled out and the plates were snapped in place and fastened. Specially cut plywood spacers were screwed down inbetween the raised areas where the tubing was, and then a thin layer of foam was put down for the floor to "float" on. Finally, a laminated hardwood flooring product was snapped down on top of the entire set-up. In all, Cooke installed about 2,000 feet of tubing.
A natural-gas-fired Munchkin T-50 boiler from Heat Transfer Products powers the radiant system and serves the rest of the house's hot water needs. The boiler also has outdoor reset and is paired with a Superstore indirect water storage tank.
"It's a modulating boiler," Cooke said, "so it ramps up or down to take care of current demand on the system."
Both the boiler and storage tank feature compact design and a small footprint, an important concern since the mechanical room in the Fisher house is only 6 ft. by 3 ft. To simplify installing in such cramped confines, Cooke used a prepackaged pump module from Precision Hydronic Products.
"It really saves me time in the mechanical room," he said. "It's an excellent way to do your work when you have a tight space."
Another area where space considerations influenced the system's design was in the bathrooms, where there simply wasn't enough floor space for an in-floor system to cover the heat loss of the rooms. Luckily, Radiant Heat Solutions lived up to its name.
"We ended up doing radiant ceiling and radiant floors in both those bathrooms," Cooke says. "It was a way to stay with radiant and not have to use a back-up heater. Having the opportunity to make radiant walls and ceiling panels helps keep my work interesting."
Altogether, the radiant system cost the Fishers less than $20,000. "You have to take into account that the home is not huge," Cooke said, "and the GC contributed some labor to the project." The Fishers have been living in the rehabbed house for more than a year now.
"It's certainly extremely comfortable," Josh Fisher said. " And very steady. I'd say we haven't touched the thermostats in six or seven months."
Nearly as big a factor as the quality of heat has been the quality of air. The Willamette Valley can be hell for allergy sufferers, and Josh Fisher's son was recently diagnosed with an asthmatic condition. They did not want the blowing dust from a forced-air system.
"I wanted a house that was going to be as clean as possible," Fisher said.
So along with radiant heat, the Fishers also have a whole-house air-to-air heat exchanger. While it means losing some heat, he considers it a small price to pay for having a constant flow of fresh air through the house.
"And the combination of the two has just been fabulous," he said. "We're sucking the bad air out of all the bedrooms and bathrooms simultaneously, and replacing it in living spaces."
Fisher's final step in his air quality plan is the addition of an electrostatic air filter in-line with the heat exchanger.
And as for the radiant, in the future Josh Fisher thinks he may split off some more zones for more specific control, and when he does Radiant Heat Solutions will be there to help.
But for right now, he and his family are just enjoying the clean air, comfort and efficiency.