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HVAC System Savior

HVAC System Savior

Into everyone's life a little rain must fall. However, just as "April showers bring May flowers," sometimes going through difficult times can make one appreciate good times all the more.

That's what often happens for homeowners who work with Jim Patterson and his sons, who collectively comprise Orchard Valley Heating and Cooling in Southampton, MA. As the company's nine Quality Home Comfort Awards over the years attest, Patterson knows his stuff when it comes to designing and installing superior quality home comfort systems.

What Patterson didn't anticipate, however, was that a number of those awards — and a good percentage of his company's overall work — comes from being called in to consult on and redo poorly performing existing HVAC systems.

"Two out of the last four Quality Home Comfort Awards I've won have been the same scenario: I come in as the re-do guy, charged with tearing out everything another contractor started, and making it right," Patterson says. "It's such a trend that last year I sat down to look at where the majority of my work is coming from right now, and found that it's mostly going back and re-doing stuff that's either brand new, in process, or just a few years old."

That was the case again this year for homeowners Steve and Lori Flint, who were disheartened by the performance of the geothermal system they had had installed just a few years ago in their 4,000 sq.ft., country cape style home located in the Berkshire foothills of Massachusetts.

The homeowners wanted a geothermal system to reduce the demand on their fossil fuel (oil) system in the home. Their old hydro-air system also struggled in the cooling mode and needed improvements to augment comfort in the summer. However, according to Patterson, the contractor who had originally designed and installed the Flints' "dream" geothermal system didn't perform the necessary heat loss calculations, and the system didn’t work properly. Comfort was lacking, despite electric bills in the neighborhood of $1,000/month.

The Flints knew of Patterson because two of their neighbors, Rick and Ginger Scott and Caleb Harris and Lynn Scott had hired him – for projects that also ended up earning Quality Home Comfort Awards in 2009 and 2007, respectively.

After meeting with the Flints, Patterson got busy. He removed the original contractor's system and undertook a proper installation, following a Wrightsoft-generated heat loss/gain calculation and duct design. The new geothermal system is 8 tons, with 3 tons in the home's west sing and 5 tons in the bedroom office wing. The west wing's duct system, which had barely moved 1.5 tons, was totally resized and replaced. Added were a 3-ton and a 5-ton Carrier Infinity Air Handler and a Climate Master Tranquility 27 heat pump. Both systems feature Aprilaire 400 humidifiers, Sanuvox 1700 ultraviolet light systems, and Carrier Infinity air purifiers.

Design Driven by Comfort
"Comfort was really the driver behind this design," Patterson says. "This is a fairly large home with varying levels and exposures, each complicating the comfort requirements. To their credit, despite their bad experience the Flints wanted to stay with their dream of geothermal comfort and the redesign made that happen. It also made them more aware of the varying abilities of contractors and what's needed for a successful design."

Salvaged from the original system was the geothermal horizontal exterior loop system. "Although it was undersized, we managed to redesign the system so that we're carrying the extremes of the system on the heating end," Patterson explains. The old oil-fired boiler was also retained, to provide back-up heat during extremely frigid winter days. "We saved the looping and the boiler, but everything else inside the house was removed, including the ductwork. It was basically a 100% do-over on the inside. Everything that could have been wrong was wrong."

The good news is that the more the homeowners learned from Patterson, the more they became determined to do things right.

"The Flints went with the highest equipment coefficients of performance (COPs) they could get, variable speed, basically top quality everything," Patterson says. "This is a great story in looking at where the homeowners are right now compared to what a poor situation it was when I got involved. They were really committed to the geothermal and they were so disheartened when it didn't work the way it should. Now it's quiet, comfortable, and efficient. It's operating the way they dreamed."

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Start-up and balancing of the system went smoothly.

"One of the reasons I pay such a great deal of attention to duct design is that properly sized and installed systems are very easy to balance," Patterson says. "The zoning also helps areas needing more conditioning as the satisfied zones shut down and the system focuses only on the areas calling for heating or cooling. I'm a big advocate of zoning systems as they 'self-balance' to a point."

A Silver Lining
Patterson admits that he can sometimes find the quality of some other contractors' work a little bit dismaying, especially now that his sons are entering the trade.

"The lack of workmanship and quality can be a little discouraging," he says. "You try to show the kids coming in to the trade what not to do, and yet, just about every job you go on holds a lesson in what guys shouldn't be doing, especially when it comes to the engineering of the duct design. It's tough to see homeowners spending good money the first time, then having to spend again a second time."

However, he's happy to continue to win Quality Home Comfort Awards by making right what was wrong, and making homeowners such as the Flints happy. And the referrals gained from doing outstanding "system savior" work in a small community such as the Southampton area are priceless.

Always one to look out for others, Patterson does have a concern related to his numerous Quality Home Comfort Awards: the well-being of Tim Ryan, the photographer who travels to take the beautiful shots that grace the pages of the Quality Home Comfort Awards.

"The last three times Tim has been here, it's been for homes on the same street within about a quarter mile of each other," Patterson laughs. "It's a beautiful town, but I think Tim's getting tired of coming up and always visiting the same neighborhood."


  • 2 ClimateMaster Tranquility two-stage geothermal heat pumps (3, 5 tons)
  • 2 Carrier Infinity variable speed air handlers (3, 5 tons)
  • 2 Carrier Infinity air purifiers
  • Carrier Infinity Controls
  • 2 Sanuvox 1700 UV systems
  • 2 Aprilaire 400 humidifiers
  • Carrier Infinity zone control system
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