BY STEVE SPAULDING
OF CONTRACTOR'S STAFF
BARRINGTON, R.I. — Art Cannon knows his technology. An engineer by training, he runs an electro-mechanical sales business that specializes in heating and cooling equipment. So when it came time to build his 3,500-sq.-ft. waterfront dream home by the Palmer River here, it was only natural that he opted to install a radiant heating system. Even though he had never lived with one before, he had been hearing about the efficiency and comfort of radiant systems for much of his professional career.
To design and install the system, Cannon turned to a company specializing in radiant heat, Advanced Comfort Systems, located in North Smithfield, R.I., owned and operated by John Perry Jr.
Perry started the company 10 years ago with his father, John Sr. The elder Perry had been in the heating business a number of years, but he was growing bored with the work. John Perry Jr. had been working full time in the Air National Guard doing satellite and microwave communications.
One day the two of them were helping pour a foundation and got to talking with the homeowner about radiant heat. The technology seemed to be the perfect meeting place for the father's heating experience and the son's background in electronics.
Advanced Comfort Systems now serves a clientele from New Hampshire down to Connecticut. Their company's reputation has even earned them command-performance jobs as far away as Wisconsin. The company typically works three or four jobs at a time. While Perry used to try and rigorously schedule his work, he found the nature of radiant heating demands a more flexible approach.
"You have no control over your schedule because you're always waiting on someone else.," Perry explained. "But it's been working out well for us, juggling the work, going to where we're needed when we're needed."
Success has brought its own challenges, and Perry described his current situation as "fighting to stay small." Currently, the shop is just him, his father and three other workers. It means sometimes having to turn away work. But even when he does, he tries to make sure that the job goes to people who know what they're doing and will leave customers satisfied with their radiant system.
To that end, he's founded a local chapter of the Wirsbo Home Comfort Team. The monthly meetings now include 15 to 20 contractors, some of whom drive more than an hour to attend.
"I've created a pretty good network of guys who are willing to do things right and not take shortcuts," Perry said.
For Art Cannon's house, Advanced Comfort Systems laid down more than 3,600 ft. of Wirsbo PEX tubing throughout both floors, with about 300 ft. of 5/8-in. tubing running from the manifolds back to a Munchkin gas-fired boiler with a modulated output of 140,000 Btu. The ground floor is inslab, and the second floor is encased in 11/2 in. of concrete — which Perry said is really the only way to go.
"Whenever I do Quik Trak or underfloor, somebody is always hitting the tube [with a nail]," he said. "Once you encase it in concrete, it's bulletproof."
In designing the system, the Perrys conducted a room-by-room heat-loss calculation and divided the Cannon house's nine rooms into 13 independent zones, with each room governed by a White-Rodger's thermostat that acts as a high-limit control. The many zones take advantage of sunnier rooms, and, of course, can be shut off when not in regular use. The system's water temperature is set at 90° F when it is 0° F outside.
A Taco outdoor rest control linked to a Taco Radiant Mixing Block provides constant control of circulation throughout the secondary loop and injection from the boiler's primary loop.
The Perrys estimated that all-told the job took four to five days of work, pieced out over about three or four weeks. The job went off without a hitch.
The system has been through its first winter, and Art Cannon has made a single callback — but not because anything went wrong.
"He just wanted me to walk him through the system," Perry said. "He called saying he's not complaining, they're comfortable. They just can't figure out why they're comfortable at such a low temperature!"