Look closely for creative twists in piping.

Figure 1
Occasionally it's therapeutic for me to assemble a PM Hydronics Workshop column that doesn't contain formulas and schematics. A column that examines the qualitative vs. quantitative aspects of the trade.

One of the reasons so many of us enjoy working with hydronics is that we get to work with so many different “media.” Piping, electricity, computers, drawings, architecture and more are all blended together within the execution of a typical system installation. You might even say some hydronic pros are “artists” who happen to work with media not fully appreciated by the average person, much less an art connoisseur.

Let me be clear. I didn't take the time to study art in my school days, and I certainly don't pretend to have suddenly acquired the skill to assess the finer points of any form of art. However, I can't help but think there are artistic qualities in some of the hydronic imagery that occasionally crosses my desk. Here are a few examples.

Figure 2

Hydronic Imagery

Look at the image in Figure 1. What do you think it is? Perhaps some of you see a hazy summer sunset over forested mountains.

The true origin of this pastel scene is actually very technical. It's a color contour map of the temperature distribution across the cross section of a thin-slab radiant floor heating system. The white dot near the center is 1/2-inch PEX tubing embedded in 1 1/2 inches of concrete. The upper edge is the top of the flooring, and the bottom is the lower edge of a fiberglass insulation batt. The color transitioning from red to blue represents decreasing material temperature.

Next, take a look at Figure 2. Did you happen to see this during your last visit to the Guggenheim Museum?

This bundle of embracing tubes is actually a radiator by Bisque (www.bisque.co.uk). This particular model, aptly named the “X-Stream,” can release about 6,800 Btu/hr. when supplied with 180 degree F water in a 70 degree F room. Put one of these in your gallery and it will deliver both visual and thermal delights.

Figure 3


One of my favorite hydronic artists is the infamous Hot Rod Rohr. Here's a guy who sees beyond the pipes and valves. Someone who wants to express himself as he installs a properly designed state-of-the-art comfort system. The following are a couple of examples from Hot Rod's portfolio.

How often have you heard the term “piping loopV”? Hot Rod has created a literal piping loop shown in Figure 3. It's actually a primary loop serving several secondary circuits through pairs of closely spaced tees. The primary circulator is at the bottom. The inner loop is tubing that connects to the expansion tank.

Another of Hot Rod's creations is shown in Figure 4.

If you were fortunate enough to attend the 2001 RPA Conference in Salt Lake City, you probably saw the “radiant dog” up close and personal. I have to admit to wondering what a “radiant dog” was when I saw it listed in the conference brochure. I always thought of a radiant panel the same way people of Christopher Columbus' era thought of the earth - it's flat! It just goes to show a lack of imagination at times.

What you're looking at in Figure 4 is a fully functional hydronic heat emitter! Take a close look at the right hind leg and you'll see where the PEX tubing enters and leaves. Under that “coat” of paint is a body of steel mesh, PEX tubing and sculpted concrete. Just connect this hound to a source of warm flowing water and it goes to work drying just about anything you care to drape over it. And you thought all the really cool radiators came from Europe!

Figure 4

Beyond Simple Serpentines

More and more hydronic heating professionals spend time these days drawing up tubing circuits for radiant heating systems. Some of these circuits are routine (even boring) serpentine patterns. Others are much more intricate as shown in Figure 5. The latter usually result from having to snake tubing around obstacles such as toilets, vanities, and so forth.

To measure the length of a circuit I often extract an individual tubing circuit from the rest of the drawing to measure its length. Doing so reveals an often complex and unique pattern. If an archeologist came across a shape like this in some cave, what would they conclude?

Figure 5

Can You See Me Now?

Finally, Figure 6 (not shown)is a piece of hydronic artistry many of you can appreciate now that it's hunting season. This exquisite installation shot comes from a true radiant Renaissance man - Harvey Youker of HYTECH Heating. It's a job he installed in - you guessed it - a hunting lodge in upstate New York. The owner apparently recognizes that even the local deer will want a look at Harvey's handiwork, and when they do, it's venison time.

As you go about the daily duties of designing and installing hydronic heating system, be sure to keep an eye open for art that's right in front of you at times. It's just another way to appreciate all hydronics has to offer.