I recently had the chance to sit and chat, over a cup of "delta t" with John Siegenthaler, PM's hydro-radiant techno guru. John's company is called Appropriate Design and his home and office are, well, appropriate.
The invite came when my plans had me traveling to the RPA board meeting in Lake Placid, N.Y. I had the luxury of routing my motorcycle through the beautiful Mohawk Valley area of New York State. Overlooking rolling, rural farm country, I had the pleasure of visiting with Siggy and talking hydronics. The brief visit turned into a wonderful five-hour talk session and tour through Siggy's unique home and offices.
It was easy to find his place. Just look for the windmill atop a 40-foot tall tower. Connected to the tower base, a cleverly constructed swing set promises to never tip over.
Clever dual-purpose engineering. Like many contractors' heating systems, John's is an ever-changing test site for controls and piping arrangements. Both the home and office mechanical rooms sport oil-fired, cast-iron boilers. A primary loop circles the four walls of the mechanical rooms at ceiling level.
Various tappings allow for "changeability" of mixing components. A well-insulated 60-gallon indirect tank serves as a buffer tank for the cast-iron boiler in the office mechanical room. The boiler feeds into this loop via a variable speed pump. Radiant floors and walls feed off at different temperatures. You have probably seen snippets of these systems in Siggy's PM columns. The workmanship is as good as it gets with much help from Harvey Youker - a golden-touch contractor, radiant wiz kid in John's neighborhood.
The home heating system was a unique blend of old and new, with a surprising mix of alternate energy. The wind generator feeds directly into the breaker panel at 240 volts. Early in Siggy's career, he worked at the solar energy division of Revere Copper and Brass.
Not surprisingly, copper solar collectors are included. A large thermal storage tank for the solar was cleverly slid into the wall framing near the mechanical room. A recently installed oil-fired boiler occupies the space where a heat pump once resided.
Glancing around the ceiling, I noticed an interesting, to say the least, collection of piping materials. PVC lines feed to an outdoor pool from a flat plate HX. Small diameter copper tube lines disappeared into the floor above for a radiant floor - an old Revere-design floor panel.
A few larger diameter steel pipes also disappeared into the floor above the mechanical room. These were the most curious to me, and a trip upstairs led to perhaps the most intriguing part of the system. The partition wall between the living area and hall to the bedrooms seemed unusually "thick." Siggy rapped his knuckles on the wall, and an unusual metallic note sounded - like knocking on the wall of a submarine!
The wall was actually an 8-foot tall, 16-foot long, 12-inch wide steel thermal storage tank! Custom made, welded and placed on footings, this tank was connected to a heat exchanger on the rear of the wood stove located in the basement. A mega-capacity dual-sided "panel radiator on steroids" of sorts. For years this has served as the primary heat source in an area where temperatures have been known to drop into the - 40 degree F ranges!
I suspect, like many people who have burned wood as fuel for many years, the oil-fired boiler sees a lot more service these days. John created a clever way to incorporate thermal storage into the living space, and provide a wall of steel to attach school projects with magnets.
Siggy promised to someday tell me about wild hydronic home projects that didn't quite pan out. It was interesting to see Siggy spend almost as much time tinkering with parts and pieces as formulas and theory. It puts a smile on my face and makes my heart sing when I see such a clever integration of energy sources assembled into an ever-evolving test bed of hydronic dreams. I had a great visit with the Gandalf of Hydronics.