Quality Erupts In Ohio

July 1, 2007

It's the dawn of civilization. We pan through the mists of time to ancient days where vacation villas, public baths, and sport amphitheaters, built in the Roman style, clutter the feet of mighty Mount Vesuvius. Pompeii. The jewel of ancient Italy. A city known for the quality of its citizens' lifestyles. Public water works, heated floors, the finest in comfort and beauty. Pompeii and its sister city, Herculaneum, were the epitome of quality, class, and style. Yet within a moment, with a loud belch erupting from Vesuvius, the two cities disappear from the human landscape for more than 1,600 years.

Fast forward to the present, to a Western suburb in Cleveland, OH, and another jewel arises. Not from the ashes of ancient Rome, but from the depths of an ancient art known as quality customer service. This jewel isn't a city or an historical entity. It is Pompeii Plumbing and Heating, a $4 million residential/light commercial contracting firm based in Avon, OH. Henry Sterling, comfort manager for the 26-year-old company, is no stranger to the world of quality HVAC, having owned his own contracting company (which was featured on the cover of Contracting Business in June 2001). When he sold his company to Matt Pompeii, he became part of a solid team that was known mostly for its excellent plumbing work. Today the company specializes in both HVAC and plumbing work and, according to owner Matt Pompeii, "We like working on challenging projects."

Slightly more than a year ago, such a project presented itself. Just down the road from the Pompeii headquarters resides another company well known to the readers of Contracting Business – The National Comfort Institute (NCI). The president, Dominick Guarino, and his family were in the market for a new home and came upon one that caught their fancy. The house they found was a century home that had been sitting empty for two years and required much work to make it habitable.

While the property has a country setting, it's actually located in the heart of the city of Avon Lake, just about 20 miles from Cleveland. The home is a unique design resembling a modified colonial with a two-story foyer and a number of unique architectural features including a 24-ft. tall great room open to a 14-ft. tall, 750 sq. ft. loft. The house has five bedrooms and 31/2 baths. It features a 500-sq. ft. first floor master suite containing a 170-sq. ft. master bath with ceramic tile floors and walls, and includes an oversized hydrotherapy spa tub, marble counter tops, and a 40 sq.ft. walk-in steam shower with six shower heads and granite seating area.

Among the many custom amenities is a 900 sq. ft. gourmet custom kitchen with granite counter tops, solid wood floors, and a custom ventilation system.

At the outset, the house was, in Guarino's opinion, in terrible shape. So the family made the decision to "reconstruct" it. The only original areas left on the house were part of the roof and several walls. The plan: tear out the entire existing mechanical systems, rip down the bad walls and roof sections, and literally re-frame and rebuild on the same foundations. In the strictest sense, this was not a new construction job, but a large scale renovation. However, there isn't a single wire, duct, or pipe in the house that is original (which is why this project was entered into the Quality Home Comfort Awards program as a new construction project).

Guarino says the existing mechanical system was a 15-year-old gas-fired furnace that hadn't been installed correctly. Guarino guesses that the house originally might have had a gravity furnace, and when the homeowner upgraded it he chose to run the ducts himself.

Some of the duct was actually looped, and had little propellers in the grilles in the basement that were apparently installed to prove that air was coming out.

There were also aluminum pie plates surrounding the flue. These were the previous homeowner's attempt at heat recovery for heating the basement.

So the house was gutted. The ceilings on the second floor were lifted, and all the original joists were removed. Parts of the house were torn down and rebuilt, and a twostory addition was added to the footprint.

Obviously, the existing mechanical system was torn out and disposed of. That is where Henry Sterling and Pompeii Plumbing and Heating enter the picture. Sterling has been in the HVAC industry for 20 years and is a strong believer in training and education. In fact, Sterling is NCI-certified in air diagnostics and air balancing, as well as in carbon monoxide and combustion analysis. He also holds certifications in refrigerant handling and other HVAC functions. That's where the connection to Guarino comes from — he was one of Sterling's teachers at NCI training over the years.

