A layman’s review of new hydronics design software.

Listen, I’m not going to beat around the bush here. I am not a very computer-savvy contractor. Sure, I can peck out simple correspondence, given enough time. I can also concoct some primitive caveman-looking material in the paint program, but put me on the low end of the scale in this computer high-tech world.

That being said, I gravitate toward the KISS-type of software. I have a drawer full of heat loss software discs, some 10 years old. Oh, I’ve tried them all and must admit the weak link is me!

I knew that Siggy and Mario have been developing new design software, and I stopped in my tracks when a disc arrived. These are some KISS guys! Here are my thoughts after messing around with the program.

I feel you would be hard-pressed to find anyone with the “book smarts” and hands-on experience that PM columnist John Siegenthaler has to develop contractor-friendly software. Mario Restive did an excellent job extracting the materials from Siggy’s brain and putting them into a user-friendly piece of plastic (also known as a CD).

Certainly years of seminars and columns has positioned Siggy to receive boatloads of contractor input, both from knuckleheads like me to the brightest gurus out there. It’s all been processed and stuffed into this Hydronics Design Toolkit (pro version1.10).

Here’s what works for me. The entire program is colorful and well laid out -- light-years ahead of the old boring DOS version. The user manual is well written and easily understood; a few moments spent here will eliminate most head scratching. However, there are help screens at every module, which is a huge favor for computer-challenged folks like me.

Heat Load & Hydronic Circuits

Working my way across the top toolbar of 10 module options, the first stop is the Room Heat Load Calculator. And it works! A clever area and volume calculator is a very helpful feature. This module allows you to pull info from the basement calculator also, which is downstream on the tool bar.

I like how the color bar graph continually updates as you enter the inputs, and it helps you spot an input mistake quickly. It appears to have all the necessary input flexibility without going overboard.

The next icon on the toolbar is the Series Baseboard Simulator. You can choose from a variety of baseboard and pump brands and models. Each time you change your selection, the new choices will show on the diagram.

A very nice touch, that bells and whistles sound that occurs when you get overzealous with a pump or pump speed selection and go over the 4 feet per second velocity! Also available is a range of glycol types and percentages. This is a powerful troubleshooting tool for problematic “under heat” repair calls.

The Hydronic Circuit Simulator is my favorite. If you have ever played Sims City games, you will love this, too. You just start building away, choosing from zones built with baseboard or various radiant applications from concrete slab, gypcrete and plates above or below the subfloor.

Pick your “poison” regarding tube types and sizes, as well as loop lengths; mix and match if you like. Select a pump, switch zone valves open and close and watch the flow and pressure drops change before your eyes. Then toggle in your choice of brands and sizes of pressure-activated bypass valves. I could fill this entire magazine with praise of this module alone!

Tank/Pipe Sizing & Heat Loss

Perhaps the most often “assumed” component in hydronicizing is the expansion tank. Guess no more, my friend. With the Expansion Tank Sizer, build the system on the screen, including pipe sizes, and the tank capacity appears before your eyes! Like magic!

Tweak the distance above the tank, fluid types, temperatures, time of day (just kidding) -- it also spits out system volume and amount of antifreeze needed at various mix percentages. A great module! Very quick and easy to use.

Pick a common hydronic fluid, including water, and the properties will be shown at the Fluid Properties Calculator. I need to study this module a bit more to get the best bang for my buck.

The Basement Heat Loss Estimator is wonderful. It allows you to choose the amount of earth-bermed area; you also add “day-lighted” sections. Stick in windows and doors to your heart’s content, select insulation values, and chose both inside and outside wall materials. Again, an area volume calculator is at your disposal. Import this window to the first heat loss module.

The Hydraulic Resistance Calculator allows you to model flow and pressure drop through a device. Just input a flow rate, temperature and fluid type.

Another module I like a lot is the Pipe Sizer. Select a fluid, temperature of the fluid and pipe type, and you’ll get pressure drop per 100 feet, velocity and a Reynolds number to boot. An orange danger window appears when you push beyond the 4-fps range. It allows you to play different delta T games, also.

Second to expansion tank sizing on my list of commonly overlooked areas is pipe heat loss. I modeled my own system near boiler piping with this program and came up with a whopping 4,286 Btu/hr. loss from uninsulated pipe alone. That’s a lot of heat to dump into a small mechanical room!

The Pipe Heat Loss Estimator program lets you change fluid temperature, air temperature (in the room), various pipe types and sizes, and flow rates. As with all the other modules, changing any input automatically updates the loss figure. That’s a handy way to show the amount of loss with various types and wall thickness of insulation. Quite an eye opener!

The Heating Cost Calculator would be a great program to show a homeowner on your laptop. Play around with the various fuel types, including wood. The pop-up menus have all the states and provinces with a good selection of cities. You can input the cost per unit and also the efficiency.

This feature is real nice. Most fuel providers online, or slide-rule-type calculators, do not allow you to move around in the efficiencies. That is a “must have” in light of the high-efficiency condensors on the market these days.

The Pipe Heat Loss Estimator and the Heating Cost Calculator are both informative selling tools to distance your proposals from your competitors’.

All that, and I’m probably just scratching the surface of the package! Like any quality tool, the more hands-on time you put in, the better the performance and work output. This is an indispensable tool for the designer, but equally important as a troubleshooting tool.

Loaded on a laptop, there is no end to what this software can do. Do whatever it takes to purchase this Hydronics Design Studio, because it is definitely a tool to last throughout your career. I see this as a tool for the old-timer, “been there, done that” types, as well as the newbies.

Thanks to John and Mario for the persistence to bring this product to the industry. Two thumbs up!

Editor's note: Complete information and a free downloadable demo of the Hydronics Design Studio is available online at www.hydronicpros.com.