8 Steps to Hydronic Heaven

June 1, 2005
Whether it's your first or 100th installation, you have the ultimate responsibility for system operation and performance when installing a residential

Whether it's your first or 100th installation, you have the ultimate responsibility for system operation and performance when installing a residential radiant floor-heating system.

Therefore, to ensure the success of your project, it's essential to:

1. Take control. The builder and flooring contractor likely won't possess the same level of education to understand hydronics as thoroughly as you do. They may even be resistant to the idea of a radiant floorheating system because it could present installation and scheduling issues that a forced-air HVAC system does not.

You shouldn't cede control to the local supply house or the homeowners either. Wholesalers may be helpful in providing design advice for radiant systems, but contractors should not become overly reliant on wholesalers' knowledge of the technology.

Similarly, confirm what homeowners tell you about a home's insulation, floor coverings, windows, and other design features.

2. Communicate. This critical step starts well before the installation stage, when the hydronic system designer meets with the homeowners. At that time, you can find out about the owners' wishes and expectations for their new heating system.

Learn what floor finishes the owners plan to have installed on top of the radiant heating systems. Ascertain whether pets in the house have a favorite spot on the floor. While many animals enjoy a warm floor, you may want to adjust the tubing layout to create a cooler spot where a dog or cat routinely sleeps.

During the same meeting, inform homeowners of radiant system enhancements such as zoning, setback controls, floor, wall and ceiling panels, and towel warmers.

3. Educate. Hydronic heating contractors must take the lead in educating homeowners, builders, flooring contractors, and other subcontractors on subjects such as the moisture allowances of different types of hardwood flooring and the effect that varying thicknesses of carpets and pads will have on a radiant system.

4. Establish the budget. Many customers with " beer budgets" have " champagne tastes." You must determine early in the process whether customers can afford a Maserati or a Yugo when it comes to their hydronic heating system.

Draw up a schedule for the work and let customers know when deposits are due. You must charge appropriately for the expertise you provide.

5. Establish trust. Always keep in mind what you're selling when you interact with customers.

It's you — not a product or products. Once you establish faith in your capabilities, price objections no longer are the first issue.

6. Do the math. Take the time to do an accurate heat-loss calculation. You will ultimately be responsible for the hydronic heating system meeting — or exceeding — customers' expectations.

Manufacturers typically have specific software programs for their hydronic equipment to help you perform this task.

7. Design the main control panel. Many contractors like to build their own control panels. These panels can be quite intricate and become the visual centerpiece of a hydronic radiant system.

Complex control panels can intimidate some homeowners, and be difficult to service.

Consider the more straightforward plug-and-play control panels now available from some hydronic heating equipment manufacturers. The nature of the heating system could determine what type of control panel to use.

8. Analyze. After gathering as much information as possible from the homeowners, builder, and other subcontractors, study the project as a whole. This information, along with accurate design and your own intuition will go a long way to ensure your customer's comfort.

This article is based on Dave Yates' presentation "Eight Steps to Hydronic Heaven," which he gave during the HVAC Comfortech RoadShow Series. Yates owns F.W. Behler Inc., York, PA, a contracting company that installs and services plumbing, hydronic heating and forced-air HVAC systems. He can be reached at 717/843-4920.