The Rocket Science of Home Heating
by Lori Williams
Hydronic specialist Pete Savage, of Salt Lake City-based All Hours Plumbing, Heating & Cooling, should have been a rocket scientist. When others in the industry told him to run the other way and not look back on a non-functioning, complicated, ineffective, over-engineered heating/cooling system in a 12,000-square-foot house that quite possibly only an aerospace engineer could figure out, he jumped in with both feet to tackle the problem head-on. But we’re getting ahead of the story.
Last year, All Hours Plumbing, Heating & Cooling and its sister company, Uintah Fireplace, began a plumbing, HVAC, and fireplace upgrade on a 12-year-old home in the Meadows area of Park City, not only to integrate energy-efficient systems, but also for necessary repairs.
Immediate action for Savage and his team involved replacing the two original water heaters, only one of which was working, with two new 40-gallon tanks and a recirculation pump. A water softening system was also non-functioning, so they installed a state-of-the-art water conditioning system with high-efficiency resin, all but essential as Utah is one of six states with untreated ground water that is some of the hardest in the U.S. Additionally, they replaced numerous corroded faucets with new designs, repaired and replaced several toilets, and installed new inner cartridges and gaskets in four showers. Most all of the repairs were due to scale and mineral buildup.
Discussions with the homeowner then shifted to the HVAC radiant heat system. The previous owner, a mechanical engineer by trade, had engineered the system himself when the home was built and not much information existed for instructional use. No one knew how to switch the manual system back and forth from heat to cool. It was as complicated as, well, a space rocket. The radiant heat system had only two water-to-water heat exchangers utilizing geothermal water from 11 U-shaped High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) loops underground, containing 1,100 gallons of highly toxic and flammable methanol as antifreeze. One unit had failed, leaving the other as the sole heat source with no backup. It was over-engineered, inefficient, and user-unfriendly.
“I called some rep companies I work with and they said they wouldn’t even touch this system; it was too complicated. That actually motivated me. I’m not one to run from a challenge.”
––Pete Savage, All Hours Plumbing, Heating & Cooling, Salt Lake City
“I called some rep companies I work with and they said they wouldn’t even touch this system; it was too complicated,” Savage explains. “That actually motivated me. I’m not one to run from a challenge.” Savage found another industry rep more familiar with controls to help him with the system design. Together they integrated Tekmar, one of the best and most flexible control systems in the hydronic radiant floor heating industry. Their plan was to reduce the number of pumps, remove the non-working heat pump unit, and install a 96% high-efficiency boiler for backup heat. They would utilize the 400 feet of existing geothermal loops by flushing out and disposing of the toxic flammable methanol, replacing it with a food-grade non-toxic, non-flammable propylene glycol. All of the upgrades were performed in an environmentally responsible method.
Explains Savage, “To do this we had to rework the pipes in the mechanical room to allow for the new boiler and storage tank, simplify the pumping manifold, add an injection pump system and zone switching valves, reorganize all wiring, and add Tekmar pump/system controls and communicating thermostats in all 20 zones, all of which tied back to a main control with an internet gateway for remote access using a smart device interface.” Whereas before, the manual system was a bit of instructional mystery, now it was completely operational with a few buttons on a smartphone.
Tekmar monitors the radiant cooling system carefully to keep the temperature of fluid going out to the floor slightly higher than the current dewpoint to prevent condensation under the floors, inhibiting mold on floors or walls. The cooling system actually cools the floors instead of just the air. By running cold water through the pipe work under the floor in 9 out of 20 zones in the home, it actually gives the feeling of being in a comfortably cool cave. Welcome to high-tech HVAC engineering. It feels like a hot minute since the first electric furnace came out 160 years ago, as we now see technology racing to new levels of fully automated, highly intelligent heating systems with the ever-growing demand for energy-efficient solutions.
“We had to rework the pipes in the mechanical room to allow for the new boiler and storage tank, simplify the pumping manifold, add an injection pump system and zone switching valves, reorganize all wiring, and add Tekmar pump/system controls and communicating thermostats in all 20 zones, all of which tied back to a main control with an internet gateway for remote access using a smart device interface.”
–Pete Savage, All Hours Plumbing, Heating & Cooling, Salt Lake City
But Savage wasn’t finished. During the process of the HVAC upgrade, the homeowner was also remodeling his wine room and wanted a 55-degree ambient temperature in that room with 70% humidity year-round to keep the corks moist. Savage incorporated an independent refrigeration system designed specifically for wine rooms. Typically, a system can either run heat or cool at one time, but in this design a steam humidifier was added into the existing air handler to add the necessary humidity to the room, all controlled by the Tekmar platform.
Interior designer Carrie Delany, of Carrie Delany Interiors, worked with the homeowner throughout the upgrade process. “To design a beautiful home is one thing, but if all the mechanical components haven’t been maintained and aren’t working properly, it’s all for naught,” says Delany. The team at All Hours Plumbing, Heating & Cooling was able to successfully give the customer a simplified, effective, dependable, and safe heating/cooling system that kept their beautiful home comfortable. That’s all in a day’s work for All Hours.
“To design a beautiful home is one thing, but if all themechanical components haven’t been maintained and aren’t working properly, it’s all for naught.”
–Carrie Delany, Carrie Delany Interiors
Continuing with the upgrade in efficiency and convenience, Uintah Fireplace, All Hours Plumbing Heating, & Coolings’ sister company of two years, converted three wood-burning fireplaces to gas using ceramic logs, eliminating the need to chop, store, or haul wood, tend a fire, or clean up ashes. In addition, the home already had a log lighter in the master bedroom fireplace, and it was serviced and upgraded to a remote system. With all electronic ignition systems installed, the homeowner was now afforded the ambiance and warmth of a roaring fire within seconds of the press of a button or flip of a switch, all with less environmental impact.”
All Hours and Uintah pride themselves on their honest work practices, providing the absolute highest quality comprehensive plumbing, HVAC, and fireplace services for residential and commercial projects throughout Salt Lake City and Park City. They won’t over or under bid, and will even talk you out of an expense you thought you needed, taking the time to teach you why. Meadows’ homeowner Arnold Goldberg attests, “Over the years, both Uintah Fireplace and All Hours Plumbing, Heating & Cooling have done a wonderful job when servicing our home. They are always professional and provide quality work. I’ve built a great relationship with them, especially Pete Savage, their Hydronic Department Manager. I know I can trust my home in their hands.”
“Over the years, both Uintah Fireplace and All Hours Plumbing, Heating & Cooling have done a wonderful job when servicing our home. They are always professional and provide quality work.”
––Arnold Goldberg, Meadows’ homeowner