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Thermal Engineering LLC warms to condo snowmelt job

June 30, 2011
TOOELE, UTAH — The warmer months are the ideal time for installing snowmelt systems; ice and snow on the ground make it much more difficult to lay tubing, and the warmer temperatures mean lower demand on existing heating systems.

TOOELE, UTAH — Summer is here, and with it the return of snowmelt season. The warmer months are the ideal time for installing snowmelt systems; ice and snow on the ground make it much more difficult to lay tubing, and the warmer temperatures mean lower demand on existing heating systems that may need to be shut down for some period as new systems are connected in.

Aron Frailey is the owner and chief mechanical engineer of Thermal Engineering LLC, headquartered in Tooele, Utah. He’s been specializing in snowmelt projects since before 2002.

“I graduated with an engineering degree and went to work for a consulting engineering firm in Salt Lake City,” Frailey said. “One of our clients got into radiant heating and commercial snow melt, and I took an interest in that.” Frailey worked for a number of years as operations manager for a company called Thermal Floors before hanging out his own shingle in 2005. His shop now employs as many as seven technicians, and will take jobs as far afield as Erie, Pa.

One of Thermal Engineering’s current projects is for the Pine Inn at Deer Valley, a ski-in, ski-out condominium complex located in Park City, Utah. Built in 1985, the complex has a rustic, log-cabin feel. Every unit (two- or three-bedroom) includes a floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace, as well as private deck and hot tub.

The main draw of the Pine Inn is as a place to relax and enjoy oneself after a long day out on the slopes. Luxury shops and high-end restaurants are just beyond the lifts, the complex itself has a heated, outdoor salt-water pool, exercise room, steam room, guest lounge and catering kitchen, and all of it is within easy walking distance.

Which is, unfortunately, the problem. All those people walking around made for liability issues, with residents and visitors sometimes slipping and falling on icy walkways. Last season Park City had more than 300-in. of snowfall (which is not atypical) so the building and operations team at Pine Inn know the savings on snow removal will eventually pay for the snowmelt system — but getting their lawsuit exposure under control was the compelling reason that sent them to Thermal Engineering.

“We have a network of contractors we like to deal with,” Frailey said, “and one of those turned us on the possibility of the project. We went and met with the owners and talked to them about their options.” The Pine Inn owners liked the final bid, and were impressed by the in-house engineering and detailed drawings Frailey was able to supply.

The work will in the coming weeks install 12,000-sq.ft. of snowmelt on the sidewalks, entries and landings of the complex. “We’ll probably have three full-time guys for two weeks, then bring on others,” Frailey said. “Every once in a while we’ll have all seven guys working at one time, laying tube.”

Frailey plans to go 9-in. on center instead of 12-in. on center for the PEX tubing lengths. “We’ve designed it with a little higher Btu/sq. ft.,” he said, “so they’ll get a quicker response time.” 90% of the projected snowmelt area will be under concrete, with a few areas slated to have pavers. The tubing he chose was Zurn PEX Performa radiant barrier tubing.

The system has been designed with three zones. Because the installation was not just a single, large continuous area, Frailey thought a zoned system would give the users better control and allow them to save energy by picking and choosing those areas that needed the most snowmelting power. The set-up will be run by a tekmar controller.

As for circulators, Frailey has yet to make up his mind. He knows he wants to use Grundfos circulators, but is still deciding which model. “We might use their floor-mounted Magna CR series,” Frailey said. “It has a lot better pump curve performance for this kind of application.”

The heart of the system will be a Crest Condensing Boiler from Lochinvar. Only recently debuted at ASHRAE, the boiler features up to 25:1 firing modulation, flexible flow rates up to 350 GPM and direct-vent flexibility up to 100-ft. “We liked the design of the heat exchanger,” Frailey said, “and it matched the load really well.”

The boiler will be installed in a new mechanical closet that is somewhat centrally located. “It’s [going to be in] an old laundry facility they had,” Frailey said. “There’s an old laundry chute that we’re actually going to use to get the main runs out.” While a tight fit, Frailey thinks with a little planning it should turn out tidy, neat, and with plenty of accessibility for all the system components.

The final tweaks and adjustments will, of course, have to wait until there is snow on the ground, and in Park City, it seems like Winter is always right around the corner.

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