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Many American workers have grown to appreciate the opportunity to work from home, perhaps, brought on by the global health crisis of 2020 that has left many of us with that only option. The flexibility, lack of congested commutes and office hours spent in casual attire are significant benefits.
Yet some professionals still prefer a more structured environment than a spare bedroom and a laptop can provide. As a result, co-working spaces are on the rise in the US. These facilities, where single offices can be rented short- or long-term, provide a nice middle-of-the-road option for busy office professionals.
We recently updated and expanded facilities at a remote property called River Mountain in Everett, Pennsylvania. The goal there was to provide attractive, efficient co-working opportunities for people looking for another option than just simply working from home and want an “away-from-home” working environment during the COVID-19 crisis, and beyond.
Buildings at River Mountain are now divided for different purposes; our task was to complete installation of all HVAC systems for the remodeled facilities. Today, the main lodge, commercial kitchen facility and dining hall all serve co-working clients.
The property’s four cabins are rented out for ‘glamping’ – or, glamour camping. I’m told it’s become a popular thing.
The property is within two hours of Washington DC, Baltimore and Pittsburgh, the three metros that the owners mainly draw clients from.
Eliminating backup heat
River Mountain consists of seven buildings, six of which are fully conditioned by systems installed by High Efficiency Solutions.
The original log home, built in 1807, has been renovated for use as a dining hall, with a garage converted to a commercial kitchen. An old barn, also remodeled, now serves as a laundry and activity area. A new, modern-looking main lodge, at 2,500 square feet, is tightly constructed, as are four, 1,600 square-foot cabins.
Our firm was contacted about the project by Quarry View Building Group, based in Lancaster. River Mountain is outside the normal High Efficiency Solutions service area, but the size of the project, and the fact that wholesaler, APR Supply, has nearby locations meant that we could take on the job.
The original design provided by an engineer called for the use of mini-split heat pumps in all of the buildings except the kitchen, where a conventional packaged heat pump would serve most of the load. The drawings also included installation of electric resistance baseboard heat for backup. When I first met with the builder and owners, a key concern expressed was to eliminate electric baseboard from the design.
Also, the original spec called for a mini-split heat pump brand that we don’t install. That equipment didn’t offer the low outdoor ambient operating temperatures that we can provide with Fujitsu’s XLTH line, with models that can provide efficient heating at outdoor temperatures down to minus-15 degrees.
Another goal for the HVAC system was to provide efficient comfort and keep the system as aesthetically pleasing as possible, especially in common areas.
We began our work by performing a heat load calculation for each of the buildings. Although the job is more than two hours west of our shop, the load considerations are very similar to our usual designs. The heating load is quite a bit higher than the cooling load, and snow accumulation is guaranteed. I submitted this new design, minus the electric baseboard, and was given approval to proceed.
Early this year, High Efficiency Solutions installed the mini-split systems. The crew worked on and off as construction progressed, lodging nearby while onsite and going home to work on other projects in between.
The modern, architectural lodge features 10 zones, all comprised of multi-zone Fujitsu Halcyon systems. Two bunk rooms are conditioned with ceiling cassettes installed in drop ceiling. A laundry, shower, medical room and a hallway were handled similarly, with cassettes ranging from 7,000 to 12,000 BTU/H. Two slim duct units are used in a conference room with high ceilings, and a third in a hallway without the ceiling clearance to install a cassette.
The four identical cabins feature the same HVAC system design. A single two-ton multizone condensing unit in the back of the cabin is paired with two wall-hung indoor units. An 18,000 BTU/H unit is used near the front of the building in the bunk room, while a 7,000 BTU/H unit in the rear conditions the bathroom and storage spaces.
Slanted exterior walls and roof overhangs gave us the opportunity to mount some of the condensing units out of direct weather exposure. Here, with less concern about snow accumulation, units were mounted on pads and risers at a height of 8 inches. In places where overhead protection wasn’t available, the units were mounted with brackets at a height of 18 inches.
High Efficiency Solutions serves a territory where old homes and retrofits are very common. Our experience allowed me and Mike Keener, lead installation tech, to take in stride the challenges presented by the old buildings.
But two stood out.
We had to carefully calculate our line set lengths in several of the buildings, being sure to mount condensing units out of sight. Had we needed even a few more feet of length, we’d have installed several Fujitsu J-II single-phase VRF systems instead of mini-splits.
The tight construction of the cabins presented their own set of challenges. Solid urethane foam insulation filled the stud bays, and there was no dead space in which to run refrigerant lines. Having visible conduit wasn’t an option either.
I didn’t expect this issue, but we worked around it. We carved the foam out where needed, and were even able to maintain access to our flare joints.
Because there may be long periods of time when the buildings go unoccupied, we installed small, electric wall convectors in any bathroom that has an exterior wall. This way, the heat pumps can be turned way down without risk of freezing domestic water pipes.
Like the spray foam and efficient heat pumps, there are other green elements at the property. Condensing tankless water heaters provide all domestic hot water. Sustainably-sourced wood products are used inside and out, and the shape and orientation of the buildings lend themselves to passive-solar benefits.
We completed our work in August. When complete, I did a walk-through with the builder and one of the owners; everyone was happy with the result. The buildings are comfortable, utility bills will are inexpensive and the place looks fantastic. With that, they began to attract campers, and professional clientele.
Dustin Ebersole is the owner of High Efficiency Solutions, Lancaster, Pennsylvania.