We used to do general plumbing and a variety of HVAC work in southeast Pennsylvania. But over the past few years, we’ve transitioned to a sole focus on hydronic work.
Hydronic heating, and cooling for that matter is a truly universal form of space conditioning. What other medium has as much ability, and flexibility? I can heat your building, your spa, pool, your DHW, melt snow, create process water, and just about anything else. And I can do it with nearly any fuel source you can think of.
I got my start in the trades 25 years ago. Our recent move to all hydronic has been so deliberate that we’ve recently created two new brands, EcoDronics and Patriot Pool Heating Company.
EcoDronics is our ‘unconventional’ hydronic brand. Think greenhouses, snowmelt, etc. It’s different than general home comfort, so the new brand reflects that. Patriot Pool Heater Company does exactly what you’d think, but we accomplish that with condensing boilers instead of dedicated pool heating units.
The move into unique water-based heating applications doesn’t mean that we turn down “traditional” boiler projects. Last month, a nearby homeowner asked us to give a second opinion on a dying mechanical system.
Like our competition: we felt a complete system replacement was needed. The difference is how we came to that conclusion, and the results we could deliver throughout the home, not just the boiler room.
I make a point to spend a good deal of time asking what the customer wants in regard to the system as a whole. Where do they need improvement — noise, comfort, energy efficiency, control? Are there areas of the house that go unused? I need to know what the homeowner really wants so my team can deliver it.
This customer’s system was 25 years old, and it’s a wonder it lasted that long. Anything that could have been installed wrong, had been.
There was no primary/secondary piping, no air elimination, no feed valve, and the pump was on the return side of the boiler. Water returning to the cast iron boiler was too cool and the heat exchanger was condensing. The combustion chamber had collapsed, sections were leaking, the flue pipe was rotten, oil use cost well over $3,000 per year, and the home was horribly uncomfortable. Long piping runs and high head pressures created by strange piping were causing both condensation and comfort issues.
The house was zoned horizontally, right down the center, instead of being zoned upstairs and down. So, the upstairs was sweltering hot while downstairs occupants froze. The parents ran an electric space heater in their downstairs bedroom so that the kids upstairs wouldn’t sweat all night.
When the first contractor visited the home, they condemned the boiler but had no interest in addressing the comfort issues, or how the fin-tube radiation had been piped.
My apprentice and I had a combined 16 hours into analyzing and diagnosing all the issues with the project before we gave a bid. First, we performed a Manual J and an EDR (equivalent direct radiation). An EDR calculation determines the amount of radiation in a system. This standard method to determine replacement steam boiler sizing helps on any hydronic retrofit.
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