by Raymond Rasalan
Innovation is the economic engine of entrepreneurs. The quest to devise better solutions propels many small businesses, and Appleby Plumbing owner Chuck Appleby is no exception. The Old Saybrook, Conn., contractor has built a loyal client base by researching new products that solve real problems for homeowners in this coastal region.
At Appleby Plumbing, innovative solutions frequently stem from its customers’ location; specifically, the fact that many of them live in a flood plain. This geographic reality limits installation options for most mechanical devices, which means homeowners often must sacrifice living or storage space for space- and water-heating equipment.
More regions along coastal zones soon will have to contend with similar constraints, as the Federal Emergency Management Agency rewrites rules. Following active storm years that saw unprecedented rain and flooding, the new rules will raise height requirements for both structures and mechanical equipment, Appleby says.
He recently created a very different, but highly satisfactory home-heating solution for customer Sharon Baker by combining two innovative products - a wall-hung hydronic boiler and a pair of high-efficiency condensing tankless water heaters, all Noritz products - in a flood-proof installation that delivers the comfort Baker wants without sacrificing usable space in her new three-bedroom home.
Factory-built homeEngineering the mechanical systems and scheduling the installation for a new home usually follows a predictable schedule. With the Baker residence, however, familiar went out the window. Rather than settle for traditional site-built construction, Baker contracted with a modular-home company to have her new residence constructed in its Pennsylvania factory, delivered to the lot in pre-built modules and assembled on-site.
“This approach changed the schedule but also afforded us some design freedom,” Appleby explains. “We had a choice on where to place the mechanical equipment. In looking at the plan, we realized the best option was an unused storage space in the attic.”
This selection made the homeowner happy by preserving main-floor living and storage space in the single-story home. A garage installation plan would have extended the piping a greater distance and taken area away from full use of the garage. But the attractive attic strategy also created some very specific equipment constraints.
“Weight is a huge consideration in placing heating equipment in an attic, even though we are able to hang the equipment on the studs,” Appleby says. This strategy eliminated cast-iron boilers, as well as any boiler with a high water volume. In both cases, he notes, “The weight and leak risk are too much.”
An active member of both the Connecticut and national Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors associations, Appleby was one of the first contractors nationwide to “test-drive” Noritz’ new wall-hung, tankless hydronic boilers. The features of the NH150-DV model seemed ready-made for Appleby’s needs on this installation: a thermal rating of 82.8%; lightweight; nine different temperature settings; low water mass, averaging 0.25 gal. to 1 gal. of water inside the boiler, with a maximum flow rate of 17 gpm; a fully modulating boiler that automatically adjusts firing levels, with a maximum output of 155,000 Btu per hour; and a direct-vent design to draw makeup air from the outside.
In addition, the boiler package includes an outdoor reset control system and a Grundfos circulator.
With these specifications, the 24-in.-by-18-in.-by-9 1/2-in. NH150 meets the needs of Baker’s three baseboard heating zones, maintaining constant room temperatures. “Reliable heat at a reasonable cost - that is, a unit that installs and services easily - is what matters most to customers,” Appleby says. “This job just had a few more criteria, but affordable, consistent comfort was fundamental.”
Working with the modular builder during the design phase, Appleby conceived a mechanical room in the attic with pull-down stairs providing access. During construction, piping was brought to the attic, as was wiring for the controls.
“This was new to the factory; they hadn’t seen this installation location for the mechanical equipment before,” Appleby says. “Most often, they carve out a closet space, but they liked this solution and intend to share it with future customers.”
The attic makes it easy for the domestic piping and hydronic heating. The possible discharge of all appliance relief valves is contained in indirect waste receptors, while the traps protect the high-efficiency equipment from condensate.
Why two water heaters?Besides the wall-hung boiler, the attic mechanical room houses the 93%-efficient Noritz NRC98-DV condensing tankless water heaters.
“We chose to install two water heaters because of the homeowner’s large whirlpool, which is equipped with a tub filler at a 13-gpm flow rate,” Appleby explains. “She wanted a continuous supply of hot water, not only to fill the whirlpool initially, but also to keep the water warm while soaking. The double-tankless setup ensures all the hot water she needs.”
Building a mechanical room in the attic involves more than simply connecting the piping and the wiring, while affixing the various equipment and accessories to the studs. Two, sometimes three Appleby mechanics spent four days outfitting the space and completing the installation.
Condensing tankless water heaters such as the NRC98 use a secondary heat exchanger to boost efficiency an extra 10 points by capturing more heat from combustion gases as they escape up the flue. This heat-absorption process, in turn, cools the flue gases enough to permit venting with PVC piping rather than Category III stainless steel.
This cooling process generates a condensate that must be neutralized to comply with local plumbing codes. Appleby accomplished the task by installing the indirect waste receptors, which he also services, as needed.
To ensure that the room itself would provide the same worry-free operation as the mechanical equipment, Appleby devised a liner to protect against piping leaks.
“A watertight shower floor membrane liner with a floor drain protects the home against damage from any possible leak, a must when installing equipment in the attic,” he says. “We have complete confidence in the system - not only because we designed it, but also because of this built-in, fail-safe, watertight backup.”
About the author: Raymond Rasalan, a 10-year veteran of the heating and tankless water heater business, serves as new product release coordinator specialist for Noritz America, based at the company’s Fountain Valley, Calif., headquarters. He can be reached at 714/433-7832; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.