Blending Just The Right Elements Of Comfort

Blending Just The Right Elements Of Comfort

Homeowners Caleb Harris and Lynn Scott learned about radiant heat from watching This Old House.

Harris and Scott's 3,506-sq. ft. home sits on the edge of the Berkshire mountains.

Jim patterson installed 2,100-sq. ft. of radiant floor heating.

The mechanical room contains a super-efficient, modulating gas boiler and indirect water heater.

Jim patterson made sure to address his four factors of comfort: temperature, humdification, dehumidification, and air quality.


Perched on the edge of the Berkshire mountains in western New England, Caleb Harris and his wife, Lynn Scott, built their traditional Cape-style home. The location makes for some magnificent and peaceful scenic views. However, the cold New England winters make it difficult to heat the home with a traditional forced-air system.

"We feel like we got the house we wanted. It was built exactly to our specifications," says Harris. "Sometimes general contractors are more concerned with speed and making decisions quickly, but we wanted to take it slow and do it right."

Although he's never acted as general contractor before, Harris was savvy enough to know what he wanted in an HVAC system — and how to do his homework.

"Lynn and I often watch This Old House, and we subscribe to This Old House magazine," Harris says. "They feature radiant heat quite a bit on the show and in the magazine, so we decided to learn as much as we could about it."

Harris read articles in magazines and on the Internet, and was convinced that a radiant heating system was going to be the way to go for the new home. But, why?

"Mainly the comfort factor," Harris says. "Because we were coming from a home with a hot-air system — our old home was not well-built, it didn't have good windows or good insulation — in cold, New England winters, it would be coming on and off constantly and blowing around dust.

"The idea of radiant being just a nice warm heat, without all that blowing air all the time — that really appealed to us," Harris says. "It was health and comfort that led us to get a better system."

With a base of knowledge in place, Harris was ready to select someone who could design and install the system he desired. In speaking with a plumber, Harris asked if there was anyone he'd recommend for this job.

What Harris received was a referral that was much better than he could have hoped for — the plumber gave him the name of Jim Patterson, Orchard Valley Heating and Cooling, Southampton, MA.

Patterson, who picked up his fifth Quality Home Comfort Award last year after he was recommended by a plumber to put a system in a log home, met with Harris and Scott and did what he does best: impress them with his knowledge and expertise.

"We had researched radiant heat, and I'd read about it," Harris says. "I picked Jim because he seemed the most knowledgeable about it. He even gave us some additional articles to read about radiant systems.

"I knew about the general concepts, but Jim had some specific concepts he shared with us," Harris adds.

However, Patterson admits he wasn't the first choice for the job.

"I actually didn't get the job the first time around because my price was higher than a competitor," Patterson says. "But, after that company raised its price on the garage radiant installation, the homeowners saw it as a sign of issues to come and released them."

So, Harris and Scott brought back Patterson — a move that has won the one-man shop in Orchard Valley its sixth Quality Home Comfort Award.

Complex, yet simple solution
Patterson sat down with Harris and Scott, and helped them design a complex HVAC system that blends several different types of systems into one.

"The second floor and office feature radiant wall panels, with room by-room zone control using nonelectric valves," Patterson says. "The first floor features four zones of staple-down radiant floor heating, along with a zone of radiant in the garage."

"It's a more complicated system than a traditional hot-air system, and more expensive too," Harris says. "So, we had to really go through it and find out how it worked and why we were spending the money, and whether it was worthwhile."

The use of staple-down radiant floors is just one of the unique features Patterson presented that sold the homeowners on his design.

"Using the panels in the floors, rather than a staple-up approach, makes the system much more efficient than just stapling the tubing to the bottom of the floor, in the basement," Harris says. "Stapledown is worth the money spent to get a much more efficient, even heat.

"Particularly with tile floor," Harris continues. "It can be -10F outside and you can walk around your house in bare feet and be comfortable."

From complex to more complex
In addition to the radiant zones, Patterson used three zones of conditioned air, using a Trane variable speed air system with a Trane zoning system. The air system also features a Sanuvox Ultraviolet light air purification system and Venmar Duo fresh air exchange system.

"We wanted to have central air conditioning, too," Harris says, "so Jim coupled the ventilation of the air exchanger with the air conditioning — we don't have any redundant piping. Doing it all as one big system has its advantages."

Coming up with an efficient zoning system was a key design element Patterson felt needed to be top priority. A firm believer in zoning, he wanted to make sure Harris and Scott were comfortable in every part of their home.

"(Harris and Scott) wanted a quiet system, with no noisy ducts," Patterson says. "Zoning and balanced comfort were also two major design criteria."

A Trane XL19i two-stage exterior AC system serves all of the home's air conditioning needs, and a Trane CleanEffects filtration system keeps the air clean and healthy.

"This project was a great example of a solid design that addresses the four factors of comfort: temperature, humidification, dehumidification, and air quality," Patterson says. "I spend a great deal of time educating clients on this theory of design, and why I blend the systems and components together the way I do."

Above and beyond
"One thing Jim really emphasized was insulating the house well — making sure it was really tight to the weather, using good insulation," Harris says.

The way a house with radiant heat is insulated becomes critical, because the tubing is in the floors, so the heat must be forced upward for maximum comfort. Keeping the heat in the home is another factor to consider.

Patterson introduced Harris and Scott to the idea of having a well-sealed home, and the benefits of good insulation. He also introduced them to a spray foam called Icynene.

"That is the best insulating system you can use, and it makes a big difference with radiant heat," Harris says. "It helps keep the house evenly cooled and evenly heated."

Throughout the entire process, Patterson was there for the homeowners to turn to with any questions they might have.

"He helped us well-beyond the HVAC system," Harris says. "He understands the home construction process, and what works well.

"I'd never built a house before, and here I was acting as general contractor," he continues. "We were learning as we went along on some things. That's part of the reason why I picked Jim, because he understood the whole construction process and was a great help to us on many aspects."

The ultimate compliment
"We're really satisfied with the system. It came out really nice," Harris says. "Jim's tremendous about following up. He came out here on four to five occasions to work on a small problem we were having, until we figured it out. He backs up his work."

Sure, Harris says he's happy with Patterson's work and the overall performance of the system. But, saying that is one thing, to really prove it, Harris would have to refer Patterson to someone else.

"My brother-in-law is building his house next door," Harris says, "and he's going to use Jim as his contractor as well."

Looks like Patterson is well on his way to perhaps his next Quality Home Comfort Award.

Equipment list
  • trane twe037 vairable speed air handler trane integrated zone system
  • trane 3-ton xl19i two-stage air conditioner venmar duo 1.9 ventilation system sanuvox 3500
  • Uv system
  • trane cleaneffects air purifier
  • Fantech bath exhaust system
  • viega radiant system
  • climate panel floor plates
  • tekmar tn4 radiant control system
  • and thermostats
  • weil-Mclain Ultra 155 gas boiler and 79-gal. Ultra indirect water heater caleffi hydraulic separator
  • Grundfos circulators

Photography by Tim Ryan, Cleveland, OH

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