Outstanding Project Award - A Parade of Excellence

by Valerie Stakes, editorial coordinator/associate editor

Editors Note: Each year, we receive many Quality Home Comfort Awards entries featuring outstanding retrofit and new construction HVAC installations. The decision to choose the winners is always difficult, and this year was no exception.

One entry that particularly stumped our judges came from Southern Comfort Heating & Cooling, Richmond, VA.

Southern Comfort’s project involved the design and installation of a top-notch HVAC system in not only one, but in six homes, which were part of the American Lung Association of Virginia’s “Come Home to Health” program.

Although this project didn’t fit into any of the traditional categories, our judges felt it was exemplary and warranted recognition. For this reason, Southern Comfort has been awarded an Outstanding Project Award.

For years, Southern Comfort has been making many of Richmond’s residents breathe more easily. In fact, the company prides itself on its commitment to superior design, installation, and indoor air quality (IAQ) improvement.

For this reason, Southern Comfort was a natural fit for the American Lung Association of Virginia’s “Come Home to Health” program.

This joint project between five independent builders from the greater Richmond community and the American Lung Association of Virginia is modeled after a larger program sponsored by the National Association of Home Builders.

The organization recruited five prominent builders in the Richmond area to build six homes that would become participants in a parade of “Come Home to Health” homes. Each of the builders contributed money to the organization to help advertise the parade in the newspaper, and on radio and television.

“The goal was to educate the public on how to make informed decisions about indoor health and to show that IAQ could be affordable,” says Jim Satterfield, Southern Comfort’s sales engineer.

He adds that all the homes were built to showcase “improved building methods that enhance air quality, provide for energy efficiency, and use inert materials from renewable resources.”

In addition to recruiting “healthy home builders,” the American Lung Association of Virginia had aimed to recruit a variety of Richmond HVAC contractors to design and install the mechanical systems.

Southern Comfort was a logical choice to be one of those contractors, as the firm had handled the HVAC in other “Come Home to Health” homes in years past. They also designed and installed the mechanical system in the American Lung Association of Virginia’s headquarters (see CB, December 2001, pg. 84).

As it turned out, however, they were the only HVAC contractor.

“We were already working with four of the builders on similar projects,” Satterfield explains. “The fifth builder was familiar with our expertise and reputation, and we expressed our goal of entering this project in the Quality Home Comfort Awards. Fortunately, he also agreed to let us do the HVAC in the home he constructed for the ‘Come Home to Health’ program.”

A Wide Range of IAQ

Because the goal of the project was to make IAQ accessible to a wide range of potential homeowners, the HVAC systems in the six homes vary from simple to complex.

“We wanted to show home builders and owners alike that living in a healthier home environment is something we can all attain,” says Satterfield. “It can be as simple and inexpensive as eliminating wall-to-wall carpet and using low VOC paints and finishes, or more complex by installing state-of-the-art HVAC systems that guarantee the utmost in comfort and IAQ.”

He adds, “For this project, some of the HVAC systems were highly sophisticated. Others were less involved and had 10-SEER units with outside air ducts tied directly to the return system via a mixing box to provide ventilation air.”

Nevertheless, all homes feature sealed ductwork, mechanical ventilation, sealed crawl spaces, and radon mitigation. Room-by-room load calculations and commissioning were also done for each home. “The load analysis allowed us to size equipment correctly for comfort and humidity control, and size each of our runouts for proper air flow to each room,” Satterfield states.

Comfort & Control

Three of the “Come Home to Health” homes feature efficient systems providing improved indoor air quality for less than $6,000.

For example, one home has a 2.5-ton, 10-SEER outdoor unit with an 80% AFUE gas furnace. The ventilation is handled by an air exchanger that brings in around 50 cfm of outside air and exhausts the same amount of stale indoor air. In addition, the unit draws in untempered outside air, preheats it, and then exhausts the inside air.

Southern Comfort also installed a filter to clean the air and a damper to limit air from coming in at unwanted times.

At the other end of the spectrum, Southern Comfort installed systems in three of the larger, more expensive homes that include all the bells and whistles of high efficiency and superior IAQ.

One such system has a two-speed outdoor unit with a variable-speed indoor unit featuring a combined SEER rating of 14.5 and an HSPF of 8.40. At low speed, the system’s cooling capacity is 28,600 Btuh and its heating capacity is 20,800.

According to Satterfield, “This system will run at lower capacities when demand is low, making the system run for longer periods, with lower operating costs and sound levels.” He adds that during the summer, operating the system at a lower capacity helps remove moisture from the indoor air.

For additional comfort and control, Southern Comfort installed an automatic zoning system, with the home divided into five zones. “The zoning allows for changing conditions such as varying occupancy or temperature swings,” Satterfield says.

Also installed was a 120-cfm energy recovery ventilator (ERV), which draws stale, humid air out of the bathrooms and utility room, runs it through the desiccant wheel, then exhausts the air outdoors.

“The ERV keeps the inside air constantly renewed with fresh air: diluting and replacing it as the air becomes polluted with gases, moisture, and particles,” says Satterfield.

Controlling the ERV is a timer and a humidistat, and there are local remote controllers at each intake grille.

Although the ERV has it own filters, Southern Comfort opted to run the fresh air into the return side of a HEPA filter to further clean the air before it enters the home.

Satterfield adds that the HEPA filter has its own blower to overcome the high resistance to air movement caused by the filter. “Because the HEPA filter doesn’t filter all the air in one pass, additional filters were installed in each of the filter grilles to protect the equipment and prolong the life of the HEPA filters.”

The cost for this HVAC system was $18,221.

Happy, Healthy Homes

When the homes were complete, Southern Comfort had not only one, but five satisfied builders on their hands, along with the American Lung Association of Virginia. More than likely, the homeowners who will occupy the healthy homes will be equally pleased with their HVAC systems.

When asked about what set the Parade of Homes apart from their other projects, Satterfield replies, “The biggest challenge was to make each of the HVAC systems comply with the guidelines and still be within the budget of each of the builders involved. Having a great team at Southern Comfort made it all possible.”

It is this great teamwork, along with ingenuity, great design, and commitment to excellence, that has earned Southern Comfort Heating & Cooling an Outstanding Project Award.

The deadline for the 2003 Quality Home Comfort Awards is January 31, 2003. For more information or an application, contact Valerie Stakes at 216/931-9439 or e-mail [email protected].

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