Guarino acted as his own general contractor and hired Pompeii Plumbing and Heating as his HVAC and plumbing contractor.

The new mechanical system
The re-constructed home became a 5,000 sq. ft. center-hall colonial with high ceilings in key areas, an office, and a commercial kitchen.

"The master bedroom has 14-ft ceilings," Guarino says, "And the family room soars up to 25 ft. We wanted an open feeling to the house."

After re-construction, the house is now conditioned by two dual-fuel 95% efficient Amana high efficiency furnaces and two 14 SEER heat pumps. The control systems are made up of state-of-the-art Arzel Heat Pump Pro panels with six Honeywell VisionPro and FocusPro programmable thermostats.

Accessories include two Honeywell energy recovery ventilators (ERVs), two Honeywell humidifiers, and 4-in. Amana media air cleaners with provisions to add advanced air cleaners later. The basement is set up as a separate zone and features a Therma-stor dehumidification system that keeps the basement at a comfortable relative humidity of 50% or less. There is a radiant floor heating system in the master bath.

In addition, Pompeii designed and installed a complete kitchen exhaust and conditioned make-up air system using a Fantech fan and duct heater.

Some unique components of the zoning system include a dampered return to the great room that allows additional return air to be pulled from the open second story loft when the loft zone is calling for heating or cooling. This virtually eliminates stratification and hot or cold spots in the spaces at the top of the high ceilings.

"Energy efficiency was important to the Guarinos," Sterling says. "But so was control. That's why we opted for the Arzel zoning system. It plays a key role in resolving both air stratification and comfort/efficiency issues."

Sterling adds that the costs for the comfort system was around $55,000, or roughly 10% of the total construction cost. The costs included the installation of two completely new hard-ducted HVAC systems with full sheet metal ducting for both supplies and returns in the basement and throughout the home. Only short flex duct sections connected with hard ducting were used in the attic distribution system, mainly for air noise attenuation. The entire system was fully sealed using mastic.

Attic ducts in conditioned space were insulated using bubble-type reflective duct wrap. Ducts running through garage ceiling and walls were sealed with mastic and encapsulated in several inches of Icynene foam insulation. All registers and grilles are high-end bar-type grilles.

The entire HVAC system was tested and balanced — in fact, five individual balancing reports were submitted. "Even with the best system design, adjusting and balancing is necessary to deliver optimum system efficiency," says Guarino. Once the system was balanced, it delivered 97% of its rated Btus.

"The insulation plays a significant role in the energy efficiency of our house," Guarino says. Combined with proper system design and installation, we're saving a lot of money on our energy bills."

Icynene foam insulation
One of the homeowner's requirements was an insulation system that would truly minimize both radiant and infiltration losses. After carefully researching numerous insulation options, Icynene foam was chosen for the following reasons:
• In addition to phenomenal insulation properties, Icynene foam professionally sprayed onto all wall and ceiling cavities, thoroughly seals the spaces within those cavities. Because of these properties, there is virtually no infiltration or air movement within the wall spaces.
• Typical fiberglass or blown-in insulation allows significant air movement and convective loops within the wall cavities, wasting a significant amount of energy. With traditional insulation, outside wall temperatures also experience wider swings, which, in turn, radiate these swings to the interior spaces. The foaminsulated walls maintain steady temperatures with minimal differential from the interior radiant temperatures, resulting in extremely comfortable rooms.
• By creating cathedral-like attics within the envelope, all ductwork is 100% inside of the thermal envelope. During extreme summer and winter conditions, these spaces were never more than a few degrees warmer or cooler than inside temperatures. The ducts in these spaces were mastic sealed and insulated with bubble duct wrap to reduce duct losses even further.

The end result: Guarino's highest winter utility bill was a mere $200 – about half of the energy bill of what a new 5,000 sq. ft. house would normally cost.

Knowledgeable vs. unknowledgeable customers
"The beauty of a project like this is that when you approach it as a team and you keep communications open and meet regularly, the problems that inadvertently pop up are easily handled and the end result is something everyone can be proud of," Guarino says.

