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A Perfect '10'

A Perfect '10'


Super-insulated homes can present a unique set of challenges for HVAC contractors. But the home of Paul Collins in Sheffield, MA, boasts a comfort system tuned and tailored to its specific needs, thanks to Jim Patterson and Orchard Valley Heating and Cooling. The home netted Patterson his 10th Contracting Business Quality Home Comfort Award.

Orchard Valley Heating and Cooling may be the quintessential high-quality one-man shop. Patterson specializes in Design/Build projects for residential new construction and renovations. His specialties include radiant heating, solar, geothermal, variable-speed ducted air systems, indoor air quality (IAQ) services, and indoor pool environment systems.

Patterson performs all of the design work for Orchard Valley's systems, and until recently also performed the installation and set-up of every system. However — in the truest example of organic growth — Patterson's two sons, Brian and Matt, have begun assisting in the installation and start-up work. Brian recently completed his two-year degree in HVAC at Springfield (MA) Technical Community College, and Matt is finishing his first year.

The 1,935 sq.ft. home is not the biggest house on the block, but it serves admirably as a "home away from home" for Collins, who lives in London but visits family in Massachusetts often. It's small but packed with energy-efficiency technology.

"Practically everything you can do from an energy efficiency standpoint was done with this house, and Jim combined it all in a very effective way," says builder John Cromwell, who has known Collins for 35 years and served as his representative on this project (as well as several others over the years).

"Mr. Collins always wants us to do the best possible job, and he's also very interested in building responsibly and trying out innovative ideas." Cromwell says. "This house is so efficient that we received a five-star rating on it from Energy Star, and a Home Efficiency Rating System (HERS) rating of 44."

The home features 8-in. double-framed walls with Icynene foam shell. The double-framed walls eliminate thermal bridging. The comfort system includes a Carrier 19 SEER Infinity heat pump mated to a variable-speed air handler. The home's three zones are controlled by an Infinity zone control system.

All ducting is mastic-sealed and insulated to R-8. Ventilation and bath exhaust is provided by a Lifebreath total recovery ventilator that features both aluminum and desiccant cores to ensure good cold-climate performance. The IAQ is enhanced by a Trion Air Bear filter, Atmosair bi-polar ionization system, and an Aprilaire 400 humidifier.

Back-up heating and domestic hot weather is provided by a Navien modulating/condensing on-demand gas unit with a Navien heating box.

The basement slab is used as a heat dump for the solar heating system, which compliments the low energy use of the home and enhances comfort and IAQ.

"This home presented a wonderful opportunity to combine many facets of modern home comfort into one package," Patterson says. "Plus, my working relationship with the builder and the architect, Alan Clark, has spanned the past decade. My first Quality Home Comfort Award, in 1999, was for a home that included both John and Alan. Their projects always include stellar clients and unbelievable quality. They're a great pair to be matched up with."

Renewable energy was a driving force behind the design. "Mr. Collins was very happy to learn that this house would save an estimated $3,000 per year in energy usage compared to standard construction," Cromwell says. "And it's not that big of a house."

The combination of efficiency and comfort provided by air-source heat pump heating and cooling combined with the Carrier forced-air and zoning systems drew particularly high marks from Patterson. "In addition, the Navien system used on this project is a great fit for solar thermal," he says. "It only heats the domestic hot water by the delta-T required, ensuring the least possible amount of fossil fuel consumption."

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As usual, thanks to Patterson's attention to proper duct sizing and design, system start-up and balancing went smoothly.

Patterson admits that working with homes that have minimal heat loss and heat gain characteristics can be a challenge. He says he has had excellent success in such cases with variable-speed technology and multi-stage equipment. Not only does such equipment provide exceptional efficiency ratings, but the load matching ability of the staging keeps the temperature change in the dwelling gradual, enhancing the occupants’ sense of comfort.

"Single-stage, single-speed equipment is sized for the worst day of the weather year, and is over-conditioning every other minute of the year," Patterson says. "This can lead to overly rapid temperature changes and perceptible drafts, chills, or hot spots. I'm a big fan of slow and steady winning the race. I want my clients to see the quality I build into their system, but not necessarily to be aware of the system when it's actually working."

Duct sizing plays a huge part in Patterson's success over the years, especially in systems with zoning. He says he has been drawn into many projects as a consultant, and one of the biggest issues that stands out every time is duct design: almost every system is undersized or features too much restrictive ducting.

"I equate this to my clients as trying to run a marathon using a straw to breathe through. It's not going to work well for very long," Patterson says. He adds that a slide rule is never far from his grasp. "Showing someone the simple math behind a design is a real eye-opener," he says. "I take this part of every project very seriously. This is the foundation of every ducted home comfort system and you need to know your stuff."

In taking on this challenging project, not only did Patterson net another Quality Home Comfort Award for Orchard Valley Heating and Cooling, he also continued to build his reputation and make his partners and customers extremely happy.

"Jim is very professional and keeps up-to-date on the latest equipment and advances of his trade," Cromwell says. "No matter what questions or challenges you have for him, he comes up with very good, very intelligent answers and solutions.

"I've been in this business for 35 years and used a lot of contractors, but I seek out and use Jim whenever possible," Cromwell adds. There are other good contractors out there, but he really stands out. Not only that, but Mr. Collins is very pleased with the whole dynamic. He likes us all personally, and he's tickled pink by the work." Patterson says he's pleased to offer customers some of the highest quality comfort systems imaginable, but he keeps it all in perspective.

"I have been very fortunate throughout my HVAC career that my designs have gained recognition and fueled the growth of Orchard Valley Heating and Cooling," he says. "It's especially important now that my sons are entering the trade and able to appreciate these accomplishments. They've always seen a tidy little arrangement of trophies and plaques, but now they are able to take part in the installations and start-ups. I hope they enjoy it, because as much as I love the design phase, there's nothing like seeing your concept come to life with the flip of a switch."


  • Navien NR210 on demand gas modulating/condensing appliance with Navien heating box
  • Super Stor SS80 solar buffer tank
  • Carrier Infinity air handler with three-zone Infinity control system
  • Carrier 19-SEER, 2-stage heat pump
  • Carrier Infinity thermostats
  • Trion Air Bear filter
  • Uponor pex radiant slab that serves as a dump zone for the solar DHW system
  • Custom-fabricated sheet metal duct system
  • Atmosair D100 bipolar ionization air purification system
  • Aprilaire 400 humidifier
  • Lifebreath TRV ventilation system
  • Dual Heliodyne 4x6 solar panels with Heliodyne H-pass pump station; Internet monitoring capability.
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