From Matt Pompeii and Henry Sterling's viewpoint, the pressure for this particular project was a bit higher than normal, just because of who the client was.

"Talk about pressure," Sterling says. "Can you think of a more discriminating homeowner? This homeowner was keenly aware of what we were doing every step of the way, and was very involved in the requirements and specification of every aspect of the home and in particular the mechanical systems. He had very high expectations of comfort and control, wanting to create one of the most comfortable and efficient homes in the country.

"While there were no health issues, Guarino was very specific about maintaining the home at exacting temperatures, regardless of outdoor conditions. He also had very high expectations of safety, indoor air quality, ventilation, and pressure balance within the home."

In the end, Sterling and Guarino agree that Pompeii met all the original requirements, and a few additional ones, as the project grew and developed. The home features an amazing degree of temperature control. Sterling says they measured temperatures in every area during extreme weather conditions and found virtually every square foot stayed within less than 1F of thermostat settings. Year-round humidity levels are also maintained with exacting accuracy.

According to Guarino, a contractor's professionalism can really shine when working with a demanding and knowledgeable customer. Sterling adds that Pompeii specializes in working with educated and demanding customers. "We thrive on it. It makes work challenging and fun. In this case, the pressure was really on because of who the customer is and what he does in this industry.

"If you have an educated customer," concludes Matt Pompeii, "it's amazing what you can accomplish together. If we can teach homeowners about comfort and show them their options, the project goes much better. Make them demanding customers by convincing them that their HVAC system can match the luxury of the home they are building. That is what many contractors miss. And that is what knowledgeable consumer crave."

Pompeii Plumbing & Heating is no ancient Roman artifact. It is a jewel of modern contracting, used proudly by customers like the Guarinos, and it erupts often, pouring quality into every project it is involved in.

Equipment List

West System (Bedroom areas and basement):

  • Amana 95% AFUE furnace model AMV90905DXA - variable speed – 90,000 Btus
  • Amana 14 SEER heat pump model RHF30C2C - 21/2 ton
  • Amana coil model CAPF049D2C
  • Honeywell ERV model ERI 50C
  • Honeywell Enviracare Elite humidifier model HE365A1006
  • 2 Honeywell Vision Pro model TH8320 programmable thermostats
  • 2 Honeywell FocusPro model TH6220D programmable thermostats
  • Arzel 4-zone Heat Pump Pro zoning system with pneumatic dampers
  • Arzel ModuPass modulating bypass damper
  • Field Controls Model MAS-1 barometric make-up air system w
  • Thermastor Model Santa Fe high efficiency dehumidifier
  • Amana AMU 2025 4-in. high efficiency air cleaner
  • Warm Tiles radiant floor heating system with programmable thermostat in master bath
  • Air Guide brushed aluminum bar-type supply registers and returns
  • 4 - Panasonic FV-O8VQL4 bathroom exhaust fans

East System (Kitchen/Family Room/Loft):

  • Amana 95% AFUE furnace model AMV90704CXA - variable speed – 70,000 Btus
  • Amana 14 SEER heat pump model RHF30C2C - 2 ton
  • Amana coil model CAPF036
  • Honeywell ERV model ERI 50C
  • Honeywell Enviracare Elite humidifier model HE365A1006
  • 2 Honeywell Vision Pro model TH8320 programmable thermostats
  • Arzel 2-zone Heat Pump Pro zoning system with pneumatic dampers
  • Field Controls Model MAS1 barometric make-up air system
  • Amana AMU 1 620 4-in. high efficiency air cleaner
  • Air Guide brushed aluminum bar-type supply registers and returns in floors —painted aluminum in ceilings

Custom Kitchen Exhaust System included:

  • Modernaire Model PSI 630 stainless steel kitchen hood with 1,000 CFM fan
  • Fantech FKDI 2XL variable speed make-up air fan
  • ThermolecType FC thermostatic and pressure controlled electric resistance duct heater.

Photography by Tim Ryan, Cleveland, OH